2022: American Birkebeiner

My primary goal for the 2021 edition involved skiing both the 29 km Kortelopet and the 55 km Birkie on back to back days – as a tangible metric of improved fitness derived from a healthy lifestyle. I got to check that off but owing to the pandemic as well as communal commitments, I had completed the Kortelopet virtually at Swedetown on Thursday and then traveled to complete my maiden Birkie along the official – albeit modified to be an out and back – course in the ABSF trail system on Friday. The primary goal for the 2022 edition remained almost the same as 2021: ski the Korte and the Birkie on back to back days with correct form, terrain-appropriate technique, situation-appropriate strategy, ease and peace. The result would be a tangible metric of regained fitness derived from a healthy-ish lifestyle after a rolled ankle injury in 2021 June significantly impacted how I trained and raced rest of the 2021 Summer and 2021 Fall. It’d also be an opportunity to put the lessons learned over 2021 Fall and 2021-22 Winter thus far into practice on what is unequivocally the grandest stage for cross country skiing in our country.

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2022: Wolf Tracks Rendezvous and North End Classic

The Wolf Tracks Rendezvous (WTR) had gone virtual and the North End Classic (NEC) had indeed taken place in a real format in 2021. I had been a 3-time participant of the NEC by 2021 while 2020 was the first time I had even heard about WTR. Both are well-organized events that I have grown to love – because of the caring community of organizers and volunteers, compassionate fellow participants and well-groomed trails in picturesque settings. As my good fortune (or lining up of Nordic Stars) would have it, these two lovely events took place on back to back days in 2022. A bit of Google mapping helped me realize that I could do both events for about the same amount of driving time it’d have taken to do just NEC. And who doesn’t love a get two for the price of one deals?

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2021: North End Classic

Given the ongoing global pandemic (COVID-19), this was an event neither I nor the organizing body was sure would take place. But the North End Ski Club, the parent organization, did a fantastic job of complying with guidelines from health departments, reducing the field size, and put on a successfully safe event for parties involved. Once registered (courtesy of a timely tip from Maureen), traveling to be a part of this event – that I have come to love because of the people associated with it and the idyllic setting of its course – was a no brainer.

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2021: American Birkebeiner

While fully immersed in the weekend long festivities last year in Wisconsin’s Northwoods and with #BirkieFever running pretty high, I made up a goal: to participate in both the Kortelopet (on Friday, 29 km) and Birkebeiner (on Saturday, 55 km) in 2021. The very real and not so spectacular #BirkieHangover that lasted a full week or more after returning home did nothing to change that audacious goal. Part of the motivation came from wanting to experience a wave #1 start (hence the Korte) and start the Birchlegger journey (hence the Birkie). The rest came from needing to maintain and improve my healthy lifestyle. The ability to complete the combination on back to back days reasonably well would be one tangible metric of improved fitness derived from a healthy lifestyle.

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2020: Birkie Trail Run Festival

This festival had been a known entity for the last few years. For what it’s worth, so had been my excuses and explanations to not be a part of it. Persistent nudging and encouragement from Ronda, one of the friendly and familial members of the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation (ABSF), and the t-shirt design (thanks be to Craig for showcasing his t-shirt from a prior year) were the clinchers and I signed up in early August. As with most events of this type in 2020, there was a chance that this too would/could be virtual. Building on their success from the Lumberjack Run, the parent organization did a remarkable job of complying with guidelines from relevant authorities, exercised due diligence and as a result, facilitated an in-person event.

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2020: American Birkebeiner

Currently in week #11 of a 20-week training plan towards 2020 Spring Marathon, this was never an event I planned on skipping. If anything, I had ambitions of skiing the full one – 55 km Classic – and powered by the CXC Academy training plan, I had even signed up for it. Only after designing the aforementioned marathon training plan and analyzing the timing of Birkie did I realize that my current skill/fitness level would not yet permit the Birkie … at least not without jeopardizing the activities in weeks #10 through #12. So, a hard-ish decision was made to forego the named bib for the 55 km and switch down to the 29 km Kortelopet before the deadline.

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2020: North End Classic

Currently in week #09 of a 20-week training plan towards 2020 Spring Marathon, this too was an event I had deemed I am not going to participate during 2019-20 winter. But it is held on Sunday – the day after Pre-Birkie (in Cable/Hayward, WI) and  Vasaloppet USA (in Mora, MN) – in one of the prettiest settings I have ever skied in. Making minor adjustments in the aforementioned training plan (i.e., move Sunday’s rest to Friday) made room for this event.

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2019: American Birkebeiner

140 km base training [for a ~30 km event] seems low … remarked Jan in the aftermath of 2018 Birkie festivities. Consciously work on your downhills and turns … suggested another Jan a month or so later in Washington, DC, during the 2018 Spring Meeting of CASC. How much base training would have been sufficient? … I inquired the encyclopediac minds in and around our community. Deciphering their collective answer, though it led me down an entirely new rabbit hole of time-based training, hinted towards a training plan that included some long/long-ish outings. Coupling that with the sneak peak I got into Jessie Diggins‘ annual training plan, courtesy of Team USA’s Olympic Coach of the Games, I settled on putting in at least 300 km of base training ahead of the 2019 Birkie weekend.

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2019: Vasaloppet USA

If not for friends in high places (or as in this case, the highest of places), there was little chance that I’d even know about this event – let alone be a participant. Dear friend Alice had not only won the 58 km freestyle edition in 2017 Vasaloppet USA in Mora, MN, but had gone on to be the first US female to complete the 90 km edition in 2018 Vasaloppet in Mora, Sweden. She believed that I was good enough to complete the 42 km Classic. So, I believed in her belief and signed up for the 2019 edition.

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2018: American Birkebeiner

Even after a year, it still feels very unfair that Mother Nature chose to reward my utter unpreparedness and punish thousands more that had very diligently trained for nearly a year with unseasonably warmer temperatures (and even rain) in days/weeks leading up to the 2017 Birkie weekend. In hindsight, we (the collective phrase to represent all of us and not just the Royal plural) are quite fortunate that this lack of snow thing happened in 2017 and not in 1206 in Scandinavia. Should that have been the case, as one unknown racer put it in 2017, the Prince couldn’t have been saved, and we wouldn’t have the event in 2017 … or in any other year.

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