The Iditarod is billed as “the last great race.” And in the truest sense of the word it is absolutely “great.” The race is 1,000 miles long through the Alaskan wilderness, done entirely on a dogsled. It can take as few as eight days, or much longer depending on trail conditions. The slowest winning speed was 20 days.
When Wisconsin musher, Blair Braverman, competed last year in her first Iditarod, it took her two weeks to complete it. Now, it’s her husband’s turn. Quince Mountain will be racing his first Iditarod this year, and Braverman has been working to ensure their team is ready.
Although the Iditarod is much longer than the average race, Braverman says that doesn't necessarily translate to longer training sessions since the race is done over so many days. Instead, she and her husband need to train the dogs to pace themselves on the trail.
"The biggest thing the dogs have to learn for a really long race like this is actually how to rest, because they're basically born knowing how to pull. What doesn't come naturally to them, at all, is resting on the trail," says Braverman.
She continues, "So when you're training for a long race like this, you might not run that many more miles than if you were training for a 200 or 300-mile race, but you need to... have the dogs practice resting on the trail."
In contrast, Braverman says that most mushers have to prepare for long days and sleepless nights on a trail that not only tests their athleticism, but also their endurance.
She explains, "A big thing that happens to mushers is they get very sleep deprived. That's not true of the dogs because, let's say a typical run-rest schedule is five hours running, five hours resting, that means that the dogs are getting about 12 hours of rest every day, but the musher is getting maybe two."
"Most of the time when the dogs are resting the musher is melting snow and making food for them, and massaging them and checking their feet and repairing equipment, and chopping through ice, and things like that," she says.