2010 Iditarod : Running with history

Iditarod Sled Dogs

Iditarod sled dogs are born with a love of running. Image from Flickr.

It’s only been around since 1973, but the Iditarod dog sled race is one yearly sporting event that has been steeped in history. Alaskan natives have used teams of dogs to run the long, snowy trails for hundreds of years. The Iditarod race, with nearly 1,149 miles of mountains, forests, and seaside trails, is a test of human and canine endurance and training. The monetary reward is really just a token amount of payday cash – the real pull is the glory of success.

How the Iditarod is run

The Iditarod, above all else, is a dog sled race. This means that the “mushers” (the human racers) each run with a team of about 16 dogs. The dogs are hooked up to a lightweight sled that is used to carry most of the gear that both the musher and the team will need along the trail. Each team has to check in at set points along the route, where they can pick up gear that has been flown ahead for them. Some mushers rest at checkpoints, others just continue along the trail. There are three mandatory rests along the Iditarod trail – two eight-hour stops and one 24 hour layover.

The dogs of the Iditarod race

The Alaskan Malamute was the original Inuit sled dog breed – one of the dog breeds that was domesticated. Dogs for the Iditarod race are usually cross-breed dogs, and can include huskies, German shepherds, and wolves. The dogs that run in the Iditarod train with their mushers, often for years beforehand. The Iditarod dogs are also examined and drug-tested by veterinarians before the race and at checkpoints along the trails. Mushers who run the Iditarod can be banned for treating their dogs cruelly, as Ramy Brooks was in 2007.

Iditarod race times getting faster

In 1973, the Iditarod race was won in 20 days and 49 minutes. The current Iditarod record time is 8 days, 22 hours, 46 minutes. How Iditarod racers have been getting faster and faster is a combination of better training and better technology – for dogs and for humans. The Iditarod Blog at http://iditarodblogs.com/news/2010/03/05/how-does-the-race-keep-getting-faster/ outlines many of the technological improvements, including lighter sleds, better dog food, and warmer clothing.

Can I run the Iditarod?

If you’re the kind of adrenaline-runner that loves the idea of spending weeks in the cold with just you and your dogs, the Iditarod race may be for you. It is not a cheap endeavor, however. One musher estimates the single-year cost of running the race at over $34,000 dollars – and most mushers train for years. That’s the kind of costs not even an online personal loan could cover.

Watching the 2010 Iditarod

Ok, so you may not be planning your own Iditarod adventure. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy this year’s race. There are seventy-one teams that set out on the Iditarod trail this year. There are five former Iditarod champions among the field. Live coverage is available anytime at www.iditarod.com. So curl up with your mug of hot cocoa and your favorite pet, and watch as human and canine again prove themselves on the Iditarod trail.

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