Macgellan's Mid-Iditarod Musings -- Part 1

I've been looking at the Google Analytics stats for this DogLog, which shows that the number of "page views" is running just about double what it was this time last year. That number coincides with the ratio of "New Visitors" to "Old Visitors" which is running about 50/50, meaning that about half our DogLog visitors are new to the site… and maybe new to the Iditarod, sled dog racing, etc.

I've also been reviewing the comments, and I see some really good questions that deserve at least decent answers. So, I'm going to use a bit of our "mandatory 24" to volunteer a few thoughts, observations -- even "musings" -- that I hope will explain a few things. Most of you "veteran fans" probably already know this stuff, but maybe there will be a nugget or two that's useful to you, too.

First of all, Aliy is in a really excellent position. Her dog team is obviously "long and strong", which means they are making long runs between (significant) rests, at good speeds, and finishing their "work day" with lots of energy and enthusiasm. Apparently they are eating well, eating everything, and doing what Alaskan Huskies are famous for: Converting 10,000 calories per day from raw meat into pure energy. There is nothing better a musher can hope for than a long, strong, happy, healthy, eating machine of a team.

Aliy will NEVER do anything that will put her dogs at risk. If anything, it can be argued that she has at times been overly conservative and that may have had an adverse impact on her finishing position in previous races. Whether there is any merit to that or not, the fact that Aliy was first into McGrath for the Spirit award -- and then first into Takotna -- shows that she is letting the dogs do what they want, run as they please and really "get after it." She obviously has immense confidence in them, and especially in her main leaders Quito and Olivia. For all you ladies out there, this really is a "girl power" team all the way.

The Red Team is almost certainly taking their mandatory 24-hour rest in Takotna. There is no conceivable -- at least to me -- reason they would be there this long except for it to be their "24." Thus, the team will be leaving Takotna 24 hours plus the "differential" after their arrival. For those of you who are new to this, the "differential math" is pretty straightforward: Teams left the start line in two-minute intervals, which means there was 104 minutes time-span between when Aliy started in position 14 and the last team's start in position 66 (66-14=52x2=104)… Got it? To even out the timing for all teams, each team (besides the last team) has a differential added to their 24-hour mandatory rest.

So, if my math is right, Aliy should be pulling out of Takotna at 1:14 in the morning (11:30 plus 104 minutes). I haven't done all the math for every racer, but it looks like only the Seaveys will pull out ahead of her. This is because even though they arrived after her, their "high starting number" differentials are lower: They have shorter mandatory "24" rest periods.

If that doesn't all make sense, don't worry. There are a lot of "moving parts" to this business of racing sled dogs and it takes a while to get accustomed to it. The bottom line is that Aliy may not be the first to pull out of Takotna, but her team is positioned within minutes of the lead team. That's the key thing!

But, you might ask, what about the Busers? They're "in the lead" in Ophir! Well, yes and no… They are geographically ahead of Aliy (and all the other teams) in Takotna, but they still have to complete their 24 hour rests! Martin arrived in Takotna about 9 hours after Aliy, so it is likely that he will still have something like 9 hours left in his "24" when she passes him by, with her "24" already behind her. And here you have the gist of part of what makes the Iditarod so exciting and confusing: You can't tell who is "in the lead" until you factor in all the other circumstances of rests, differentials, etc. Frankly, you often can't really tell who is in the lead until they're running down Front Street in Nome!

Again, don't worry if you're feeling confused. A couple of years from now you'll be trying to explain this to other people!

I hope this post has helped clear things up a few things rather than make them more confusing for you. If you've got questions, please put them in the comments and I'll try to answer them over the coming days of the race!