This year, after wanting to ski the Kortelopet for like, the last decade, I decided that this was the year: Kortelopet 2018. The Kortelopet is a ski race that’s half the distance of the world-class Birkiebeiner and is a reasonable (!) 29 kilometers in length. While some folks could (and I’m sure that some do!) ski the race without training beforehand, I’m not exactly a superstar skier. I learned to skate ski as an adult and my technique is at best, er, inefficient. One friend likened her ski technique to that of a “baby giraffe learning to walk.” Well, folks, that’s me too.
I’ve been dutifully and regularly skiing medium-length distances and braving our recent spate of cold, cold weather. Doing so has meant frozen fingers and toes, a badly bruised bum after a fall, and less-than-ideal skiing conditions. It’s meant huffing and puffing up steep hills and deeply breathing knife-like air. It’s meant humiliation as a friend and fellow skier radically outpaced me on a joint skiing excursion.
While the training has been grueling and sometimes humiliating, it’s been equally therapeutic—a way back to a healthier me. But more than that the exhilaration of physical effort, the training has meant a quiet space to think and be, uninterrupted by annoying house chores, Instagram notifications, and the chirp of “mom, mom, mom.” It’s also meant gliding across freshly groomed trails in a cathedral-like forest as light bathes the snow-wearing pines, oaks, and aspens. #Glorious.
During the summer Olympics, I watched an interview with a woman in her forties, who competed in one of the cycling competitions. She noted that for her, the biggest challenge (please note that I’m paraphrasing here!) was not that fact that her body was older, but that she had to fight harder to maintain the mental edge and grit so important to her sport and competitive relevance.
Now, I’m no aspiring Olympian but her words resonated. Once you have a child, your life dramatically changes. The way you understand the world changes, softens maybe even. Your life slows down because it must—you’ll likely drive yourself bonkers if you try to maintain a pre-baby pace.
Thus, training for the Kortelopet has meant several things me: for one, it’s a way to maintain a healthy weight; it’s a nourishing time away from distractions; and even more, it reminds me that I can still do the hard things.
Remember the badly bruised bum I mentioned above? My husband and I went cross-country skiing at the Sugarbush trails up the North Shore. I wanted to complete a longer ski in order to further build my endurance, so we settled on a 17+ kilometer route: a there and back, plus a loop. The day was beautiful, but frigid and as we set out the thermometer read a balmy -2 degrees. My feet were immediately cold and remained thus during the ski; my fingers were cold shortly thereafter. We were 12 kilometers into the ski and we came upon a very steep, very uneven, and very bumpy downhill. Cross-country skis don’t have have the same rigidity as downhill skis and traversing the hill meant an awkward snowplow down the incline. I heard Thad make a noise behind me, lost my focus and proceeded to slide off the side of the hill, hitting my lower bum on a rock or log in the process. It hurt like a mother.
At this point, my feet were freezing, my hands were cold, and my bum hurt. But there was nothing to be done except to moan for a bit, stand up, and keep going. Everything ached—my feet, my hands, my bum—and I gave up proper skate technique on the upward climbs, instead favoring an awkward amble up the hill. I was nearly in tears as we reached the homestretch, what with frozen feet, frozen fingers, and an aching left butt cheek. But as I eased myself gingerly into the car, frozen body parts and all, I felt good.
Somehow, I’d forgot how much I relished a physical challenge—the pushing past the pain and finishing something hard. Thus, training for the Kortelopet has been a way back to the me before children: re-finding the grit, the determination, and the ferocity that I possessed and as it turns out, still possess.