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Monday, March 9, 2015

How To Win The Iditarod, Alaska’s 1,000-Mile Sled Dog Race

Defending champion Dallas Seavey takes off Saturday, March 2, 2013, in downtown Anchorage, Alaska, for the ceremonial start of the 2013 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. The race, which will take mushers and dog teams about a thousand miles across the Alaska wilderness, starts Sunday, March 3, 2013, in Willow, Alaska. (Mark Thiessen/AP)

Defending champion Dallas Seavey takes off Saturday, March 2, 2013, in downtown Anchorage, Alaska, for the ceremonial start of the 2013 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. (Mark Thiessen/AP)

Dallas Seavey of National Geographic's 'Ultimate Survival Alaska' speaks onstage during the 2015 Winter Television Critics Association press tour at the Langham Huntington Hotel & Spa on January 7, 2015 in Pasadena, California.  (Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

Dallas Seavey of National Geographic’s ‘Ultimate Survival Alaska’ speaks onstage during the 2015 Winter Television Critics Association press tour at the Langham Huntington Hotel & Spa on January 7, 2015 in Pasadena, California. (Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

Dallas Seavey has twice won the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, Alaska’s famous 1,000-mile-long dog sled race, which begins today.

The 27-year-old’s first win was in 2012, when he became the youngest-ever winner. He also won last year, when he clocked the fastest time ever: 8 days, 13 hours, 4 minutes and 19 seconds. In between, his father won, becoming the oldest Iditarod winner.

Dallas Seavey has said that to win, you have to be the alpha dog. Before he left for the start of this year’s race, he told Here & Now’s Robin Young that he’s also successful because he analyzes his dogs’ personalities and abilities, and he’s always re-thinking their training.

“I collected these athletes and completely revamped their training… making sure there wasn’t anything in there that was done out of habit,” he said.

Interview Highlights

On the relationship between mushers and their dogs

“It’s a very unique relationship that mushers have with their dogs. It’s closer than a co-worker cause we’re with them 24/7 and then we also put our lives on the line with these ‘co-workers.’ And your only hope of extracting yourself from the wilderness is that your sled dogs do their job and inversely the dogs, they rely 100 percent on you. It creates a very close relationship, closer than any house pet. The only similar situation might be your comrades in combat.”

On how he trains his team

“It creates a very close relationship, closer than any house pet. The only similar situation might be your comrades in combat.”

“We’ve been experimenting since day one. The first Iditarod that I won in 2012 was with a team of dogs that was entirely purchased from other mushers. Mushers that had essentially fired these employees, if you will, so starting with that very basic foundation of knowledge we went forward to try to find: where are the downfalls of each of our athletes? How can we get these dogs in good shape, ready to race the Iditarod, condition the team to work together, while avoiding all these downfalls? So, we kind of re-wrote the book and that’s where we have found our success. I think a lot of other competitors that I race against, they do that in the beginning, then they find success and they want things to be solid and definite. But they start changing, and that’s when they become stagnant. For me, I’m gonna keep experimenting, keep trying different things.”

On what he does differently from other mushers

“Mushing as a sport is kind of trendy. We all kind of watch our competitors and see what they’re doing, and make sure that they’re not doing something that we should be doing, right? And that’s common in business as well. When I got into mushing, the big trend at that point was, how far can we go? People were trying to win the Iditarod by going on farther, or longer and longer runs. What I mean by a longer run is a longer time and distance between rests. So, what may have been normal a couple years ago, where the dogs would run maybe five to six hours and take maybe a six to eight-hour rest, and then run another five to six hours. Now, people are trying to go 10, 11, 12 hours, which some dogs can do. So one simple example would be when I started racing we went against the grain of everybody. When everybody else was trying to go farther and farther, we focused on doing shorter, faster runs. We focused on developing speed and speed was kind of our counter-balance to everybody else’s long-range missile, so to speak. And that’s something you have to develop in each dog individually and also as a team.”

Guest


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Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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