birkie silliness
Birkie Sillies

As “day 1 soreness” continues to reveal new signs that I perhaps overdid things yesterday (hello arches and forearms! Really?), now seems a great time to go over what got me and this now-aching but generally happy temple of a body to this state. Here goes:

October 2011

I secure a cabin rental in Hayward for Birkie weekend 2012. I claim to have very little interest in skiing any of the competitive ski events that weekend, but my husband, a few friends and I have decided to make a fun north woods weekend of it and I’ve offered to secure lodging. Last year, Steve and I got a hotel room for the weekend, to enable him to compete in his race event, but we found the dining options in the area to be very limited, so lodging with a kitchen would be key to enjoyment of the weekend, for us. Especially if I plan to spend the race day of the weekend doing something other than racing (perhaps making chili).

Mid-November 2011

I register for the full Birkebeiner Classic race: 54 kilometers of skinny-skiing in the classic traditional striding style. In late October I ran a 25k trail race that had me on my feet for three hours. I figure I am well on my way toward being lungs- and legs-fit for a 6+ hour ski race, so why not get registered? I succumb to the pressure exerted by the organizers (“race registration is likely to close THIS WEEK!”), but I feel energized for the coming winter. Most winters, I can’t keep running outdoors anyway, due to all the ice on the trails and sidewalks. Skiing is likely going to be the way I keep fit. Or so I think…

Mid-January 2012

The twin cities metro area has very little snow. Most of it is man-made and sits on surfaces at just 2-3 cross-country ski areas. All of those sound to be commandeered by high school and masters ski teams during the hours I could feasibly get there, around my workday and other weekly commitments. I haven’t touched my skinny skis since last February.

smiling racers
Happy to be at Telemark.

Steve and I head out to Washington State for a 3-day weekend of skiing in the Methow River Valley with two of the people who are part of our Hayward plans in February. The snow is bountiful and in great condition. Over the weekend, we put in about 45k on varied terrain at altitude. I work hard enough to be sore on days 2, 3, and 4, but am feeling good. We have a great time and I’m energized again to do some more training back in Minnesota. If the skies open up and deliver some fluffy white goodness to the ski areas in town where mere mortals can log some time on skis, I’ll be able to pull this off. I just need about four weekends with long days of skiing.

Early February 2012

I decide not to ski the race: I haven’t touched the skis since the Methow trip, nor have I done any ski-like training.  There’s no snow! Well, there is snow within 2 hours of our house, but my weekend plans don’t allow for that amount of time for ski training. And, it’s ok. The original plan was to hang back and make chili.

I’ve kept up my general fitness, running 2-3 days a week, doing yoga most days, swimming now and then, and doing strength/power workouts a few times a week. The running, I feel, is generally good base training for my summer running season, but my longest runs lately take about an hour and I’m not including much hill or interval work. I feel it would be foolish and perhaps a little disrespectful to consider doing the long, hilly race. On the other hand, I am also aware that I have a registration card that some of my friends don’t have (perhaps as I got the last one), so it also feels disrespectful to just not show up for the event. I’m torn.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

kid racer
Getting an early start

After an evening in the Cities, catching up with several local friends, Jon, Steve and I arrive in Hayward just in time to watch one of those friend’s daughter participate in the Barnebirkie – the children’s event that is part of the festivities. 900 kids, ages 3-13, do a 1, 3, or 5k ski tour/race in town. Some kids had skied before, some hadn’t. Some were tiny tots, some were leggy teenage giants. All were on skis, supported by family and/or the community. It was a chaotic-looking mass start, and a somewhat less chaotic-looking progression toward the big finish line on Hayward’s Main Street. It was inspiring! I was once a skier, that small. But on alpine skis. Trying. Getting better. Sticking with it.

I’m inching closer to donning the chip and bib on Saturday, and seeing if I can accomplish that distance. I feel it’s a big If: I may need to bail at one of the aid areas if a joint, blister, or my energy level determine that has to happen. I’m sort of okay with that idea.

Normally I train for events to such a level that I am very confident that I will achieve my goal, be it finishing or hitting a certain time. But now, inspired by the kids with so many determined faces, maybe it’s a worthwhile test to try something that I don’t know for sure I can achieve? It’s been a few years since I did that.

An hour later, we are at the Birkie Expo, picking up our race packets. I figure if there’s loot, I’ve paid for it, so I might as well pick it up.

I win a door prize: A Swix fanny pack. I’ll find use for it; it’s pretty large and could hold a water bottle or maybe a puffy jacket, if I ski on a very cold day in the future. It’s just a door prize, but it’s also just another reason, this one silly, to consider suiting up.

While at the expo, I overhear someone talking about how awesome the Birkie is because of how many “citizen” racers participate. It’s evidently unique in that way. I hadn’t known that fact, though that segment of the entrants likely includes everyone but the lycra-clad elites. You don’t have to look like a giraffe decked out in NASCAR to be someone who has done more training than I have, and to finish before officials escort you off the course.

Jon has almost managed to convince me to do the race. Maybe this is due to the fact that two years ago, he had about the same amount of training as I do now, and he finished.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The three of us find a trail nearby and ski for an hour. Jon wants to get a feel for the snow conditions tomorrow, and I want to see if I can call up any of the techniques I’ll need to employ in order to even attempt the race. It seemed feasible that I’d suddenly have a case of two left legs or that a knee or shoulder might not be keen on the idea of 6+ hours of skiing.

The trail we choose, the Namekagon trail, is beautiful. Not very recently groomed, but we aren’t picky: we have a nice hour of minimally challenging skiing.  This trail reminds me why I enjoy cross-country skiing: trails that meander through the woods, offering stunningly glistening scenery, usually some silence, and a great way to stay warm while taking it all in.

As it turns out, chili can easily, if not preferably (for flavor) be made a day ahead of time. Maybe I knew this when I made the menu choice for the post-race meal? Anyway, I’ve decided to throw my hat in the ring, and attempt to do the American Birkebeiner. After grabbing some lunch at the Sawmill Saloon, we head back to the cabin to make the chili, then later make dinner, and tuck in for our pre-race night of sleep.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The three of us get coffee’d, fed, and to the start line without a hitch. The starting countdown happens, and we are off. I motor up, down, up, down all three thousand of the hills, swearing at several of them (one of them is officially named “Bitch” but I’m convinced that she has several sisters hanging out, tormenting racers, very early in the race).

hill profile
In Elevation Profile: The Nastiest Hills

I have a pretty enjoyable time of it, in spite of the nasty hills. Aid stops come regularly, and I stop briefly, gulp down water, electrolytes, some banana and/or Gu, and get back on the trail. I know that if I tarry, my hands may get cold and I run the risk of missing the cut-off time at the half-way point.

I hit the half-way point a full hour before the cut-off time. I’ve got a few blisters in the oven of my boots, as well as an ankle that’s talking to me, though just in a nagging whisper. At this point, only an accident on a downhill, later, could stop me from finishing. So, I keep going.

About three quarters of the way through the course I find another racer who seems to be keeping a pace similar to mine, so we hang together for the rest of the race, talking, encouraging each other on, conversing with a few other amenable competitors as we go. Tom, that really nice fellow, really makes the more grueling kilometers of the race fly by. By the last 1500 meters, across that lake and into Hayward, we are both hobbled a little by cramping upper limbs or injured equipment, but we keep moving and finish with smiles. I have a smile so big that I am not just ok with, but loving the fact that a woman in a magenta-colored tutu beats me across the finish line.

Goat Cheese Cake
Not chili. Dessert a day later, at the Gnome. Chévre Cheesecake.

Tom and I part ways after I receive my finisher’s medal and a photographer gets a shot of us, together. I’d passed Jon and Steve, cheering loudly, just prior to the finish, and I find them shortly. They grab my skis and send me to the food tent, where I get a cup of the best-tasting chicken noodle soup. Yum! I fear my body will turn to stone shortly, but we sit for a moment as I slurp, before I go grab warm clothes and change into them. We head back to the cabin, the comfy Bear Den at the Mystic Moose, to enjoy some chili, Surly Beer, hot showers, and some stories from the day.

In sum: We had a great time in Hayward, this year. Food, fun, challenges, smiles, friendship, support and love were all in tremendous abundance, if not surplus. Gluttons for the excess of Birkie Fever, we were.

Updated on 2/27/12: The Beef, Black Bean and Chorizo Chili Recipe

Serves 5. Adapted from Cooking Light Magazine.

 Ingredients
  • 1 link Spanish chorizo sausage (about 3 ounces), thinly sliced. Ground chorizo with no casing is fine, too – just divide it up into bite-size chunks as you cook it.
  • 3/4 pounds beef stew meat
  • 3/4 cups chopped onion
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 (7-ounce) can chipotle chiles in adobo sauce (you’ll need just part of the can contents)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1 (14-ounce) cans less-sodium beef broth
  • 1 (14-ounce) can whole tomatoes, undrained and chopped
  • 1 tablespoons masa harina (corn flour)
  • 1 (15-ounce) cans pinto beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • Optional, but advised: grated cheddar, chopped onions, and/or sour cream, as topping
Preparation
  • Heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add chorizo to pan; sauté 3 minutes or until browned. Remove chorizo from pan. Add beef to pan; sauté 5 minutes or until browned. Remove beef from pan. Add onion and garlic to pan; sauté 3 minutes.
  • Remove 3 chipotle chiles from can, and chop. Reserve remaining chiles and sauce for another use. Add chorizo, beef, chopped chiles, tomato paste, and next 6 ingredients (through ground cumin) to pan, and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in red wine, lime juice, beef broth, and tomatoes; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
  • Gradually stir in masa harina. Add pinto beans and black beans; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 30 minutes.
  • Add desired toppings and eat. Maybe with some crusty bread from Cossetta’s bakery.

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