Tired pups: Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon winner and runner up dish on this year's race

Rest stop
A sled dog team rests on hay and under blankets as a steady snow covers them at Trail Center in Jan. 2015 during the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon that year.
Derek Montgomery | MPR News 2015

There are some tired pups today after the 2023 Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon ended last night.

The 300-mile race wrapped up yesterday in sub-zero temperatures in Grand Portage, Minn. Keith Aili’s team from Ray, Minn., came in first at around 3 p.m.

For a time, Ryan Anderson's team from Cushing, Wis., was in first place and in position for his fifth win of the Beargrease race. But in the end he finished in second place — eight minutes after Aili.

Host Cathy Wurzer talks with them both about the exciting race.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation. Subscribe to the Minnesota Now podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.   

We attempt to make transcripts for Minnesota Now available the next business day after a broadcast. When ready they will appear here. 

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Audio transcript

INTERVIEWER: There are some tired pups today, a day after the 2023 John Beargreese Sled Dog Marathon ended. The 300 mile race wrapped up yesterday in sub zero temperatures in Grand Portage. Keith Aili's team from Ray Minnesota came in first at around 3:00 in the afternoon. For a time, Ryan Anderson's team from Cushing, Wisconsin, was in first place, and in position for his fifth win of the Beargrease race. But, in the end, he finished in second place 8 minutes after Aili.

Keith and Ryan are on the line. Congratulations to both of you guys. Thanks for being here.

KEITH AILI: Thank you.


INTERVIEWER: Nice to have you with us. Say, after finishing that race yesterday, I assume you both needed to take a shower and get some food and some sleep, and your dogs the same. How are the pups doing? And Ray, actually, I'm going to start with you, the winner here. Keith, congratulations. How are the dogs doing?

KEITH AILI: Oh, dogs was-- just today they look a lot better than the musher does, so.


Ryan, how about you?

RYAN ANDERSON: Yes. Likewise, the dogs look good. We gave them a little snack this morning, and they all look good.

INTERVIEWER: I was following the race via the GPS tracking offered on the Beargreese website. And it looked for a time like you guys were in kind of a dogfight on the trail. It looked really close. So Keith, tell us what was going on right toward the end of the race there?

KEITH AILI: Like you said, it was a close race. And both of us have a lot of experience racing. And we do run dogs similar in race them similar. So it was exciting for people to watch. It was a little bit tense for us out on the trail. Because we knew both of us had a good dog team, and we were just doing our best to manage our own team.

INTERVIEWER: Now, Ryan, when I saw that the GPS tracking, I was thinking, well, he's in the lead, you know? And you were the favorite. And then it looked Keith slipped by in Grand Marais. Is that right? What were you thinking?

RYAN ANDERSON: Yeah. He passed me slightly after we left Skye Park there. I had a couple of dogs that weren't loosening up right, and then one of them I had to throw in the bag just slightly after Keith passed me. So one got a little extra for-- we had a passenger for about 3 and 1/2 hours going into Mineral Center, which slowed us a bit, and kind of unexpected. So but yeah. So I mean, that's kind of where he overtook me.

INTERVIEWER: Yeah. Now, wait there, for folks who don't understand, when you say you put the dog in the bag, you're talking about the bag on the sled, is that right?

RYAN ANDERSON: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. He was a little too sore to be-- or couldn't continue anymore. So when that happens, we just haul him to the next checkpoint and get him looked at by a vet and take care of him that way.

INTERVIEWER: Say, Keith, was your team relatively young?

KEITH AILI: Yeah, it was-- there are a lot of two-year-olds and some three-year-olds. But they came from other kennels that we acquired them. But they just, they have hardly any race experience, maybe one or two, but nothing this long that they finish. So it was a little bit trickier running a dog team like that. It's much more enjoyable when you've got a team that's veterans and they've all raced before. So this one took a little bit more coaching on my end. There's a little bit more of a struggle.

INTERVIEWER: I noticed that you were coaching at the very, very end, at the finish line. Tell me about that.

KEITH AILI: Yeah. Some of these dogs, when they're raised like that, and if they're not socialized with other people, that was the only thing. They came to the finish line and they were running fast. But when they get to a big group of people and they can't see a narrow path between them, they're just scared of them. So that's all [INAUDIBLE].

INTERVIEWER: Yeah. Yeah, of course. And by the way, congratulations. I didn't congratulate you at the beginning of our conversation. That was a heck of a win. And you came back. I thought you were retired, but you came back for this race.

KEITH AILI: Yeah. I've been-- I've gotten out of the sport a few times in my life. And I just recently got married this summer to Erin. And she wants to continue racing, and we got a kennel going, and we're slowly building it back up. So that's the start of what we're trying to put together for both of us.

INTERVIEWER: Nice. Say, Ryan, of course, now you have won this race numerous times, how would you describe this year's race versus your other wins? What were the trail conditions like? Because gosh, I mean, you guys were out there in brutal conditions.

RYAN ANDERSON: Yeah, I think I remember even talking to Keith, and I said, when was the last time we volunteered to sleep in a snowbank at 20 below? So at the Sobule checkpoint, just to kind of have a little humor with how cold it was out there. But yeah, you know, it was a great race, it was fun. It's always fun racing Keith. It's always good competition. As far as the races go, you know, I mean, I'm pretty proud of what this team has done and can do. And I feel I could have done a little better job with some decisions on my end, as far as some just little minor things. But all in all, we're happy. And yeah, it's just another great race.

INTERVIEWER: How did the weather and the cold temperatures affect the competition this year?

RYAN ANDERSON: You know, I think, for the most part, I know personally my team hasn't seen 20 below. I mean, since I moved a little bit further South out of Northern Minnesota, I don't get the cold temperatures that we saw this weekend. I mean, occasionally, but not very frequently. So that's kind of a huge adjustment for my dogs. But I don't think this particular winter-- nobody's really seen 20 below. So I think, once the dogs got acclimated, it was probably pretty stressful for a while. But the dogs do get acclimated very quickly.

And then I don't think anybody's seen a trail that hard all year long. So that was also another adjustment for the dogs to try to just get toned back and not try to go so hard and fast on the trail to try to conserve energy. So I think that was another challenge, also, to overcome.

INTERVIEWER: Now, Keith, you're from up by Ray, Minnesota, which is, if I'm not mistaken, around Voyageurs, so you're kind of used to really cold temperatures.

KEITH AILI: Yeah. Yeah, normally, we see more cold than anybody else up there. But like Ryan said, even this year, it missed us, too. We didn't have very much of it.

INTERVIEWER: Now, before you both go, Keith, you're tied for the record for number of wins. Are you going to be back next year?

KEITH AILI: I don't know if I'll be racing it or if my wife will. So we'll work that out.

INTERVIEWER: And Ryan, what are your plans?

RYAN ANDERSON: I haven't come up with a plan for next year yet. I'll likely be back. We'll see. But I mean, I'm 90% sure.

INTERVIEWER: All right. Gentlemen, thank you. Safe travels back to your home bases there. It was fun to watch. Best of luck and get some sleep.

RYAN ANDERSON: All right. Thank you.

INTERVIEWER: Thank you. Keith Aili has been with us. He is the winner of the 2023 John Beargreese Sled Dog Marathon. And in second place, Ryan, Anderson, from Cushing, Wisconsin.

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