Every February, usually around Valentine’s Day, the streets of downtown Marquette become a snowy highway for elite canine athlete’s. The U.P. 200 is a sled dog race which spans 230 miles across Michigan’s upper peninsula. The race begins Friday night on Washington street in downtown Marquette and there is a mandatory rest at the half way point in Grand Marais where mushers rest their teams before making the return trip to Marquette and arriving at the finish line at Lower Harbor Park on Sunday.
Prior to the start of the race all of the dog teams go through a “Vet Check” process where veterinarians volunteer their time to give a thorough physical exam to every dog and clear them to participate in the race. The veterinary staff is available throughout the entire race to attend and assess the dogs as needed. Most mushers begin the U.P. 200 with a team of 12 dogs; dogs can be dropped from the team at any point during the race for reasons such as injury or fatigue, but each musher is required to finish the race with a minimum of 7 dogs. The total purse for this race was $35,640, the musher who came in first won $9,000. The U.P. 200 is also a qualifying race for those who wish to run in the grand-daddy of all sled dog races….the Iditarod!
We have been attending the race since 2007 and it is such a fun time! The festivities begin downtown around 6:00pm and the first dog team leaves the chute at 7:00pm. There are two other sled dog races commencing that weekend. The Midnight Run is a 90 mile overnight race and the Jack Pine 30 is a shorter race of 26 miles and takes between 2-4 hours to complete. This year the youngest musher was 12 year old Kelsey who finished 14th out of 22 racers in the Midnight Run! She finished the race in 11 hours and 20 minutes, 2 minutes ahead of her dad, yay for girl power! We have NOT heard the last of this young lady!
There are multiple checkpoints throughout the race where spectators can go to watch the teams speed by, as well as being able to see the teams up close as they take their long rest at the check point in Grand Marais. It’s fun to see teams come in to the finish line and one can explore the towns that host the start & finish lines.
Many people mistakenly think that making dogs run for such a long distance in such harsh conditions amounts to cruelty. These dogs are truly elite athletes who have been bred and trained to perform at this level…there are no couch potatoes here! To see a dog perform in the environment and manner for which it has been designed is an amazing thing to behold. These dogs really love what they do and it is witnessed by the pure joy and excitement they exhibit at the starting line. The mushers and their teams have such a strong and committed bond, they will do anything for each other; these dogs are very well looked after and much-loved. (Scroll down to see a video of the dogs excitement)
The dogs typically used in these races are not the pure bred Siberian Husky or Alaskan Malamute but rather a breed known as the Alaskan Husky. It is a blend of Nordic breeds developed for pulling ability, agility, and endurance. The come in many colors and markings; some look like their pure-bred cousins while others look more like a shepherd.
If you have never witnessed a sled dog race I would encourage you to take one in….perhaps even making the trek to the beautiful and rugged upper peninsula of Michigan; you will not be disappointed!