Nicole Grangroth, 17, once again competed at the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon, held Jan. 26 in Duluth.

“This is the first year I trained with my own team,” said the senior at Menahga High School. “Prior years, I’ve used some of my team and some of my mentor’s team. The first year I ran the Beargrease I used only her dogs. So this year was testing how my training went.”

This was her third appearance in the junior class division, trekking 120 miles of the rugged North Shore with her eight-dog sled team.

Grangroth now owns True North Kennels, along with sisters Brenna and Kara.

Beginning in August, Nicole trains with her dogs, riding hundreds of miles after school and work. With one exception, their dogs are all Alaskan huskies, which are bred with a desire to pull and please.

The warmer weather proved challenging at this year’s race.

The dogs performed better in 2019 – when the temps dipped well below freezing with windchill. “They do better when it’s cooler,” Nicole explained. “It was pretty warm this year, so they were a little sluggish, not loving the heat as much. They’d rather have the cold.”

After the first 40 miles of the Beargrease, one of Nicole’s leading dogs had a shoulder injury. “He might have tweaked it wrong or something. I ended up dropping him at the first checkpoint.”

At the end of the marathon, one of Nicole’s dogs grew too tired to finish. “I just carried him in my basket for the last 10 miles of the race,” she said.

Nonetheless, Nicole said she was pleased with the results, given that she was “a little bit behind” on her training schedule.

“They finished, so I was really proud of them for that,” she said. “I was pretty impressed with them.”

Earlier in January, Nicole raced at the 2020 Gunflint Mail Run, which involves two 30-mile runs. “I didn’t place very well there, but it was kind of a training run for the Beargrease,” she said. “We had a lot of fun at that one.”

In early February, Nicole’s sisters ran her team at the Apostle Islands Sled Dog Race in Bayfield, Wis. Last weekend, Nicole was in Remer, competing in the Mid-Minnesota 150 Sled Dog Race.

As for goals, Nicole said she tries to beat her personal best. “I just hope it will slowly get better from here – like, speed up a little faster, perform a little better, finish with all of my dogs healthy,” she said.