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Matt Carstens of Whitefield, N.H., runs his team between lines of spectators at the start of the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon on Sunday­. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

Duluth sled dog marathon postponed for lack of snow

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Duluth's John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon has been postponed until March 10. It was scheduled to start Jan 27.

"I don't know that we really had any choice but to postpone," race coordinator Pat Olson said Tuesday. "It was tough, but the trail is terrible. The rain sealed the deal."

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"I'm hoping we get snow by March 10," she said.

If the region doesn't have adequate snow on the ground in March for a safe race, the Beargrease could face only its third cancellation ever -- but the second in two years.

Before Friday's rain, race organizers had made contingency plans for marathon racers to leave the start line near Duluth with fewer dogs than normal, while the start of the mid-distance race would move to Lake County Highway 2 north of Two Harbors, where there was more snow. But the rain worsened already marginal trail conditions.

"It's disappointing, but they are making the right decision," said racer Jen Freking of Finland. "With the trail iced up like that, the trail is in a little worse condition than it was last year when they had to make that decision."

Last year's races were scheduled to begin Jan. 29. A lack of snow and safety concerns caused the board of directors to cancel the race on Jan. 15. It also was canceled in 2007.

Because of conflicts with other races, the Beargrease's board of directors decided last year not to try rescheduling the race. This year they want to hold a race if at all possible. March 10 was picked as the backup date to avoid as many conflicts as possible.

But there will be other races and events in March that may take racers away from the Beargrease, including the annual 220-mile Hudson Bay Quest Dog Sled Race starting March 15 and the noncompetitive Mush for a Cure dog sled and skijoring races to raise money for the National Breast Cancer Foundation on March 9 along the Gunflint Trail.

"We're not sure how we're going to go ahead the next few months as far as training and working in the races," said Blake Freking, who is registered for the Hudson Bay Quest.

Jen and Blake Freking have three teams registered for the Beargrease: Blake in the marathon, and Jen and a friend running two mid-distance teams. They use the mid-distance race to train their younger dogs, he said.

"Hopefully March pans out and brings us some good snow and winter weather," Jen Freking said. "That would be nice. I'm looking forward to the Beargrease in March, but I guess I won't hold my breath."

The Beargrease first was run in 1980. It became an annual event in 1984. It has been postponed several times, and its start was moved at least twice -- once to near Lake County 2 and once to Grand Portage -- to find more snow.

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