Last year at the end of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race across Alaska, a thousand miles and a bit running behind a dog sled within spitting distance of the Arctic Circle, I noted: “The first fifteen places are filled by mushers who haven’t won before, most of them in their thirties still, and two in their early twenties have finished in the top ten.”
And you can still hear the surprise in my tone: “Holy moses, the first Iditarod champion into Nome is Lance Mackey in 16th place, followed by Martin Buser in 18th and Rick Swenson in 20th.”
Then I asked, “Is this the changing of the guard at the Iditarod?” By then it was not an ingenuous question. I wondered about it in 2011 when John Baker, 48, won, watching younger men pressing him hard, catching up towards the end of the race. But, while some of the more open-minded observers were willing to discuss it, quite a few with their feet planted firmly on the ground were expecting the process to last five to ten years, because “experience counts for so much in the Iditarod.”
Then Dallas Seavey, 24, won the tense 2012 race.
Not that anyone with brains thinks the old guys are finished, you understand. They are very, very hard men, and women. As I also noted last year, “Swenson heroically ran with broken collarbone since the Steps, and still finished 20th.” And in such a dangerous race, experience counts, something that can’t be said too often, so don’t discount those over technical middle age.
Aliy Zirkle, leading the 1200 mile Iditarod, cutting a corner tighty, fighting to keep her sled upright.
And don’t discount the women. In a blindingly fast race last year Aliy Zirkle ran out front for most of the race, until worn down by Dallas Seavey’s heavier dogs. In good conditions all the way — possible if not very likely by past history — Zirkle, tooled up with those fast little dogs, could get out front and stay out front.
Last year’s result included three women in the top 20:
10 Jessie Royer 58 00:23:17 10
11 Aliy Zirkle 18 01:22:31 11
12 DeeDee Jonrowe 2 01:24:17 10
After a thousand miles running behind a sled, being less than an hour and a half behind such a strong winner as Dallas Seavey is most definitely a threatening posture.
There will definitely be a woman in my shortlist of possible winners for newbies to follow. Well, actually, since the sparkling Zirkle is guaranteed a place on my shortlist, there will be women, plural in my shortlist from the entry list. Watch this space.
• Andre Jute is the author of the most beloved, prize-winning novel of this iconic race, IDITAROD a novel of The Greatest Race on Earth, available as an ebook for only $2.99 through the race, and also in paperback.
• Every year at the race Andre issues an open invitation to go racing with him from the comfort and safety of your armchair, with commentary provided by experts and discussion you can join in.
• This year the race starts on Saturday 2 March. Go to the nerve centre of Andre’s virtual Iditarod experience and bookmark it.