A clown, a princess and a kid in a dirty diaper crouched at the starting line, poised to see who could run the fastest.
No, this was not a make-believe race. Kids in costumes flocked to South Tahoe High School for the Vikings' only home cross-country meet of the season. Cross-country meets usually aren't much of a spectator sport, but Thursday was the exception.
Runners in tutus and tiaras chased down Pac Man while the Harlem Globe Trotters strutted around a pack of superheroes. There was even a group of three runners in adult diapers with mud smeared down the back.
No one really knows exactly why South Tahoe became home of the cross-country costume parade, but no one really cares either. It's obvious the kids look forward to the meet all year and put tremendous effort into their outfits.
"The kids took it over," South Tahoe girls' coach Michele Nisbett-Westlake said. "They just start wearing costumes."
The idea originated seven or eight years ago as a retro day. The meet still has a retro vibe with old-school tunes, throwback jerseys and plenty of '70s decked runners, but it's clearly been kicked up a notch.
The atmosphere was light, but South Tahoe runner still brought it out on the course.
Vikings' runner Ross Kovac breezed across the finish line way ahead of the pack to claim first place. Kovac crushed the hilly, 2-mile course with a time of 13:34.
Kerry Norton, sporting a zebra onsie, captured third among girls with a time of 17:33.
A relay race followed the individual races, and South Tahoe and Whittell high schools represented with colorful relay teams. South Tahoe junior varsity boys and girls both took first place in the relay. The South Tahoe co-ed varsity relay team took second.
"It's Tahoe's version of Bay to Breakers out there," Whittell coach Lindsay Wines said as a boy in leopard tights lunged behind her to warm up.