Insight into the Beargrease

The Beargrease is one of the tougher races in my experience–though when you first start a Marathon, you could be forgiven for not necessarily agreeing with me right at first; the trail is almost as wide as a country highway, and packed icy hard from intensive grooming and excessive snowmobile use (the Northshore of Lake Superior where the race route takes the mushers is considered the “playground of Minneapolis”).

Typically when a professional musher hears the words “packed trail” or “the trail was well-groomed and almost thirty feet wide”, a tough race isn’t the first thing that comes to his/her mind—in most cases, experienced mushers all over the world know that the toughest races in the world usually have one thing in common (besides awesome competition): a nasty, poorly marked trail that is either punchy, damaging to the dogs feet, or otherwise injurious to their bodies; wind-blown, hard to navigate because of poor marking & limited visibility,etc.

Camping in preparation for the Beargrease

Even starting my 3rd Beargrease last year, I was going down the trail early in the race thinking to myself “I don’t see what the big deal is; just look at this beautifully maintained trail!”—it certainly didn’t fit the description of the difficult trail conditions I listed above…at least not at first.

See, the Beargrease has a tough that sneaks up on you and your team, and the sad part is that by the time you realize what the trail is doing to the integrity of your squad and their ability to project force, it’s almost always too late to take corrective actions—there is so much damage already done that your dogs need several weeks to recover in a “dog lot situation”, much less being stuck on the trail with 250 miles ’til Duluth & the finish line.


So what’s so tough about it, you’re wondering? Part of it is the length; 375 miles is just a long ways to go for most dogs & their drivers. One of the most damaging factors though, by far, is just what I mentioned at the top of the post–the trail is so doggone hard and fast. It promotes the excessive use of speed (which is HUGELY damaging to most contestants efforts), and hardly ever gives the dogs a chance to run on anything softer than slick concrete.

The second, and equally damaging factor is the very nature of the terrain itself; a non-stop series of short, choppy hillocks that constantly stress out the dogs’ wrists & front shoulders, never allowing them to settle into a comfortable traveling gate–constantly forcing them to “shift through all the gears in their transmission” in rapid, unrelenting succession

After only a few hundred miles along the Northshore, even a really good team looks like its gone 700+ on the typical Iditarod trail. In my next post, I plan to dig into some of my strategies on how I’ve managed to avoid injuries & keep my team strong and healthy over the last three Marathon’s.

Thanks for tuning in; more to follow…


3 Responses to “Insight into the Beargrease”

  1. I just discovered your description to the Beargrease. I LOVE it! I am looking for an overall description of the Beargrease vs. the Iditarod or Quest to be use for the Educational tab of the Beargrease. Have you written an overall summary of this race I could use on our website? BTW I read your book and enjoyed it very much 🙂

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