This was a unique race day for me.  If there was any doubt I was hooked, after completing this race I became a true convert.  First of all, Square Lake in early September is as beautiful of place as you will ever visit.  The mist coming off the marsh as you drive through a sun rise gives you a feeling that today will be a special day.  As I got off the bike, and on to the run, my legs were sluggish and chunky.  Within the first mile, a competitor came up on me, and it was at that point I decided he was not going to pass me.  I picked my pace up, found a new base, and then accelerated past him.  In fact once I accelerated I never stopped.  On this day I ran five miles at an average pace of 6:47 min/mile, one of my best runs ever.

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This was the race I learned to swim free style.  As we entered the water, I noted a stiff 15 mph head wind from the South, such that the high profile of my side stroke made it such that I was swimming in place.  Without any option, I was forced to put my head down and start moving my arms, and breathing on my side.  Miraculously, I learned to swim free style right then and there, and I found that it was not that difficult, that I could do it, and I moved fairly fast through the water.  The sprint distance allowed me to give good chase on the bike and run.  The race day was a fun and competitive event.  The energy of the group throughout the day was contagious.  On this day, I became hooked on triathlons.

I always said that if I was going to run a marathon, my choice would be the New York Marathon because – well it’s New York.  In 2001, the opportunity to run the New York Marathon presented itself, so that was it – I was going to run my first marathon.  And it was to be a historic marathon in many ways; September 11th was raw in the minds of New York and the nation at large.  It was an emotional day for everyone who participated.  The sky was bright blue, the crowds were out in mass, and the scars of a nation were on every participants mind, body and soul.   I ran my first marathon that day for those who could not.  I will always remember that day and race.

I cannot remember the exact moment I decide that I would enter a triathlon, but I do recall thinking “Wow that looks like a challenge, swimming 1.2 miles, biking 56 miles, and then running 13.1 miles.”  The Pigman had a stout name to it and the late summer date promised to be a hot grueling event in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  And given the fact that I had never learned to swim the freestyle, this event had some particular unique challenges for me.  I cobbled together a generalized training routine, with an intention to learn to swim freestyle.  At race day, my proficiency in the freestyle stroke had not occurred, and I swam 1.2 miles using the side stroke.  I think I was the second to last out of the water that day.  My bike was good.  But the run was a hard, hot, out and back.  With the temperature soaring well above 90 degrees that day, the run took its toll, but I did finish.  My first triathlon was complete.  Why I chose a half-iron distance as my first, why I had not learned to swim, why I chose Pigman were no longer of any matter – it was done and I was a triathlete.  The commute to and from Pigman was especially funny, on the way down there were hydration issues along the way.  On the way back, I was ravenous in search of food, and the only restaurant we could find was a small local’s Mexican café.  All in all, an experience that I will always remember.   

The 54K Birkie marathon races is one of the largest marathon ski races in North America.  The late Tony Wise who looked to his Norwegian heritage and patterned the ski marathon after the Birkebeiner Rennet, which had been held in Norway since 1932, founded the American Birkebeiner in 1973. Both events honor and re-create a historic Norwegian event when in 1206, two warrior soldiers, called “Birkebeiners” because of the birch-bark leggings they wore, skied infant Prince Haakon to safety during the Norwegian civil war. Prince Haakon subsequently became King of Norway, and the Birkebeiner soldiers became a Norwegian symbol of courage, perseverance and character in the face of adversity.

The 54k Berkie Skate is a long race to begin with and in 2001, the race turned out to be even more of a challenge.  The night before the race, it snowed approximately a foot.  The new snow made the trail incredibly soft, and for the skate skiers, of which I was one, it was like skiing in sand for 54k.   This led to the top men’s overall time being 2:32:55 which was on average a full thirty minutes longer than the average top times for the race.  In other words, in years past, and in years to come, the top times for the elite racers range from 1:57:55 to 2:04:21 – but in this year it took the world’s top competitors an additional thirty minutes to complete the race.  My performance was anything but word class, but it was a great day.  We arrived late just as they were taking down the starting gate due to all the snow on the road and completed some six hours later.  I look forward to doing the Berkie again someday.