McGrath checkpoint of the 2016 Iditarod.

Iditarod Update: Pete Kaiser Fourth at Mid-Point

Richard Walker

The leading teams were nearing McGrath late March 8, roughly one-third of the way to the finish line at Nome. Ten teams were spread out over a 20-mile distance and each musher’s strategy was becoming more apparent.

“I think it’s important … to get them in a rhythm,” Yup’ik musher Mike Williams Jr. told Iditarod Insider at the start of the 975-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. “Stop, rest, eat, go. Stop, eat, go. And try to take some naps whenever you can.”

In the Iditarod, aka the Last Great Race on Earth, timing is as important as discipline, fitness and training: Setting and maintaining pace, deciding when to rest and eat, and taking advantage of opportunities to pick up speed when you can. When to take the mandatory 24-hour and eight-hour layovers becomes clearer strategically when the race gets closer to the midway point of Cripple.

First into McGrath was defending Iditarod champion Dallas Seavey (2015, 2014 and 2012); followed by his father Mitch, the 2013 and 2004 champion. Wade Marrs (career-best eighth, 2015), was third. Fourth into McGrath was Peter Kaiser, Yup’ik, two-time winner of the Kuskokwim 300 whose career-best Iditarod finish was fifth in 2012. John Baker, the first Inupiaq to win the Iditarod (2011), was 10th.Up to this point, weather had been relatively calm and trail conditions fast – icy, with a minimal amount of snow.

The leading mushers applied their strategy differently in McGrath. After a three-hour rest there, Dallas Seavey, who’d been taking breaks every other checkpoint and on the trail as well, got underway to Takotna averaging 8.18 mph.

Marrs decided to take his mandatory 24-hour rest at McGrath. “I had the option of going to Ophir or Takotna, but we’ve been having significantly faster run times than I had figured because of the nice trail,” he told Iditarod Insider. “So we’re about four hours ahead of schedule and I wasn’t ready to be four hours ahead of my schedule, so I gave it back [to the team] by stopping here. We’re still on … a 12-hour pace. I figured Dallas will be right around something like that and Mitch as well, so if they pull it off and we want to win this race, we’re going to have to be doing the same thing.”

Baker and his team took a 3 hour 30 minute rest – their third three-hour checkpoint rest to that point – at McGrath. His team “came in real good. Any time you come to McGrath in less than six hours, it’s a real good time. [It’s been] a real nice trail compared to what we’ve been through [in past years]. It’s been real rough before here, so it was really a pleasure.”

Of his strategy, he said, “I’m going to go from here pretty directly to Cripple so I wanted to rest here before I did that. It just fits the schedule I’ve been running.”

McGrath to Cripple, with Takotna and Ophir in between, is a long haul: 114 miles.

By Ophir, Baker and third-year Iditarod contender Noah Burmeister had moved into the top 3 and got within a mile of Dallas Seavey en route to Cripple. Seavey, who had taken another rest with his team on the trail, kicked into high gear. He and his team averaged 8.3 mph to Burmeister’s 7.5 and Baker’s 7.4, and the distance between them steadily grew.

Seavey reached Cripple at 3:31 p.m. Mach 9 with the nearest competitor 22 miles behind him. At Cripple, Burmeister was second, two-time champ Robert Sorlie (2005, 2003) was third, Baker was fourth.

By the time Dallas Seavey and team were settling into their mandatory 24-hour rest at the halfway point, his dad and other mushers were taking their 24-hour rests two checkpoints back, at Takotna (mile 329).


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