MARQUETTE, Mich. (WLUC) - Bib numbers are drawn. Dogs are fed and the 31st running of the UP200, Midnight Run and Jack Pine 30 all set.
Before getting a green light to run a race, each dog must be certified as healthy by a veterinarian. Those mandatory checks took place Friday morning in sub-zero temperatures at Riverside Auto in Marquette Township.
Along with Tom Gustafson, Co-Head Veterinarian, Jean Wilcox says these pre-race vet checks certify a dog in overall good health.
“We listen to their heart rate. We listen to their lungs. We body condition score them," Wilcox declared.
They also check to make sure each dog is properly hydrated, according to Tom Bauer of Tapiola. He's been running dogs since 1987.
"We found that the easiest way to do that especially in the winter is to feed a wet feed. We put the water in with the feed. Our dogs consume a lot more fat than the typical dogs because of the high energy. They transpose the fat into energy quicker," Bauer boasted.
"We always ask if there's anything specific that a musher wants us to look at because at this time of year, the dogs have been in several races,” Wilcox asserted.
"If you push on the gums you can look to see how fast the color comes back where you pushed. You can also pinch the skin and see how quickly it bounces back,” Bauer recommended.
Veterinarians also check each dog’s temperature.
"They're looking also at what's coming out of the dog. And they look at the feet to check to see if there's any fissures,” Bauer added.
Vets and mushers will compare this morning’s baseline values to readings taken at various checkpoints throughout the race.
The entire race covers 238 miles from Marquette to Grand Marais and back. Teams will cover 65 miles before the first check point.
"The first leg of the race is very important. Because the dogs are anxious. They're wanting to run full tilt. And it's up to the musher to help control them and slow them down a little bit. If they burn too many calories and too much energy in that first leg then they don't have reserves to go on to the next one and the next one,” Wilcox mentioned.
"We're trying to keep our dogs paced between 9 and 12 MPH. There's times where you're going downhill probably at 15 miles per hour or so," Bauer calculated.
Trail and weather conditions look ideal. Teams actually prefer to run in these single digits temperatures.
"Weather conditions always affect how your dogs run. The hardest on dogs is probably in the warmer weather. Overheating can be an issue," Bauer reasoned.
Click here to learn more about the races.