Tuesday morning saw eleven teams arrive in Nikolai within 3 1/2 hours, and a steady stream coming up from Rohn. By all accounts the trail is hard packed and bumpy, with teams posting very fast running times.
Mitch arrived in 10th place, but is exactly one hour ahead of his schedule. I broke down all the Rohn-Nikolai run times for the front teams (subtracting time stopped) and Joar was the fastest with 8:09 moving time, and Ryan-Erin Redington was slowest with 9:32. But even Ryan’s time was fast, and most of the times bordered on too fast, so I wouldn’t read too much into the moving speeds yet.
This was the first year Mitch Seavey planned a race schedule specifically for the weather. 2014-2017 were so hard and fast that carrying dogs was a great strategy, and you had to stay with the lead pack, because there was nothing to slow them down. Then 2018 was the opposite, with deep snow and slow speeds. Carrying dogs turned out to take a toll on the pulling dogs, yet being a little conservative paid off in the end.
This year’s game plan is a hybrid that relies on two factors, a) hard packed until the 24. It’s really hard to carry dogs with only 14 total, 11 have to pull 3, which is too much in soft snow, and b) heavy snow on the coast. Nome and the coast have been getting hammered with near constant snow storms, and the drifts are high. Expecting a near record pace until about mid-river, and then a massive slow down.
If you’ve been reading my posts for a while, there are three aspects to racing strategy: speed, position and power.
Girdwood 2 Nome Nick Petit has position, roughly 90 minutes in front of 2nd already. He’s hoping the trail stays fast. If he’s correct, he’ll be hard to catch.
Joar Leifseth Ulsom has the speed. He was half an hour faster than anyone else going to Nikolai, and nearly as fast to Rohn. That’s a powerful weapon, and especially on a decent trail, you can gain a lot of time with speed.
Mitch Seavey has the power. He’s the only team I’ve seen relying on the carrying strategy. He’s not worried about speed or position, rather counting on having more gas in the tank when things slow down later. Clearly that necessitates a slow down, in this case the coastal storms.
This isn’t to discount the other teams, Jessie Holmes in particular is flying down the trail as well, but mostly they’re running some version of the above strategies, and the three above are the standouts, as expected.
A note about the back of the pack. Rookie Victoria Hardwick left Rainy Pass this morning 2 1/2 hours behind the next to last team. Often we see those teams that get behind getting pushed by race officials on the river, and sometimes pulled from the race when they’re no longer competitive. I propose race officials start hurrying those teams sooner. Don’t let them get hours behind; then it’s a daunting task to catch up again. Sort of like being in debt, if you can catch it early, it’s not so hard to dig yourself out.