The Long Distance Ski Championship

Soon-To-Be Parents, Caitlin and Brian Gregg on the Winter Ahead

Author: 
Alex Kochon

Caitlin Gregg rocking her baby “bump” while 20 weeks pregnant at the Loppet Foundation’s Trail Loppet, an “urban trail run”, on Sept. 21 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She and her husband Brian are expecting their first child in early February. (Courtesy photo)

The questions started rolling in this spring. How’s training going? Are you going for 2019 World Championships? What’s the plan for next winter?

When you’re Caitlin and Brian Gregg, Olympians and local superstars in the Midwest, it’s hard to keep your athletic profile on the DL. Since buying a house on Theodore Wirth Park seven years ago, the couple has immersed themselves the greater Minneapolis community — both in and out of skiing. They’ve raced, coached and worked out alongside skiers of all levels. They’ve bolstered the Loppet Foundation and its Loppet Nordic Racing program while chasing their own athletic dreams. And for the most part, they’ve achieved everything they set out for.

But not making the Olympics last winter was a blow for both Caitlin and Brian. They had both been on the edge — the infamous bubble — but didn’t make the 20-person cut for PyeongChang.

And by Brian’s calculations, at least one of them should have.

“The naming of the 2018 Olympic Team was a surprise to me,” Brian wrote in an email to FasterSkier in late September. “After Caitlin made the team in 2010 and myself in 2014 it was our dream to both be competing in 2018.  I did not expect to see so many discretionary selections and I had expected to see Eric Packer on the Olympic Team, and I thought I would be as well if they took as many as 20 athletes.  I am happy to see that we took a full team of athletes, although it was hard to see us not fill all of our distance men’s starts.  I believe the criteria and the selection committee failed our athletes.  I still believe we have room to improve our team selection and this year is better than last year, although we still have improvements to make.”

Despite feeling that he and Packer ranked high enough on the U.S. Ski Team’s 2018 Olympic points list to make the cut, Brian wasn’t bitter. And he’s still planning to race this winter. But life for the Greggs is different this year.

Caitlin Gregg (501) winning her fifth American Birkebeiner last February in Hayward, Wisconsin, while skiing alongside her husband Brian Gregg (13), who placed 22nd in the elite men’s skate race. (Photo: ABSF/James Netz)

For one, Brian has been working full time in financial services and taking night classes to become a certified financial planner. In a major step toward that, he passed the six-hour Series 7 exam two weeks ago. 

That has meant less training, which he didn’t necessarily see as a detriment. In various running races this spring, summer and fall, Brian won the City Trails Loppet (a 10-mile urban trail run in St. Paul Park, Minnesota), finishing just ahead of his good friend Matt Liebsch, then ran a 1:12:43-hour road half marathon (Grandma’s Marathon) in June in Duluth, Minnesota, won the Loppet Foundation’s Trail Loppet half marathon (in 1:20:34) on Sept. 21, and placed seventh in the Birkie Trail Run Festival’s half marathon (1:24:00) on Sept. 28.

“Now that I’m training a little less on the days where I don’t get out to do a workout, one of my big inspirations is my friend, Matt Liebsch,” Brian said on the phone in late August. “Seeing him not make the [Olympic] team in 2014, that was disappointing, but seeing how much fun he has in the sport, and we still train together four some-odd days a week. … Not all of our times are getting slower; you keep chipping away and pushing yourself. 

“It’s good for your general mental health,” Brian added, referring to skiing as a lifestyle more than a job. “I just like it and I think the more people we can get into this sport and doing it, the world’s a better place that way.”

Caitlin agreed. 

“We both love the sport and we’re in a really fortunate scenario; it’s pretty neat to have a husband-wife Olympic duo,” she said on the phone while sitting with Brian at his office. “It definitely happens, but the fact that we’ve been able to support each other through that is pretty cool.”

“It’s good for your general mental health. … I think the more people we can get into this sport and doing it, the world’s a better place that way.” — Brian Gregg on cross-country skiing

Caitlin and Brian Gregg are expecting their first child on Feb. 9, two weeks before the 2019 American Birkebeiner. (Courtesy photo)

While the two halves of Team Gregg are used to supporting each other at North American ski races — including an annual assortment of SuperTours and U.S. nationals — Caitlin has been doing more coaching and sideline cheering so far this year. While she had originally planned to keep her pregnancy a secret early on, Caitlin said that it became tough to dodge the training questions. 

On Aug. 10, they posted an “expansion of Team Gregg” baby announcement on their Facebook page. During their Aug. 22 interview with FasterSkier, Caitlin was 16 weeks pregnant. And as of this week, now 22 weeks along, she’s past the halfway point. They’re expecting their first child — a girl — on Feb. 9, exactly two weeks before the 2019 American Birkebeiner (a ski marathon Caitlin has won a record-setting five times).

“I told her she has two weeks to get ready and in shape,” Brian jested.

“I was like, ‘Uh, yeah,’ ” Caitlin replied.

***

It’s a girl! Brian (l) and Caitlin Gregg (beneath pink confetti/candy) discovered the gender of their baby, due Feb. 9, 2019, at a gender-reveal party in August. (Courtesy photo)

The gender-reveal party (with a piñata filled with pink candy), a baby shower her high-school athletes threw her (with diapers filled with melted chocolate bars), it was all new to Caitlin.

So was the news of a blood clot in her leg in early July. During their six-hour drive home from Thunder Bay, Ontario, where Brian had competed in Canada Day rollerski races while Caitlin cheered him on, Caitlin started feeling pain in her left calf. It worsened and she went to see her doctor, which revealed she had two blood clots in her calf. She was immediately put on blood thinners and instructed not to bike, rollerski or do anything with a heightened risk of falling.

“That was super scary,” she reflected. “… The doctors were like, ‘That’s really weird, you’re the last person we thought this would happen to; you’re so young and active.’ So we haven’t gotten any answers yet as to whether it’s an underlying [condition]. … There are a couple other genetic disorders you can have, inherited blood-clotting disorders that I just never knew about, potentially, [for] my entire career. I’ll get tested for those after the pregnancy, but one of the big bummers is that I have to be on blood thinners for the remainder of the pregnancy.”

She immediately remembered Kikkan Randall’s blood clot scare in 2008 and decided to call her former U.S. teammate, a 2018 Olympic gold medalist.

“She took a good 45 minutes and just talked to me and told me about her scenario and how it was for her and what she had to go through and all of the kind of different aspects of blood clots and the pregnancy and how everything turned out great, so that was super reassuring,” Caitlin said. 

While their experiences were different (Randall had two surgeries to remove a recurring blood clot in her leg well before she became pregnant in 2015), Caitlin was comforted by their conversation. Two days after they spoke, Randall announced her breast-cancer diagnosis on July 11 on social media. She had never mentioned it to Caitlin.

“To me, that was the epitome of a class act,” Caitlin said. “She didn’t once change the subject and say, ‘Don’t worry, that’s nothing,’ or belittle my fears or anxieties. She just listened and was super awesome and great mentor and very much present in what I was dealing with, so I immediately wrote her and said that was amazing, thank you so much, and I wished her the best.”

For the duration of her pregnancy, Caitlin will take two shots of blood thinners each day. In addition to her exercise limitations, she’s also been advised not to fly or take long road trips for the time being.

“For me, because the dose is so high … [the doctors are] more worried about internal bleeding and almost not knowing it, is the bigger thing,” she said. “I can still ride a stationary bike, and I can do a lot of exercises. I just have to make sure the risk of that falling — so mountain biking, riding a bike outside, rollerskiing — are kind of the big no-nos. … But I’m really looking forward to skiing on snow, especially on super-soft, powdery stuff. … Honestly other than that, pregnancy has been awesome.”

In June, Caitlin, about six weeks pregnant, ran the same Grandma’s half marathon as Brian, finishing 19 minutes behind him in 1:31:38. In an effort to qualify for the 2019 New York City Marathon, the two had registered for the 13.1-mile road race before discovering that Caitlin was pregnant. Caitlin decided to run in what she called “Level 3” while being mindful of her heart rate and feeds during the race. She said she felt “awesome,” and their finishing times did the trick, qualifying them for next year’s NYC Marathon.

Since then, she’s scaled back the racing, instead entering running races with a goal of “jogging/ walking/ pole hiking them”.

Meanwhile, Brian has been getting out for workouts whenever he has time and plans to race at least the first period of the SuperTour circuit this coming season. In an effort to qualify for his first World Championships, he is focusing on strong performances in the 15-kilometer freestyle at the Sovereign Lake SuperTour/NorAm in December in British Columbia, and the U.S. nationals distance races in early January in Craftsbury, Vermont.

“My training volume is hugely reduced this year, but I have been hitting all of my intensity sessions,” Brian wrote in an email. “My primary focus is on preparing to support my family and my baby girl, but my passion for ski training and racing will never go away.

Coach Caitlin Gregg (r) timing Sarah Olsen, a Loppet Nordic Racing junior skier, during a time trial this past spring. (Courtesy photo)

While Caitlin won’t likely be able to travel to Canada and New England to support Brian at those races, she expects to stay busy at home while working with sponsors, like Madshus, as well as the Loppet Foundation. In addition to coaching 12 college skiers this summer, Caitlin was hired as the Loppet Foundation’s director of adult programming. She’s also an assistant coach with the foundation’s year-round Trail Kids program.

“We’re both staying super busy, which I think is exhausting in a lot of ways, but it’s also really fun because it brings a lot of balance,” she said.

“Sometimes it’s good to not have a lot of time to analyze your training session,” Brian said. “You’re sort of like, ‘I’ve got an hour and a half. I’m going to just try to get everything done in this hour and a half, and then I’m going right to class or school or working with this kids.’ ”

The two are also adjusting to spending less time together. While they didn’t necessarily work out alongside each other, the Greggs frequently start and finish at the same place, which Caitlin described as “trail heading”.

“Basically you drive to the same location and say, ‘All right, I’ll see you in two hours,’ ” she said. “There are some times when [we would] play around with rollerski speed wheels … or Brian uses a weight vest and that works pretty well.”

During a summer hike on the Birkie Trail, Brian wore a backpack with a watermelon inside. Caitlin guessed it weighed 40 pounds.

“It wasn’t that big of a watermelon,” Brian quipped.

But when they’re not exercising, they’re working — which has become more full time for both of them.

“We went from spending 24 hours a day together, 360 days a year or whatever — there was maybe a couple days or weeks where one of us would be somewhere else. Now Brian’s at the office all day or I’m out coaching,” Caitlin said.

“I feel like I haven’t seen her for weeks,” Brian added.

Yet they’re still having fun, and they’re still loving their ski-driven lives in the Twin Cities. Late last month, news broke that Minneapolis will host a 2020 World Cup race at Theodore Wirth Park, right outside their door.

“Caitlin moved to North Minneapolis 10 years ago and the bulk of her training leading up to the 2010 Olympics and her 2015 World Championship medal were on the trails at Wirth,” Brian explained, referring to Caitlin’s bronze medal in the 10 k freestyle at 2015 World Championships. “I won my first Super Tour at Wirth and we strategically purchased our house 7 years ago next to Wirth because of the great training opportunities.

“It has been incredible to be a part of the amazing Midwest ski community and the growth of the Loppet Foundation,” he added. “One of the major goals of the Loppet Foundation is to promote health and wellness with underprivileged youth and families.  We share this passion and it is just amazing to see our small community based organization grow … We have a large group of junior skiers and I would love to see those kids representing our home club in the World Cup, but you better believe we will be keeping those kids honest and going for a spot ourselves.”

Brian and Caitlin Gregg with their baby’s first “singlet”. According to Caitlin, TNC Endurance stands for Team Nichole Coaching. “I worked with Nicole Porath for my training plan for Grandma’s marathon (which was going awesome) and then she helped guide me with the switch to the half-marathon and how to run it once I found out I was pregnant! She is an Olympic Marathon Trials competitor and mother of two. It was/ has been really fun working with her on some running training. I am excited to work with her after the baby is born too!” (Courtesy photo)

As of last month, the Greggs are living debt-free in their home. They literally jogged to the bank before work one morning to sign the final paperwork. 

In another “Team Gregg style” exercise session, they ran three miles for ice cream, then ran home. They’ve been known to run to farmer’s markets as well.

Brian vouched for Caitlin’s “intense food cravings” in the first trimester, like the ramen noodles she wanted for breakfast one morning. 

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen her have a bowl of ramen in her life,” he said.

“A couple days later I was like, ‘Please take it out of the house, I can’t look at it,’ ” Caitlin said with a laugh.

While life is busy as usual for the Greggs, they’ve both welcomed the transition from “full-time athlete status” to additional work and soon-to-be parenting responsibilities.

“We’re super psyched, we’re having a lot of fun,” Caitlin said. “It helps when you don’t have so much time to think about where you were this time last year or overanalyze your training and just get out and do what you can and be thankful.”

“I’m excited the ski trail comes by the office so I’ll be able ski to work on a good snow day,” Brian said.

Asked what’s kept them in the sport this long, both were quick to answer. They absolutely love it.

“We both are very goal-oriented, but the bottom line is we have an awesome community here and we have so much fun getting out and having such great company, no matter what the level of the company is,” Caitlin said of skiing with people of all ages and abilities. “We get excited having people to push us and push other people and really kind of show that you can make it a lifestyle and make it fun and continue no matter what you’re doing.” 

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