Rarely does an eventual Iditarod winner arrive more than a few hours after the first team into Nikolai. The first Native village on the trail, Nikolai sits at the end of a long run through the Alaska Range, and usually provides the first real indication of how teams are stacking up.
With Aliy Zirkle arriving there first, there is little question that she is a serious contender to win, especially considering that same team was a very close second in the 2012 Yukon Quest.
But long time race watchers like myself also know that the next run is frequently the one that sorts out some of the the weaker teams. That’s because the rest at Nikolai is frequently sliced a little thin because a number of teams are planning to rest 24 hours at Takotna after the next run of about 70 miles. Their thinking goes, well if I am taking a long rest soon, lets make sure the dogs are ready to take advantage of it.
Watch the running times carefully into McGrath, and then even closer into Takotna. That last 20 mile run is revealing. Many of the best racers will tell you starting out speed is not the key to winning, it’s the speed at the end of a run. Many teams when rested develop a fair amount of speed that lasts for a while, but winning teams often have a slower starting speed that can be sustained longer. John Baker has that kind of team.
By checking the traveling speed of a team coming into Takotna, after a 70 mile run from Nikolai, you can often have a glimpse of which team will be leading further down the trail. That assumes of course that the teams you are checking all are within a certain distance from the front of the pack already. Teams too far back, especially this year with so many teams bunched at the front, are basically out of luck.
Learning this kind of information is a snap these days. With GPS trackers, numerous on the trail bloggers and countless websites, anyone can do their homework and make a decent prediction about what might transpire.
It’s a far cry from very recent times when fans like myself had to go to great lengths to get good information. As late as the early 1990’s I used to call the Iditarod race line six or eight times a day to obtain checkpoint times. To assure a prompt and informed response, I would often suggest I was a reporter from the New York Times. That usually got me right to the source. Even that amount of information far surpassed what was available when I ran the race in 1979. For middle of the pack racers such as me, the reports were sometimes two days old on the radio reports.
Myron Angstman, lawyer, pilot, and dog musher, lives in Bethel, Alaska. Read more about dogs, law suits and rural Alaska gossip by checking www.myronangstman.com