Iditarod 2015 begins in T-minus 48 hours, and already the excitement around Alaska is palpable. Every team (and there are 78 of them) has been checked by an army of veterinarians, mushers are right now sitting in a meeting to talk about final details, and the cities of Anchorage and Fairbanks are making final preparations for the start and restart events, respectively. Let’s talk facts.
But we all know the Iditarod Sled Dog Race is about one thing – the dogs. Since the famous Serum Run of 1925, sled dogs have changed from fluffy Siberian Huskies and Malamutes whose mission was to travel traplines and deliver mail, to a rangy, tenacious breed of super athlete called the Alaska Husky. It is this “breed” that pulls the sleds of Iditarod winners. But who are they?
Check out this amazing information about the dogs who will mush on to Nome, beginning this weekend.
[Some information gleaned from Alaska Dispatch News, some from musher Bryan Bearss, an Iditarod veteran running the race in 2015]
Sled dogs are the ultimate distance runners. Four feet per dog, racing more than 1,000 miles, that’s like running from Pennslyvania to Florida. Cardio? Oh yes, they have hearts like Superman, and feet to match. All dogs are checked out prior to the race with an EKG (heart test) to make sure no pup runs with a potentially-serious condition.
A dog that eats well, performs well. Just like humans, sled dogs need fuel, and a high-calorie, high protein fuel that will give them the energy they need to race all day and all night. A single sled dog may burn over 12,000 calories per day, which means mushers must pay attention to who is eating, and who is not. Some dogs eat fish, some meat, and many prefer a kind of soup made with kibble, broth, fish, and cut up meat chunks.
Racing dogs prefer the cold. Have you ever played outside on a freezing-cold day and found yourself yanking off your jacket after a while? Exercise warms you up, and it works the same for sled dogs, but they can’t pull off their hairy coat. Many Iditarod mushers like to run dogs at temperatures around 0F, because the dogs will be warm enough when working, then use their insulated coats to curl up and stay warm when resting.
Feet are precious. Mushers use up to 5,000 little booties on the team during a race like Iditarod, so some are sent ahead to checkpoints for use later. At about $1 per bootie, mushers often have friends or family make them in fun colors to distinguish from other teams’. Hint: Many mushers love to toss booties to kids along the trail, so wave your arms, smile, and say “Booties, please!”
Sled dogs love their job. If you’re downtown on Fourth Avenue on Saturday, or in Fairbanks on Monday, watch the dogs as they move closer to the starting line. Many dogs will do funny leaps and dances in their harness, because they know it’s time to run. Other dogs love to bark, and howl, and scream like kids. Can’t you imagine what they’re saying? “Let’s GO!!!” And when the signal comes, they know that, too, immediately quieting and settling in to do what they know as the best job in the world.
A musher is a dog’s best friend. Do you have a best friend? Someone you can trust in any situation, anywhere? That’s the nature of a relationship between a musher and his or her dogs. A good musher will know every dog’s personality, ability, and favorite place to run. He or she will also know which dogs like belly rubs or ear tickles. Mushers couldn’t do their job without happy, healthy, active dogs. It’s a simple as that. Watch how each musher gives a “pep talk” to his or her team before the race; what do you think they might be whispering in the lead dog’s ear?
We’ll see you on the trail!