It was a weekend for Team Birkie both past and present at the Swenor CXC Rollerski Championships on the new rollerski track in Cable, Wisconsin. Zak Ketterson swept both races, taking first Saturday’s skate distance race and then Sunday’s classic sprint qual. Caitlin Gregg, the ur-Midwestern skier of the past decade and a former coach with Team Birkie, set the pace for Saturday’s women’s field. Read on for more on both days.
Caitlin Gregg and Zak Ketterson take wins in distance skate
Caitlin Gregg has had a lot going on recently. Her Instagram page for the past several months has shown her renovating a property in the Methow (if anyone needs a vacation rental in Winthrop…) and traveling around the country to be with an ailing family member. It’s a far cry from the necessarily more self-centered life of your typical full-time 20-something childless athlete — and even when life is normal Caitlin and husband Brian are parents to a 4-year-old daughter, Heidi Mowgli Gregg, which is already a full-time job right there.
But when Caitlin Gregg put on a race bib and heard the beep–beep–beep–beeeeeep of an interval-start timer on Saturday morning, her body still knew what to do. She covered the two-lap, 10-kilometer interval-start skate course in 22:49.5 to set the day’s fastest time by roughly 40 seconds.
Second place among women went to Mia Case (College of St. Scholastica), 40.5 seconds back. Third was Helen Townley (Loppet Nordic Racing), 49.6 seconds back.
Gregg was born in November 1980, and was for decades a personal favorite rooting interest of this reporter, as being, along with Kris Freeman, one of the only two active athletes in American pro skiing older than me. Second-place finisher Mia Case, by contrast, was born in 2003, per her FIS profile. I’m not going to like pull JNs start lists to suss out and publish a year of birth for Townley because we’re talking about a minor athlete here, but the fact that she was a high school sophomore last spring will give you a sense for the general age range of Saturday’s overall podium.
Gregg alluded to her recent non-athletic concerns when asked for comment about her race.
“My race went great,” she wrote to Nordic Insights. “I had a full summer of house renovations and family emergencies so training has been very minimal to non-existent. I feel very grateful that my body allows me to still push hard and my mind still wants to put on a bib. We had the added benefit of the CXC coaches conference watching and cheering for the event too which added to the atmosphere.”
Speaking to the overall race experience, Gregg added, “It was my first time skiing the new rollerski track in Cable and I was very impressed. CXC and the American Birkebeiner did a great job setting a race course, getting matched skis and running the weekend full of racing. I loved seeing junior athletes, college athletes and master athletes racing alongside and on the same course as Team Birkie athletes like Zak Ketterson and Kevin Bolger.”
Those current Team Birkie athletes led the way in the men’s race. Zak Ketterson flashed the speed gained from a summer spent largely in Trondheim to cover two laps of the course in a quick 18:25.7 for 10km. [Strava lists the course as 8.3km, for what it’s worth, which would make Ketterson’s pace a still speedy but slightly more human 2:14/km, rather than a staggering 1:51/km if it were a full 10km.]
Teammate Kevin Bolger was second, 51.9 seconds back. Matt Liebsch (Pioneer Midwest), who at 40 years old is not younger than this agèd reporter but who nonetheless deserves a Masters athlete shoutout for racing very fast while parenting multiple children, was third, 1:18.8 in arrears.
I didn’t separately reach out to Ketterson for comment, because his adroit use of emojis in his Strava post makes it already worth several thousand words. Seriously, though, those are pretty much the highlights: it was wet, and Ketterson nonetheless skied fast, and everyone was psyched to have this resource available in the Midwest. I don’t know offhand if the roster of dedicated American rollerski tracks contains much more than the Birkie Trailhead, Ariens Nordic Center, Craftsbury, and Soldier Hollow, but the new track at Cable clearly joins a very short list in this country.
Zak Ketterson repeats in classic sprint while Lillian Franzen leads the women
The weather was better, but the fields were smaller, on Sunday morning, as athletes returned to the rollerski track and a matched fleet of Swenor skis. While 39 men and 22 women had competed in Saturday’s distance race, Sunday’s sprint qual saw 26 men and 8 women out there. Athletes raced a 1.2-kilometer classic sprint course. There were no heats, but competitors did it two separate times and saw their times summed for an overall result; call it a prologue and then a qualifier, or some such.
Zak Ketterson had the day’s single fastest lap time, clocking 2:35.2 for his first time around the course. He was down to 2:40.1 an hour later. Kevin Bolger, meanwhile, was more consistent but also marginally slower, stopping the clock in near-identical times of 2:37.5 and 2:38.2 for his two timed laps. That’s a combined 5:15.3 for Ketterson versus 5:15.7 for Bolger, giving Ketterson the win once again, here by the narrow margin of 0.4 seconds.
Ivar Dragerengen (College of St. Scholastica) was third, with a combined time of 5:25.0 (+9.7 seconds back).
Notably, Bolger and Ketterson effected more of a full sprint day race effort by racing three additional heats in the hour between the prologue and the qual, with, apparently, lactate of 14–15 mmol/L for each one. That is a lot of lactate.
Three athletes in the women’s field completed two separate heats. Your women’s podium for Sunday is therefore Lillian Franzen (University of Wisconsin–Green Bay, 6:52.6) in first, Inga Wing (Minneapolis Ski Club, +13.4) in second, and Sasha Guseva (CXC, +1:38.1) in third. You can’t win if you don’t show up.
Midwest rollerski racing continues with a 10km classic mass start at Ariens Nordic Center in Brillion, Wisconsin, on November 12.
— Gavin Kentch