There is a recently established Iditarod theory that says if you make a strong-enough marathon run coming off of your 24 hour layover, you can crush your competition. In 2006, Jeff King made an exceptional all-night run to Ruby that locked up his 4th championship. In 2009, Lance Mackey made a similar move on the southern route that gave him his 3rd victory in a row. This year, Mitch Seavey and Dallas Seavey both made powerful pushes to the front that almost every pundit (me included) figured would put them in the driver’s seat going down the Yukon River. Not so fast. Aliy Zirkle, who made a couple of strong moves in the race’s early going, made an equally powerful move by blowing through Ruby while Dallas and Mitch rested. It was the equivalent of taking a right cross to the chin, staying on your feet, and countering with a left hook.
The problem for the frontrunners is that they may have traded too many punches in the last 300 miles. Just behind the Seaveys, Zirkle, Baker, and crew, are Pete, Jake Berkowitz, and Ray Redington, Jr. These guys are burning up the trail. It is worth noting that Pete and Jake are good friends, and in fact, Pete trained out of Jake’s dog yard in the week before this Iditarod and in previous years. They have been traveling together now for a majority of this race, and it seems to be working to their collective advantage. There are several positive aspects of traveling and racing with someone… for one thing, you have somebody to BS with on the trail and in checkpoints. It keeps things light, and keeps a musher from getting into their own head. At the same time, it allows them to push each other competitively, and if one team is having a bad run or faltering in some way, the single best way to turn it around is to draft another team.
This has been the most dramatic race in recent memory, as far as top mushers trading the lead. There may be one or two potential winners by White Mountain, but enjoy the next 200 miles of racing. It’s been awesome and is only going to get better.