. He led his team, featuring Golden Harness winner “Maple” into Nome with an hour lead over his nearest competitor, Hans Gatt. Mackey became the first person ever to win the event four times in a row.
The mushers who command each team are obviously great competitors but the true athletes of the Iditarod are the dogs. The dogs are typically a Husky-mix bread for a combination of speed, endurance and most importantly, the desire to run. A report from the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University
notes the following about the huskies that compete in the Iditarod.
The average Alaskan husky running in the Iditarod burns about 11,000 calories a day. To put that in perspective, compare a 44-pound dog with a 175- to 180-pound human in an endurance event like the (Tour de France) bicycle race. On a body-weight basis, an Iditarod racer eats and burns about eight times as much as a Tour de France cyclist.
In another physiological parameter, the maximal oxygen uptake, or VO2 max, the huskies also are champs. The human who won the 1996 Olympic marathon in Atlanta had VO2 max of about 75 mils of oxygen per kilogram of body weight. Dogs running in the Cornell sled dog team have VO2 maxes as high as 240 — three times as high as the very best human athletes in the world.
The average human recreational runner in an endurance event such as a marathon usually clocks 9-minute miles. Alaskan huskies in the 1,000-mile Iditarod, running in a variety of harrowing conditions that would turn a human marathoner blue, average 9 or 10 mph — the equivalent of a 6-minute mile. And the dog teams are pulling sleds that weigh, at the beginning of the race, between 300 and 400 pounds.
Ridiculous. Needless to say, if sled dogs hawked bright yellow, silicone armbands . . . I’d be wearing one right now.
is the most popular sporting event in Alaska, the competition has received little attention in the lower 48. (I can’t imagine they follow it too closely in Hawaii either). For those of you who don’t know much about it, here are a few highlights from the Iditarod’s official website.
Race Length: 1,112 Miles or 1,131 Miles (The race alternates between a Northern and Southern route each year)
: The Iditarod commemorates a series of events triggered in early 1925 when a diphtheria epidemic threatened isolated, icebound Nome. The nearest serum was in Anchorage and the first thought was to fly it to Nome. However, the only pilot in the Territory considered capable of braving the unpredictable weather was Carl Ben Eielson
(once enrolled in Georgetown Law School), who was on a trip in the Lower 48 and was not available. Instead, a relay of dog teams was quickly organized. After a brief rail transportation, the serum was handed over to the first dog sled team and the driver set out onto the trail. Every village along the route offered its best team and driver for its leg to speed the serum toward Nome. Gunnar Kaasen drove the final two legs into Nome behind his lead dog Balto, through a blizzard hurling 80 mph winds. The serum arrived in time to prevent the epidemic and save hundreds of lives. The 20 mushers had covered almost 700 miles in little more than 127 hours (about six days) in temperatures that rarely rose above 40° below zero and winds sometimes strong enough to blow over dogs and sleds. The serum run received worldwide press coverage and the mushers received special gold medals. A statue of Balto, the heroic lead dog, was erected a year later in New York’s Central Park (it’s still there).
The Iditarod has also been subject to criticism by animal rights activists. For a little commentary, see this article
. In recent years the Iditarod officials have worked to provide more veterinarians throughout the race course as well as to create and enforce strict sanctions against any musher who is found to have improperly treated their dogs. There are also anti-doping policies for dogs that are very similar to the ones that you might find in place for human athletes. We’re also happy to learn that the Anchorage Daily News is reporting that there were no dog deaths during this years Iditarod