He’s won three of the past eight John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathons, but after a life-changing move, the most recent victory, in 2017, was starting to seem like a while ago.
Ryan Anderson is thirsting to get back on the 300-mile trail along the North Shore from Duluth to Grand Portage.
“Oh, it feels good,” Anderson said. “I’m just excited to try this new course. I wanted to do it last year. I just didn’t have the training for the marathon.”
The 36th Beargrease begins Sunday at 11 a.m., with festivities starting at 9 a.m. at Billy’s bar on the north edge of Duluth at 3502 W. Tischer Road.
It’s been a busy couple of years for Anderson and his wife of seven years, Missy. They had a daughter, Alivia, and moved from Ray, Minn., near International Falls, to Cushing, Wis. Missy is a veterinary neurologist, and the work required them to be near the Twin Cities. So she commutes an 70 minutes either way, and he maintains the mushing life.
He’s got trails outside his door, and he tries to be done with training runs by the time Missy is hitting the road for home.
A union carpenter, Anderson built the couple’s new home over the last two years. It was one of those things, he said: He could have gone to work for $30 per hour and paid someone $60 per hour to build his house, or he could do it himself.
“We bought raw land and had to get it cleared, build a house, put the kennel in and move everybody down,” he said. “That’s why I didn’t run the marathon last year.”
Anderson appears hungry to race, and will pull his team from a 35-dog kennel. At the recent Gunflint Mail Run, he cooked the 100-mile race in 8 hours, 21 minutes, 43 seconds, finishing second, three minutes behind 2018 Beargrease champ Ryan Redington on a cold and fast course.
The top eight participants in that race were separated by less than an hour. Of them, 2019 Beargrease champ Blake Freking and four-time Beargrease champ Nathan Schroeder will also vie for the Beargrease marathon.
“We’ve got a whole bunch of experienced mushers in this race,” spokesperson Jean Vincent said.
For Anderson, reclaiming Beargrease glory is a motivator, but the competition’s the thing. When he does something, he said, he does it all the way.
“You put every thought into it — run through every circumstance — so that when you have to make decisions, it’s already gone through your head,” he said. “If it gets to 50 degrees, do you run or do you rest? If it snows a foot, what are you going to do about it? If you have to make decisions, you don’t want to be all stressed out about it.”
Anderson approves of the move to a shorter race.
“I didn’t mind the out and back,” he said. “But we’re trying to get more participants. It’s awfully hard to get a lot of people ready for a 400-mile race at this time of year. It’s a lot to ask of people who have sled dogs, but may not be pro mushers. Shortening it means more entrants, and overall that’s going to be good.”
Anderson will be accompanied by his sister, Miki, his ever-present handler, and Missy, of course, who is also often found along the trail.
“We’re all just looking forward to the weekend,” Anderson said.
John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon Champions
2019 – Blake Freking, Finland, Minn.
2018 – Ryan Redington, Skagway, Alaska
2017 – Ryan Anderson, Ray
2016 – Nathan Schroeder, Warba
2015 – Ryan Anderson, Ray
2014 – Nathan Schroeder, Chisholm
2013 – Nathan Schroeder, Chisholm
2012 – No race
2011 – Ryan Anderson, Ray
2010 – Nathan Schroeder, Chisholm
2009 – Jason Barron, Lincoln, Mont.
2008 – Jason Barron, Lincoln, Mont.
2007 – No race
2006 – Keith Aili, Ray
2005 – Mark Black, Hovland
2004 – Blake Freking, Finland, Minn.
2003 – Cliff Wang, Ely
2002 – Frank Teasley, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
2001 – Cliff Wang, Ely
2000 – John Barron, Willow, Alaska
1999 – John Barron, Willow, Alaska
1998 – Jamie Nelson, Togo
1997 – Jamie Nelson, Togo
1996 – Doug Swingley, Simms, Mont.
1995 – Jamie Nelson, Togo
1994 – Doug Swingley, Simms, Mont.
1993 – Greg Swingley, Simms, Mont.
1992 – Greg Swingley, Simms, Mont.
1991 – Terry Adkins, Sand Coulee, Mont.
1990 – Susan Butcher, Manley, Alaska
1989 – DeeDee Jonrowe, Willow, Alaska
1988 – Jamie Nelson, Togo
1987 – Myron Angstman, Bethel, Alaska
1986 – Robin Jacobson, Squaw Lake
1985 – John Patten, Grand Marais
1984 – Kevin Turnbough, Grand Marais
1981-83 – No race
1980 – Gary Hokkanen, Minneapolis