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One of the most impressive athletic feats in the world is the Iditarod dog-sled race in Alaska. Mushers travel 1200 miles over the course of multiple days to finish the race. While most of us have gotten our Iditarod knowledge from Balto, the actual race has a lot more to it.
1. Since the Iditarod started in 1973, the average time has gotten about twice as fast. At the beginning, it took about 20 days to complete, whereas today it’s done in about 10. The fastest time ever is 8 days, 14 hours, 19 minutes, set in 2014.
2. Iditarod is a name for a city, a river, a trail, and a race.
3. The sled dogs burn huge amounts of calories during the race. In order to keep going they need 10-12,000 calories a day, which they get through frozen snacks on the trail and a warm meal at checkpoints.
4. One of the current dog sled teams is from Jamaica, inspired by the Olympic bobsled team. He goes by the name Mushin’ Mon.
5. The race tends to be a family affair. The 2012 winner, Dallas Seavey, was the youngest winner at 25 and his father Mitch was the oldest at 53. Mitch’s father also competed in 1973. There is also a pair of twin sisters, and brothers Rick and Lance Mackey who have each won once, competing alongside their father.
6. Depending on the weather, the race doesn’t always start in the same place. When the ice and snow melt in unseasonable warmth, the trail gets moved to Fairbanks, further north of Anchorage.
7. There are rules about which breeds of dogs may race after a musher entered with standard poodles. The poodles didn’t make it to the end, many with frozen feet and hair matting. Only northern dogs like huskies and malamutes can race, to protect breeds that can’t handle the cold.
8. There are a few basic commands that any sled dog needs to know in order to race:
Hike! (Let’s go! Get moving!)
Haw! (Turn left!)
Gee! (Turn right)
On by! (Pass another team! or Pay that distraction no mind!)
Easy! (Slow down!)
9. Since the course is run over snow and ice, the terrain can vary. That means that the length is usually about 1000 miles, but it can change with the weather.
10. There are only three required rest stops in the race: one 24 hour stop at any checkpoint, an 8 hour stop on the Yukon River, and an 8 hour stop at White Mountain. Other than that, mushers and dogs tend to run straight through, only stopping for meals at checkpoints.
11. The village of Nikolai is populated by Athabascan native Alaskans, who get so excited about the race that the children run a restaurant just for mushers. Adults are chosen to volunteer there when their names are drawn out of a hat.