Birkie veteran: Wesolek set for 19th run
When the 40-year-old Wesolek of Stoughton is not working as a trainer at Mercy Acceleration, he roller skis around town to keep his legs in shape for cross country ski races.
Wesolek is poised for his 19th run at Saturday’s 39th annual American Birkebeiner, the largest cross country ski marathon in North America. The main Birkie events are the 54-kilometer (34-mile) classic and the 50-kilometer (31-mile) freestyle race from Cable to Hayward.
A total of 38 local and area competitors, including 21 from Janesville, are entered in this Saturday’s races.
The cross country ski bug bit Wesolek at UW-Stout.
“The ski club team caught my interest,” Wesolek said. “I had not skied a lot.
“We skied in the old National Collegiate Ski Association,” Wesolek said. “It had 10-15 colleges competing. We had three or four races, and we’d be in the Birkie.”
Wesolek became a Birkie veteran.
“This would have been my 20th Birkie,” Wesolek said. “But it was canceled in 2000 because of warm weather and no snow.’’
Wesolek has entered since 1993. He finished 80th last year.
“I’ve only been knocked out once in 1995,” Wesolek said. “I bonked pretty hard. It got up to 50 (degrees), and the snow turned into mush, and it was extremely difficult.’’
The weather and snow are not ideal for this year’s Birkie, but Wesolek is confident the event will come off without a hitch.
“I’ve been checking (conditions) about every hour,” Wesolek said with a laugh. “It’s looking pretty good, not great, but they can work magic up there.’’
The warm winter and lack of snow here have not limited Wesolek’s training.
“I pretty much ride my bike and do triathlons in the summer,” Wesolek said. “I ride every day to keep my legs fit. In the fall, I switch to roller skiing. It’s similar to snow skiing. There is not a whole lot of difference, especially the way roller skis are made now.’’
The key to a successful Birkie, Wesolek said, is making it through the first half of the race.
“The first half is extremely hilly, with major climbs,” he said. “The trick is to get through the first half and feel good.’’
Wesolek said the second half is “a little more forgiving,” but it has its challenges.
“Bitch hill, it’s like a wall,” Wesolek said. “It’s a wall climb of 100 meters—just straight up to get to the top. If you can’t make it up, you can lose a lot of places.
“One year, I was 100th and ended up 65th,” Wesolek said. “I made up 35 spots because people die.’’
Wesolek enters cross country races through the season. He just finished a criterium race around the Capitol in Madison last weekend, and he has competed in the Badger State Winter Games, among other races.
“I’ve never won a marathon,” Wesolek said. “I’ve won 10- and 15K races, but it would be great to win a marathon.’’
Wesolek will start in the Birkie’s first 200 skiers, which is the elite wave. A competitor must finish in the top 200 to earn a berth in the wave that leaves the starting line first.
Wesolek plans on cross country skiing as long as his body holds out.
“It’s a lifestyle,” he said. “A discipline that I’ll do the rest of my life.’’