Thursday, September 29, 2011

Birkie Trail Marathon

Race Report from LPTRunner Joe Fitzgibbon:  9/24/11 – Birkie Trail Marathon -

So…a little background.  Ever since I got back into running, I’ve been kind of intrigued with the idea of spending my birthday running my age.  Don’t get me wrong, beer, parties, cake & ice-cream, birthday gifts, a few birthday brews – these are all great things.  But if you really enjoy running, some time out in the woods reflecting on the years that have past and striding out a bunch of miles seems like a great way to mark the occasion.  2 of my daughters turned 6 on September 24th.  So with a healthy level of transference and some creative math, I decided to run the Birkie marathon on their birthday.  Following the same logic and with some even more creative math, my wife Sarah signed up for the half marathon trek.

The Birkie marathon is now in its second year.  It is a point to point race from Hayward to Cable, through the Chequamegon National forest.  This is the same trail that carries 11,000 skiers on the Great American Berkabiner race every February.  So you can imagine the setting; a 20 foot wide trail through tall forestation.  It is groomed, freshly mowed and runs like a very hilly golf course.  Fast!

Enough background, here is the report.

The alarm goes off at 4:55.  Sarah and I get up and manage to eat breakfast and get out of the cabin without wakening any of the kids or Grandma and Grandpa.  We drive through winding gravel roads until we get to the Telemark resort just outside of Cable.  Arriving at the resort, we follow the smell of charcoal and roasting pigs to the finish line where we find some great race volunteers cheerfully handing out race bibs and drop bags.  By 7:00 I am on a bus to the marathon starting line, and Sarah will soon be on her way to the start of the half.

The starting line of the marathon is very low key.  There is no timing matt, no blow up archway, no advertising and few spectators.  There are 81 runners, a start line, a race director with a bullhorn and a path that leads into the forest.  Perfect!

At 8:00 the race director counts down the start and we are off into the woods.
Now, I’ve heard the advice that in preparing for a race you should have an optimistic goal and a secondary, more realistic goal.  That way you have something to fall back on if the race doesn’t go your way.  I think that is one of the worst ideas I have ever heard.  I am a firm believer in keeping things simple.  1 goal and you either meet it or you don’t.  Anything more complicated than that, and I am bound to lose track.  So my goal in this race; catch up to Sarah a few miles before the finish and pace her through the last miles of her first half marathon.

 The first 20 miles of the race breezed by pretty easily.  The hilly terrain and the constant turning of the trail prevent you from seeing very far ahead.  After the first two miles, I could never see more than a couple people ahead or behind me for very long stretches.  So it started to feel a lot like a Saturday morning run at Lapham Peak.  I did the math ahead of time knew that I needed to maintain 10 minute miles if I was going to meet up with Sarah later in the race.  As I passed the mile markers and touched the “split” button on my watch, I was pleasantly surprised to see mid 9s over and over.

At mile 23 I finally saw Sarah up ahead.  I was gradually catching up to her when she looked back and spotted me.  She stopped on the trail and started walking my way.  So naturally I call out, “Keep going!  This is your race!”

I’ll spare you the details of the last 3 miles.  Mostly husband and wife stuff, trying to remember all the crazy things we experienced having twins 6 years earlier, while striding through those last few miles.  At the finish line we spot the whole family; my parents, Sarah’s parents and our 4 energetic daughters.

The Birkie race volunteers really know how to put on the post race party.  A few minutes later we are refueling with BBQ sandwiches and Angry Minnow Oktoberfest beer.  We head back to the cabin for some cake & ice-cream, presents and a couple of birthday brews (again, transference).

Happy Birthday Kate and Norah!


  1. Hi Joe--Congratulations to you and Sarah! That run has always intrigued me. The Birkie Trail area is my favorite spot in WI. Thanks for the report and good to know a bit more about you and your family--hope to see you soon!

  2. Way to go Joe! Sounds like you had an awesome time (and excellent race time). Belated Happy B day to your 6 YO from LPTR! (Maybe Ron will let them wear his belt).

  3. Favorite Aunt BrendaSeptember 30, 2011 at 5:28 PM

    Hey Joe--We always knew you were talented in so many ways--but now we see that you are a gifted writer as well! I felt like I was there with you...I even got shin splints trying to catch up with you. But seriously--congratulations to a great guy, his great wife, and a great race and re-cap. And Happy Birthday to Kate & Norah!