From Nome --
The middle of the pack is arriving in Nome, while the back of the pack is still as far out as Shaktoolik. This morning Trent Herbst and Matt Giblin arrived in 37th and 38th place respectively, both running dogs from Jake Berkowitz's Apex Kennels in Big Lake. Between the three mushers they have fielded five teams for 1,000-mile races this winter, no small feat.
Trent and Matt were racing hard along the beach outside of Nome, both pedaling along and encouraging their dogs to kick it up a notch on the last miles to Nome. They both ran very different teams. Trent races the B Team of Apex Kennels, while Matt is driving the yearlings, in this case dogs who are 16 months old, led by 11-year-old faithful Feta, a dog out of Zack Steer's yard who has been to Nome many times.
Matt's job was to show a young group of dogs the trail to Nome so they know the way for future races. His patience along the way paid off. While Trent Herbst had left Takotna a whopping 27 hours ahead of Matt, they are only 5 minutes apart at the finish line. Matt took his 24-hour layover early in the race in McGrath, while Trent opted to push on to Cripple hoping for a poke of gold, just to be outrun by 71-year-old Jim Lanier. Not only did Trent miss out on the gold, that move cost him valuable speed and stamina in his team, which allowed puppy team driver Giblin to catch up.
Of course those two mushers had a bit of rivalry going on near the finishing line of who would get there first. Trent made up 5 minutes during the last 7 miles, as near as Howard Farley's Camp they were still traveling together.
How this race went for these two mushers shows a common trend in the Iditarod. At the first third of the race, the field was tightly packed, one long string of mushers only minutes apart, to the point where there was no real discernible front pack. Throughout the middle of the race that pack thinned out and the usual groups of mushers formed, to then stretch apart multiple days by the end of the race.
There is an old saying amongst mushers. If you race a 20th place team like a 10th place team, you will get 40th. If you race a 10th place team like a 20th place team, you might get 5th, while picking up mushers along the coast. Some of the mushers who were in the front pack of the race early on completely faded away during the later part or even scratched once reaching the coast.
That also relates to runtimes between the checkpoints. Mushers like Aaron Burmeister, who ran a slow 3 hours and 2 minutes into Takotna, ending up having a large string of 15 dogs in Unalakleet along the coast. Others who ran the same stretch in less than 2 hours (that is 9.3 miles an hour versus 6 miles an hour) nursed small teams along the coast or even scratched before.
It's comparable to driving a truck. If a truck is idled along at slow speeds and rpms, the engine will last for a very long time. If the same engine is revved up high for short bursts it will eventually blow up. Patience is the name of the game in distance mushing.