Monday, March 12, 2012
At 5 PM Alaska Daylight Time on Monday 3/12/12 Dallas appears to be resting just outside Elim. Word is he took food and straw when he left. I'll bet Dallas is trying to take the advantage Aliy has of knowing what he is doing away. He probably didn't take the dogs booties off, just spread straw and fed. Then if Aily shows up he can immediately go and give chase, if not he can rest for a couple of hours. Aily needs to watch the teams behind her to protect 2nd as well as try to catch Dallas. After his stunt camping out of Shaktoolik (obvious from run times when they got to Koyuk) she might well figure that he would try that again. Particularly when everyone saw him leave with straw. But they way to beat a speed team is to force them to cut rest and slow down. She has to be asking herself what the odds are of catching Dallas before Nome if she pushes vs the odds of being caught from behind if she slows down.
Keep 'em Northbound
Keep 'em Northbound
Saturday, March 10, 2012
Iditarod strategy has three fundamental components. If you have a much stronger team than anyone else, you simply outrun them. Unless you figure out how to cross a cheetah into the gene pool (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qnH5CFf6El8), everyone has pretty much the same genetics to work with and everyone in the front of the pack trains and works as hard as everyone else, so this doesn’t work well in the early part of the race. Conservative driving early in the race can result in dominance late in the race, the idea is to be close enough to the front of the pack that you can catch them while you do it. We are still waiting to see if that develops this year, but look at Pete Kaiser, Jake Berkowitz, and Ray Redington Jr’s run times on the Yukon for an example of this concept (Ruby to Galena http://iditarod.com/race/checkpoint/?id=218, and Galena to Nulato http://iditarod.com/race/checkpoint/?id=219 ).
You can run longer and / or cut rest so that you spend more time running every 24 hours than your competitors. This is like playing a cross between “chicken” and “catch me if you can” – run too far or cut rest too much and you slow down. Do it too soon and everyone catches you before you get to Nome. Look at Dallas Seavey to see a team resting more and Jeff King for a team cutting rest on the river. Aliy gained a couple of hours by skipping rest at Nulato. Lance did this in 2010 when he made the long run from Nulato to Unalakleet to take command of the race.
Finally you play head games with the competition trying to psych them out. Things like carrying a bale of straw out of the checkpoint to convince your rivals that you are going to camp before the next checkpoint, and that they can rest longer in this one, only to dump the straw a mile later. Or do like Rick Swenson, who was famous for blowing through a checkpoint to take the lead, having everyone cut their rest short to chase him, only to find him camped 5 miles down the trail. Meanwhile the chasers had interrupted their teams rest.
In Iditarod, the goal is use these strategies to leave Elim in good position. After that there is no strategy, it is all about the speed you have left in your team. For a slow team, that means leaving Elim with enough of a lead that the fast teams can’t catch you before Nome. For the faster teams, it means leaving close enough to catch the slow guys before the finish, or leave in front of them.
As the front of the pack leaves the Yukon River, their options become limited. Sebastian was known for running through Kaltag (were rest for musher and dogs is marginal), and going to Tripod Flats cabin 25 miles down the trail. Halfway between Kaltag and Unalakleet is Old Woman cabin, another favorite camping spot, but normally not for the front runners that stop in Kaltag. Once you stop in Kaltag, the competitive mushers are pretty much committed to running to Unalakleet. At 85 miles it is far enough that you need to rest there, although there is a new shelter cabin between Unalakleet and Shaktoolik that might come into play here making the stop at Old Woman more attractive.
By the coast options become very limited. For the average musher, it is 4 runs from Unalakleet to White Mountain: Unalakleet to Shaktoolik, to Koyuk, to Elim, to White Mountain. You can gain time by cutting that to three runs (or maybe 2, but those are both real long runs). Because of the exposed nature of the trail and the weather on the coast, mushers seldom camp on the trail (if they did you could divide it into 3 evenly). That means skipping a checkpoint. Watch for Unalakleet to Koyuk (skipping Shaktoolik) or Koyuk to White Mountain (skipping Elim). The other way to gain time is to cut rest in the checkpoint – 1 to 2 hours of rest in Elim is more typical for a close race, 4 hours if you have a good lead. Jeff King has already shown he is willing to cut rest this year. Remember you have a mandatory 8 hours in White Mountain to help short rests in Elim, if you don’t slow the team down before you get there.
Someone like Dallas conserving a fast team might stop in Kaltag, run to Old Woman, go moderately long to the cabin between Unalakleet and Shaktoolik, moderately long to Koyuk and short stop in Elim. Someone like Aliy might run from Kaltag to Unalakleet, run long to skip Shaktoolik and go to Koyuk, and short stop in Elim. Someone like Jeff might cut rest in all the coastal checkpoints, as long as his dogs have good weight and keep eating strongly this is possible. Or they might not…
One risk is to figure you will cut rest in Elim to catch someone, only to find that they cut rest there (or skipped stopping there entirely) and your best efforts result in staying even. By then you are out of options. But if you move too soon they can counter move later. Decisions, decisions.
Aaron Burmeister grew up in Nome and knows the area and its weather well, this might give him an advantage somewhere. Mitch seems to be slowing down slightly, but that could be his attitude as much as the dogs – if he can get his happy back he could be a real threat to win this. I think that Jake Berkowitz, Peter Kaiser, and Ray Redington are in great shape to pick off anyone who misgauges what their dogs can do.
We’ve got a great dog race here.
Keep 'em Northbound