For many of us, the Birkie trail is one of the great local destinations. I've spent so much time out there skiing, biking and running that I'm just overwhelmed by a good and positive feeling even on the drive up to Hayward. Saturday the 27th was the Birkie trail marathon, a very difficult trail marathon that takes place right as the colors are starting to turn. These autumn marathons are a blast. It's good for the soul to get out there and spend your whole day in the forest watching the sunlight illuminate the vibrant falling leaves. There's no better way to enjoy our beautiful Midwest Fall season than to run a marathon during the peak colors, and if you do The Birkie Trail Marathon, The Twin Cities Marathon, and the Gandy Dancer Marathon, you're guaranteed to be running peak colors in at least one of them.
I've been planning on doing this marathon all summer, but on Friday I had a quick look at the Birkie web page to see if there was anything new I should know. I quickly noticed a sign saying that there were no race day registrations. "That's OK," I thought, "I registered a long time ago." I proceeded to look through my emails to find a confirmation email, and darn it if all of my searches didn't turn up blank. Annoyed, I eventually called up the Birkie office to find that I hadn't, in fact, registered. Fortunately I caught the oversight and got signed up, otherwise it would have been embarrassing to show up a the start with my friends and not be able to go.
I do always try to pre-register for events because it eases a significant burden for race directors, and it's always significantly cheaper. Having participated in the organization of several events, I can attest that any funds coming in are greatly appreciated, and honestly early bird fees are often offered for less than it costs to put on the event. Even if you don't end up doing the event, you'll save a significant amount of money over time by adopting the policy of pre-registering (and if you don't end up participating, just consider your entry fee a donation to the maintenance of all the great trails we have to enjoy).
This year's Birkie Trail marathon started at Birkie Ridge. I'd never been to this location before, but it's an awesome spot. It's pretty clear that the Birkie Office is planning on moving the Birkie start to this location at some point due to the fact that the availability of Telemark is a big question mark every year, and starting at Telemark also requires a series of easements to be able to secure the course. I fully support the idea of eventually starting the race at Birkie Ridge. The trails connect to the Birkie trail very quickly, and it's a more convenient location logistically.
We set off on a nice, cool morning with an expected high around 75 (it got a little warmer). Eric Olson and I were running this one at a moderate pace because there are a couple other big marathons coming up. This was to be Eric's 60th marathon, which is quite a remarkable achievement. He didn't mention it until after he had already finished, however, because he's a humble guy and he didn't want to jinx the effort. I was honored to snap his photo at the end when number 60 was in the books. Congratulations Eric!
This year, the race ended up being a mile short. My GPS read 25.03 at the finish, which was fine by me since this event is so hilly and difficult. We ran on quite a bit of singletrack, so it is possible that the course registered short on the GPS because of lost signal interference (the GPS measures straight lines from signal points, so if signal points are missed the overall course is registered as shorter than reality). However, there was no mile 16 marker out on the trail, so I'm inclined to believe the course was short. Still, that's fine, I was shot at the end.
It got pretty hot as we ran towards the finish, and the water stations were fairly sparse on this race. This is definitely one to carry a bottle or a hydration pack. At one point I was running along with Jason and Eric on a bit of singletrack when I saw our trail approached the Birkie trail. In the distance I could hear a vehicle approaching, so I crawled through some bush and waved them down to get some water. I filled up my bottle twice from this mobile water station, and it ended up being perfect. Had I not run into those guys, the water situation would have gotten ugly.
But hey, you can't complain. The trail was in awesome shape with almost zero wet spots, and the scenery was stunning. At various points my other Cyclova buds spread out over the course, but we reunited on the trail close to the end and finished together (way behind Ben and Starr who crushed us). Starr was running her first marathon, an awesome achievement on a difficult course! Congratulations Starr!
As always, the Birkie trail marathon has a great spread of food and beer at the finish. Bring a couple extra bucks since only the first beer is free and one beer isn't enough.
There is no better way to enjoy a fall day than to go out and run a marathon. The Birkie trail is such a challenging course that I have no intention of ever attempting a fast time up there. The three of us finished in around 6 hrs, which was fine by me. Enjoy the day, enjoy the colors, and come in with enough energy left over to enjoy the beer! Hey, if I can send some cash to the Birkie office, support the trails, and have a day like this, I'm a happy man.
To make things even better, when I got home, my kids had made this congratulatory sign for me out of chalk (they also used chalk to turn my car into a "race car"...but that's a different story). Having kids is awesome:click here!