Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) - It was two degrees above zero early Saturday morning as skiers lined up at the starting line for the American Birkebeiner.
While skiers waited, they were doing what they could to keep warm and mentally preparing for the challenge ahead.
"The distance is probably going to kill me...and the cold," said Hayward resident and participant Ryan Jahnke.
The cold was not the only element that had Jahnke anxious about his first race. The more than a foot a snow the area received over the last few days also weighed heavily on his mind.
"It's going to slow us down but it will be nice when we fall...it will be a cushion," laughed Jahnke.
However, the sounds of encouragement from 20,000 spectators kept the athletes pushing through the snow.
"It feels great with everyone cheering you on and you know you are so close to finishing," said Chris Vergeront, of Madison.
Another vital support system was the two thousand volunteers, handing out food and water as skiers passed by.
"We have people that take the whole trays...they take it and switch with me," said volunteer Jessie Venrooy, "they get a full one and I get an empty one, I fill it and away we go."
Another important job is making sure skiers got their belongings at the end of their journey, which is what the Hayward High School Football team helped do.
"We got about 20 foot ball players here today making sure all the bags of people's street clothes get in the right bus," said Hayward football coach Bryan Trettin. "It's really important, especially when you are a skier and you're exhausted. All you want is something warm."
And many skiers appreciated the help.
"The volunteers are the best," said Minneapolis racer Stephanie Sathre, "we couldn't get out there and ski without them. I couldn't have done it without all the goo, and the water."
...volunteers that work hard to ensure every skier crosses the finish line.
Caitlin Gregg, of Minneapolis, won her second straight Birkebeiner women's title today, clocking in at two hours, 40 minutes.
Thomas Reichelt, of Germany, won the men's title at two hours, 14 minutes.
Winners of the Classic and Skate Birkebeiner and Kortelopet will be recognized at a ceremony at 7pm tonight.