The YQ1000 is a very long race: From start to finish, the race will take teams about 10 days to run. Different mushers have very different race strategies, and these can take several days before they start becoming apparent. Depending on their training regimens and the nature of their dogs, some mushers will make longer runs and take longer rests while others will run/rest in shorter increments. As a result, there can be many, many changes in position along the way. Where a team is in the overall string along the trail is somewhat informative of performance, but the order of teams in short geographic stretches often doesn't mean much.There's a lot more to running the YQ1000, of course, but those are probably the top three factors to keep in mind for now. In closing, let me offer three more suggestions to enhance your armchair mushing experience:
The YQ1000 is all about "energy management": According to Dr. Mike Davis (probably the world's leading authority on sled dog physiology) sled dogs experience "depletion" during the first 2-3 days of a race. That is, they expend more energy in action than they replace with food and rest. Somewhere at the 2-3 day mark, something magical happens in the dogs' physiology which switches them to a "maintenance" energy profile. They start to more efficiently convert their caloric intake to energy output and maintain their strength and stamina. This "switch" is what enables high-performance sled dogs to "run forever" once they are in "maintenance" mode. The tricky part is that this switch only happens if the dogs do not get too depleted in their first 2-3 days of running. If their metabolisms get too run down at the start, the switch either doesn't happen or it doesn't happen soon enough to be effective. Top mushers know all about this "energy management" equation and must constantly battle their desire to "get out front" with the need to "pace themselves" early on. Going too far too fast in the early stages will diminish their late-race performance, but holding back more than is necessary also hurts their overall time. Mushers will get the absolute best performance out of their teams when they walk the razor's edge between the two.
The YQ1000 is always full of surprises and hazards: Any veteran YQ1000 musher will tell you that they never know what they're going to encounter on the trail. Weather can change from clear, calm and mild to absolutely hellish in a heartbeat. River crossings can be easy as you please to life-threatening open-water disasters. Mountains are never easy to summit, but sometimes they can be so difficult that they crush a dog team's spirit and ability to go on. Running through so much remote wilderness, it is easy to lose the trail and take wrong turns that waste great amounts of time and energy. This can also undermine the dogs' enthusiasm and trust in the musher, with devastating effects on performance. All of these factors are why veteran mushers will tell you that they need a certain amount of luck to win the YQ1000. Attitude, appetite and ability are all essential for a winning team, but simple bad luck can make all the difference in the end.
Pace yourself! It's a long race. Practice your own "energy management." Get up from the computer. Take your dog for a walk. Teams will be on the trail for days to come. You'll have plenty of time to catch up later. Get some sleep. Stay hydrated. Armchair mushing can be exhausting!I'll be keeping my eye on the race, of course, and will sound off from time to time when circumstances warrant. Meanwhile, have fun… and GO SPK!
Don't jump to conclusions! Just because you see on the GPS that a team is ahead or behind at any given moment doesn't necessarily mean anything. Trail position becomes more predictive of results the closer teams get to the finish, but at least until the 36-hour rest at the half-way point in Dawson it doesn't mean much at all.
Get some skin in the game! Sled dog racing is a very expensive sport. Except for the very few top finishers, prize money (if any) doesn't come close to covering the costs of racing. Putting on the YQ1000 is an extraordinary, expensive endeavor. Corporate sponsors are very generous, but individual contributions are always needed. Send a few bucks to your favorite teams and to the YQ. Chip in to support the SPOT tracking that you know you're hitting the refresh button on a million times a day. Getting some skin in the game will make armchair mushing even more exciting!