This year’s American Birkebeiner was one for the books! I am always very excited when February comes around and the Birkie fever starts to set in. This year, I was feeling the excitement and also the nerves as I had some pretty big goals that I was setting out to accomplish.
(My race set-up. Complete with the best Pioneer Midwest headwear)
The race started out at a conservative pace but quickly picked up around 5k. As the kilometers ticked by and the pace heightened, people began dropping off from the lead pack. For the first 20kilometers, I was feelingreally strong and was bouncing around between 3rd and 10th position. By the OO check point there were only 11 women left in the front group.
(Women's Elite Wave Start)
As we raced our way past OO there were a lot more tactics coming into place. Skiers began making surges, attempting to break up the pack or simply get away from the group. As these surges continued to happen, I tried to hang tough and remember that the pace would eventually come back down. At around 35k (15k to go) the group drastically picked up the pace right after a feed station and three of us fell off the pack. In this group was Michaela Keller-Miller, Annika Landis, and I. Although we had been gapped, we could still see the lead pack right up ahead. So, the three of us started to work HARD to try to catch up. We took turns leading and drafting each other so that we could each have turns to rest.
(Photo Credits: SkinnySki)
Eventually, we realized that we weren’t going to be able to catch the pack, however, there was one skier up ahead of us that had also fallen off the group, so we set out to catch her. Right before crossing the bridge to get onto the lake, Annika and I passed the French skier that we had been hunting down for a while. At this point in the race, I was feeling quite fatigued and under fueled as all of my gels had frozen at the beginning of the race. I tried to remain relaxed and conserve energy as we crossed the lake and made our way to the final turn. As we crested the bridge into the finishing stretch, I was energized by the roaring crowd and was able to sprint my way to an 8th place finish!
(Tired smiles at the finish line!)
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I had big goals for this race. I had my eyes set on a podium finish, and I wasn’t able to make it happen this year. Although I didn’t reach this goal, I am really proud of how I skied the race. I was able to stay tough through a lot of the surges and hang on to the lead pack for the majority of the race. I was even more proud of how I did not give up when I got gapped from the group. It can be very challenging to stay mentally strong when you’re no longer with the leaders, and I feel like I was able to remain tough all the way to the finish line. So overall, another great Birkie experience thanks to all the competitors, organizers, and volunteers who made this race happen!
(Obligatory pre-race bib photo!)
As for now, I am packing up to head over to Italy where I will be competing in OPA Cup Finals! More updates and photos to come!
Thanks for reading!