Run, baby, run!
March 13, 2012 8:10 AM   Subscribe

Sometime tonight the winner of the 2012 running of The Last Great Race will cross the finish line.

Currently positioned to win is Dallas Seavey, who is the son of a previous winner and the grandson of one of the founders of the race, both of whom are also in the race this year. If Dallas wins, he'll be the youngest person to win the race.

But Dallas's win is far from a foregone conclusion. He's being challenged for the lead by:
Aliy Zirkle, who if she wins will be the first woman to do so since 1990.
Ramey Smith, who's running under the banner of abstinence from drinking, smoking, and drugs and also for cancer awareness. He's come back from an early position pretty far down the line, and is using an old-school sled.
Aaron Burmeister, who's been running a strong race so far and could still bust out.

The weather plays a big part in the race. There's a whole clump of racers currently stuck in Shaktoolik, including some former winners of the race. The course from Shaktoolik to Koyuk goes across the (frozen) eastern edge of Norton Bay, and a storm came in last night, pushing windchill factors down to -60(F), too dangerous to be on the ice.

You can view the checkpoint progress, but each racer also has a GPS tracker ($20 subscription) except that Burmeister's GPS seems to be flaking out right now which makes tracking the leader quite exciting.

The real fun, though is in the forums, especially in the one tracking the GPS updates. Here's where the hardcore Iditaheads are discussing the progress, handicapping the winner, etc.

There's a camera in Nome pointed at the finish. Alaska Daily News also has extensive coverage, with lots of cool video's and discussion from a former racer.

The race requires a minimum 8-hr rest in White Mountain, 77 miles from the end, and that's where the top four are currently resting. At 5-9 mph, the rule of thumb is that the finish will be around 18 hrs after the first person pulls in to White Mountain, putting the end at 6pm AST, a new record.

But the race will not be over at that point. Since 1986 a lantern is lit on the finish arch at the start of the race and the last person across the line blows it out and wins the Red Lantern Award. This is a commemoration of the kerosene lanterns that were kept lit at the intermediate roadhouses when a musher was on the trail back in the days when this was the mail run (i.e, those who passed before will keep a light burning for you). Last year the Red Lantern crossed 5 days after the winner.
posted by Runes (32 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Proof that there are people more interesting/nuts than ultramarthoners. :)
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:18 AM on March 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Awesome post. Both the mushers and the dogs are amazing athletes with skills of strength and endurance beyond what I can imagine. I first got into this race when Susan Butcher was dominating it winning it 4 times. She died of cancer at the age of 52 about 6 years ago. She was my athletic hero.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:21 AM on March 13, 2012

Don't get me started.
posted by chance at 8:23 AM on March 13, 2012

1. Oh god, Dallas Seavey is my age what am I doing with my life.
2. I think if you're racing in the Iditarod, it goes without saying that your hobbies are "breeding, raising and racing sled dogs." C'mon, Seavey. You can tell everyone that you build model trains on the side.
posted by dismas at 8:41 AM on March 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

Great post. I got to see the 2011 start of the race (ceremonial and official restart) -- an amazing experience, and one that I think anyone who follows the race should have at some point. It is beyond cool to talk to the mushers, meet the dogs, and see all the excitement surrounding the event.

I've not followed it as closely this year (but have been getting updates from my dad, who is all over it), so thanks for all the sources.
posted by southpaw at 8:41 AM on March 13, 2012

(Also, ADN is Anchorage Daily News, not Alaska. The ADN Iditarod twitter feed is a good source for race news, too.)
posted by southpaw at 8:46 AM on March 13, 2012

Ramey Smith, who's running under the banner of abstinence from drinking, smoking, and drugs and also for cancer awareness and kittens and comfy sweaters. Also world peace.
posted by xorry at 9:16 AM on March 13, 2012

Geoff Roes just completed that whole thing.... on foot!. [warning - epic adventure inside]
posted by ph00dz at 9:23 AM on March 13, 2012

I count roughly 750 dogs participating in this year's race. If that's an average year (I don't really know), this means that about 29,000 dogs have run since 1973. 142 deaths since then is less than .5% of racing dogs. Animal cruelty which is associated with the Iditarod is another matter, but I also think the solutions to that are more clear. Of course, animal rights organizations (as opposed to animal welfare organizations) tend to believe that animal work itself is cruel.
posted by muddgirl at 9:23 AM on March 13, 2012

Go Aliy!

Alaska Dispach has good updates.

Dallas Seavey won last year's (2011) Yukon Quest as a rookie.
posted by leahwrenn at 9:34 AM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Dallas Seaveys brother is providing hilarious and informative updates on Facebook under the Ididaride Sled Dog Tours Page for anyone who's interested. Best commentary I've found.
posted by fshgrl at 9:54 AM on March 13, 2012

". . . winner of the 2012 running of The Last Great Race will cross the finish line"

Elder Things take part in the Ididarod?
posted by New England Cultist at 9:57 AM on March 13, 2012

Dan Seaveys is 74 and Jim Lainier is 71 so... yes?
posted by fshgrl at 10:35 AM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Iditarod Race Raises Questions Of Animal Cruelty
That is a load of crap. PETA non-sense.

Have you ever meet any Iditarod racers? Have you ever seen how these dogs are cared for?
These racers have invested thousands of dollars and countless hours in these dogs.
They are not looking to abuse them.

My neighbor down the street who has two huskies that never get walked and are always freaking out, barking like crazy in the back yard - those dogs are being abused.

Iditarod dogs are checked by vets at every check pointin the race.

Go Aily!
posted by Flood at 11:40 AM on March 13, 2012

People Bike, Ski and "Run" the same course, starting a few weeks before.

I do not believe there's any prize money if you win.
posted by alex_skazat at 12:01 PM on March 13, 2012

Flood - I would probably agree with your conclusion but not with your argument. Many pit bull fighters invest money and time in their dogs, too, but the outcome is undeniably cruel. If the very act of racing dogs is cruel (as PETA would contend, and as arguably the quote vers linked to demonstrates), then the care that goes into raising the dogs is immaterial.
posted by muddgirl at 12:53 PM on March 13, 2012

Except that racing has vastly improved the overall level of care for sled dogs worldwide.

Far, far more people lose dogs in AK (and other northern places) by losing them while skiing or hiking in the winter than ever do racing sleds. Think of all the missing pet notices one sees in any area frequented by dog owners. In AK those dogs all die. Are the owners "abusing" them by taking them out just because that risk exists? I personally will only own a heavy coated dog so it has some way to cope with the weather but I see pointers and other short coated breeds in the backcountry all the time.
posted by fshgrl at 1:08 PM on March 13, 2012

fshgrl - in PETA and other animal rights organizations, all of that is immaterial. Imagine someone saying "Western slavery has vastly improved the overal level of care for Africans" - I abhor that metaphor, but to them animal work is akin to human slavery.

I obviously disagree with PETA's rationale, but I think it's important to understand the impetus of articles like the one from HuffPo.
posted by muddgirl at 1:26 PM on March 13, 2012

Iditarod Race Raises Questions Of Animal Cruelty

To respond to that, I offer this. That's just amazing.
posted by Runes at 1:27 PM on March 13, 2012

"Well give me a team and a good lead dog
and a sled that's built so fine
and let me race those miles to Nome,
One thousand forty-nine.*
and when I get back to my home,
hey I can tell my tale
I did, I did, I did the Iditarod Trail"

*Note: As of 2012 the Northern Route distance is approximately 975 miles. In prior years the distance was always over 1,000 miles.

(Yes. I song this song. Kind of like a Christmas carol. Don't judge me!)
posted by merelyglib at 1:42 PM on March 13, 2012

Additionally, Anna and Kristy Berington, the first twins to run the race.
posted by vespabelle at 1:46 PM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

muddgirl: “I obviously disagree with PETA's rationale, but I think it's important to understand the impetus of articles like the one from HuffPo.”

PETA is not in any sense the impetus behind the Huffington Post article, which is actually pretty good.

Flood: “That is a load of crap. PETA non-sense.”

I suggest you read the article I linked, which is a hell of a lot more balanced than you're giving it credit for.
posted by koeselitz at 1:52 PM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

alex_skazat: there's prize money, around $50,000 this year, and a Dodge truck to the winner.

And speaking to treatment of the dogs... last year when I attended the Iditarod start in Anchorage and Willow, I spoke at length with one of the veterinarians helping out. He told me he had always had concerns about the dogs, heard horror stories about the race, and thought it was a "barbaric" custom that should be stopped. That was before he came up to Alaska several years previously, volunteering his time, to make sure they were treated humanely. He told me he now thinks that these dogs are better treated than most "pets" he sees back in his home practice, for some of the same reasons Flood mentions above. He also said that on the trail, the dogs get all the medical care they can provide, while the humans sometimes go without so the dogs are first treated. I don't consider that abuse. YMMV.

What I saw when I was there were mushers who loved their dogs, many of them considered members of their families. And those dogs LOVE the race, and the excitement surrounding it. You can just feel the doggy joy coming off of them like waves, even if it is work for them.
posted by southpaw at 2:00 PM on March 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

I mean, here – I'll just give my position here, and maybe we can make this less theoretical.

The Iditarod is a grueling endurance race. Whenever animals are part of grueling endurance sports, of course there will be questions raised as to whether the animals are well-treated. Even if those animals are well-treated, it's necessary that the right questions are asked.

The article I linked makes several points. One of those points is that Alaska has an abysmally vague set of laws concerning animal welfare. That's kind of understandable – it's a very small state. But because of animal cruelty incidents which have no connection whatsoever with the Iditarod, it appears that those laws are under review, and hopefully will soon see broadening and clarification. That's probably a very good thing.

Another of the points the article made was that, whereas there may have been years in the past when the Iditarod was rife with animal cruelty, it clearly isn't hugely problematic today, particularly since an incident in 2007 was disciplined harshly. In the past, there have been on average 3 dog deaths per year, but in 2010 and 2011 there were no deaths at all. I guess deaths are not the best metric, but it sure isn't a bad thing that no dogs are dying, and it'd be awesome to see the Iditarod repeat that this year.

Like I said, I think this is an absolutely necessary question to raise, because the Iditarod is not an easy race where the dogs just run around a grass track for five minutes. It's hard. Hard running does not equal animal cruelty – I know, I've trained horses before – but it does warrant careful monitoring.
posted by koeselitz at 2:04 PM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Non-linkjacked version of the article koeselitz linked to.
posted by merelyglib at 2:13 PM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I certainly agree that it is valid to ask questions. Important to ask questions. It is important to protect the dogs and insure that they are being treated well.

However, all that is being done. I have been in the starting pit at the Iditarod, and have seen the check-ups that the dogs get from vets. I have spoken to these vets. I have spent time with iditarod racers, seeing how they maintain and treat their dogs. Have you? Seriously, have you? What exactly do you know about the sport.

Yes, dogs have died during this race. It is getting better. They know have life-flight evacution via helicopter for injured dogs. These dogs will run their heart for their team. They will hid injuries to keep going. They want to run.

They live to run. I was once lucky enough to spend to mushing in ANWR, with 5 people and 35 dogs. One day, 2 dogs got loose. They were still in the harnesses and attached to each other by line. When the harness is on, the dogs are in "go" mode. These two dogs ran over 60 miles away before one of our team members caught them - and brought them 60 miles back. We lost a day of travel because of it. The guy who went after them took 10 dogs and 1 sled after the two escaped dogs. The next day, when all twelve dogs came back into camp, after having just run a crazy distance - the man was dead tired. The 12 dogs were prancing around, excited and happy. And the other 23 dogs that didnt get to run that day, were all whining, crying, and restless.

Huskies pulling a sled is NOT cruel. They love it. It is a game, play-time. Iditarod dogs are healthy, happy, and strong dogs. The idatrod is a celebration of dogs. If you knew anything about it, you would know that. Dogs are not just pets in Alaska - your dogs are part of the team, and might save your life.

Yet, because of PETA, it is impossible to discuss the iditarod or dog sledding in this country without the cruelty issue being raised. Is the cruelty issued raised in EVERY discussion of horse racing? Is cruelty raised EVERY discussion of girls ice skating and gymnastics in the olympics, where 14 yr olds are subjected to years of childhood work to meet the expectations of their parents and coaches?

THERE ARE MANY ACTIVITIES THAT WE NEED TO ASK QUESTIONS ABOUT. But because of PETA, we can not talk about dog sledding without getting side tracked into a cruelty discussion. We are not allowed to promote and enjoy the sport - without spending most of that time on the defensive.

The questions have been asked. They have been answered. Why are they always asked over and over again? BECAUSE OF PETA BULLSHIT.
posted by Flood at 4:59 PM on March 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

This story was an eye opener for me. I would have figured all that running would have left them too tired for other activities, but that's apparently not the case.
posted by radwolf76 at 1:51 AM on March 14, 2012

Dang, meant to post this yesterday. Jan Steves blew out the Red Lantern yesterday.
posted by Runes at 1:12 PM on March 20, 2012

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