A Mighty Mush to the Finish

Dallas Seavey wins the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race

Mar 12, 2014 | By Mark Thiessen for the AP with reporting from TIME For Kids
BOB HALLINEN—THE ANCHORAGE DAILY NEWS/GETTY IMAGES

The 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race came to an end on March 11 with a very special finish. The winner, Dallas Seavey, ran a fast pace to come behind from third place to win his second Iditarod, a race more than 975 miles long. He finished the event in eight days, 13 hours, 4 minutes, and 19 seconds, easily breaking the previous record set in 2011.

The race ended early Tuesday after a sudden storm blew the front-runner out of the competition and kept another musher minutes away from her first win. By the end of the race, Seavey thought he was racing against his father and last year’s winner, Mitch Seavey for third place. But, the close-by musher was actually Aliy Zirkle.

The victory was so strange that Seavey said he didn’t even realize he won the race until about 90 seconds after he crossed the finish line. “Man, this is a lot of people coming out to see third place come in,” he thought when he arrived. “I just found out that I won. I think you guys knew before I did,” he told a packed convention hall.

Dog Days of Racing

Aliy Zirkle drives her team along the trail on the fifth day of the race.
BOB HALLINEN—THE ANCHORAGE DAILY NEWS/AP
Aliy Zirkle drives her team along the trail on the fifth day of the race.

The Iditarod takes competitors on a grueling journey. It runs between Anchorage, Alaska, and Nome. Each musher leads a team of 12 to 16 dogs. Teams face frigid temperatures, fierce winds, and other harsh conditions.

The trail follows a historic path. In 1925, dogsled teams took a similar route to deliver medicine to sick children in Nome. The Iditarod has been held each year since 1973 to honor those four-legged heroes.

The trail this year was marked by poor conditions. By Alaska’s standards, the state had a warm winter that lead to lack of snow for the trails. When the race began on March 2, there were 69 teams. As of March 11, seventeen mushers had dropped out and one had withdrawn. A number of mushers were injured at the beginning of the race as their sleds ran on gravel. The dogs wore booties, a type of sock that is made to protect their feet from small cuts and sores. As always, veterinarians were stationed at many of the checkpoints. They make sure the dogs are healthy enough to continue.

Every Second Counts

The last checkpoint of the race is the “safety.” It is 22 miles from the finish line. On Monday, just as Seavey and Zirkle were getting close to the safety, the area was hit with extremely high winds and a ground blizzard. Due to the bad conditions, Zirkle decided to take a rest in Safety— a checkpoint no one ever uses for a break. “I had to stop in Safety for a couple of dogs and myself,” said Zirkle, who had frostbite on her hands. She talked to people in Safety about how bad the conditions were and took a nap.

Dallas Seavey's father Mitch Seavy took third place in the race.
BOB HALLINEN—THE ANCHORAGE DAILY NEWS/AP
Dallas Seavey's father Mitch Seavy took third place in the race.

Zirkle rested there for two hours and 38 minutes. When she woke up she saw Seavey breeze through the checkpoint. He stayed only three minutes. Zirkle decided to follow him and left 19 minutes after Seavey. She lost the race by two minutes and 22 seconds.

Seavey, who did not know that Zirkle was on his tail, said he wasn’t in a big hurry. He even stopped to take a photo during sunset before the bad weather. “I was telling my dogs, ‘We’ve done our work here, you guys have done a good job, let’s go home,’” Seavey said.