Growing up in Hayward Wisconsin the American Birkiebeiner was something that you just learned to embrace, or rather… endure. You got school off on Birkie Friday. I skied the barnebirkie every year mostly because that meant I got to get out of school early on thursday too (and what elementary school kid doesn’t love free cookies and swiss miss hot chocolate?)… However, racing the Birkie never really occurred to me as something I would do.
But there I was…two weeks before the largest ski race in North America doing nothing short of pleading, groveling, and begging my way into the Women’s Elite wave. …which somehow worked.
The entire week I was home before the race was surreal. The Birkie trail is where I originally proclaimed my utter distain for cross country skiing but also where I inevitably fell in love with the sport. I’ve laughed and cried on probably every inch of that trail. I helped to build the single track originating out of the Fish Hatchery trail head. The very trail head that I would often bike to from the house I grew up in just a few miles down the road. Simply put, I was home, I was in my element, and I was amped!
I spent the week listening to really mellow music on my ipod because I kept getting too excited every time I would head out for a ski. I had to fight the urge to yell, “Welcome Home!” every time I passed another skier on the trail. I stress baked, and whatever energy was left over I channeled into laying on the floor and pumping fluids into my sick restless body.
A day out from the race I was still struggling to nail down a wax tech… Enter stress baking. So I did what any other desperate overzealous underfunded athlete would do… I showed up to the expo with cupcakes. Yes, cupcakes. Coffee Chocolate Cupcakes with Baileys Frosting. Seemingly due to my baking prowess, but more likely due to the fact that I looked like a lost puppy, the HWK boys agreed to help me out.
After that particularly skillful bit of ingenuity the race itself went relatively well despite me being a full fledged amateur. I laughed uncontrollably on the start line. I got placed on the front row of the elite women’s field in my plain black tights and gray Craft top…. my grin seemed to be on the only thing in the right place.
I did my very best to cling, control, and elbow my way into a safe position. Tucking myself neatly into the lead pack of 12 women I quickly realized that I was surrounded by very good company. A small but strong field of some of the best women in the country… and I was right there with them! I coasted on excitement and naivety until kilometer 39 or 40 and then I exploded. They surged and I spontaneously combusted. I cracked. Shattered. My limbs fell off. Things started to move in slow motion. I rode the struggle bus for the last 10kms of the race buoyed solely by a generous coke feed and the very real fear that I would end up like those videos of ironman athletes crawling the last meters to the finish because they couldn’t stand any more. I did my best to keep my arms and legs moving, but I had blown up in spectacular fashion.
Not only did I find the wall but I collided into it with every ounce of me. I lost just over five and a half minutes in 10 kilometers… but I made it and hung onto 13th.
It might not have been everything I had hoped for, but now that I can straighten my arms again I think I finally understand what this whole Birkie fever thing is all about… because despite everything a 50k will put you through I’m hungry for more.