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Iditarod 2012: Annual Dog Sled Race Gets Underway in Alaska

Iditarod 2012: Annual Dog Sled Race Gets Underway in Alaska

The 40th Annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race has commenced in Anchorage, Alaska. The 1050-mile race, trademarked as "The Last Great Race on Earth," takes mushers and their teams of 12-16 dogs through extreme winds, torrential blizzards, and sub-zero temperatures. The race typically takes 8-16 days to complete, and mushers and dogs usually travel more than 100 miles a day.

Last year's Champion John Baker completed the course in 8 days and 19.5 hours in 2011. Baker is currently in second place, behind Aliy Zirkle, who hit the halfway point at 2:30 this morning. Following closely behind Zirkle and Baker are Mitch Seavey, who won the race in 2004, and Jeff King, who has four Iditarod championships under his belt.

Often, Mushers spend little time at checkpoints, they merely have officials check their gear, high five a few fans, occasionally cut dogs if they have become weak or tired, and continue on.

Dogs must be given a total of 40 hours of rest throughout the race. Mushers have to take at least one consecutive 24-hour rest, and it seems most of the front-runners are taking that rest at the Takonta checkpoint, one checkpoint beyond the halfway mark. Throughout the race, mushers will eat and sleep while still on their sleds, being pulled by their team of dogs.

Mushers must put in an incredible amount of training and preparation. Not only do they have to withstand the harsh outdoor weather conditions, but they have to make sure their dogs are up to the challenge. They are required to feed and care for the health of the dogs-from fatigue and scratched paw pads, to more serious injuries. There are vets at checkpoints to help with more serious dog injuries. Most teams spend a year preparing for the race, putting in hundreds of hours and miles.

With the front-runners more than halfway finished, and Aliy Zirkle leading the pack, the competition is expected to heat up rapidly -- which is more than can be said for the weather.