By Tim Hauserman
This morning I headed out on the trails at Tahoe Cross Country Ski Area early to beat the racers who were competing in the Alpenglow 20K Race. I had a wonderful ski following the difficult route that an hour or two after me the racers would follow. I was quite satisfied skiing it at my own pace instead of racing. I used to race a few times a year and enjoyed the camaraderie that you experienced both before and after the race. But I also discovered something very important: cross country ski racing is really hard.
After my ski I hung out in the flat on the Yellow Trail, just before the last steep downhill to the finish line. While I was waiting for the super fast 20K skiers to arrive, I watched a bit of the tail end of the 10K skiers. They reminded me of what is quite touching about cross country ski races. Anyone can enter a race, and sometimes they do.
In addition to the super fit endorphin addicts that take the podiums, nordic ski races also attract folks who haven’t done a lot of cross country skiing, but for some reason they thought, “ah, what the hell, I might as well race, how hard can it be?” Today, I saw some folks who could definitely benefit from a beginning skate ski clinic, but they were out there. Giving it their best with a look of unbounded determination (and also a hint of exhaustion and a question mark on top of their head that says, “What in the hell was I thinking?”) Oh and one of those skiers, was willing to give even more…when they took a wrong turn and added an extra half kilometer to their ski before someone could catch her and get her to turn around.
Sure, Patrick Johnson, the speed demon who roared by me over a minute ahead of the next competitor to take first place is a hero. As was my friend Claire Walton, who won the women’s prize. But I also consider those at the back of the pack to be heroes. They took on a challenging race in a challenging sport and persevered their way to the finish line. They should feel quite proud of their accomplishment, although at this point, they might not be feeling much at all except exhaustion.