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.
After the 20-week training plan that culminated in the 2020 Holland Haven Marathon in mid-September, I had taken a week off before starting a 12-week training plan to continue working on my weaknesses. Maybe it was the cumulative fatigue of nearly 26 weeks of structured training plan OR a rather sudden change in weather (read: arrival of snow and frigid-ish temperatures) OR likely, a combination of both, I was starting to feel a monotonic decrease in motivation to keep up with the workouts in this new plan. My body seemed to take a bit longer than usual to recover from said workouts. Review of training material and chats with friendly mentors re-iterated the benefits of a short self-imposed break before mental burnout and/or physical injury compared to a potentially longer forced break. As a result, I decided to run the 2020 Virtual New York City Marathon in week #5 (or week #26 – if I am counting the first 20-week plan as well), end the plan and take a break to rest and recharge for the upcoming winter.
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.
Had 2020 unfolded as any of the most previous years, I would have run the Illinois Marathon (April) as my target race in Spring and continued to train towards Marquette Marathon (September) with a handful of road and trail running events spread in between. But 2020 has been a year unlike any that I (or most of us) have experienced so far and COVID-19 has led to the postponement (if not cancellation) of a vast majority of races around the world including
- the Summer Olympics in Japan and
- the World Marathon Majors events
- Tokyo – elites-only event in March,
- Boston – moved from April to September as a virtual event,
- London – moved from April to October as an elites-only event and virtual for non-elites,
- Berlin – scheduled for September but cancelled,
- Chicago – virtual event in October, and
- New York City – virtual event in November.
I was/am fully cognizant of the fact that there are more important things in life than training for and running a race. Having friends whose livelihood depends on timing such events made me realize the value of such events beyond just getting another medal or even earning a new PR.
With my running goals (as of late April 2020) focused primarily towards road running events (and the need for sustaining a specific pace for a considerable distance), I knew the chances of participating in an event organized by Lazarus Lake (or just Laz for us cool kids) – assuming that I actually qualified for one – were pretty slim, if not non-existent. For those of us not yet familiar with the notoriety of Laz (I mean this in a good way), he is most famously associated with The Barkley Marathons held in the Frozen Head State Park and the Big’s Backyard Ultra (or The Last Human
Standing Running) held in Bell Buckle – both in Tennessee. With most races around the globe either cancelled or postponed or turned into a virtual event as a result of COVID-19, a rare win-win opportunity came along: I’d get to continue working towards my long-term goals while simultaneously participating in a Laz-organized event, albeit virtually. Needless to say, I jumped on it!
COVID-19, the Illinois Marathon would have happened on 25th April 2020 and the Grandma’s Marathon would be happening on 20th June 2020. Organizers of the Grandma’s Marathon had sent out the cancellation notice at the end of March. In mid-March, organizers of the Illinois Marathon had only postponed the event to later parts of 2020. But the uncertainties being what they are, they too decided to cancel the 2020 edition. In the grander scheme of things, I believe cancellation aligns well with the greatest good for the greatest number for the longest possible time philosophy, and I sure hope that I get to meet my friends I was supposed to meet at these events again and again. Both events offered a deferment to or registration discount towards a subsequent edition as well as virtual run option. Having had a sneak peak at behind-the-scenes actions in my community’s events, it was an easy decision to go with the virtual run option.
Chassell Churning Rapids Copper Harbor Eagle Harbor End of The Road
Maasto Hiihto Michigan Tech Swedetown
2020 American Birkebeiner experience and a tentative plan for its 2021 edition, I chose to stick with the 25 km skiing (race effort) + 10 km running (easy/recovery jog) combination irrespective of prevailing weather conditions.