Traveling Ted was one of the nearly 10,000 cross-country skiers that participated in the 2009 American Birkebeiner Marathon in Hayward, Wisconsin. The Birkebeiner consists of several races and the most prestigious ones are the 54 kilometer classic and the 50 kilometer skate marathon. The Birkebeiner is known as the elite cross-country ski race in the United States as designated by the Worldloppet Ski Federation.
It was my first time last year, and I entered the 54 km classic race. As a newbie it was quite a physical and mental challenge. I was given some great advice from Worldloppet masters Pete Kumlien and Andy Johnsen. Pete suggested I take the first 20 kilometers easy and then start to reel in the other races after that point. Andy told me it was always a good idea to follow a good skier because if the skier in front of you crashed then you would go down with them.
When the shot rang out it was just me against the course. With so many skiers it was difficult to hold back because in a race it is natural to want to pass and to keep on passing slow skiers. I definitely did not hold back as advised.
54 kilometers is roughly 33 miles, and the trail was grueling. Somehow it seemed that there were twice as many uphill sections as downhill. Although there are no mountains in the Wisconsin northwoods, there are some pretty steep hills.
They began to take their toll the 35 kilometer mark. The Birkebeiner has markers every kilometer and they seemed to somehow get farther and farther apart.
I had never skied 33 miles in one day, although I had completed 27 a couple of times at the South Kettle Moraine. I felt confident that I could finish, but I was a little apprehensive.
The hills seemed to intensify and my body was starting to break down. The fast start was coming back to haunt me as I labored around the 40 kilometer mark.
As I climbed a hill I began to hear this loud thumping music up the hill. I was bent over like an old woman fighting up the hill, but I managed to cock my head up and peer up to see what the hubbub was.
It was a group of locals that must have snowmobiled in to this remote spot on the trail. They had a sound system and a microphone. They were encouraging skiers in the microphone and dancing to the music. I thought this was hilarious and I beamed with a huge smile as I approached.
They asked me how I was, and they stuck the microphone into my face. I started to sing into the microphone along with the music. They thought this was funny and kept the microphone in front of me for more. I gave them my camera and they took a few photos along with them.
I skied away and smiled as I waved back at them. This small interaction really kicked in the endorphins and provided a second wind. Not soon after on the home stretch I was given a shot of jagermeister from an ice fisherman on the lake. That also provided a bit of burst for the finale.
I was able to finish and I most likely would have completed the race without these little boosts of encouragement from the local Hayward cheerleaders. However, their selfless support made my first Birkebeiner a little easier and is something I will never forget.
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