Iditarod 2013: Off To A Fast Start!

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It was a fast start to the 2013 Iditarod sled dog race this weekend. After the ceremonial start in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, things really got moving following the restart in Willow yesterday. In fact, the lead teams are running so well that they are already more than 150 miles (241 km) into the 1000 mile (1609 km) course. Thats a blistering pace for this early on and we’ll have to wait to see if they can maintain that kind of pace over the long haul yet to come.

Right now there are some very familiar names at the top of the leaderboard, with the three front-runners already in and out of Rainy Lake. Four-time champ Martin Buser is currently breaking trail out in front with about a 2.5 hour lead on second place Matt Failor. Last year’s runner-up Aliy Zirkle is running in third place at the moment another hour back, while Lance Mackey – another four-time winner – and brother Jason are running in fourth and fifth place respectively. Defending champ Dallas Seavey is currently running in 26th place through the Finger Lake checkpoint. His dogs are running well so far, so you have to believe he’s biding his time to make a move later on.

The front runners have now moved into the trickiest section of the route as they move from Rainy Pass to Rohn. Pre-race reports indicated a number of downed trees through this section which will likely have an impact on how quickly they can navigate and make their way through to the next checkpoint. According to the GPS trackers that the teams are wearing, Zirkle is actually moving the fastest of the three and will likely overtake Failor later in the day. It’s good to see Aliy back near the top of the leaderboard as she attempts to become the first woman to win the race in 23-years.

Believe it or not, there has already been one scratch from the race. Mushter Ed Stielstra from Michigan withdrew following the 11-mile run from Anchorage to the Campbell Airstrip on Saturday. Stielstra suffered injuries while training back in early-February and hasn’t full healed yet. After the start he realized he wasn’t going to be up for a long and difficult run to Nome, so he made the wise move to pull out, head home and start planning for next year.

Obviously there is a lot of race left to be run, but we’re already seeing some bold moves from the lead teams. If things stay like this, we’re in for a very fast race this year with someone possibly flirting with the course record set back in 2011 by John Baker. On that historic run, which was also along the southern route, the same they’re following this year, Baker managed to arrive in Nome in just 8 days, 19 hours, 46 minutes and 39 seconds. It’s premature to say that record could be broken, but it sure has been a furious start so far.

Kraig Becker