Pacing pair: the Birkel Brothers
The brothers run together, but only on trails
Brothers Brad and Brodie Birkel are both runners and triathletes, but that’s where the similarities in their athleticism end. Although they share a passion for long endurance events – Brad has completed nine Ironman and 15 half Ironman competitions to Brodie’s five full IMs and five half IMs – their periods of competitiveness haven’t overlapped much.
And although they had great fun pacing each other through respective trail ultramarathons this spring, work and family obligations have prevented them from training together much.
Brad – the leaner, more tattooed and, at 40, older of the two – is still grinding out fast Ironman and 100-mile trail run finishes. He won the 2017 100K Birkie Trail Run and was third overall at the 2016 Glacial Trail 50 Mile.
Brodie, 38, is built more like the football player he was in high school. “I don’t win ultras. But I win the (race to the halfway) turn-around, beer-drinking challenge sometimes,” he says.
That happened this past May at the Superior Spring Trail 50K run on the relentlessly hilly Superior Hiking Trail in northeast Minnesota. There to support his brother and get in a long training run, Brad was no teetotaler either. “They had lots of Fireball Whisky, too. It was great. Midrace? Perfect,” Brad recalls.
As Brodie’s pacer for the entire race, Brad’s job was to keep his severely undertrained brother moving. “Good pacing keeps you distracted from all the bad things that are happening to your body,” Brad says. “You want someone to talk to.”
Brodie says Brad’s pacing was crucial. “There were areas I walked and he was like, ‘Why are we walking here? This isn’t a big enough hill.’ So I ran it and I’m glad I ran it. And I ran faster. So it was helpful.”
Their banter was often more nonsensical than motivational, though. “People trailing us were probably like, ‘What is with these two idiots? They’ve got to be related,’ ” Brodie says.
“We had zero filter,” Brad says. “I’m pretty sure we offended a lot of people that day.”
Nevertheless, they finished the race together in just under 6 hours and 48 minutes.
Two weeks later, Brodie returned the favor at the Kettle Moraine 100 (miles). Brad was 80 miles into the race when he arrived at an aid station at 11 p.m. Brodie, waiting for him, donned a headlamp and headed onto the trail. And through the darkness, a thunderstorm and thick fog, he pushed along a hurting Brad.
“I was always 20 feet out in front of him,” he recalls. “I would wait at the top of hills, then I would yell at him if he wasn’t running quickly enough after a hill.”
The verbal abuse did the job, though, bringing Brad to his third 100-mile-race finish in less than 22 hours.
Brodie, the former marketing director of Race Day Events and currently co-owner with his wife, Lauren, of two area Orange Shoe Personal Fitness franchises, says his brother may inspire him to run a 50-mile trail race. He’s done one already.
But 100 miles? “That’s pretty much out of the question,” Brodie says.
No bromance for shoes
The Birkel brothers are not particular about the make or model of their running shoes, and they don’t ascribe much significance to them.
“I go through shoes like Gatorade,” Brad says. He has four pairs currently in rotation. “I don’t get attached as I’ll replace them on a whim.”
Brodie says, “I don’t get superstitious with my shoes, nor look back at them and reflect on races gone by. I’m a simple man.”
When he worked as a race organizer and promoter, Brodie says he was the recipient of many pairs of free shoes. But since getting back into running, he’s bought several pairs of Brooks. “I like them and want to stick with them,” he says.
Brad does have an old pair of trail shoes with knobby soles — his first trail racing shoes — which he can’t seem to part with. “I kind of hate them,” he says. “They’re terrible for anything longer than about 10 miles. They’re basically only good for mud.”
But if a short, muddy trail race presents itself, he’ll have all the traction he needs.
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