american birkebeiner, 2015.

whoa guys…where has February gone?! i mean, for months and months, especially since the start of winter AND even more so, since the start of this year, the primary athletic event at the forefront of my mind has been the Birkie (the American Birkebeiner). i signed up for this event once, a few year ago because some friends were doing it and i thought it might be fun. needless to say, i never actually went and did the race. so, it’s been on my mind and on my (yet to be seen) bucket list ever since. the year i signed up before now i wasn’t committed to training. i think i skied a whopping 2 times that season. and i decided it was best to sit it out.

but this year…this year was different.

maybe a year ago from now, i began making some changes in my life. let’s say – in my personal life. i realized some things i was doing that were opposite of setting myself up for success. some call it self-sabotage. (i usually look at things through rose-colored lenses, though). anyway, i knew, above all else, it was time for a change.

and so much has changed. adios not so great relationships. hello new job that was a bit of a leap. welcome back, training like an actual athlete. oh, and that dust that sat atop the generally fun-loving, quirky, busy, introverted weirdo i am…it’s been dusted off.

i decided to make a change and then things just started becoming more clear and more obvious. and when a few random friends mentioned they were doing the Birkie this year, i though, “well, why the heck not?!”

a funny thing about this race is that it pretty much fills up before Thanksgiving every year and then you wait to see if there will be snow and how darn cold it will be and all of that jazz. this year, there was not a lot of snow, and not too much cold. i’m not going to say that’s a combo i don’t enjoy – except when i’ve signed up for this big race. oh  well! there’s training to be done.

i’ve said it before and i’ll say it again: thank goodness for my friend and ski buddy Cindi who adventured with me (well, she got me to adventure with her) to some ski wonderlands…or i would have had a bit more trouble with this event. not only did she get me out there – she gave me a few excellent tips…and i swear i walked away from Saturday really pleased with my first Birkie result because of them. i heard, “keep your arms closer to your body” about a hundred times. i repeated it to myself about a hundred thousand times on race day. she gave me tips about climbing hills. and BOYYYYY were there hills! and lastly, the night before the race, i got a text that said, ” have fun and don’t crash! ;)”

YOU GOT IT!

i went into the race with a baby goal in my mind – to finish close to 5 hours. i’ve said to a few people close to me that i could have probably achieved that if: 1. i hadn’t started in wave 9 and 2. if i had more ski experience. you see, starting in wave 9 meant lots of slow uphills, especially at the start and some backed up downhills throughout the race. also, the conditions were pretty close to “fair” by the time i skied the course. again, oh well! ski on. as for #2, you can really only get better at skiing by skiing more. period.

Birkie, you’d be safe to guess you’ll be seeing me again!

rw quoteone of the things i was really, really looking forward to though in the Birkie though is that i’ve realized over the past 5 or so years…i’m truly an endurance lover. so, as the race goes on, i usually just keep on, too. just coming through the halfway point of the Birkie, i was feeling really good and with just 20k to go, i thought to myself, “this is just like the Lake Monona route and i can almost run that in my sleep.”

not only is the quote above indicative of the feelings i have about distance events, but its also especially fun to think about in terms of cross country skiing.

one of the best things i’ve discovered in training for this event is that, well, for one, i suck at directions. i mean, i’d probably not venture into the woods in the snow on my own. but in xc skiing, you really have no other choice. training for the Birkie and xc skiing is like one of those choose your own adventure books. you can go this way or that and eventually you’ll get where you need to go – but the path is different. it’s no different than any of life except that you actively get to decide over and over again over the course of your ski-venture.

on Birkie day, i took none of that for-granted. and it was amazing. yes, the first 10k or so were brutal on what they call “the powerline.” it’s a constant up and down and up and down and up and down again. at first i thought, “WHAT DID I SIGN UP FOR?!” as my heart was maxing out at 175 beats per minute. but soon after, we headed into the woods and i was like “WHOA, THIS IS GORGEOUS!”

i must have been smiling at the first and second and every aid station. but even in the very beginning, even some of the volunteers noticed. (the volunteers, by the way, fantastic!)

and so it went, i skied and i enjoyed my time out in the woods. i took it all in. there were flurries flying by as i made my way south from Cable to Hayward through one of Wisconsin’s most treasured areas of the Northwoods. somewhere near 20k down, i skied up to my pal Mike who was also out there doing this race for the first time. it was awesome to see him and we ended up skiing together – or nearby one another for i swear close to 10k. and just after we separated, i ran into my friend Kristi who, by this time, is a seasoned Birkie competitor. she joked earlier in the week that she hoped to see me over the weekend, just not on the course, and then, of course, my goal was to chase her down by the end of the 51km. we skied together for a minute and laughed about our encounter and caught up more after we finished.

i wish i had been able to capture, in pictures, the beauty and fun that i had on that Saturday, a few days ago, in the Northwoods in February, but you’ll have to take my word for it…and maybe do the race yourself one day.

instead of going on and on though, i came up with a list of sorts to help explain my experience to all of you. i hope this gives you a simple picture, and some laughs about the experience….

so, without further ado:

SHAY’S BIRKIE 2015, BY THE NUMBERS!

2 bus rides – one to the start line and one back to the car at the end of the day

1 trip to the port-a-potties before the race

1/2 banana on my way to the start line. i decided NOT to eat the other half off the ground after 10,000+ people had already walked over that snow

7 restless hours of sleep the night before

1 trip to the UP – to ABR ski area for the inaugural ski of this season

30 (or more) laps at Lapham Peak ski area on their man-made loop of snow

1 day of skiing at Iola Winter Sports Park

1 long day of skiing at 9-mile in Wausau

6 coats of wax – an estimate because i actually don’t know how to wax my own skis

25 – dollars spent on hand and toe warmers this winter

2 warm (thanks to hand warmers in my vest pockets on race day) vanilla power gels

1 disgustingly cold vanilla bean GU (seriously, the hand warmer idea was GOLDEN. have you ever had cold GU? take my word and don’t try it)

10-ish cups of lukewarm water at aid stations

12-ish cups of warm ENERGY. which volunteers shouted to indicate they had either Nuun Hydration or GU Energy drink for us. ENERGYENERGYENERGY!

3-4 ‘nilla wafer cookies

1 oreo-like cookie

1/4 chocolate chip cookie. i could have eaten the entire cookie at the top of this hill

1 bitch hill. no, really, that’s what the locals call it. also, where i had the heavenly chocolate chip cookie piece.

2 (or 3) snowmobile gangs. these guys were hilarious and made me laugh. they’d heckle you and tell you to slow down around sharper turns…but cheer if you made it through unscathed.

1 easy fall trying to step around someone who had fallen right in front of me early in the race.

0 crashes!

1 shot from the shot ski or an apple pie-like beverage. also: a proud member of the 39k club!

51 kilometers through the Northwoods of Wisconsin from Cable to Hayward, WI

2 big cups of chicken noodle soup afterwards

1 bitch hill belgian ale at the angry minnow brewpub with dinner

countless smiles and high fives and congrats.

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ok, there you have it! this was one of the best things i’ve ever done. going back to the quote, and to a year ago, i had no idea what the past 12 months would hold, but by actively choosing my own adventure in life, by choosing another path, i got to show up last weekend ready to tackle just about anything. i got to tackle the amazing American Birkiebeiner!

AND, i realize that i get to do that, to choose my own adventure every single day.

 

 

Birkie 2015, here we come!

a few months ago i met a new friend. we initially met and bonded over a mutual love for the Ironman Wisconsin finish line. (well, that’s how i remember it…and what’s not to love about the Ironman Wisconsin finish line?) flash forward to November -a few months later along with a few messages and ultimately a handful of pottery classes later, with winter upon us – we were both deeply immersed in wedging some clay at the start of class and my new friend turned to me and said, “shayla, what are you doing this weekend – saturday and sunday? do you have plans?”

i replied that i was busy friday, but my inquiring mind also asked, “why? what’s up?”

and then she quickly responded, “do you want to take a trip up north to kick off our Birkie training?”

YUP!

you see, she and i had briefly talked about doing the Birkie a while back and then another friend of mine mentioned that she was new to skiing, but also signed up – so i bit the bullet and committed to skiing the Birkie in 2015.

my brief history with cross country skiing is as follows: in 2010 i decided to spend a decent amount of money on a pretty good skate ski setup. i skied a fair amount that winter, a little bit in 2011-2012, and very few times over the past two winters. some of it was cold (read: me being wimpy) and some of it was life (read: excuses), but i actually realized over the past two winters that i really enjoy being outside and being active in all of Wisconsin’s seasons – winter included. and what better way to get out and enjoy it than to ski an ultramarathon event? (yep, 51km!)

so, after a day or maybe two i let my friend know that yes, i was indeed in for a mini ski adventure weekend!

we hit the road early(ish) saturday morning towards Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (the UP). admittedly, i knew we were headed to a place called Ironwood but i didn’t realize until we were there that it was in another state. oh, details…

when we arrived, driving down back country roads to the trails we were greeted with this:

IMG_4603a snow-covered winter wonderland! i think at one point we both turned to face one another and somewhat giddy, said, “WOW!”

after pulling into the packed place and some fun banter with the guy working the gate, we quickly (ok, me pokily) changed and headed out for some solid ski time. my first 20 minutes were close to awful. i hadn’t waxed my skis since February and i felt like a fish out of water or some other appropriate analogy. after watching me struggle, my awesome friend swapped skis with me (so i could glide a bit and attempt to keep up). we toured around a bunch of trails and i only wiped out once. it was a perfectly balmy 35-degree day and we ended up logging at least 10 miles.

IMG_4612here we are early into day 1 – fresh faced and obviously excited for the adventure ahead.

we soon called it a day, but not before snapping some photos of the amazing scenery:

IMG_4605we spent the remainder of our saturday relaxing, eating dinner with the locals in nearby Hurley, Wisconsin, and each enjoying glasses of the best $3.50 wine i’ve ever had.

sunday morning we were up again relatively early – well, early enough to grab some breakfast before arriving promptly at 9am when the trails were slated to open. sunday morning the weather was 20 degrees colder. we were sitting pretty at about 15 degrees (with a bit of a windchill), so we both bundled up a bit more ready to tackle a few more hours before heading back to Madison. my friend skated with me a bit and also got the opportunity to laugh at me as i attempted to climb and descend some of the biggest hills on the trails. let’s just say that my descents especially need some work. when i lost my balance i simply tried to kind of sit down or bail softly to the side. after we finished that first 5k or so i said i would be done with hills for the day. we skied a bit more – parting ways once or twice and i snapped this (not fantastic) selfie at some point. at least you can see how much more frosty i was on sunday than when we were out saturday.

IMG_4609then, a bit later, after a break in the warming house, my friend switched to her classic skis, we went out, and voila, i could finally keep up! i snapped another picture as i logged my final miles for the day!

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all in all, i think i logged a bit over 20 miles in the two days we were out there. i’ve definitely got a bit of work to do, but i feel a lot better knowing that i successfully started building a skiing base.

thank you Ironwood and Hurley for the loads of snow. thank you body for holding up for me to log some awesome first miles of the season. and thank you friend for asking me to take this adventure with you into the north woods to kickoff our 2015 Birkie training! really, here goes…