Cross-country skiers line up for the 2010 Birkebeiner in Cable, Wis. The event is North America's premier Nordic ski festival and drew more than 10,000 skiers last year.

Cross-country skiers line up for the 2010 Birkebeiner in Cable, Wis. The event is North America's premier Nordic ski festival and drew more than 10,000 skiers last year.

Layne Kennedy

Bill Donahue, in blue, skis with Matt Liebsch, winner of the 2009 Birkie, at Three Rivers Park District in Minneapolis. Donahue <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/28/AR2011012805299.html" TARGET="_blank">wrote about his Birkie experience</a> for The Washington Post Magazine.

Bill Donahue, in blue, skis with Matt Liebsch, winner of the 2009 Birkie, at Three Rivers Park District in Minneapolis. Donahue wrote about his Birkie experience for The Washington Post Magazine.

Layne Kennedy

Ahvo Taipale, owner of the Finn Sisu ski shop in the Twin Cities, is a tough coach. "It takes me four to six years to teach someone to ski race," he says. "There are no shortcuts."

Ahvo Taipale, owner of the Finn Sisu ski shop in the Twin Cities, is a tough coach. "It takes me four to six years to teach someone to ski race," he says. "There are no shortcuts."

Layne Kennedy

Donahue trains for the Birkie in Minneapolis, where there are weekend citizens' races and high school Nordic teams have 50 or 60 athletes.

Donahue trains for the Birkie in Minneapolis, where there are weekend citizens' races and high school Nordic teams have 50 or 60 athletes.

Layne Kennedy

Donahue's training takes him across the Lake of the Isles in Minneapolis.

Donahue's training takes him across the Lake of the Isles in Minneapolis.

Layne Kennedy

Donahue in the Minneapolis-St. Paul region, which has an extensive network of urban ski trails.

Donahue in the Minneapolis-St. Paul region, which has an extensive network of urban ski trails.

Layne Kennedy

Donahue's training included working on his form, practicing on hills and joining a local ski team.

Donahue's training included working on his form, practicing on hills and joining a local ski team.

Layne Kennedy

Lake of the Isles in Minneapolis. There are more than 180 kilometers of groomed track in the Twin Cities, nearly all of it publicly owned.

Lake of the Isles in Minneapolis. There are more than 180 kilometers of groomed track in the Twin Cities, nearly all of it publicly owned.

Layne Kennedy

Donahue, in the white bib at center, at the start of the American Birkebeiner in Wisconsin. The race is known for its demanding hills.

Donahue, in the white bib at center, at the start of the American Birkebeiner in Wisconsin. The race is known for its demanding hills.

Layne Kennedy

Qualifying times determine when skiers start the Birkie race.

Qualifying times determine when skiers start the Birkie race.

Layne Kennedy

Donahue, in Bib No. 10229, starts in Wave 10, despite an earlier appeal to the race's wave placement specialists.

Donahue, in Bib No. 10229, starts in Wave 10, despite an earlier appeal to the race's wave placement specialists.

Layne Kennedy

Donahue crosses the finish line in 2 hours 46 minutes 3 seconds, placing 723rd out of 3,645.

Donahue crosses the finish line in 2 hours 46 minutes 3 seconds, placing 723rd out of 3,645.

Layne Kennedy

At the end of the race, Donahue calls his brother, Tim, who could not compete in the race because a snowstorm left him stranded in New  York.

At the end of the race, Donahue calls his brother, Tim, who could not compete in the race because a snowstorm left him stranded in New York.

Layne Kennedy