Friday, February 27, 2009


Just a few more things on the Birkie. Here’s the freestyle winner’s race report, along with the classical winner’s race report. If you’re not familiar with Bjorn Daehlie, think the Haile Gabrselassie of skiing – but a little passed his prime.

I took 2 days off after the race and am now trying to get consistent with my running. The problem is that an hour of running seems to beat up my body more than 3 hours of skiing. So I’m trying to be patient and gradually work myself back.

I will say that I feel like I’m in the worst running shape in probably 8 years. It’s funny because during that stretch I always felt like I was in the kind of shape needed to run a 30-minute 8K or a 3-hour marathon. After awhile, you kind of take that running fitness for granted. Now I’m realizing that a lot of work went into being able to do that. When the topic of weekly mileage comes up in the future, I’ll never again proceed it with “just” or “only”. I can remember having a conversation last winter where I said something like I was only running 70 mpw. Right now I’m not even able to comprehend that figure.

Finally, I’ll close the week by throwing out a link to Chris Lundberg’s blog. He's one of the top local runners and he moved out west last summer. He was severely frostbitten on a back-country ski trip last week and there's still a chance he could lose his foot. If you know Chris – or even if you don’t – stop by and wish him well.

Quote of the Day;

“For 2k I skied nearly as hard as I could. I was passing skate skiers like they were standing still. Spectators and road crossings whizzed by. Suddenly, the vast openness of the lake appeared before me. I decided to have a peek back behind me. No sign of Mike, no sign of Geir, and Bjorn Daehlie is standing on the back of my skis. Crap.” – Gus Kaesing

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Monday, February 23, 2009


Of course, now the question becomes; “How can I improve upon my performance?” Or as Adam asked; “What would I do differently with my training?”

I guess the first thing would be to get some lessons to help me with my technique. Given how I felt at the end of the race, I definitely think technique is slowing me down more than my engine. I mean I was passing people that looked like they had great technique, but they were exhausted. One guy in particular looked really smooth. He kept pulling away from me but I seemed to catch him on the hills or at the aid stations, due to the traffic. Towards the end of the race I thought for sure that he dropped me. However, I was surprised to catch and pass him on the lake.

I think simply replacing an easy run with an easy roller ski once a week will help too. And then once the fall marathon season has passed, I can increase that frequency until we have snow.

As for specific training ideas, one would be to take what I know about marathoning and apply it to skiing. I’m thinking something as simple as MP skis and tempo workouts.

I always tried to end my long ski sessions by including some hills towards the end. I think that really helped prepare me for the Birkie. However, the race does finish by crossing Lake Hayward for the last 2K. So throwing in a hard tempo effort or two at the end of those long skis would probably pay dividends on race day. I’d say doing the City of Lakes Loppet race also helps with that because it finishes by crossing a bunch of lakes.

One other technique that I could work on too is the Herringbone. I didn’t use it in training much, but when some of the Birkie hills get congested and the snow is like mashed potatoes, then the Herringbone seemed to work best.

As far as strategy goes, I’d probably get to the start earlier and make sure I was near the front of my wave and then try to get out hard. Given I had no idea what I was getting into, I went out conservatively. The problem with that strategy is that you use more energy trying to get around people when the course narrows or you just get stuck behind them on the hills. I think getting out hard and then settling in would be a better strategy.

I’m sure I’ll come up with more ideas, but these are what come to mind right away.

Quote of the Day;

“Skiing down Main Street was a highlight of my life--looking back across the trail and the 51km, I knew I had tamed both the Birkie trail and my own personal demons; it was truly a wonderful moment.” – Martin Gibbs

Sunday, February 22, 2009


I don't think most people want to go through life with a bunch of regrets. Luckily, I think I've been pretty fotunate in that regard. Quitting high school basketball, instead of waiting to get cut, may be my biggest regret - at least until this weekend. Now my biggest regret is that I didn't start skiing earlier in life so that I could have more Birkies under my belt.

Now I'm not going to say this is the absolute greatest event I've ever participated in - mainly because I don't think it's fair to compare the likes of a Grandma's, an Ironman or a Birkie - but it's right near the top. I do think all these great events have a couple of things in common, namely a leader with a vision - whether it be Scott Keenan, John Collins or Tony Wise - and unique, albeit small, beginnings that have grown into international events.

The Birkie's humble beginnings included 35 classical skiers making a 55K trek mainly using a trail in the ditch next to the highway. 36 years later the weekend of events consists on nearly 10,000 skiers making their way along the most beautiful and challenging trails I've ever skied. Along the way there are such landmarks as the Powerline - a series of hills within the first 5K, Bobblehead Hill - a long downhill with a 90 degree lefthand turn where a bunch of snowmobilers (the bobbleheads) gather to cheer, jeer and wait for skiers to wipe out, Bitch Hill - a long, steep hill 42K into a 50K race - think Heartbreak Hill, and a great finish on the streets of downtown Hayward.

It was difficult for me to think of a time goal for this race. It was only my third ski race ever and it was the longest by 17K. I thought 3:20 seem pretty reasonable - plus or minus 10 minutes depending on whether I was have a good or bad day. For a non-time goal I was hoping to ski well enough that next year I'll move up from this year's 3rd wave.

When it comes to running marathons I've talked about 2 distinct races depending on what I'm thinking around mile 16. If I think, "Damn, I still have 10 miles to go." I'm in for a long day. If I think, "Damn, I only have 10 miles to go." I'm having a great day. Since this was my first skiing marathon, I have no idea if they follow similar criteria. I do know that I didn't want my first Birkie to end. I felt great the whole way and seemed to feed off of passing people from waves that started 10 and 20 minutes in front of me. I ended up crossing the finish line in 3:12 - a time that should definitely put me in wave 2 next year.

After changing clothes and grabbing a bowl of soup I walked 2 blocks to a great coffee shop that was playing Neil Young. Does it get any better than that? Well maybe if I knew some other skiers.

While I didn't come out and proclaim the Birkie the greatest event ever, I will pay it this compliment - with apologies to Jack Nicholson in "As Good as it Gets". The Birkie makes me want to be a better athlete. The Birkie makes me want to work on my core strength. The Birkie makes me want to eat my fruits and vegatables. The Birkie is enough to make winter my new favorite season. The Birkie is an event I can see planning my entire season around. And maybe the best compliment of all; I can't see not doing this race in the future.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Good news…

HAYWARD, Wis., Feb. 17, 2009 – With just 4 days til the 36th anniversary American Birkebeiner in Cable and Hayward, Wis., Executive Director Ned Zuelsdorff today announced Birkie skiers will ski a full race with finish on Main Street, Hayward.

“The trails from the start line to Lake Hayward are in excellent ski conditions, very firm, clean and fast," reports Zuelsdorff. "In preparation for a Main Street finish we have a crew who will be finishing the route across Lake Hayward on Wednesday.”
Now my only concern is that this event won’t live up to the hype. Given all I’ve read and heard about this event over the years, if it’s not better than sex I’m going to be extremely disappointed. All right, maybe my expectations aren’t quite that high, but it’s close.

I think a good comparison would be when a movie gets a ton of hype which makes you expect great things from it. But then once you see it, it’s just okay. That same movie without any expectations may in fact be great.

That’s what I’m hoping to avoid this weekend. Somewhere between Grandma’s Marathon Weekend and sex would satisfy my expectations.

Quote of the Day;

“I skied across the lake yesterday and anticipate that skiers will have very good trail conditions over their final kilometers of the race.” – Ned Zuelsdorff

Monday, February 16, 2009


The problem with spring melt we had a week ago is that now everyone thinks winter is over. However, we still have a good 4-6 weeks left of cold and snow. And with “all” of the snow gone, skiing isn’t much of an option. I did manage to make my way to Hyland Park on Sunday and ski on the manmade snow on their downhill ski area. Going into this Saturday’s race without being on skis for 2 weeks would not have been a good thing, so now I feel a little better. I will say that there’s something strangely satisfying when you ski to the top of a hill used for downhill skiing. Granted this is Minnesota I’m talking about, not Colorado, but it was still pretty cool.

I also managed 35 miles of running last week. While everything seems to be a little sore – especially my hamstrings – it feels like my running legs are coming around a little. And if, like me, you needed a little extra motivation to get out and run, be sure to check out Ryan’s blog and congratulate him on his first sub-3. This is a guy who’s path to sub-3 is fairly similar to mine; “had to” give up a sport he loved (hockey for him, basketball for me) to make it happen, kept adding mileage to his programs, and had a bunch of near-misses. His training since running 3:06ish at TCM has been amazing and he definitely earned his sub-3.

Quote of the Day;
“I achieved my goal and made personal running history this morning at the Austin Marathon.” - Ryan

Thursday, February 12, 2009


I am seriously still in shock by how quickly the snow has disappeared. If my computer worked at home, I’d take a picture to prove it. Since I can’t, you can check out a photo or two on Jean’s blog.

Here’s the official report from the Birkie office:

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009 12:00:00 PM

The weather in Northwest Wisconsin has not been cooperating or making it easy for the event. The weather has cooled since Monday and the rain is no longer falling. The high on Monday night reached 44F. A first assessment of the trail was done this morning and a second will be done on Wednesday morning.

The trail base remains strong and frozen with 4"-7" of good base. The crews will begin tilling on Wednesday night or Thursday morning. We anticipate that the trail will groom up nicely and conditions will be very good again. However, the trail is becoming icy as temperatures drop and we ask that people not ski on the trail until we've been able to re-groom.
A couple of sites I visit say it’s not a lost cause yet and that they can do amazing things with their high-tech grooming equipment. Probably the biggest problem is that as the race comes into town, it crosses Lake Hayward, which I’m sure is just a sheet of glare ice now. So I’m guessing we’ll probably be racing, but it may be on a shortened course. Who knows, maybe that’s a good thing when you consider that I might be heading into this race without touching ski to snow for over 2 weeks.

I have been running more and will actually be over 30 miles this week. Woot, woot!!! Thinking about my last post and checking out a calendar, I see that Grandma’s Marathon will be 18 weeks away on Saturday. Hmm, that seems to tie in nicely with a Pfitz plan.

I’ve mentioned that my (nearly) 8-year-old has taken an interest to skiing the last 2 years. We usually just go to the local county park and rent skis for her. I’ve been thinking about getting her some skis and mentioned to my wife, who wasn’t as gung-ho. I see her point, financially, it’s like $7 to rent versus probably $100 or more to buy. And since she’s growing like a weed, it makes even less sense. However, I think my wife only sees it as money out the door, where as I see it as laying a foundation to exercise that will last a lifetime. As someone who started running at age 10, I can’t even imagine what my life would have been like without that introduction to endurance sports. Sure we can continue to rent, but I think she’d have more opportunities if the two of us could go whenever we wanted. Sounds like I have some convincing to do.

Quote of the Day;
“As my girls get older I've realized my workouts aren't only for my own benefit. They benefit my children too because I am (along with dad) their role model for fitness. When your kids include triathlon in their creative play you know you're doing something right. I've read that studies show if parents exercise, children are likely to grow up exercising too. That's very important to me. Fitness is a family value in our house.” - Kara Thom

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


I think it’s safe to say that 40 degrees and rain sucks for everyone. Our awesome ski conditions have basically disappeared overnight. I guess the good news is that most of my “training” for the Birkie is complete. The next two weeks would have been maintenance anyway. However, if we don’t get any more snow in the next 10 days, the whole thing could be off.

The thing I’ve been struggling with the most lately is whether or not I should sign up for Grandma’s Marathon. Based on my experience at Boston last year and on what other skiers have told me about transitioning from snow to a spring marathon, I’d be smart to skip it. However, it’s very hard to skip your favorite marathon. I mean, they only come around once a year.

I think one of the cool things about endurance events is that they’re a whole different creature than the every-weekend 5K and 10K. All our training focuses on one or two events a year and we get really fired up for them. One of the things I wrote about last winter was how skiing would allow me to add to the number of these types of events, so I’ll be able to do three or four big events each year, instead of one or two. With that in mind, it makes skipping Grandma’s even less of an option.

I guess the lack of snow will “force” me back in to my running shoes a little earlier than I was planning. In fact, Rick dragged me out for a 10 miler this morning – my furthest run in 3.5 weeks.

Quote of the Day;
“The only problem is that you end up being really fit in March and you have to be really careful getting back into running to make sure you don’t get injured.” - Jan Guenther

Monday, February 09, 2009


Well, the Birkie is less than 2 weeks away. Maybe after that I’ll get back to talking about running. I ended up taking the day off from work on Friday in order to get in one last long ski. Taking the day off served 2 purposes; 1) it allowed me more time at home with the kids during the weekend and 2) it allowed me to beat the heat wave.

Warm-weather running = great.

Warm-weather skiing = not so great.

I ended up skiing for just over 3 hours and covered 44K. Chris joined me for about half of that and it was great having the company – although skiing together is not the same as running together. It’s not like you’re side by side having a conversation the whole time. It’s more like ski for awhile, regroup and talk a little, ski, regroup, talk, etc.

Saturday was my first run in 2 weeks - and it felt like it! 4 miles felt like 104 miles. With our current above freezing temps and rain in the forecast, I’ll probably end up running more than skiing this week.

Since I haven’t blogged much lately, here are some high-level things that are new;

Bailey, our dog, turned 10 years old.
Katie turned 5 ½ years old, which is a big thing when you’re that age.
Kinsey now owns 2 guinea pigs; Shadow and Cocoa.
Recent parent-teacher conferences went really well.
I “PRd” at Wii bowling with a 244.
We had a power surge 2 weeks ago that fried our computer (even though it was plugged into a surge protector) and screwed up the readout on our treadmill.
I’ve subscribed to the Food Network magazine, which I really like – although no one else is too fond of my cooking.
We’re thinking about going to Disney World this year but can’t decide between June, October, or just waiting another year.
Now you’re all caught up on my life.

Quote of the Day;
“I knew I was the top returner from 2008 so there was some pressure to win the race.” – Emily Brown, after winning her first national title over the weekend

Monday, February 02, 2009


What an awesome weekend! I’m sure the City of Lakes Loppet organizers were thrilled to have temps above 40 on Saturday for more of their family events and then in the low 30s on Sunday for their main races.

This was only my second x-c ski race. As soon as I got off the bus I was literally looking around and listening to people – trying to get a lay of the land and gain some insight from some of the more experience skiers. Scott did the 10K as his first race ever and he summed it up perfectly;

I was like a fish out of water pre-race. It was so close to something I've done a million times but so far.
For me, it’s weird to go from running races where you see tons of familiar faces, to a ski race where I might recognize 2-3 people – if that. But I think that is just something that adds to the uniqueness of this whole experience. And it’s definitely a unique experience when you train by yourself or with a handful of people on perfectly groomed courses and then try to race 800 people on narrow trails through mashed potatoes. That’s the best way to describe much of the course – especially the hills.

I was a little worried that I had the wrong wax on. I based wax on Friday’s forecast and then it got warmer than expected on Saturday, so it wasn’t as cool on Sunday. But I stuck with what I had, FastWax LF Blue, and it seemed fine.

Just before the start, I decided to use my stopwatch even though there aren’t any mile markers like in running. I know with wave starts that sometimes it can be hard to figure out your final time because the race clock starts with wave one. Now I’m glad I did this because it appears I was given the wrong chip. At first I thought it was a little odd that my name wasn’t read off, like all the others skiers, as I crossed the finish line. It wasn’t that big of deal and I proceeded to change clothes and grab some soup. 15 minutes later I hear my name being announced. Sure enough, the results have me finishing in 2:17 even though my clock showed 2:02.

Obviously, I don’t have a lot to compare those results to, but I seemed to be moving up on a lot of people in the wave ahead of me. So I’ll take that as a positive. Also, I averaged 3:46 per KM or like 6:05 per mile, which seems pretty quick compared to my training paces.

With that said, I still have a ton of work to do. Going from the top 5% of running races to the top 40% of skiing races is very humbling. I did find it kind of interesting that this race was made up of 81% men. That seems disproportionately high. Where are all the women at?

Even though I had a great time during my race, my favorite part of the weekend was taking my (nearly) 8 year old daughter with me on Saturday. After picking up my packet she participated in the kids’ carnival as well as the Minne-Loppet. She earned her first blister and her first medal. It makes me super proud to see her out there.

Quote of the Day;

“Skiing the Birkie was an amazing experience! I feel the best I have ever felt in my life.” - Mary Krook, First-time Birkie skier