Birkie fever, I'm a true believer

This is a copy of this weeks article in the Valley Wire (Osceola’s alternative newspaper).

Birkie fever, I’m a true believer

For the past 365 days I’ve been training for North America’s largest cross country ski race the American Birkibeiner.  It starts at Telemark lodge in Cable and the 7 thousand or so who ski the Korte which is the half Birkie or the full which is 51km and finishes in downtown Hayward Wisconsin.  What makes this special for me is it is a celebration of all the hard training, the dedication to training when you didn’t feel like it, and it’s a time to meet up with old friends once again skiing the hardest marathon course in the world.

All the anticipation and it’s finally here.  I’ve done the training, I’ve taken good care of myself, now in this 52nd week it is time to relax and think about all the people I get to see again, the friends I get to ski with, the people I get to encourage as I ski by them or they ski past me, and I get to imagine in my mind how cool this course is, and how this event has changed my life.

The race starts with the top 200 elite men then followed by top 100 women.  Then every 10 minutes waves of 500 or so make their way from the start on their adventure that can take anywhere from 2 hours to 8 hours.

The first few km is a few degrees downhill and then we turn to the left a bit and see the first of the massive power line hills.  If I get to the top of the first two and don’t feel too bad then I know I’m going to have a good race.  These hills would be comparable to the fish hatchery hill just off county road S here in Osceola.  The first water stop is at the 8 km mark and it’s very important to come to a stop and drink some fluids.  We then hit the famed Birkie trail and it’s a gradual climb up to fire tower hill which is the highest point of the Birkie trail. This hill is equivalent to the Peace Lutheran hill.  I’m always hurting at the top of that one but I love the beautiful view and now get to recover as we go downhill towards County Road OO which is the halfway point of the Birkie.

There are 2 massive climbs until we get to OO and a lot of zigzags through the incredible forest of Ashland and Sawyer counties.  There is a nasty right hand turn where all the snowmobiler’s park their sleds and cheer us on or grade their favorite wipeout.

It’s great to see County road OO in Seeley and get some more fluids since we’ve just skied the hardest part of the course.  All the people  cheering you on and you can’t help but be inspired to make it to Hayward and see them again on main street.

Suzanne King who was the women’s Birkie winner 15 years ago and two time Olympian always told me your goal should be to ski the second half faster than the first half.  You do that and you’ll have a great race.  Many racers go out to hard and die at the end and you can see that happen around Mosquito Brook where there is a gradual 1km climb.  If that one doesn’t get you Bitch hill with 13km to go gets many.  We finally get off the Birkie trail with 8km to go and cross Highway 77 for one last 1km climb when your whole body is fighting to hang in there and not cramp up.  Then it’s a fast downhill past Wheeler road and onto Lake Hayward for 5 more Kilometers to the finish.  You are just hanging on and trying to not let anyone past you.  With 2km to go you hear the cowbells from downtown Hayward and somehow you get a last surge of adrenalin and maybe even a tear of inspiration.  We get off the lake and on to main street where thousands of people are there to cheer all the skiers on.  I hear and see people I know yelling “Go Eddie” and then I have to concentrate for 200 more yards and then I’m done.  It’s over!  I’m excited and happy and just want to get fluids and food in me and get a change of clothes.  I always see Mike Miller and Dave Lindholm right after the race and it’s great to see people who come up just because there is nothing like main street Hayward and the Birkie.  A couple of Guinness beers and a couple of Brats and then it’s my turn to cheer my friends and fellow skiers on.  If you want to have a great day come on up to Hayward and watch the finish line, it’s truly amazing and fun.  And if you ever get an itch to do a Birkie I hope I’ve planted a seed for you today.

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