MARQUETTE - The excitement in the air was contagious as mushers, handlers, race coordinators and volunteers filled the banquet room at the Holiday Inn for the U.P. 200 Sled Dog Championships 2013 Pre-Race Banquet and Bib Draw Thursday evening.
The bib draw determines the order race teams head out on the course in the U.P. 200 race and the Midnight Run. A separate bib draw will be held Saturday for the Jack Pine 30 in Gwinn.
As of this morning, 17 mushers were registered for the U.P. 200, 30 mushers in the Midnight Run and 18 in the Jack Pine 30.
Frank Moe of Bemidji, Minn. His name was drawn first for the U.P. 200 which begins at 6:50 tonight in Marquette’s downtown. (Journal photo by Abbey Hauswirth)
In the U.P. 200, Frank Moe of Bemidji, Minn., will head out of the starting gate on Washington Street at 6:50 p.m. today. Taking to the trails first this year in the Midnight Run will be Shannon Miller of Newberry.
"This is our favorite race," Moe said. "There's nothing like being at the start, the lights overhead. You don't see that type of enthusiasm in the crowd anywhere else than Marquette."
Moe has been participating in long distance dog racing since 2006. This is his fourth year racing in the U.P. 200. When asked what his strategy is for racing, Moe compared it to a human racing in a marathon.
"If you race out of the gate full force in the first mile, chances are you're going to start to lag behind soon after that," he said, emphasizing that it's all about pacing yourself.
Last year's winner, Ryan Anderson of Ray, Minn., said he is very optimistic for a good race, but win or lose, he's just happy to be out on the trails with his dogs.
"There are a lot of good mushers this year," he said. "But I'm going to give it my all."
Anderson has been racing since 1992 and has participated in the U.P. 200 since 2004, winning the last three races.
Following the start of U.P. 200 teams this evening, the Midnight Run teams will start at 9 p.m. along Washington Street. This is the first year the Midnight Run has begun downtown. Between the two starts, Jim and Ray will be performing at the Marquette Commons and Stucko's Food Truck will be available, as well.
Upper Peninsula Sled Dog Association President Pat Torreano said the hope is to turn the downtime between races into a "carnival atmosphere."
She added that the reaction from Midnight Run mushers about the change to a later start was spectacular.
"They were very happy. They have their own start that's separate from the 200 race and it reduces the possibility of entanglements with other mushers on the trail."
To learn more about the races, including schedules and photos, visit www.up200.org.
Abbey Hauswirth can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 240.