Birkebeiner tradition runs deep

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011
— Ryan Medo of Walworth doesn’t chase cross-country ski races the way he once did.

His 2-year-old twin sons keep the 27-year-old Medo off the competitive cross-country ski trail. But when it comes to this Saturday’s 38th American Birkebeiner, the largest cross-country ski marathon in North America, Medo is all in.

The Birkebeiner is a 54-kilometer classic and 50k skate technique cross-country skiing race from Cable to Hayward. There are 24k kortelopet classic and skate technique races and a 12k Prince Haakon race. Last year’s Birkie had more than 8,000 entrants.

Italian skier Fabio Santus broke the 50k Birkie skate record with a time of 1 hour, 56 minutes, 58.6 seconds last year. Rebecca Dussault successfully defended her title by winning the women’s skate division with a record time of 2:16:18.3.

Juergen Uhl of South Burlington, Vt., was the 54k classic champion in 2:28:39.4. Audrey Weber of St. Louis Park, Minn., won the women’s title in 2:51:34.

Medo, a Marshfield native and a UW-Stevens Point graduate, has been on cross-country skis since he learned to walk.

“The Birkie is not only a ski race. It’s a family tradition,” Medo said. “My parents have taken me since I could walk.’’

Medo is competing in Wave 1 of the skating competition. He competed on a high school club team and continued competitive skiing on the Stevens Point club team.

“I would compete in seven to 10 races all over the state in high school,” Medo said. “In college, I got a little more serious.’’

Last year, Medo covered the Birkie’s

proximately 31-mile course in 3:17.05. He finished 1,491 out of 2,956 in the men’s skate. In 2005, Medo, then 22, posted his Birke-best time of 2:36:32.5 and finished 218th, which was 18 places from the elite wave.

“The top 200 skiers are in the elite wave,” said Medo. “They are the best of the best.’’

These days, Medo does not train enough to finish with the elite.

“I try to maintain fitness running and lifting weights,” he said. “If I can get out on skis twice a week, it’s pretty good.”

Medo now hopes to finish in three hours or less.

“If I finish in less than three hours, I’ll be happy,” he said. “Three hours puts me on the bubble for the first wave.’’

During his competitive college days, Medo was on his skis every day.

“I would log about 350 to 500 kilometers (training) during ski season,” he said.

Medo thinks the skills he acquired during high school and college will serve him well.

“The thing about (cross-country) skiing, there is a lot of friction there, and technique is very important, and it takes years to develop,” Medo said.

Medo said to succeed in cross-country ski racing, the competitor has to have a polished technique and well-honed cardio vascular system.

“To be a strong skier, your body has to use oxygen efficiently,” Medo said. “Oxygen fuels the red blood cells. “Cross-country skiers use both their arms and legs at the same time, and you have to have extremely strong heart and lungs.’’

Besides technique and conditioning, equipment plays a big role.

“I have a tool box full of ski wax and over $1,000 worth of equipment for snow conditions,” Medo said. “I have six pairs of skis.”

Medo can’t wait to compete in the Birkebeiner.

“There is something called Birke fever,” he said. “It’s just the excitement of the Birke. It’s the benchmark race of the year. It’s 10 waves and 8,000 people. It’s the best time to be on skis.’’

Last updated: 4:15 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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