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2015 Birkie Race Report

Another American Birkebeiner is in the books!  That makes 13 for me, 28 for my mom, and one more for all my close skier friends (and the first one for a few of them).  For many of us, the Birkie isn't just the pinnacle of the ski season, it's the peak of the whole year! I know that I got to see a lot of you on Birkie day, and it's so much fun to run into folks and say hello in the nervous moments before the race begins. For those of you I didn't see, I'm looking forward to swapping Birkie tales the next time our paths cross.

After last year's impossibly difficult Birkie, I was hoping this year would be a bit easier.  My training was certainly better, and I'd been doing marathon races like the Pre-Birkie and Badger State games much faster than any time in the last 5 years.  However, the Birkie is not like the other races on the ski calendar. It is always tough!  We had good conditions temperature wise, but a couple inches of snow accumulation the night before the race made the trail pretty slow (especially for those of us in the later waves).  I ended up finishing in 4:20, which was faster than last year, but still on the slow side. Honestly, it's been kind of funny because since I moved back to the US from Peru in 2009 I've been in better shape every year for the Birkie only to have my times get slower and slower!  Trail conditions can mess with you.  

Still, your Birkie experience should not be about your final time. It's about your friends, and it's about having motivation to maintain your fitness year round.  I'll be turning 40 soon, and I feel much better now than I did in my early 30s, mainly because of the positive effects of a fitness lifestyle. The best time of the year is the couple hours spent with friends in those nervous moments before the race. It's crazy, but when you're waiting in the warming tent before the Birkie starts, it feels like you're a million miles away from every other aspect of your life.  You might as well be on the moon!

This year I zip tied a gopro to my water bottle carrier just to grab some pics.  The batteries went dead on it within about 45 minutes (I'll use lithium batteries next year), but I still got some neat pics of the starting area frenzy.  
As with every year, we were dang near the first people to arrive at the warm-up tent. We pretty much always plan to get in the first bus up to Telemark. It seemed especially critical this year because we suspected the international bridge (which cut road traffic down to 1 lane) might impede traffic.  I haven't heard any stories yet about people arriving late...but it always happens to somebody.

Honestly...I'd rather get to the start early and sacrifice a half hour of restless sleep anyway.
Here we are enjoying ourselves before the race.  My mom always brings a 12 pack of snickers bars as last minute fuel.
You can see how much it was snowing in this picture.  For some reason, the organizers decided to put the bathrooms facing each other in two rows. There was an entrance at one end and an exit at the other.  The problem with this was that it created a huge line. My suspicion is that there were also probably plenty of port-a-pots sitting there empty as people waited in line (since the guy/gal at the front line sometimes isn't paying attention when people finish and walk off).  I think they should go back to one row of port-a-pots.  This is a minor criticism, but something to consider.
Micah and I at the start. I'd stashed our skis over by the Norwegian flag (I thought that appropriate). Those new green one way jackets we have are awesome. Toasty warm before the race (and after).
About a half hour before race time, it's time to strip down. It's cold waiting around in your ski clothing for a half-hour, but you need to give yourself time to drop off your gear bag and find your starting gate.
Handing off my gear bag.  The gear bag has a number stuck on it with a sticker, and this guy had the genius idea to also write the number on in magic marker (in case the number fell off).  Cold weather does bad things to adhesives.  This guy probably saved some lives that day.
On the way to the bag drop off, I ran into Eric T. Olson. Everybody's got the same idea in the minutes leading up to the start.
Mitch juggling with his gear bag and equipment in the moments leading up to the start.
Random skier waiting in line to be let into the starting area.
As we were waiting at the start, the fellow on the right discovered a bottle of powerade that had been left on the garbage can lid. I think he was thirsty. I figured the person who had left it there had probably already taken off, so we encouraged the guy to drink it. I think he did.
This couple sharing a hug of encouragement in the moments before the start. Micah also looks ready to go.
They finally let us in to the starting area.
At the finish, a long 4:20 later. I got hot early on and pulled off my hat and balaclava. I did the whole rest of the race with no hat (no, my ears never got cold).  At the finish, my wife and kids were waiting for me.

This was a tough Birkie, I was completely shot at the end. This year they decided to put the bag drop way up at the primary school, and it was a long walk. I was frozen solid by the time I got to my gear bag. I understand that they had good intentions of providing us with a nice warm place to change, but honestly, I wish the bag drop was closer. I have about a 10 minute window to get out of my wet skiing clothes after the race or I freeze solid, and I was pushing it after that walk to the bag drop. Hopefully that's something they change next year.  Everything else, though, was superb as only the Birkie can be.

Oh, and as per family tradition, I got my girls up early to have a picture with me in the morning. They were pretty groggy though:
Ok, that's it for this year! We're only 365 days away from the next one! I hope to see all of you at the starting area in 2016!  Great work team! Congratulations to all that participated! For those of you who still aren't convinced as to how awesome this race is, go out and pick up your copy of Beyond Birkie Fever!


  1. Way to go Ben, a classic article for a classic birkie.

  2. Congrats on your Birkie! Can anyone compare the Birkie (Korte) trail vs Giants Ridge Pepsi challenge loop?
    Wondering how they compare in difficulty/technical grade/etc. under similar conditions.

    1. Pepsi challenge is one of the most difficult races out there. The hills are as big as the ones you find on the Birkie trail. The trail itself probably isn't quite as wide, but the field is smaller so that's not an issue. If you've done the Birkie, you can do Pepsi. Trail conditions vary depending on snow cover and temperature...but Pepsi is very comparable to Birkie.

    2. The Pepsi course is a fun mix of things. Nothing to kill you, but on average I'd say more technical than the Birkie.

      0-5k - Gradual climbs and descents (Cedar maybe Gold)
      5-11k - Punchy climbs, most relatively short, but a few longer ones. Lots of twists and turns (Silver)
      11-16k - Rolling, very few turns (Northern Lights/Laurentian)
      16-21k - All uphill. Except for a couple of fast turny downs (Summit & Gold)
      21-24k - Bombing down next to the downhills back to the stadium (Gold)

  3. Extremely helpful, thank you both for your comments! I feel slightly more mentally prepared going in with this information :)