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Wednesday, July 15, 2020

A test of your limits: Ski to Sea

By Sarah McCauley

Standing at the top of Mt. Baker in the snow wearing shorts and a T-shirt doesn’t make much sense. Preparing to run eight miles downhill, knowing your knees probably won’t function properly for the next few days doesn’t make any sense. And a small group of people traveling 93 miles from Mt. Baker to Bellingham Bay with nothing more than human strength and skill sounds like an impossible feat.

But year after year since 1973, people have come to Bellingham to participate in the annual relay race event: Ski to Sea.

There are seven different sports involved in the race: cross-country skiing, downhill skiing or snowboarding, running, road biking, canoeing, cyclocross biking and sea kayaking.

Typically, teams are made up of eight athletes, one for each event, but two for the canoeing leg. However, this year for the first time, racers were allowed to compete in up to three legs of the race, w led to some impressive teams that covered the distance with only three sets of arms and legs.

Photo by Sarah McCauley // The Western Front

Ski to Sea is open to experts and novices alike. Want to check off a box on your to-do list like my team? Great!

But those of you who are professionals looking to take home the gold- you are welcome to come and leave the rest of us in the dust.

Tons of people packed themselves into Fairhaven on the race day, where fun events and vendors were set up. It seems like the whole town had forced its way into Marine Park by the time the kayakers started coming in to ring the bell and finish the final leg of the race.

But not as many people found themselves along the race route, cheering on the skiers, runners, bikers and canoers. But attendees might miss some of the greatest moments which happen behind the scenes.

There’s no feeling quite like standing at the end of your teammates’ portion of the race, muscles tensed, heart pounding and then launching into action as soon as they shove the timing device into your hands and shout, “Go! You got this!”

Photo by Sarah McCauley // The Western Front

Then comes the quiet solitude that goes with a solo sporting event. It’s just the swishing of your skis against the snow, the pounding of your shoes on the cement or the whirring of your bike wheels as the air glides through them effortlessly.

And the first part of your portion of the race can whiz by when the adrenaline is pumping and you’re still feeling a slight high from the starting line. But traversing multiple miles without any sort of motorized vehicle is tiring- for even the strongest superhuman out there. Soon, you’ll feel the fatigue build up in your body.

Then the sport becomes more mental than physical.

A test against yourself to see just how strong you really are. When your legs scream for you to stop, can you keep going? Any athlete who has gotten to this point and continued on knows there is no better feeling than when you realize you beat your own perceived limitations.

We humans love to test the boundaries we’re told surround us, don’t we? Someone says you can’t do that and suddenly we have to try.

Now, I’m not saying competing in Ski to Sea was some superhuman feat. Thousands of people have completed the race by now. But I think that’s kind of what’s spectacular about it. It’s amazing how many people have done it and continue to sign up to do it again. Hundreds of people have decided they want to give it a go, and then they do. It’s the ultimate proof that you can do whatever you set your mind to.

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