We (Dogs Who Jog & Pacific Hound) specifically chose the dates for our Take a Jog & Save a Dog Virtual 5k to align with the Iditarod. While we both were fortunate to learn about the Iditarod while growing up in Michigan, we realize that many individuals live in areas where this famous sled dog race isn't talked about. One of our goals is to spread awareness of this incredible event, which is why I asked my good friend, Katie Kellner, to contribute to this blog post.
Katie Kellner, the business owner of Forward Focus Running, grew up in New Jersey where she also learned about the Iditarod in school. Katie has continued to follow this famous sled dog race yearly and is super passionate about sharing information about this event. You might also remember Katie from her heroic rescue of a man and dog in September 2019.
Here is Katie's writing about the Iditarod:
I first became intrigued by the Iditarod when I was 8 years old. I was assigned a musher for a school project and had to write pretend journal entries for him during his time out on the trail. I loved dogs, running, and snow, so I was instantly fascinated by dog-sledding. After that, I followed the Iditarod annually and, a few years later, my parents surprised me with dog-sledding lessons during a family trip to Colorado. I got to mush my own team of 8 dogs and it still tops the list of one of the most special days of my life. Since then, I’ve also had an honor of meeting some of the most talented mushers (and their dogs!), such as Jeff King and Susan Butcher. Seeing these sled dogs in person taught me one thing- these dogs LOVE to run! Pulling sleds is no chore for them, it is a passion that they live for!
Katie in Colorado holding a sled dog
There are many sled dog races that take place around the globe, but the Iditarod is by far the most famous due to its extreme distance and treacherous course. The Iditarod has two courses- a northern route that is completed in even years and a southern route that is run in odd years. Both courses begin in Anchorage, AK and end in Nome, AK, but the even route is 964 miles while the southern is 987 miles. There are many checkpoints along the course where dogs are fed, rested, and examined by veterinarians. These checkpoints are in small Alaskan towns and although enjoyable, hosting the Iditarod can be a lot of work for the few residents that live there. Therefore, the route switches every other year so the towns can take turns with the excitement.
The Iditarod started in 1967 to celebrate the Centennial anniversary of Alaska becoming and US territory. Until the 1960s, the Iditarod Trail was used by dog sled teams to transport mail, food, medications, and supplies to small towns in the middle of the wilderness. Without the Trail, Alaska would never have had settlements in such remote areas of the state. Dog-sled teams became outdated with the invention of the snowmobile (known as the “iron dog” by natives) and the goal of the Iditarod race was to preserve sled dog culture and give these working huskies a job to fulfill.
It now takes 8-15 days for the professional mushers to finish the almost 1,000- mile race. This is a time that mushers back in the early days of the Trail would be astounded by. There are many strict rules to the race to ensure that all dogs and mushers remain safe and healthy. Winter conditions in the Alaskan tundra can be brutal and it takes some true toughness and smart preparation to persevere. All sled teams are required to go through each checkpoint and to make at least two 8-hr stops and one 24-hr stop during their journey. There are also strict guidelines about required gear to be carried in the sleds (extra booties for each dog, food, emergency medical supplies, etc.). Mushers may have a maximum of 16 dogs on their team and a minimum of 12 dogs. Larger teams may seem advantageous, but also require more food and supplies.
There are two great dog races that start on Saturday, March 7th. One is the Iditarod and the other is the virtual Take a Jog Save a Dog 5K. While you are planning to run your 5k, you should also take a look at Iditarod.com. They do an excellent job of updating the standings of each musher as they pass through the checkpoints. Once you get to know some of the teams, it is quite fun to see how they do. They will for sure inspire you and your pups to get outside and get running!
Thank you to Katie Kellner, owner of Forward Focus Running, for contributing to our blog by writing this post!