Tuesday, March 24, 2009

I'rod Finished

2009 Iditarod Finished

Veterinarian Timothy Hunt, known throughout the dog mushing as "Doctor Tim", finished the Iditarod and blew out the traditional red lantern at 4:06 this morning. Dr. Tim came in with 10 dogs on the gangline. It is a huge accomplishment for the former race veterinarian, who also manufactures dog food formulated specifically for working dogs. I've fed my team Dr. Tim's "Pursuit" and "Momentum" brands of dogfood for quite a long time and they dogs do very well on Dr. Tim's grub.

I'rod Special Awards
There are several "special awards" given at the I'rod finish banquet. The most important in the eyes of dog mushers is the Leanhard Seppala Humanitarian award. Based on specific criteria to determine who has best demonstrated outstanding dog care through out the Race while remaining competitive, Alaska Airlines presented the award to Iditarod 2009 Champion Lance Mackey. Mackey received a lead crystal cup on an illuminated wooden base and two free round trip tickets to anywhere on the Alaska Airlines system. When you consider that the vast majority of dog mushers put the welfare of their animals over all other considerations, choosing a "best" is difficult. This year's winner of the Seppala Humanitarian Award was race winner Lance Mackey.

Aaron Burmiester of Nenana won both the Spirit of Alaska and the Sportsmanship awards. A full list of award winners can be seen on the Iditarod Official Website.

Stardancer Training Run
Yesterday I took the team I plan to run in the Valley Funale fun race for a training run up in the hills behind my house. This is a 8 mile run that starts at our dog yard, goes down a power line right of way about 1/2 mile to intersect with a major trail that goes past the school and then joins a wood cutting road. A "haw" (left) turn puts us on a trail that extends off of Little Chena Drive. This trail is mostly uphill to this point (a bit more than half way), and the climb off the wood cutting road is quite steep.

From there, the trails runs downhill along a ridge top, ducks down more challenging steep slope to empty out in the muskegs that form the headwaters of Potlatch Creek. The trail meanders a bit around the swamp, cutting through some dog-hair spruce along a high spot to avoid a fen, then exits back on the main trail past the school.

Although short, this route gives the team a very good workout. It starts out on relatively flat terrain to let the dog's stretch out and warm their muscles, then hits the hills for building strength, then the downhill stretches give the dogs a chance to pick up the pace for some cardio work.

I don't expect a fast run on this trail, but my team kept up a pretty darned good pace considering I had only 6 dogs, two of which are racing rather than freighting types. I had a heavy training sled, with an additional 40# of weight on board, plus of course my heavy carcass.

My team yesterday consisted of:

Just and Amazing Grace in lead
Rose and Nels (the Hudlund 'twins') in swing.
Seamus and Beau in wheel.

I used both the brake and drag mat to control the speed on launch, and didn't let the leaders run full-bore until we hit the main trail. Once on the main trail I let the leaders set the pace, applying just enough resistence to ensure they didn't over-run the bigger freighting types running behind them. They kept up a high lope until we reached the first of the hills, when they settled down into a brisk trot. Grace was scotching at Just quite a bit during this part of the run, to the point where I was considering switching her out for either Rose or Nels up front, but she settled down once we hit the hills and the pace was more suited to her disposition. She's a trotter and doesn't care to run at the faster speed.

The steep entrance to the wood cutting road is always a hard climb for the team and requires quite a bit of help from the musher. We slogged our way up it without incident, and as soon as got onto the wood cutting road the team went back into their trot, slowing to a walk on some of the steeper sections, but working happily and steadily throughout.

When we made the turn onto the Little Chena Road extension trail I had the team take us a couple of hundred yards up before stopping them for a little breather. After about 30 seconds Seamus was barking and lunging into his harness, so I called them up. They finished the slog up that hill in great shape, and we headed down the ridge with lots of drag on the mat to keep the sled under control. There were no issues at all as we came down the steep hill to hit the swamp trail. They made short work of that level terrain. The return trip to the yard was marked by a quick game of "crack the whip" as we entered the powerline right of way, and then the dogs broke into a high lope to give us a sprint home.

This fast run pointed out some issues with Amazing Grace. She doesn't grasp the concept of "poop on the run" while in lead, though she does so quite well when running in other positions. Her tendancy to scotch at her running mate when the pace doesn't suit her is also a concern, especially when running with Just, who is a relatively 'soft' dog that doesn't retaliate to put her in her place. Otherwise, there were no specific issues that need to be addressed.

Our maxium speed on this run, during the "stretch out" on the main trail was 14 miles per hour, and our average speed was 8.3 mph, which is quite fast for this particular trail.

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