I’ve taken to describing my latest athletic endeavors in the north woods as a Birkie Trail duathlon, with a week-long transition.
Add in my new fatherhood duties during our weeklong family stay in Cable, and it expanded into a High Point triathlon, the designation based on my climbs on bike and foot to the wooded peak, 1,730 feet up in the Sawyer County Forest.
The girls, Evelyn and Eleanor, once again outperformed their father, without breaking a sweat. Wind was another matter, entirely.
Not only did the twins reach their three-month mile marker, they closed out their rookie season on the citizen bike and run circuit with grace and acclaim. Thanks to a chance meeting with radio host Joan Jacobowski, they had an entire set of music dedicated to them on WOJB-FM (88.9), an honor that Dad has yet to achieve over 18 years of competition within listening range of the eclectic public radio station.
I have to rate my own performance in the Fat Tire and Trail Run as solid, particularly given predictions that my fitness would diminish, if not disappear, under the demands of fatherhood. If I had an energy gel for every time someone commented, “well, your running days are over” shortly after the girls’ birth, I’d be set to fuel myself through the 2025 American Birkebeiner.
My 2:45 time in the Fat Tire was nearly 15 minutes better than my mark in 2010, in part because of the dry, super-fast conditions. Still, I rated it as one of my top three mountain bike races in terms of strategy and execution. I raced within my training and had an absolutely exhilarating chase over the last 12 miles to the finish.
The girls stay calm amid the spectacle of the Fat Tire Finish. Photo by Tom Held.
In the Trail Run, I had figured something around 1:55 would be do-able, and was thrilled to see the clock ticking at 1:44-and-change as I approached the line at the Telemark Resort. Each of the hills on the Birkie Trail had appeared taller than the last, yet my legs kept providing a little surge to push over the top.
There’s no question that helping to feed two infants, change diapers and wash bottles cut into my training time over the summer, but it also guided me to train smarter. I had a purpose every time I laced on my Adidas or rolled my bike onto the road. Instead of junk miles, I ran intervals. Instead of pedaling leisurely, I did hill repeats.
Sitting up during late-night feeds engaged my abs, and holding a 9-pound weight through a 30-minute squawk kept my upper body firm.
I also have to think that the countless trips up and down the stairs of our house, from kitchen to nursery, built the leg strength that carried me in the half marathon.
My sense of satisfaction at the results was small compared to the joy of sharing the travels and the race days with Evie and Ella. Much of the credit goes to my wife, Katrina, who took on the heavy lifting of prepping the girls and rolling them to the finish line.
I missed having Katrina cheer me on the course, but seeing that stroller and those two little bundles – unaware and unimpressed - at the finish brought a whole new kind of pain relief to my tired muscles.
I have to think also that the smiles the girls inspired, the blessings and congratulations from old friends and new ones, lifted my spirits from the pre-race registration to the post-race beer line.
Finishing notes: The Birkie Trail Run and Trek drew a record 906 participants in its ninth year and exceeded my expectations as a formidable challenge. Many have described the hills on the Birkie Ski Trail as unrelenting, and that’s with the benefit of glide. Until someone comes up with a wax for trail shoes (or bare feet for the runner who went shoeless) each incline is a long slog without the benefit of momentum.
With that, I offer great admiration to Chris Pappathopoulos, of Sun Prairie, who set a course record in the marathon, with a winning time of 2:52:15, a full six minutes faster than last year’s winning time; and to Amber Hertz, of Madison, who finished first in the women’s division with a time of 3:31:53, almost identical to the course record of 3:31:32 set in 2010 by Jan Guenther of Mound, Minn.