Yellowknife musher wins 1st place at Canadian Challenge competition

Yellowknife's Marcel Marin won first place in this year’s Canadian Challenge sled dog competition despite two injured dogs and warm weather.

'They were surprised to see me at the finish line,' says Marcel Marin

This was Marcel Marin's third time competing in the Canadian Challenge competition in Saskatchewan. Last time, he placed second. (Submitted by Jim Williams)

Third time's a charm.

Yellowknife man Marcel Marin won first place in this year's Canadian Challenge sled dog competition — dubbed as Canada's longest sled dog race that starts and finishes in Canada — after his third time competing.

In 2006, Marin competed in the 12-dog race. A few years later, he won second place at the eight-dog race.

"I thought that was the hardest race. I didn't win it," he said. "I always said if I come back, I'll try to win it."

Marin at the start of the race in Prince Albert, Sask. (Submitted by Jim Williams)

It took him six years to train, prepare and build a team of eight dogs for this year. Marin won with just six dogs (two were injured along the way), with a time of 20 hours and 44 minutes — just over two hours ahead of Anna Bolvin of Sweden who finished second in the eight-team race.

The race attracts teams from around the world — from the United States, Australia to even Serbia and Belgium. It starts in Saskatchewan's Prince Albert and ends in La Ronge and is approximately 600 kilometres in length. Marin's team ran the approximately 320-kilometre track for the eight-dog race class.

The 12-dog teams travel approximately 600 kilometres while the eight-dog teams finish at the 320 kilometre mark in La Ronge. (Canadian Challenge)

"It's not like hockey or baseball, you go for a few hours and you hang up your skates. This is year-round work so it's nice to see the outcome work in your favour once in awhile."

Challenges 'pretty difficult'

But the win didn't come without its challenges.

From the start, Marin had to change his game plan when the race track was shortened due to a lack of snow in Prince Albert.

"I had to change things up a bit and speed them up a little bit more… It was kind of a gamble because they're not trained to do that."
Two of Marin's dogs were injured during the race and were handed off at the check-point. (Submitted by Jim Williams)

Then, the weather was a little too warm for Marin's dogs who were used to training in the North.

One of his dogs "couldn't take the heat," and Marin ended up having to load the 70 pound dog on his sled.

We started picking off whole 12-dog teams, one after the other.- Marcel Marin

"There are, believe it or not, hills in Saskatchewan. I found them," laughed Marin. "And climbing with a dog in the back was quite a challenge."

Further north, near Lac La Ronge, Marin said another one of his dogs injured itself in the winding trails with forest fire debris from 2015.

"Trail challenges were pretty difficult," he said.

Marin ended up leaving his two dogs at checkpoints and continuing on with his six dog team.

The 'real highlight'

But that didn't slow them down.

"I was running faster with the six dogs into the 70-mile run," said Marin. "We were really trained up for it."

The "real highlight" was seeing the training pay off and beating the big-name kennels with twice as many dogs, said Marin.

"It was a big crew there and I'm kinda the underdog," said Marin. "We started picking off whole 12-dog teams, one after the other, and they were surprised to see me at the finish line. They didn't know who I was, they thought I was a day ahead of schedule basically."

Marin and his six-dog team crossing Lac La Ronge, near the finish line. (Submitted by Jim Williams)

At the finish line, Marin said he was greeted by the whole town and some First Nations band members.

"They were pretty happy to see a small team out there amongst the bigger teams," he said.

With files from Wanda McLeod, Juanita Taylor


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