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Wild Rumpus Sports
 

The Great American Ski Race

In the northwest corner of cheese country, surrounded by the land of lakes and hot dish, sits the home of America’s greatest cross-contry ski race…the American Birkebeiner.

Start of the American Birkebeiner (Tom Kelly photo-USSA) I’m number 525!
One of the many packs of skiers taking on 51km in the middle of Wisconsin (American Birkebeiner photo)

I’m a Birkie newbie. I had heard a lot about the infamous race, an event that even boasts its own full-length soundtrack CD. However the race itself is only one part of the Birkie, a week that includes ski expos, the Barkebirkie (dog skijoring), a Giants Race (6 people, 2 pairs of giant wooden skis), the Elite Sprints, a number of modified ski marathons of nearly every distance, and the Barnebirkie (children’s race)-also known as the cutest ski race of all time. That doesn’t even include the numerous un-scheduled events such as pizza at the Rivers Eatery in Cable and the after-party at the Sawmill Saloon.

Thousands of clothing bags piling up near the finish zone of the race

After wrapping up the SuperTours in Craftbury, VT, Anne Hart and I took one look at the weather forecast out east and hightailed it to Minneapolis in search of snow. In case you haven’t heard, winter never arrived in Vermont this year. We spent an extra week in the Twin Cities before the Birkie enjoying plentiful skiing, a few trips to the PowerHouse to up our strength game, and even jumped in the Mayor’s Challenge 5km skate race at Wirth Park. We owe a HUGE shoutout to ENDURANCE UNITED for setting us up with some speedy and festive skis for the Valentine’s Day race. Annie and I took 1-2 with the help of their speedy wax job.

 

Racing in Minneapolis

 

Valentine’s Day Special
And the best thing I ever ate….

From Minneapolis we drove the Anne Hart’s family cabin in Cable, Wisconsin, mere minutes from the start of the Birkie Trailhead. The 51 kilometer ski race draws 10,000 competitors each year from the elite level to the first time racers. The terrain winds through seemingly endless forests over undulating terrain. Surrounded by trees and the greatest ski fans you can find, the course climbs the iconic Powerline, FireTower and Bitch Hills before crossing an open lake to finish on main street in downtown Hayward, Wisconsin.

Previewing part of the Birkie trail and getting in the zone with my bib 🙂

 

Beautiful morning views from the Hart cabin

 

Found some Bozeman/BSF friends at the Birkie!!!

I have only ever done one other ski Marathon in my life. As a freshman in college I skied the Rangeley Marathon in Maine, but considered that more of a tour than a race. I had absolutely no idea what to expect from the Birkie. This year’s Birkie was part of the Worldloppet Marathon series so I had never raced against much of the international women’s elite field.  I crowdsourced a  lot of advice beforehand and practiced everything from ripping sport gels of my bib to intervals with a water bottle carrier.

I did some serious taste testing before choosing my fuel for the race

A other few tips I received..some good, some bad, some just silly:

1. Up your snack game in the days leading up to the race aka eat a lot

2. Wear your pajamas inside out the night before the race

3. Warm up like you are starting a 5km race

4. Lead

5. Don’t lead

6. Feed at least twice

7. Don’t drink coffee the morning of the race

8. Finish your first water bottle by 25km

9. If you are off the pack, take the shot-ski at the top of Bitch hill

10. If you feel good, go for it!

On Thursday, Annie and I jumped in the elite sprints, a point to point 500 meter (-ish) race that flies over a bridge and finishes on main street in downtown Hayward. I made it through to the semi-finals before getting knocked out but had a fun time cheering Anne in the final where she finished 3rd despite a little spill on the bridge.

Fun times in the elite sprints downtown (American Birkebeiner photo)
Up and over the bridge! (American Birkebeiner photo)

 

Anne Hart on the sprint podium
Race face (American Birkebeiner photo)

Toeing the start line of the elite wave for the Birkie, I was ready for anything and set to sprint from the line. Turns out no one else really wanted to hammer the first 20km so I settled in the lead pack for a fast but relatively relaxing first half of the race. I spent a lot of time watching and learning, trying to figure out the best places to feed and being ready for anyone to make a move up front.

I think I’m somewhere at the back of this train of women around 25 km (American Birkebeiner photo)

 

By 35 km, the lead pack had dwindled to about 12 racers but the pace still felt relatively comfortable. Heading into the final series of hills, defending 3X Birkie Champion Caitlin Gregg made her move, quickly stringing out the pack of racers behind her. I was in the back of the pack but gave chase along with a handful of other women. We bridged the gap to 3rd but with over 10km to go and unknown terrain ahead I wasn’t sure I could catch Caitlin on my own without completely blowing up. I had never raced this far before and knew if I skied smart I still had a shot at the podium. I skied with 4 other women, all from Europe for the last 10km trading leads and playing a game of cat and mouse. Coming into the last 500 meters my legs felt awesome and I was ready to sprint. I caught and passed 5th and 4th place and with 100 meter to go put in one final surge to catch 3rd! Holly Hart (Annie’s mom) put together this fun video highlighting the race and finish!

Crossing the finish line on Main Street for 3rd place and second American!! (American Birkebeiner photo)
Happy skier 🙂

 

Needless to say, I caught the Birkie fever and I am excited to chase that top step of the podium in future years! Hats off to Caitlin Gregg for an impressive 4th Birkie win. I also owe a big thank you to Anne and her mom Holly for some AMAZING cheering (see video link above) and for hosting me in the midwest for almost two weeks! Thanks also to Salomon and Caldwell sport for great race support and skis. The Birkie was an awesome way to wrap up the SuperTour circuit before heading to Germany and Italy for two weeks of OPA Cup racing! Update to follow 🙂

Finished off the Birkie week with a Fast and Female Champ Chat with Kikkan, Anne, Caitlin and others!

 

Kikkan being incredibly inspiring as per usual 🙂

Burping for the Win

Beautiful Toblach I have this nervous habit before ski races where I start to burp. Not like the cute little post soda burp… I’m talking a series of small to medium sized burps mixed with the occasional belch. Racers who start near me have heard it and usually laugh and smile awkwardly (although that may be because they are disgusted and don’t know how else to respond in said situation). I can’t help the burping though, so I’ve started to just embrace it. Burping means I’m ready to go. Some people yawn, some shake out their legs and arms, some take a few quick sharp breaths…I burp.     Adventure training up Danby Mt. Tabor before the third period of SuperTour racing. This past weekend we traveled to Craftsbury, VT for the last full SuperTour weekend before Spring Series (The American Birkebeiner is also a SuperTour but only half points…

The Carrot

Somewhere around 9km during the mass start skate race in Houghton last week, Annie Hart turned to me with a huff and yelled “Come on Erika!” For the rest of the race I couldn’t stop smiling. Goob used to yell at me like this during our college races at Dartmouth. On one occasion she accidentally took herself out doing so, but most of the time it actually helped and led to some of our best races both as a team and individuals. That same team vibe can be hard to find post-college but I am convinced that there is no better feeling. A painful 30 minutes later, I crossed the finish line still grinning from ear to ear and nabbed my best ever result at U.S Nationals. The last few weeks have flown by. After traveling home for Christmas I spent a solid 2.5 weeks with some of the most…

Elbow Grease

  At about 5:56 am last Wednesday morning, I knew I was in trouble. The good news…I broke my own personal speed record for getting out the door. The bad news…I missed my 7 o’clock flight to SilverStar, British Columbia and embarked on one of my more epic travel days to date. If you’ve ever missed a flight or slept through an alarm you know the feeling. A whirlwind of adrenaline, mixed with periods of hope, disappointment, frustration and finally acceptance (and maybe a few tears tbh). One of my favorite birthday cakes to date! Thank you Melissa 🙂 I turned 26 on Thanksgiving this year and one of the best presents I received was the A-Okay from the doctor to race in the opening SuperTours in Sun Valley, ID. I skied with two poles for the first time in West Yellowstone and a few speed sessions and intervals later,…

Walking with Wonder Woman

  Big City Life I learned to figure skate for the first time shortly after quitting dance lessons. In a year of ballet, we only performed ONCE, and as an attention-needy 8 year old I wanted more time on the main stage. Michelle Kwan and Tara Lapinski had just won gold and silver in the Nagano Olympics and I was pretty sure that figure skating in the Olympics was in my future. I learned to bunny hop before getting distracted by soccer, skiing, theatre and a number of other pre-teen interests. Still, those early figure skating years sparked my interest in the Winter Olympics. Fast forward about 15 years…As I look for my seat at the Women’s Sports Foundation Annual Salute to Women, a familiar face plops down next to me. No, not plops…glides. To say I was starstruck is a bit of an understatement. To my left is Jen Welter, the…

Notes From a Part-Time Lefty

Up until 2 weeks ago, I was a born and bred “righty.” One mountain biking mishap later and I am learning the art of ambidexterity and finding out precisely why we were forced to learn to type with both hands in middle school. Although my left arm is getting stronger, I’m still somewhat relegated to single finger typing. As such…this blog will be on the shorter side but hopefully catch you up on the happenings and mis-happenings of the last few weeks! Park City Pretty! I’ve only ever broken one other bone in my life. I was in elementary school and playing horses on the football field when a boy playing kickball fell onto my wrist and fractured the bone. I quickly figured out that if I wanted to play on the football field, I should probably learn to play soccer or football. In my 7-year-old mind playing horses was dangerous…playing sports…

6 things you didn’t already know about the SMS T2 Ski-A-Thon

Tis the season in Stratton Cool crisp nights, hues of orange and red and bountiful orchards ripe for apple picking are a sure sign of one thing around Stratton, Vermont…time for the annual SMS T2 Ski-A-Thon Fundraiser! Every year, the SMS T2 team takes on the roads of Southern Vermont in an always memorable (and usually somewhat painful) effort to raise money for the team while roller-skiing. This is pretty much our pace for the entire Ski-A-Thon… just kidding but we have been training hard to throw down some fast skiing this year. With a little help from friends and the community, we hope to raise enough money to test all that hard work and help us get to the start line!   Our team depends on the the support of donors, friends, and local supporters to cover travel and racing expenses throughout the season. This year, each of us aims to raise at…

Running For It

Ridge Running   So a few big things have happened since my last blog post… 1. August officially turned into September Pumpkin season…how did that happen?!   Wait…what? The orange and yellow leaves outside my window remind me that, in a few short days, summer will officially give way to fall and training will shift from pure volume to some serious speed and intensity. 2. I went home! Hard to beat days like this on the rivers out West!   I was so psyched to have a week in Montana with my sister, family and friends after three big weeks of training in Stratton. Although we had one day of smokey skies, we were incredibly lucky to dodge the worst of the wildfire weather and enjoyed 6 days of adventuring and resting:) Home sweet home   Pure bliss     Spending time with my Dad, Melissa and Finn   Nat…

The Perks of the Job

The Perks of the Job The SMS T2 team mission statement has two parts: pursue international success in Nordic skiing and help grow the sport in our local communities. The international racing success part seems pretty simple. Train hard, race fast, and post top results at World Cup, Olympic and World Championship events. Noooo problem. Helping grow the sport at the local level is a little less obvious though and something we maybe don’t talk about as much on our blog but is really the meat behind the success of the entire SMS T2 operation. During the last two weeks in Stratton, our team had the chance to put some work into the second part of our mission. We also had a sneak peak at the next generation of cross-country skiers! Annie H was a junior camp counselor for the week and made sure to keep these ladies in line! 🙂…

Monday Mix-Tape

  Summit Sisters enjoying the view on top of Bromley   Although I am still learning how to rest and recover well after big blocks of training, this past week offered me a good chance to practice. After wrapping up our first big volume stint of the summer, we had a full 8 days of recovery training. More details on that to come, but lower hours also meant plenty of time for browsing the web and catching up on the latest news, research, recipes and trends. Here are a few of my favorites from the past week! MONDAY MIX-TAPE This past Friday we had our 3rd Summit Sisters event of the summer and an awesome turnout for our hike up Bromley Mountain. Articles like this remind me why being active and playing sports is so valuable for women and girls and makes me excited to see what our youngest Summit Sisters can accomplish both…