Dogs, Spectators Energetic at Beargrease Starting Line

Mushers prepare for a longer and softer trail, thanks to unseasonably warm temperatures.

DULUTH, Minn.- The excitement was in the air at the starting line of the 40th Annual John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon.

“These dogs were meant to run, they were born to run, they’re trained to run,” said Race Spokesperson Monica Hendrickson, the yip of excited race dogs behind her.

The dogs’ howls light a flame in everyone’s hearts.

“Everything about it,” said Beargrease 120 musher Arlene Duff. “Just being with all the other dogs and the mushers and the handlers and everything, it’s just a spectacular event.”

“3…2…1… go, Go, GO!” the announcer cheers.

In a flash of fur, the mushers are off!

They’re powered by the cheers of their adoring fans, and the memory of John Beargrease.

“Miigwech, John Beargrease, Miigwech!” the crowd calls, as they send off the spiritual “first musher.”

“Any other races you’re not really doing it or you’re not really thinking about anybody else running that trail, or you’re just thining about yourself but him, on this trail you’re actually thinking about him,” said musher Andre Duval.

The son of an Anishinaabe Chief, John Beargrease delivered bags of mail weighing 700 pounds between Two Harbors and Grand Marais–with only four dogs pulling the weight.

“And y’know, knowing that he was on those trails that I’m running on and knowing what he was doing,” Duval said.

Today people dog sled for fun. The youngest: Morgan Martens, running the Beargrease 40 for the first time.

“It’s a new experience, it’s the farthest race I’ve gone and I’m looking forward to it,” said the 13-year-old. He had a strategy you don’t often hear from others his age.

“Go slow in the beginning and don’t go fast, you wanna pace your dogs.”

Martens had plenty of support–teams approach the starting line flanked by throngs of spectators.

“I think this is probably one of our biggest crowds,” Hendrickson said. “It’s a beautiful day out, it’s not 40 below zero like last year so it’s, the weather definitely plays a role in how many people show up to the start.”

But the warmer weather is a double-edged sword for the ones doing all the work.

“Little bit tougher for the dogs, for me it’s perfect but the cooler weather is better for the dogs,” said Duff.

“Dogs only, they don’t sweat out their body they sweat through their mouth and feet,” Duval said.

The dogs wear booties to keep the snow from sticking to their feet, but the warmth makes that difficult, according to Duval.

“We’re gonna run with booties then take them off probably halfway from here to Two Harbors and then put them on again. And run them and then run for a while and then their feet get hot, we’ll take off the booties and y’know just a lot more work.”

Martens plans to take extra care to keep his dogs healthy. “Letting them stop for a little while and eat snow and just, if you see a dog overheating you can just put snow on them and let them cool off.”

But all of this lengthens the race. “Because of the temperatures and how kind of warm and slushy the snow is,” said Hendrickson. “It’s gonna take them longer to get to their next Checkpoint.”

But mushers aren’t complaining about doing what they train all year long to do, and spectators aren’t complaining about watching them dash through the snow.

“To see the power and the performance that they have and the athleticism that comes with this sport it’s so unique,” Hendrickson said.

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