MARQUETTE - It's a fair bet Keith Aili and Ryan Anderson will be back for the 2015 U.P. 200 sled dog race to see who will be the first five-time winner.
Aili and his team won the U.P. 200 Sunday, finishing the 12-dog, 240-mile race shortly before 2 p.m. in Mattson Lower Harbor Park. It was Aili's fourth U.P. 200 victory after winning the race in 1998, 1999 and 2000.
Anderson, who finished second Sunday, was the winner in the previous four U.P. 200s.
Keith Aili of Ray, Minn., crosses the finish line first in the U.P. 200 Sunday at Mattson Lower Harbor Park in Marquette. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
"It's a good, challenging race this year," said Aili, who ran the race in 26 hours, 20 minutes and 19 seconds. His team crossed the line at about 1:46 p.m.
Logan Wayne Schendel of Finland, Minn., won the Red Lantern Award for finishing last with a total run time of 34 hours, 5 minutes and 11 second.
Aili, who like Anderson lives in Ray, Minn., said he never saw Anderson the entire race, which began Friday in downtown Marquette and led to Grand Marais and then back to Marquette. He said the trail was slow because of all the fresh snow that fell from during the race.
"And all throughout the race, it was a little bit at a time," Aili said.
Aili also said the snow was dense with the moisture in the air that is typically the case in Michigan.
However, in the world of sled dog racing, snow falls and mushers still want to get ahead of their competitors.
Aili said that during the Grand Marais-to-Wetmore leg of the race, he also encountered trouble with his dogs' booties, allowing Anderson to make up 20 minutes.
"When I left Wetmore, I put the hammer down to get some distance," he said.
Aili's dogs came through for him in good shape and were rewarded with meals of beaver, beef and dry dog food after the event.
"Whenever you see dogs eat, you haven't pushed them too hard," Aili said.
A unique aspect of the race for Aili, who took home $7,200 for winning the event, was the new GPS tracking system, with individual units attached to each musher's sled so their progress could be tracked online. Not only did it make it easier for fans and family to follow their favorite mushers more closely, it gave the participants a chance to check their position during the race.
"Not used to that," Aili said. "It's kind of weird."
Anderson didn't express a lot of disappointment with his runner-up finish.
"I'm OK with it," Anderson said. "You can't win every time."
He, too, noted the trail was slow, but his dogs performed well, although he still had to gauge their speed.
"If you go too fast, you risk injuring the dogs if they're not capable of doing it," Anderson said.
A total of 13 mushers entered the race, with one scratch.
Pat Torreano, president of the Upper Peninsula Sled Dog Association, said she was pleased with this year's race.
"We are ecstatic," Torreano said. "We have had wonderful volunteers."
Volunteers assisted in a variety of ways during the U.P. 200, from on-the-trail workers to people working at race headquarters at the YMCA in Marquette.
"It's a safe, safe race. That's all we are about," Torreano said. "No one was hurt, no dog was hurt. That's the epitome of a good race."
Last year, a U.P. 200 accident in Alger County killed one musher's dog and seriously injured two others when the sled dog team was struck by a pickup truck while trying to cross M-28. This year, safeguards such as Michigan State Police troopers stopping vehicles along the highway, if needed, were planned.
Torreano said she was pleased fans could listen to HAM radio operators' call of the race on the UPSDA website. And as with many face fans, she was happy with the new tracking system, so much so she wants to see it expanded to the Midnight Run, although a sponsor would be needed.
For complete race results, visit www.up200.org.
Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.