Addition of singletrack produces fast winning times
A special Report by Tom Held
Sunday, September 28, 2014 6:56 AM
Craig Cardinal finished seventh in the first Birkie Trail & Trek Marathon in 2010, and carved more than 30 minutes from that time to win the challenging race on Saturday, September 27, a brilliant fall treat in northern Wisconsin. With the temperature nearing 80, the 32-year-old from Northfield, Minnesota, passed Scott Weisenpfennig near the half-way point and held him off down the stretch to win by nearly a minute. Cardinal finished in two hours, 54 minutes, 41 seconds – about two minutes off the record pace of Chris Pappathopoulos, of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, who took the win in 2011.
Those comparisons are inexact, since the 2014 Birkie Trail marathon, near Hayward, Wisconson, featured a new course that started and finished at the Birkie Ridge Trailhead and included long stretches of narrow singletrack on the area mountain bike trails. Previous outings stretched nearly the full length of the iconic Birkebeiner Ski Trail, a wide, grassy pathway through the Sawyer and Bayfield county forests.
“I probably came into the singletrack a little too hot (fast), but it was really sweet, smooth and fast,” Cardinal said. “I loved running the berms.”
While the course changes made for a different race on Saturday, Jan Guenther remained a constant.
The 55-year-old co-owner of Gear West Ski and Run in Minnesota, finished second in the full marathon behind Kari Brown, of Garfield, Minnesota, and notched her fifth-straight podium finish in a race she’s won twice.
Brown covered the hills and twisting terrain in 3:40:20, about five minutes ahead of Guenther.
Overall, more than 900 runners and trekkers joined in the five Birkie Trail events, on a day that made clothing choices easy, and shirts optional.
The fall colors were nearly at their peak and fallen leaves camouflaged some of the roots and rocks in the new singletrack sections.
Participants generally applauded the new course and the change that put the start and finish in the same place. That did create one excruciating stretch for the exhausted runners: a one-mile loop through a grassy field at the finish, to reach the 26.2 miles.
“That was cruel to see the finish and hear the cheers and see the crowds near the big tent, but it had to be done,” said Mark Edmund, a four-time Birkie Trail marathoner from Wauwatosa, Wisconsin.
Ben Popp, executive director of the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation said organizers were pleased with the new layout, but already thinking of improvements for 2015: better flow on the course, better spacing for the aid stations and more activities for families at the start/finish.
In the half marathon event, Tiffany Kari, of Duluth, Minnesota, and Justin Rose, of Minneapolis, Minnesota, claimed victories in the women’s and men’s division.
Full results can be found here:http://www.birkie.com/run/events/birkie-trail-run/#results
Photos on the Birkie Facebook page: 2014 Birkie Trail Run and Trek
Tom Held writes The Active Pursuit blog for silentsports.net. Bruce Adelsman of Skinnyski.com contributed to this report. Photo by Bruce Adelsman.