Fast-Facts on winning the Iditarod

In this 1973 photo, Joe Redington, left, and Orville Lake, right, present Dick Wilmarth the trophy for his victory in the inaugural Iditarod race in Nome, Alaska. Wilmarth completed the race in a whopping 20 days and 49 minutes, followed by an even slower race the following year, when the winner took 20 days, 15 hours and one minute to reach the finish line. (AP Photo/Anchorage Daily News, Mike McCormick)

In this 1973 photo, Joe Redington, left, and Orville Lake, right, present Dick Wilmarth the trophy for his victory in the inaugural Iditarod race in Nome, Alaska. Wilmarth completed the race in a whopping 20 days and 49 minutes, followed by an even slower race the following year, when the winner took 20 days, 15 hours and one minute to reach the finish line. (AP Photo/Anchorage Daily News, Mike McCormick)

In the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, there’s always a heart-pounding thrill at the finish line in Nome, a rollicking frontier city on Alaska’s western coast.jd-iditarod-logo

The city’s siren blares as the winning team trots along Front Street at the edge of the Bering Sea. Spectators are heavily bundled against the bone-chilling cold as they cheer and chant the victor’s name. In the winner’s circle, the dogs are calm, standing nobly, like crossing almost 1,000 miles of punishing terrain was no great feat.

But some finishes have stood out among all others in the annual race that began in 1973. Here are five things to know about some of the Iditarod’s most memorable finishes.

WINNING BY THE BLINK OF AN EYE

Only one second separated the winner from the runner-up in 1978, the closest race ever. The frantic dash down Front Street left Dick Mackey as the winner over Rick Swenson, who went on to become the Iditarod’s only five-time champion.

QUEENS OF THE TRAIL

 In this March 20, 1985 photo, musher Libby Riddles stands in front of the City Hall at Nome, Alaska, shortly after crossing the finish line, becoming the first female champion of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Riddles forged through a blinding ground blizzard nobody else dared to challenge to become the first woman to win the Iditarod.(AP Photo, File)

In this March 20, 1985 photo, musher Libby Riddles stands in front of the City Hall at Nome, Alaska, shortly after crossing the finish line, becoming the first female champion of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Riddles forged through a blinding ground blizzard nobody else dared to challenge to become the first woman to win the Iditarod.(AP Photo, File)

In 1985, Libby Riddles forged through a blinding ground blizzard nobody else dared to enter to become the first woman to win the race. It took 18 days and 20 minutes — the fourth slowest Iditarod on record. The late Susan Butcher, who would go on to win four Iditarods, was knocked out of the running that year when a moose ripped through her team, killing two dogs and severely injuring several others. Butcher defended her team using only her ax and parka against the moose, which was shot by another musher. Aliy Zirkle, who’s in second place now and was the runner-up the last two years, is hoping to become the third woman to win the race.

MASTERS OF MOMENTUM

The 2011 winner, John Baker, holds the record for the fastest Iditarod completed, clocking in at the Nome finish line in eight days, 18 hours and 46 minutes. That time was four hours faster than the previous record set by Martin Buser in 2002. Given the blistering pace of this year’s race, another record would not be out of the question.

EMPLOYING A LITTLE TRICKERY

Lance Mackey, the son of photo-finisher Dick Mackey, pulled off a stunt in 2008 that proved to be the turning point in his second victory of what would be four consecutive Iditarod wins. He could not shake four-time champion Jeff King for much of the trail until the two reached Elim, a checkpoint 123 miles from Nome. Mackey, who was leading by three minutes, made a show of settling in for a nap, telling checkpoint volunteers to wake him in an hour. With King soon snoring, Mackey sneaked out of the checkpoint 70 minutes ahead of his opponent, beating him to Nome by one hour and 19 minutes.

POKEY CHAMPIONSHIPS

The Iditarod’s first winner, Dick Wilmarth, completed the race in a whopping 20 days and 49 minutes, followed by an even slower race the following year, when the winner took 20 days, 15 hours and one minute to reach the finish line. Winning times have gradually quickened, thanks to innovations in dog breeding and gear and stiffer competition among mushers. Times finally reached the nine-day mark in 1995. Even the last musher to reach Nome these days is often faster than the early winning teams. Last year’s recipient of the Red Lantern award for arriving last made the trek in 13 days, 22 hours and 36 minutes.

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Reported by RACHEL D’ORO of the Associated Press from ANCHORAGE, Alaska. Follow Rachel D’Oro at https://twitter.com/rdoro

In this 1978 photo, Dick Mackey, right, runs in front of Rick Swenson, left, in a sprint to the Iditarod finish in Nome, Alaska. The 1978 dash down Front Street left Mackey as the winner with one second to spare over Swenson, who went on to become the Iditarod's only five-time champion. (AP Photo/Anchorage Daily News, Rob Stapleton)

In this 1978 photo, Dick Mackey, right, runs in front of Rick Swenson, left, in a sprint to the Iditarod finish in Nome, Alaska. The 1978 dash down Front Street left Mackey as the winner with one second to spare over Swenson, who went on to become the Iditarod’s only five-time champion. (AP Photo/Anchorage Daily News, Rob Stapleton)

MORE IDITAROD ACTION

Junior Dispatch’s coverage of the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race:

Junior Dispatch also offered a series of “Fast-Facts” to help familiarize readers with the rules of the game:

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Get your 2014 Iditarod fast-facts

In this March 3, 2014 photo, Ramey Smyth drives his dog team into the Rainy Pass checkpoint during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race near Puntilla Lake, Alaska. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

In this March 3, 2014 photo, Ramey Smyth drives his dog team into the Rainy Pass checkpoint during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race near Puntilla Lake, Alaska. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

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One human wins the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race each year, but it’s the smaller, furry athletes that do the heroes’ share of the work crossing nearly 1,000 miles of merciless terrain to reach the finish line on Alaska’s wind-battered coast.

The 2014 race, which began Sunday, is still in the early stages, with jockeying for the lead remaining fluid until all the mushers begin taking a mandatory, 24-hour layover and two eight-hour rests. Sixty-nine mushers began the race, though several already have dropped out.

On Tuesday, Iditarod veteran Sonny Lindner was the first to leave the Nikolai checkpoint, more than 700 miles from the finish line in the old gold rush town of Nome. Participants say this year’s trail conditions are grueling, including stretches of bare ground. Throughout the race, mushers will keep a close eye on their dogs.

Here are some other key things to know about the four-legged competitors:

IT TAKES A TEAM

Mushers must have 12 to 16 dogs at the starting line. They must have at least six of those dogs to finish the race. If they don’t have enough dogs at the end, too bad. Race rules say no new dogs can be added on the trail.

YOUTH VS. WISDOM

Most Iditarod dogs range in age from 2 to 7, but some dogs as young as 1 ½ and older than 9 have participated. With a good mix of ages, mushers get frisky youngsters and seasoned veterans. It’s the older dogs that have come to memorize the trail. “Like, once a guy’s been in the NBA finals, he knows it,” race marshal Mark Nordman said.

In this March 3, 2014 photo, Ralph Johannessen, of Dagali, Norway, rolls his sled as he comes down the steps onto the Happy River between the Finger Lake and Rainy Pass checkpoints heading to Puntilla Lake, Alaska, during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

In this March 3, 2014 photo, Ralph Johannessen, of Dagali, Norway, rolls his sled as he comes down the steps onto the Happy River between the Finger Lake and Rainy Pass checkpoints heading to Puntilla Lake, Alaska, during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

SUPER CALORIE BURNERS

Oh, to have the metabolism of an Iditarod dog. These are not huge animals, generally ranging from 35 to 55 pounds. Yet each sled dog burns through at least 10,000 calories on the trail, continually snacking besides the three squares a day.

CANINE TRAIL MIX

The Iditarod diet used to be heavy on meat and fish, with some kibble thrown in. But the past decade has seen a reversal. Where it was once a combination of about 30 percent commercial dog food and 70 percent meat and fish, it’s now the opposite for many teams, thanks to the development of increasingly high-quality commercial dog food. “It’s why the pet industry has enjoyed the race so much, because they learn so much from the dogs that they can pass it on to the general community of pets,” Nordman said.

DOG TEAM VITALS

Some dogs still die during the race, including a dropped dog that died of asphyxiation at a checkpoint last year after it was covered by snow from a severe storm. But dog deaths — slammed by animal rights activists over the years — have dramatically declined. Last year’s death was the first since 2009. Dog care is a huge focus, with an average of six veterinarians assigned to each checkpoint to assess the animals’ health through such indicators as heart rate, hydration and appetite. Warning signs vets look for include off-kilter gaits and attitudes.

Reported by RACHEL D’ORO of the Associated Press from ANCHORAGE, Alaska. Follow Rachel D’Oro at —https://twitter.com/rdoro

Veterinarian Bruce Nwadike checks the dogs of musher Mike Williams Jr. at the Nikolai checkpoint during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Tuesday, March 4, 2014, in Nikolai, Alaska. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Veterinarian Bruce Nwadike checks the dogs of musher Mike Williams Jr. at the Nikolai checkpoint during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Tuesday, March 4, 2014, in Nikolai, Alaska. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

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Iditarod Fast-Fact: More Iditarod-style fun

jd-iditarod-logoSince we have been covering the Iditarod for so long, the Junior Dispatch specializes in Iditarod-style fun, just take a look:

TUNDRA: This comic strip hosted by the Junior Dispatch mostly focuses on the antics of arctic animals. You can read it every day here.

PRINCE JAN, ST. BERNARD: This feature tells the story of a dog and his travels from St. Bernard Pass and back again. Along the way, he meets plenty of interesting friends. Read the chapter story here.

PICTURES & BOOKS: Looking for good book about Alaska? A librarian helped us discover five of the best for kids like you. Get the details here.

LITTLE WHITE FOX & HIS ARCTIC FRIENDS: This feature contains multiple short stories about an arctic fox living in Alaska as he searches for food, gets in trouble and has quite a bit of fun. Find his adventures here.

MORE DOGS: While Belevedere isn’t likely to be running in the Iditarod any time soon, the fiesty little pooch is with them in spirit. Read the comic strip here!

View more Iditarod Fast-Facts here.

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Iditarod Fast-Fact: Keep away from that moose

jd-iditarod-logoYou have to trust us on this: The Iditarod has some really crazy rules.

And Rule 34 has to be the strangest:

In the event that an edible big game animal, i.e., moose, caribou, buffalo, is killed in defense of life or property, the musher must gut the animal and report the incident to a race official at the next checkpoint. Following teams must help gut the animal when possible. No teams may pass until the animal has been gutted and the musher killing the animal has proceeded. Any other animal killed in defense of life or property must be reported to a race official, but need not be gutted.

This rule is reflecting on just how crazy the Alaskan wilderness can get.

Basically it says that if a moose wanders into your path and stomps some of your dogs, and it looks like it plans on stomping even more dogs, then you probably need to shoot it dead.

Further, the rule says, if you do shoot that moose dead, then you’ve got to cut all of its guts out so it doesn’t get all nasty. Even worse, any other racer who comes across you doing so has to stop and wait until you’re done doing it.

So what is the purpose of this rule? We figure it’s been made to make sure mushers don’t just shoot and kill anything that comes near them — you know, just in case those wild beasts were thinking of stomping on your dogs. By making the gutting of the animal mandatory, the act of killing something becomes time consuming and gives your competitors a chance to catch up to you.

View more Iditarod Fast-Facts here.

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Iditarod Fast-Fact: The passing game

jd-iditarod-logoCompared to normal races, the Iditarod has kind of a weird rule about how one team of dogs is allowed to pass another team of dogs.

Here’s what the rules officially say (we’ll explain it after):

When one team approaches within fifty (50) feet of another team, the team behind shall have the immediate right of way upon demand. The musher ahead must stop the dogs and hold them to the best of his/her ability for a maximum of one minute or until the other team has passed, whichever occurs first. The passed team must remain behind at least fifteen (15) minutes before demanding the trail.

So what this means is if Bob Smith is in the lead and Jane Jones catches up to him, she can yell up to him “Hey, I wanna pass!” This means poor old Bob has to stop his team, let Jane fly by and then wait another minute to start his team on the trail again. Even when he gets running again and catches back up to Jane, he has to wait 15 minutes before he yells to Jane “Hey, I wanna pass!”

Imagine if this was the rule for NASCAR!

View more Iditarod Fast-Facts here.

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Iditarod Fast-Fact: Stop and go

jd-iditarod-logoAccording to the official Iditarod race-rules, mushers must stop at least twice in their sprint from Anchorage to Nome.

These stops are mostly to help the mushers’ dogs get a rest after days of pulling a sled along the trail. One of the stops must last 24 hours, the other stop is required to last eight hours.

The eight-hour stop is usually used by the musher (and the dogs) to take a long nap and get something warm and fresh to eat. The 24-hour break is much of the same, but also gives them a chance to check over all their gear and dogs.

Of course, a musher can opt to stop and sleep at any time he or she wants along the trail, but doing so doesn’t count as an official “stop,” because stops need to happen at race checkpoints.

View more Iditarod Fast-Facts here.

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Iditarod Fast-Fact: Past winners

Dallas Seavey holds his leaders, Diesel, left, and Guiness after he arrived at the finish line to claim victory in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Nome, Alaska, on Tuesday, March 13, 2012.  Seavey is the youngest musher to win the nearly 1,000-mile race across Alaska.  (AP Photo/Marc Lester, Anchorage Daily News)

Dallas Seavey holds his leaders, Diesel, left, and Guiness after he arrived at the finish line to claim victory in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Nome, Alaska, on Tuesday, March 13, 2012. Seavey is the youngest musher to win the nearly 1,000-mile race across Alaska. (AP Photo/Marc Lester, Anchorage Daily News)

The 2013 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race features a few competitors who have already won the race before.  Their experience on the trail may mean they have what it takes to win again.

jd-iditarod-logoThey are:

View more Iditarod Fast-Facts here.

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Iditarod Fast-Fact: 2013 lineup

jd-iditarod-logoAccording to the Iditarod website, there are 66 competitors in this year’s Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. A total of 71 actually signed up for the competition, but five racers have since withdrawn.

Racers are primarily from the United States and Canada, but other countries are represented as well:

16 of the remaining racers are female.

View more Iditarod Fast-Facts here.

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Your Iditarod 2013 primer and Iditarod Fast-Facts

Iditarod

The Iditarod dog sled race starts in Alaska tomorrow, and the Junior Dispatch will do its best to offer you all the coverage we can on the competition.

In recent years, the race has taken less and less time. Now it takes about 8 or 9 days for the first dog sled to cross the finish line in Nome. The race course is about 1,000 miles from Anchorage to Nome.

As is usual with our Iditarod coverage, we will also offer a fun reading project to go along with the race. This year, we are presenting “Rescue Dog of the High Pass” an adventure story of a boy and his dog works as a rescue team in a wintery mountain range.

Also, Junior Dispatch is presenting its Iditarod Fast-Facts which are quick informational nuggets about the race, the racers and the dogs who make it all happen. Look for those on most weekdays!

Here are a few Fast-Facts to start you off as you learn about the Iditarod:

In this photo from 2012, veterinarian Scott Rosenbloom takes a look at a dog team at the vet check at Iditarod headquarters in Wasilla, Alaska. The ceremonial start for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog race is Saturday, March 2, 2013, in Anchorage. (AP Photo/Anchorage Daily News, Mark Lester)

VET CHECKS: Before the race begins and at every checkpoint, the dogs involved in the race are checked by veterinarians for signs of injury, sickness, exhaustion and abuse. The pre-race vet check also includes blood and ECG tests to make sure there’s no disease or irregular heartbeats among the animals.
Each year about 1,000 dogs will be examined before the race even begins.
Check out this video for more about what the vets look for in the dogs.


RULES OF THE GAME:
Interested in the exact rules of the race? Well check out this PDF, which explains the right and wrong way to do things, including what absolutely must be on every sled, such as snow shoes, an axe and an emergency GPS tracking beacon.

To even enter the race at all, a musher needs to have proven himself or herself in other, shorter dog sled races first. You also need $3,000 — that’s how much it costs to register for the race.

WHO’S RACING? Read musher profiles on links from this page. Each person has a biography linked to their name. You can learn about their hometown, hobbies, schools they went to and how old they are.

RACE COURSE: This year, the Iditarod is taking the northern route — the actual course alternates between a north rout and a south route.  Originally, the race was 1,049 miles to represent 1,000 miles plus 49 miles because Alaska was the 49th state.

Iditarod-routes-wikipedia

 

The longest stretch between checkpoints is from Kaltag to Unalakleet, where teams will be running 85 miles on their own. That section is about 2/3rds of the way through the course.

WEATHER: You can monitor the weather on the course here. As of this writing, which is mid-morning in Alaska, the warmest spot on the trail is about 25 degrees. The coldest is -17 degrees Fahrenheit.

Mushers brave the cold in typical winter clothes, but with plenty of layers. They wear heavy jackets, insulated gloves, fur hats, balaclavas, thick socks and anything else they can put on to keep warm.

Dogs wear a lot less, but most get booties to protect their footpads and to keep them warm. They also often wear smocks over their chests and abdomens to help keep in the heat.

View more Iditarod Fast-Facts here.

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Iditarod Fast-Fact: Earning the Red Lantern

Naturally, a lot of people are excited to see the first Iditarod racer to cross the line. That musher gets a pile of money, a new car and world-wide fame.

But there is also the “Red Lantern” award for another racer: Whoever finishes the Iditarod in last place earns the famed award.

Make no mistakes, the honor isn’t given to the racer to make fun of them, but it signifies that every musher on the trail has been accounted for and (hopefully) is safe.

Along the same line, every racer who completes the entire race earns a special belt buckle.

Mushers who “scratch,” meaning they opted to give up on the race for a variety of reasons, don’t earn anything.

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Iditarod Fast-Fact: Husky alternatives

Huskies are the primary pooch used to pull dog sleds, but not the only ones. In fact there are multiple breeds of husky — Alaskan, Labrador, Mackensie River,  Sakhalin and Siberian.

Other dogs often used in sled racing are:

  • Alaskan Malamute: These dogs look a lot like huskies, but they are typically considered stronger, but slower than huskies. That means they are good at pulling heavy loads.
  • Canadian Inuit Dog:  These dogs are considered to be one of the rarest breeds of dog in the world. Some experts say the breed’s decline was the direct result of the invention of the snowmobile.
  • Chinook: A docile and loving dog breed that traces its lineage back to a 1917 dog named Chinook. They are sometimes trained for search-and-rescue operations.
  • Eurohound: A short-haired hybrid dog that mixes husky and pointer bloodlines.
  • Greenland Dog: Big, wolf-like dogs that originated in the arctic regions that enjoy a “pack-like” living style.
  • Northern Inuit Dog: This young breed of dog was first created in the 1980s and are said to be extremely loyal to their owners and family.
  • Samoyed: These fluffy white dogs come from the Lapland regions of Russia and Finland and were once used to herd reindeer.
  • Seppala Siberian Sleddog: Medium-sized dogs that are known for their unique disposition: active, merry, and often quite inquisitive.
  • Tamaskan Dog: Notable for their wolf-like appearance, Tamaskans are good diggers and excellent competitors.
  • Utonagan: Thanks to their German Shepherd heritage, Utonagans are known to be easy to train. Their drive to be members of a pack mean they socialize well with other animals, even cats.

(Okay, so that wasn’t exactly a fast-fact. Sorry.)

 

View more Iditarod Fast-Facts here.
 

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Iditarod Fast-Fact: Speedy delivery

The original serum run to Nome took about five-and-a-half days because the course was split up among 150 dogs and multiple mushers.

The Iditarod, which commemorates the serum run, takes longer because each team has a limited number of dogs and only one musher to drive them.

The longest time it took for the Iditarod’s first-place winner was in 1974, when it took 20 days and 15 hours.  Since that time, the first-place winners have made better and better time.

In 2011, musher John Baker got his team to Nome in the shortest time ever: 8 days and 19 hours.

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Iditarod Fast-Fact: Sports in Nome

Before the Iditarod dog sled race came to Nome, residents there would have been cheering for an entirely different type of sport.

The region of Alaska where Nome is located is largely territory of the Inupiat people, a group of native Americans who hunted and fished for a living. Even today, the majority of Nome residents are Inupiats.

But what did they Inupiat people like to do for fun in the pre-Iditarod days? They played high-kick ball, a game where particpiants tried kick a ball tied to a rope as it was raised higher and higher.

Learn more about the sport, and see an actual high-kick ball here.

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Iditarod Fast-Fact: Most wins

Several people have won the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race four or more times.

  • Rick Swenson won in 1977, 1979, 1981 and 1982. He returned for a fifth win in 1991.
  • Susan Butcher came in first three times in a row from 1986 to 1988 and again in 1990.
  • Martin Buser scattered his wins over several years. He came in first in 1992, 1994, 1997 and in 2002.
  • Doug Swingley won for the first time in 1995. Then he repeated three times in a row in 1999, 2000 and 2001.
  • Jeff King followed a similar pattern with wins in 1993, 1996, 1998 and his most recent in 2006.
  • Lance Mackey won the race for four years straight, notching trophies in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 runs.

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