Concept2 CTS’ Josh Carlson relays his adventures at the 40th American Birkebeiner.
It’s that yearly craving for the excitement, camaraderie and challenge that can only be satisfied by clicking into a pair of skis and lining up at the start line with more than 8000 other ski pals from around the world. It’s a lifestyle that keeps you fit and healthy year-round. It’s an annual test of personal endurance. And it’s something no skier wants to shake. Some of the symptoms?
- Your home is filled with Birkie paraphernalia.
- Your television is permanently set to the Weather Channel.
- You think about wave placement in the heat of summer.
- You pray for snow long before winter sets in.
- You register the first day the entry form is made available.
- You train endlessly, no matter the time of year.
- You notice the “B” word invades conversations within 15 minutes.
Last week marked the 40th American Birkebeiner, and because Concept2 CTS helped sponsor the event, I was there and able to see what Birkie Fever is all about. Skiers from around the world come to Hayward, Wisconsin, for the race. The Birkie has a reputation for attracting skiers of varying ability levels. Olympians and National team members have competed in the event, but the Birkie also draws recreational skiers from Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Race day also includes the shorter 23k Kortelopet “Korte,” a race geared more toward recreational skiers, and the Prince Haakon 13k event for those who are not ready to take on the challenge of the longer courses. Registration was capped at 10,000 skiers this year, with an additional 20,000 spectators on the sidelines cheering on the competitors.
This year we had a booth in the expo on Thursday and Friday at the Hayward Middle School, where every participant had to pick up their race bib. With up to 10,000 racers, I was kept very busy in the Concept2 SkiErg booth. Many people took my challenge and tried a 100m sprint to see who could set a record for the fastest time. Most people did not set any records but were happy to go away with some SkiErg ski ties or lip balm for their effort. (Note to self for next year: bring twice as many things to give away!) At the end of the expo, I checked the monitors on the SkiErgs—about 50,000 meters were skied over the two days. Awesome!
The expo was a great place to meet people I have known through ski circles and to put faces with names of people I'd spoken to about skiing but had not yet met. It was great meeting Caitlin Gregg, who is an ambassador of the SkiErg and the winner of the 2011 Birkie. Caitlin would end up being this year’s winner in a dramatic sprint finish. One of the elite racers from Vermont's Craftsbury Green Racing Project, Caitlin Patterson, finished 3rd in the race just 1.7 seconds behind Gregg. The women’s winner of the Thursday sprint racing on Main Street was none other than Jennie Bender of Team CXC. Jennie uses the SkiErg and is a guest blogger for Concept2. She is originally from Johnson, Vermont, and started her Nordic ski career in the same town as Concept2 headquarters: Morrisville, Vermont.
I wasn’t about to go to the Birkie just to work, oh no. If I was going to be there, I had to experience the race. When you are doing the Birkie for the first time, you have to start at the very back in wave 9. This puts about 8000 skiers ahead of you. With the arrival of a lot of snow the day before the race, combined with the traffic of skiers ahead of me, the course was pretty soft on the hills and crowded with racers. I felt like such a rock star passing many of the racers in earlier waves, and I was thinking that my goal of finishing around 3 hours was possible. I felt great! After about 15 pretty hilly kilometers, the course had great rolling terrain, and I was able to settle into a nice pace. The Birkie ends with about 2 kilometers of skiing across a lake before you enter the final stretch in downtown Hayward.
In the end, it took me 3:28 to cross the line, but I was very pleased with how I skied. My time should be good enough to get me into a much earlier wave (something like wave 2) the next time I get the chance to go back, which, I hope, is next year because I now officially have “Birkie Fever.”