The American Birkebeiner: An Interview With 3 Time Finisher Charlie

Updated: 2/27/17 - Unfortunately due to the warm temperatures in the week leading up to the event there was not enough snow to run the race. The FlashFrame team was able to enjoy a fun weekend in Hayward Wisconsin but sadly no photos due to there being no race. We are looking forward to watching Charlie race with the elites in 2018!

Every year, cross country skiers from across the world gather in Hayward Wisconsin for one of the biggest events in the sport. At FlashFrame we decided that we couldn’t possibly miss the opportunity to photograph and watch the Birkie. But, as athletes firmly planted to the ground and heavily reliant on a high coefficient of friction, we were left clueless as to the ins and outs of the sport and what to expect. We thought it would be fun to chat with a man who’s been there before and will be tackling the 50K race again this year. Today we’re publishing our interview with marathon runner – cross-country skier – and FlashFrame user – Charlie.

Nate: Happy to have you on Charlie, thanks for taking the time to do this. I know that you’re a runner and a skier but can you give me a bit of background for the readers who have no idea about you?

Charlie: Sure. I’m originally from Vermont, East Montpelier. I’ve been running since 7th grade and skiing since my freshman year of high school. I ran cross-country in middle school and then in high school I would run cross country in the fall and then Nordic/cross-country skiing in the winter and spring.

In college I ran on the club track and cross country team at Northwestern year round. I still tried to get as much skiing as I could in the winter between workouts but as you know it’s not exactly that easy in in Chicago.

Nate: Yah not exactly the open space you’ll find in Vermont. So, have you done any big races recently?

Charlie: The last big race I did was actually the Chicago Marathon, back in … September?

Nate: October I believe.

Charlie: Wow October… yes my last big race was the Chicago marathon, and the last one before that was the Chicagoland spring marathon. The last two races I’ve been in have been full running marathons which is a lot, so I’m excited to do something that’s not a full 26.2 miles. I guess the Birkie is 50K but that’s only 32 miles, only. I guess it is a bit easier than 26.2 miles but still a long way. It’s like a little easier on your body, there’s not the constant pounding of your feet on the pavement, but it still sucks in the moment.

Nate: Yah I imagine. Do you get, like, super sweaty? Every time I go downhill skiing and have to try to “skate” even just a small distance I get super tired and sweaty.

Charlie: It’s more of a question of how you dress for it. The only reason you can get really sweaty is if you over dress for the weather. It will seem that since its 22 degrees out you should bundle up but since you’re working so hard for so long you generate a lot of heat. The race this year is going to be really warm so I’m just going to wear a pair of tights and spandex top. Maybe a headband but sticking to only one layer since I’ll be working so hard and generate a lot of heat.

Nate: So I understand you’re not a newbie to the Birkie, can you explain your history with the event?

Charlie: Of course. This is my 4th time doing the race. My first time race in the elite wave. I’ve been in the 2nd and 3rd waves the last two times. Last race I was in the top 200 men for finishers so this year I get to start in the elite wave again and hopefully I can finish in the top 200 again so I can maintain my position in that wave next year.

Nate: So you’ll be the first racers to start bright and early?

Charlie: I’m not exactly sure, there’s some groups that might get to start ahead of us, the women’s skate starts first I believe but we’re one of the first groups to lead the race.

Nate: Ok cool, well, I’ll be looking for you leading the race. So, the course, is it a pretty flat affair, or is it full of hills, can you even ski uphill that much?

Charlie: So actually, if I’m remembering correctly, the course might have a slight elevation from beginning to end, maybe 20 feet. But, for the most part its rolling hills for the majority of the course. The last 3k goes over a frozen lake which is cool but at the same time, you’re really tired and you make this turn onto this flat lake and its really windy because there’s nothing blocking you. It’s pretty hard to get across that lake, at the end you’re so tired fighting against the wind, which seems to come only from head on and is unrelenting. The crowds start building as you reach the end of the lake and then you cross a little road and head up this man made hill that’s like a bridge over the road and it’s the last hill on the course and it just breaks your heart. It breaks your heart because you’re so tired and you just fought across this tundra of a lake and it’s the final push before the finish.

Nate: And that’s it you reach the top of the hill and that’s it?

Charlie: After the hill then it’s just a 200m dash to the finish. There are crowds on either side of you and there’s a ton of energy and it’s a pretty fun finish after that.

Nate: That sounds pretty fun, painful, but fun. Now I hear there’s beer along the course?

Charlie: Yah there’s flat beer that you drink for energy along the course, there’s some science behind it. There’s also shot-skis at the finish, I’ve never partaken but they look pretty cool, maybe this year.

The other fun part is there are these 2 downhills that are steep and pretty sharp. Snowmobilers will drive from around the local areas and wait at the bottom and laugh and jeer at people who crash.

Nate: That’s hilarious, though I don’t expect the athletes who go down find that too amusing. Do the cross-country skis make it harder to handle downhills like that as opposed to alpine skis?

Charlie: Yeah, they’re very narrow so you can’t carve like you can on downhill skis and so you have to step around the turn which is hard to do and takes practice so a lot of people crash on those hills.

Nate: So your ski’s are almost like ice-skates? Charlie: Somewhat, think of the action like doing fast feet in basketball when you’re doing drills around a corner.

Nate: Ok cool, can’t wait to watch. So last thing while I’ve got you here, are there any other things you want to add about the Birkie that our blog readers who aren’t familiar with it may like to know?

Charlie: It’s a crazy awesome race and I think everyone should try to do it at least once. It has a really fun culture and atmosphere and is so different than traditional running events.

Nate: Well, I’ve never cross country skied. How well would I fare if I strapped on some xc skis and jumped into the last wave with my minimal amount of downhill experience in a couple weeks.

Charlie: I think that you could do it, anyone could do it – I feel like anyone could do a marathon, even if you have to walk all or part of it, I think that anyone could finish it. Maybe the next day will suck but you can do it. That’s the same for the Birkie, anyone can get on the start line and pick it up along the way and finish it. It could definitely take a long time and be pretty miserable but I think you could do it.

Nate: I’ll keep that in consideration, might have to snag some skis and jump in there with you.

Charlie: Haha – you know, as a disclaimer for anyone reading this, don’t sue me if you go out there and die on the course, that wouldn’t be very cool.

Nate: Great advice Charlie, I’m sure that comment will hold up in court. Anyways, thanks for doing this, I’m super excited to see you racing in a couple weeks and really looking forward to the event, sounds like its going to be a really fun weekend.

Charlie: Yah of course, happy to do it. You’d better get some good pictures of me.

Nate: You know I will. Best of luck buddy.

Charlie Skiing in the Birkie 2016Charlie hauling in a W back in his HS XC Ski days

If you’re out at the Birkie make sure to shoot us and email and come say hi to the FlashFrame team as we’re out on the course on February 25th. Maybe take some pictures and upload them to the race album if you’re looking to make a few bucks while spectating. If you’re racing, we wish you the best of luck and hope you can take Charlie down, but try your best not to bump him out of the top 200.