The Beargrease sled dog marathon kicks off

Mushers are competing for $35,000 this year.

The John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon kicks off in Duluth on Sunday.

The long-distance teams are the first to set out on the trail at 11 a.m., followed by mushers competing in the mid-distance, recreational and junior Beargrease races.

Six out of the 12 long-distance mushers in this year's race are from Minnesota.

Mushers will race up the North Shore, finishing at different checkpoints depending on the race. The checkpoints typically draw a lot of spectators – here's a map of the trail.

The long-distance mushers travel nearly 400 miles and are expected to finish up beginning around 6:30 a.m. Wednesday, according to race time estimates.

And they can expect a fast race this year, because recent unseasonably warm temperatures and rain have packed down the snow on the trail, the Duluth News Tribune says. Musher Nathan Schroeder of Warba, who is racing for his fifth Beargrease marathon win this year, told the paper that he expects it to be the fastest race yet.

“This is going to be the fastest Beargrease trail I’ve ever seen; I know it is. Patience is going to be the key to doing well,” Schroeder said.

About the race

The Beargrease marathon began in 1980 and is the longest sled dog race in the lower 48 states, according to the website.

It's named after John Beargrease, a musher from Beaver Bay who delivered the mail between Two Harbors and Grand Marais by dogsled in the early 1800's.

The race draws experienced mushers from all over North America, including Alaska and Canada.

The winner of the marathon is a qualifier for the Iditarod race in Alaska, which starts about a month later. They're also competing for a cool $35,000, which MPR says is $5,000 more than last year's prize.

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John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon organizers to meet Sunday

The lack of snow along the North Shore is still threatening this year's race. Organizers of the event plan to decide Sunday afternoon whether it can go on as scheduled or if it needs to be postponed or canceled. MPR reports another ten inches of snow would be ideal. Sixty mushers are currently signed-up for the January 29 sled dog race.