The Iditarod has passed the halfway point and its all virtually up for grabs … or a virtual race for second … or virtually over. I’ve keep a close track on the longest dog sled race running across the Alaskan wilderness all the way to Nome; and the one thing I can tell you for sure is that I have no idea what’s going to happen.
The Iditarod is not much as a spectator sport, you stand in a spot and watch the pups go by – and if you’re a big fan, you hop on a plane (and if you don’t have your own, this can only happen once) and catch the pups go by again. Instead, most of us can only follow the race virtually. The major papers and websites from the race send bloggers to keep up with what happens at each checkpoint with all the front runners. Race officials turn in times each team arrives at a checkpoint, the time they leave, and their current number of dogs on the team. New-ish this year as well is a GPS Tracker that can show live readings of the team’s location, their current speed, their average moving speed, the altitude they are at, and the weather.
Theoretically, you can sit back and say “Team BlahBlah is running the fastest speed, is in front, and should maintain the lead to the end.” But there are some big variables in play. For one, mushers have to protect their dogs. The speeds they are at the first half of the race could wear out the dogs causing the mushers to have to leave some of the dogs with handlers as the race continues. Fewer dogs, slower teams; so too fast early means too slow in the end. Yet, too slow early and you can’t catch up in the end. Then there is the “Manditory Rests”. To help protect the dogs, the teams are required to stop three times during the race — one 8 hour stop at White Mountain (about 100 miles to the end), one 8 hour stop along the Yukon River (which the leaders started reaching yesterday and will be on for the next couple days), and one 24 hour stop anywhere. So the team in first place could have no stops, and the team in the ‘virtual’ first place could be a day behind the leader on the trail.
As for the actual race itself — the agreed upon leader was the leader the last time I blogged on the race, Martin Buser. He flipped the race on its head by now doing three unexpected strategies – first running nearly 30 hours without much of a break at all reaching 188 miles in before stopping for more than food, new booties, and checkins. Then he took his 24 hour break right there, way before anyone else was thinking about it. Then again taking his 8 hour break at the first stop on the Yukon. Bloggers believe its about longer runs and longer stops for him. While 3 hours behind the leader on the trail and in 6th place, he’s actually ahead by 5 hours – a big number at the halfway point. Question is, can he run the dogs without much of a break the rest of the way or will he need to take breaks outside of mandated 8 hour to come. The actual race leader, Aliy Zirkle is on her 8 hour break now with an hour lead over second & third (both probably on their 8 hour breaks). But the teams with the fastest moving averages and full teams still on the line are running close to the top.
And of course there is the last crazy variable — the weather. Its blowing snow at one checkpoint, its raining at another; the only thing constant out there now is that all the checkpoints are in Alaska, and that means anything goes.
Once all the leaders get off of the Yukon, there won’t be any questions on who is the “virtual” leader. From that point on, everyone will have had all their mandatory rests except for the one that happens at the same location (White Mountain). From there on out, the question will be, who is running the fastest on the trail, and who has to rest the longest at the checkpoints. Until then, its anyone’s guess if this is still up for grabs, or over.