Temps tougher on two-legged Beargrease competitors

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It will be a bitterly cold start to the 30th running of the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon. Teams of mushers and their dogs are scheduled to take off from Duluth as the 400-mile annual race is scheduled to start at 1 p.m. Sunday afternoon.

The Associated Press reports that the 30 mushers and 420 dogs will hit a rebooted trail that will include new features to make it easier for fans to follow along. The Beargrease is the longest dog sled race in the Lower 48 states and is a qualifier for Alaska's famed Iditarod. The contest runs along the north shore of Lake Superior. This year, fans can keep avoid the bitter temperatures along the trail and keep up with the historic race via a live video stream. They also can track individual sleds via GPS.

The Duluth News Tribune notes that this year's Beargrease almost didn't happen. The event has struggled in recent years, and the 2014 event was actually canceled last year due to a lack of sponsors. New organizers took over the event and immediately canceled the cancellation, reinvigorating what the newspaper called the "canine carnival." The boosters lured back a major sponsor, Black Bear Casino Resort, which put up a $35,000 purse. Three defending champions are set to race, including 2013 winner Nathan Schroeder, who will use the Beargrease as a warm-up for the Iditarod.

The newspaper report says the dogs create the excitement for spectators. "Mostly Alaskan huskies, they’re marvelous creatures, coddled and conditioned to do what they were born to do — lean into their harnesses and pull." The National Weather Service forecasts call for nothing but subzero temperatures — and wind chills as low as 60 below zero — along the course during at least the first part of the marathon.

Beckie Hacker, a certified veterinary technician from the Twin Cities in her 10th year as the Beargrease’s head vet tech., told the News Tribune not to worry about the animals in the sub-zero temperatures.“They actually do a lot better in the colder weather than the mushers do,” Hacker said. “Anything above 10 above is pretty warm for the dogs.”

The crowd at the starting line will include several descendants of John Beargrease, an Ojibwe Indian from Beaver Bay who delivered mail along the North Shore from 1879 to 1899 by dogsled in winter and on foot and by boat in summer.

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