Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Leaders into Nikolai by Myron Angstman

Myron's Analysis
Rarely does an  eventual  Iditarod winner arrive  more than a  few hours after the first team into Nikolai.  The first Native village on the trail,   Nikolai  sits at the end of  a long  run through the Alaska Range, and  usually provides the first real indication of how teams are stacking up. 

With Aliy Zirkle arriving there first, there  is little question that  she is a serious contender to win,  especially considering  that same team was a very close second  in the 2012   Yukon Quest.   

But long time race watchers like myself also know that  the next run is frequently the one that  sorts out some of the the  weaker teams.  That’s because  the rest at Nikolai is frequently sliced a little thin because a number of teams are planning to rest 24 hours at Takotna after the next run of about 70 miles.  Their  thinking goes, well if  I am taking a long rest soon,  lets  make sure the dogs are ready to take advantage of  it.  
Watch the  running times carefully into McGrath, and then even closer into  Takotna.  That last 20 mile run is revealing. Many of the best  racers will tell you starting out speed is not the key to winning, it’s the speed at the end of a run.   Many teams when rested develop a fair amount of speed that lasts for a while, but winning teams often have a slower starting speed that can be sustained longer.   John Baker has that kind of team.  

By checking  the traveling speed of a team coming into Takotna,  after a 70 mile run from Nikolai, you can often have a glimpse of which team will be leading  further down the trail.    That assumes of course that the  teams you are checking all are within a certain distance from the front of the pack already.   Teams too far back, especially this year with so many teams  bunched at the front, are  basically out of luck.

Learning this kind of information  is a snap these days. With GPS trackers, numerous on the trail bloggers and  countless websites,  anyone can do their homework and make a decent prediction about what might transpire.

It’s a far cry from very recent times when fans like myself had to go to great lengths to get good information.  As late as the early  1990’s I used to call  the Iditarod  race  line six or eight times a day to obtain checkpoint times.  To assure a prompt and  informed response, I would often suggest I was a reporter from the New York Times. That usually  got me right to the source.  Even that amount  of information  far surpassed what was  available when I ran the race in 1979.  For middle of the pack racers such as me, the reports  were sometimes two days old on the  radio reports.  

Myron Angstman, lawyer, pilot, and dog musher, lives in Bethel, Alaska. Read more about dogs, law suits and rural Alaska gossip by checking www.myronangstman.com

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