And they're off! Mushers begin nearly 400-mile John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon

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And they're off!

Mushers and their teams of dogs raced from the starting line Sunday morning in hopes of winning the 32nd annual John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon. (Check out photos from the starting line here and videos here.)

The 383-mile marathon began at the Highway 2 gravel pit at 11 a.m., and will finish at Billy's Bar in Rice Lake, just north of Duluth.

The first mushers are expected to cross the finish line Wednesday morning, the Duluth News Tribune says. You can watch the race live online here, track the mushers here or follow along on this blog.

The mid-distance (119-miles) and the 38-mile race also started at the gravel pit Sunday, according to the race's website. Mid-distance mushers are expected to cross the finish line at Trail Center Monday morning, while 38-mile racers will finish at the Finland checkpoint roughly 3-4 hours after the start, the Duluth News Tribune says.

Trail conditions are looking good for this year's race after organizers were forced to move the start of the race farther north due to lack of snow in Duluth. Beargrease media director Jason Rice told the Duluth News Tribune there's deep snowpack along the trail, and cooler conditions at night should create a "hard, fast trail" for mushers.

The race – named after John Beargrease, an Ojibwe Indian who delivered mail on the North Shore via dogsled in the late 1800s – is the longest sled dog race in the lower 48 states, according to the event’s website, and serves as a qualifier for the famous Iditarod in Alaska.

MPR News says 30 mushers are participating in this year's marathon race, which is far less than the 74 who competed back in 2004. The publication notes there are fewer Midwesterners who are dedicating the time and money to the long dogsled races.

The Pine Journal talked to some veteran mushers ahead of the race about how they prepare and train. Read more about it here.

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