It's nearly 8:00 am, and I have to admit I slept in today. That's because I was up late last night, watching the video stream of the finish of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Mitch Seavey held off Aliy Zirkle all evening long in order to win his second Championship. Although Aliy was all smiles and upbeat as she crossed the finish line in 2nd place, it just has to sting a little bit.
The fact is, taking back to back second-place finishes in the Iditarod is a very big deal. As we saw repeated through the race, there were a LOT of very competitive teams in this year's race, just as there were last year and just as there are every year. Just finishing in the top 20 is a huge accomplishment, and finishing 2nd two years in a row speaks very highly of the work that Aliy, Allen, their family and their crew put in to their dogs.
Still, it must sting a little to be beaten by so narrow a margin to another Seavey.
Credit should be paid where credit is due, and Mitch ran a masterful race. He wasn't even on anyone's radar as a contender until two days ago. Starting 35th in the field, he moved up quickly early on, coming into the McGrath checkpoint in third position. After taking his 8 hour layover, he moved up again, and then maintained his position within striking range until the end game, where he moved at Shaktoolik, and held off all challengers to the very end.
Meanwhile, as nearly as I can tell, Aliy ran her team almost exactly to her original plan, a plan that obviously worked well for her and her dogs. On the river, she had the only team in position to catch Martin Buser, which she did. She seemed to falter over the Katag Portage, but banished the ghost of last year to recover quickly and regain the momentum. As late as the Safety checkpoint, pundits were writing that she had the momentum and was very likely to pass Mitch on the last stretch of the race.
I couldn't keep my eyes off the GPS tracker, but no matter how often I refreshed the data the result was the same. Aliy could match his pace, and did match his pace. She just couldn't quite muster the surge needed to go around him.
Aliy is a good friend and an important mentor, and I can't help but think that placing 2nd behind another Seavey just has to sting a little.
Meanwhile, though, the race continues. Other racers are coming across the finish line. The remainder of our top 10 include 4-time Champion Jeff King, defending champion Dallas Seavey, long time contender Ray Redington Jr., Nicholas Petit. Rookie of the year and the 7th place money goes to Joar Liefseth Ulsom, who was followed by Jake Berkowitz, Sonny Lindner and DeeDee Jonrowe.
Aaron Burmeister and Ken Anderson have also crossed the finish line. Out of Safety and on the trail we have Peter Kaiser followed by Josh Cadzow who is completing his rookie run over the trail. Next out were Paul Gebhardt, Cim Smyth and finally, way back in 18th place, the man who dominated the first half of the race Martin Buser. Jessie Royer, Lance Mackey and Brent Sass are all out of White Mountain, and will probably round out the top-20 teams in this year's race.
As the Iditarod is winding down, I'm gearing up and firming up some plans for this R&R during the best month of the entire mushing season. You can bet those plans will have something to do with dogs.