Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Iditarod FAQ - 2015 edition

So I haven't done an FAQ for the Iditarod in the last few years - mainly because I was focused on reporting via facebook and twitter - and I realized a lot has changed in the records/standings that needed updating. So With the Iditarod just a week away from the ReStart (less than now) I figured now is as good a time as any to get this thing done!

You can view previous FAQ's here, here, and here.

The first Iditarod was run in 1973, Dick Wilmarth won in 20 days. The average winning time now is around 9 days. Trail grooming, equipment innovation, and better training have all made a shorter race possible. 

Dallas Seavey in 2014 shattered the fastest win time record when he won in 8days, 13hours, 4minutes and 19seconds. In 2012 Dallas became the youngest musher to win the Iditarod at the age of 25. In 2005 - his rookie year - he became the youngest musher to run and finish the race; he turned 18 the day before the race started.

Mitch Seavey's win in 2013 made him the oldest Iditarod Champion at age 53.

The last time a woman won the Iditarod was in 1990, that woman was Susan Butcher. It's been 25 years, it's time for a woman to take it!

Only two women have ever won the Iditarod: Libby Riddles in 1985, and Susan Butcher is the only female 4 time Iditarod Champion.

Lance Mackey is the only 4-time consecutive champion (2007-2010).

Rick Swenson is the only 5 time champion.

In 2003 a warm wind came in and melted most of the snow in the South Central region making a Willow ReStart impossible so the restart was moved to Fairbanks. The winter of 2014-2015 never came, and so for only the second time the ReStart will move north. The trail will be different than the 2003 trail so that the race can visit different villages.

How can I follow the race?
There are several great tools in order to follow. The official way is to become an Iditarod Insider - which gives you access to the live GPS Tracker as well as video and blog updates.
Another great way is facebook, many of the Iditarod teams have family/friends running their pages during the race giving updates on their progress. Some, like Danny & Conway Seavey blog not only about their teams, but the race in general. Sebastian Schnuelle is the "Armchair Musher" for both the Yukon Quest and Iditarod (he's won the Quest and come very close to winning the Iditarod) also keeps folks up to date on the race as he follows closely by snow machine. The Sportsman Channel will have a follow up series AFTER the race concludes. (It looks like they plan to show the Ceremonial Start in Anchorage LIVE on their channel. Cool!)

There are also some great twitters you can follow (I can't list them all it'd take too long, just look up the hashtag #iditarod, and ignore anything from Margery Glickman - she spreads lies not facts). And the Alaska News Sources are another great way to follow. KTVA is the official station for this year's Iditarod, KTUU always has good coverage. The Alaska Dispatch has a great Iditablog, as does KNOM. These are the links I follow religiously. With the start moving to Fairbanks I assume the Fairbanks News-Miner will also have a lot of great articles.

Lastly you can follow my blog and twitter to stay up to date. I hope to be able to give updates and share my favorite links as the race goes on. And I'll of course have photos of the Ceremonial Start to share.

What kind of dog runs in the Iditarod?
There are generally two "breeds" of dog that run the Iditarod. The purebred Siberian Husky and the mixed breed Alaskan Husky. Siberians are bigger, have more fur, and are slower. The Alaskan Husky is the more competitive breed and has no real rhyme or reason to what their make up is. Each line has a little bit of this and a little bit of that. They harken back to the gold rush days of sled dogs when miners were breeding any dog they had with the Native Alaskan dogs and coming up with a hybrid. When long distance racing came into being, that's when we really started seeing the magic of breeding happen as each musher wanted different qualities (size, fur, feet, speed, etc) in their bloodline. If you spend a lot of time around the races/kennels you begin to notice these differences and can tell a "Seavey dog" from a "Gebhardt dog" or a "King dog" or... well, you get the idea. The Alaskan Husky has no "standard" to the breed and will most likely never be allowed to participate in Westminster.

There was a team of poodles that ran the race in the 80s. Kind of a novelty act, but they made it. No one recommends it, and I'm not even sure it'd be allowed now.

How long is the Iditarod Trail?
The full Iditarod trail is much longer than what the race goes on. The official mileage of the race is 1,049 (the 49 is for Alaska being the 49th state) but it fluctuates from year to year. The GPS shows it closer to 980+ miles, but it does not take into account elevations and does not ping exact twists and turns, so the mileage is longer than what technology tells us. Or, so they say. I am not a musher, so I just go with what they tell me. ;)

Mile 0 of the trail is actually in Seward, not Anchorage, and the ending of the trail is further north than Nome, and is actually a series of trails, not just one long line.

What books do you recommend to someone interested in the race?
There are many books that I love reading this time of year to stay in the "spirit" of the race. Let me list a few:
  • Winderdance by Gary Paulsen - It's a creative look in how Paulsen trained for and experienced the Iditarod. Paulsen is known for his jr novels such as The Hatchet (one of my favorite books of all time) and I believe there is a jr novel version of this book. This is the book I recommend to anyone interested in the Iditarod and not just a particular musher. It is humorous, inspiring, creative, and truthful (even if he basically gives experiences from several Iditarods as one race).
  • The First Great Race by Dan Seavey - Dan was one of the original Iditarod mushers. He was second across the finish line in Nome, though his official standing is third (he had the third fastest time to Nome). He is the father of a two time Iditarod Champion, as well as the grandfather of a two time Iditarod Champion. He's the one that started it all for the Seavey family. The book is part memior, part documentation of how the race was created and run. I will admit I am extremely biased as Dan Seavey is one of my most favorite human beings. 
  • Cold Hands, Warm Heart by Jeff King - the autobiography of the "self-proclaimed" winningest musher on earth. Jeff was one of the major innovators of the sport both in sled technology as well as breeding/training in the 80s and 90s... and continues to transform the sport today. He came *this close* to winning last year before a windstorm stalled his chances just three miles out of the checkpoint of Safety. That story's not in the book but a lot of exciting and heartwarming stories are - plus some heart breaking ones. 
  • Trailbreakers: Volume 2 by Rod Perry - this book is full of historical facts and great stories on that first great race. Some nice pictures. Perry was instrumental in creating and running in the first Iditarod (along with Seavey, Mackey, etc). He gives a pretty detailed account not only of his run but of others as he interviewed many of his compatriots and compiled their stories into a great book.
  • Danger the Dog Yard Cat by Libby Riddles with Shelley Gill - okay this is a children's book, and I actually prefer the audio tape because it comes with songs, but this book "changed my life". It's the reason I fell head over heels in love with this sport. I wanted to be Libby Riddles, and then Susan Butcher. I loved the dogs, I loved the adventure... of course I grew up and realized I don't have the drive or insanity to do what it takes to run the race, but I've been blessed to be part of the fandom and the community for most of my life (geez, 25 years now).
Where's a good spot to catch the action at the Ceremonial Start?
For me I'd say anywhere on the trail except downtown. Downtown is far too crowded and they put up large barriers so you can't get right to the trail and the teams. I trail guard at Tudor Crossing - which is a great place but has become a favorite spot of many spectators. Goose Lake is another good spot, or if you want to see dog trucks and handlers you can go to the take out point at Campbell Airstrip. If you come to Tudor Crossing look me up and say hi!

Alright it's nearly midnight and that's all I have in my brain at the moment. Have more questions? Comment below and I will do my best to answer them, some might even get featured in future blog updates!

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