Why is the Iditarod race a staple of the dog sledding community? 

One cannot talk about dog sledding without referring to the Iditarod race. Learn some interesting facts and stories about the race and community.  

The famous Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is a 1,000-mile journey through the toughest Alaska terrain imaginable. From ground blizzards to bumpy sea ice and wildlife encounters, the Iditarod is a cornerstone of all dog sledding enthusiasts. But why? 

Based upon a time-sensitive relay effort to get diphtheria antitoxin to Nome during a widespread outbreak in 1925, the Serum Run, as it is known, came about after a series of storms prevented aircraft from reaching Nome from Anchorage. With a distance of around 1,000 miles, today’s Iditarod race follows much of the route used by mushers and their canine partners to cross mountain passes and ford rivers in an effort to reach Nome, located on the shores of Norton Sound. 

More About The Iditarod

Today’s Iditarod race celebrates the success of these brave mushers and dogs like Togo and Balto, best-known of the teams. But it also promotes the sport of dog sledding in Alaska as a valuable mode of transportation and as a representation of the state’s official sport. Below are some cool facts you might not know about the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race: 

  • The trail actually begins in Seward, along the Kenai Peninsula. Known as the Iditarod National Historic Trail, Mile Zero can be found along the shores of Resurrection Bay in downtown Seward, commemorating the former trade route of Native Alaskans and hardy miners, trappers, and homesteaders. 
  • There are two race routes; both beginning in Anchorage and ending in Nome. On even years, the Iditarod race runs on the Northern route; on odd years, the Southern. Why? Small villages serve as checkpoints along the race, and balancing visitation helps promote rural Alaska life, and brings much-needed boosts to local economies. Plus, it’s a week or more of fun for the community!
  • Iditarod race dogs need between 10-12,000 calories per day. That’s around 10 fast-food burgers per dog, per day! But no junk food for these athletes. Mushers feed a carefully-designed diet of fats, protein, and carbohydrates that keep dogs warm, full, and ready for action. 
  • Rookies must attend an early meeting in December prior to the race. It’s tough to run the Iditarod, and even tougher if you’ve never experienced trail life for more than 1,000 miles. Iditarod race officials want all participants to finish safely, and with healthy dogs, so rookies (newcomers who have qualified for the race) must attend to make sure they understand the rules and potentially-difficult situations. The 2020 Iditarod currently has 12 rookies. 
  • Iditarod racers send many materials ahead in “drop bags.” In  January, drop bags are packed for shipment to each of the checkpoints. These bags contain everything from extra clothes and food for mushers, to dog food, booties (lots of those!), and items to repair or replace sled or harness parts. The volunteer “Iditarod Air Force” ships bags to checkpoints over the course of a few weeks in February. 
  • The fastest Iditarod race finish was completed in 2017 by Mitch Seavey; 8 days, 3 hours, 40 minutes, and 13 seconds from start to finish.