Schedules. Everybody has them. We get up, we eat breakfast, we go to work. No. Wait. Not when you are running the Iditarod. There you will likely miss breakfast and are already up… Still, we must have a schedule. Lance Mackey’s schedule, Martin Buser’s, Doug Swingley’s or one all your own. You must decide what works for you and your dog team.Recent long distance events such as the Iditarod or the Yukon Quest have seen changes in run/rest schedules during recent years; the Norwegians, Sorlie and Bakken, began the trend —long runs and shorter rests. Mackey, King and others have refined it and made it work better. Those who advocate this stratagem have been in the front of the pack the past few years, but is it the best strategy, or have all just gotten caught up in this new way of running dogs? It is hard to be patient when everyone is passing you by. Martin Buser still holds the record for the fastest Iditarod time; achieved with a positive rest ratio of 51%–49%; set in 2002. That year the trail was near perfect with only a couple of punchy sections between Nulato and Unalakleet. Martin says he still believes in a positive rest schedule; “we might have lost our cool after the Norwegians made a couple of good showings with power runs of slow and steady with shorter rests. As long as I have the record to my name with a positive rest pattern, I am hard pressed to change. I strongly believe that dogs prefer the faster runs and relatively longer rests, as well, and ultimately it is about the dogs.”I was in Unalakleet for three and a half days during the 2008 Iditarod and I became intrigued with the way the race was being run. Long runs and shorter rests were the order of the day on Iditarod 36; “Man oh man! We’re going so slow!” And they sure were: six or seven mph. “It’s the heat!” (+5 in Unalakleet), or was it lack of rest? I spent most of my time in Unalakleet going back over various racer’s checkpoint times and what information I was able to pry from those passing. I have also gone over statistics and interviewed mushers from races long past. Joe May was one of the first to try an equal run/rest schedule. In 1979 he attempted a 4-hour run/4-hour rest schedule, it may have worked, except that Joe got sick and had to abandon his new schedule. In 1980, he tried it again, and this time it worked; he won in just over 14 days. Not a bad time when you consider that few mushers were training on ATV’s in 1980 and that there was no snowmobile race happening in front of the Iditarod that provided a well-packed trail.When analyzing times and speed accurate mileages are essential. The GPS trackers of the ’08 Iditarod gave us that—an Iditarod with a total mileage of 908 miles, rather than the 1,100 plus that is advertised. Using accurate mileages I found that the speed of teams in the top 30, after Ophir, were generally in the 7 mph. range—very seldom 8, never 9 mph. Sven Haltman, Allen Moore, Fabrizo Lovati all managed some 9 mph runs late in the race. A couple others, Jason Mackey and Zoya DeNure, also put together some faster runs late in the Iditarod. All of these teams were positioned between 30th and 53rd—and were resting far longer than they ran. In the middle 1990’s teams generally ran a positive rest schedule; favoring 6 hour runs and 6 hour rests. This formula gives the musher time to care for dogs’ needs and still get adequate sleep. I hear from mushers that a 6 hour run gives the dog’s time to “get into a rhythm.” Statistics do not bear that out. Whether on the Yukon Quest or the Iditarod, after 4 hours, the speed begins to taper off—by nearly a half mph. At the 6 hour mark, speed has dropped by almost a mph and so it continues. Somewhere around 8 hours speed begins to stabilize, likely to whatever the base speed of that particular team is. Bill Cotter won the 1987 Yukon Quest with a 4 and 4 schedule, “tough on mushers, easy on dogs,” he says.There are several obvious factors that contribute to team speed in a given race. Trail conditions are a huge factor. Since the late 1990’s we have seen more trail-breaking machines with aggressive tracks in front of and around teams. The top couple inches of the trail is churned up, slowing the dog teams down. Trails, as a general rule, were a bit faster in the early and middle 90’s. Interviews and experience show that paddle tracks aren’t conductive to a great trail. Another factor to look at is the amount of rest just before any given run. Teams coming off a 24 or 36 hour rest will naturally go faster. Factoring in these known variables, (known but unable to exactly quantify), I charted dogteam speeds of nearly a dozen picked teams that have consistently run Iditarods since the early to middle 90’s. I realized that I would be not be able to determine if teams rested or not between checkpoints, so I picked trail sections where mushers seldom rest: McGrath to Takotna, Ruby to Galena, White Mountain to Safety, and on to Nome. During the 90’s, as a rule, speeds stayed up near the 10mph range. On short runs like the Takota run—the lead teams were faster than that. Since the late 90’s and 2000’s, (with the exception of 2002), speeds have gradually tapered off. Tapered off on individual runs and in total race time. The trend of Iditarods is slower. Nearly everyone I spoke with reiterated that they were using an equal or positive rest model during the 90’s. During the 2008 Iditarod and since, many top mushers are questioning if we have been trying to re-invent the wheel with trend of long, slow runs. This is far from an exact science model, but it does raise some questions: are we really going faster when we short-cut rest over run time? You may look at what I see and draw entirely different conclusions; however, I’d like to give a few observations for speculation.Iditarod Rookie Sven Haltman ran a ratio of 1.5/1.0 –rest to run. He finished in the middle 30’s with a team that consistently had the fastest times late in the race. Buser, Gatt and Smyth had closer to an equal run/rest than most of the top teams that I am aware of in 08—all came on very strong from Unalakleet to the finish. It is easy to sit at home and plan a race scenario—reality will strike once on the trail. Still it is helpful to have a good, realistic plan in place before beginning any long event. Here is one to work with that will get you to Nome—maybe even get you there fast?The vast majority of Iditarod teams (Quest also) are capable of traveling in excess of 10 mph. I used the premise that 10 mph would be likely over the first 80 miles, then 9 mph for the next couple of runs, before steadying near 8 mph. 1st run—just beyond Yentna Station: 4 hours/ rest 42. stop a few miles beyond Skwentna: run 4/ rest 43. to Helicopter Lk. (beyond Finger Lk.): run 5/ rest 54. to Rohn, (skip Rainy Pass): run 5.5/ rest 5.55. to Buffalo Camp: run 4/ rest 46. to Nikolai; run 4/ rest 4If your team is running faster than the schedule 4 hour run—stop at the planned point and still rest 4. If it is slower, run to the planned point, but never rest shorter than you run. The object in the early stages of the race is to put a bit of rest in the “bank.” You will use it soon and again later if you wish to be competitive.7. to McGrath/Takotna; run 4/ rest 4. Run 4/ skip McGrath; rest 4 at Takotna—or if you reach Takotna before 4 hrs, skip and continue to the 4 hour mark.8. to Ophir/Cripple; run 11.5/ rest 24A long run into the 24 sets the team up for longer runs and a little less rest to come. Going into a 24 or a 36 does not do as much for you unless the team is really ready to rest.9. to Ruby; run 4/ rest 4, run 4/ rest 410. to Galena: run 6/ rest 411. to Nulato: run 5/ rest 4These shorter rests can be done coming off of the 24—with the first couple of runs used to set things up.12. to Kaltag: run 5/ rest 813. to Unalakleet: run 5/ rest 5. Run 4/ rest 414. to Shaktolik: run 5/ rest 5At this point, if your run is a bit slower than planned, still only rest 5 hours,15. to Koyuk: run 5.5/ rest 516. to Elim: run 6/ rest 417. to White Mountain: run 5.5/ rest 818. to Nome: run 9 No type of schedule on paper will be accurate on the trail. It is important; however, to have a feel for how you intend to drive your dog team. If the trail is hard and fast, your times could be better in places. If it is a slow trail…well everyone will be slower. The biggest single factor in being able to stick with your particular plan is dog maintenance and dog care. You will also need patience and—-the belief that you can. The dog teams of today are closer to an even parity than at any time in the past. Racers will always be looking for an edge that propels them to the front of the pack. Surely try new ideas, but don’t forget those of the past that work.
Racing in the ACE Race with Tonya Helm On this episode of the Mushing podcast,