Can you provide a beginners guide to dog sled racing?
Wow, I haven't a clue where to start on this one...there are so many variables that go into dog racing.Many books have been written by various mushers over the years that relay their interpretation of how to mush. I have read several from various mushers in my preparations for Iditarod. Notably, books written by: Rick Swenson (So You Want to Run The Iditarod), Joe Runyan (Secrets to Long Distance Mushing), Libby Riddles (Race Across Alakska), don Bowers (Back of the Pack) have shared some great insight into what loft on the Iditarod trail is like.
Mickey and Julie Collins (Trap-line Twins) also write a great monthly column for Mushing Magazine. http://www.mushing.com
Here are a few more, many that I have read as well, the descriptions come from iditadblog.com
Father of the Iditarod – The Joe Redington Story by Lew Freedman. To be a true fan, you need to know how the Great Race started. This is the story of Joe Redington, his move to Alaska, his mushing career, and his dream to start a race across Alaska. Learn the challenges he faced and what the early days of the race was like. And discover other adventures that Joe enjoyed, such as mushing up Mount McKinley.
Iditarod Classics and More Iditarod Classics, both by Lew Freedman. These two books give short snippets about individual mushers and the adventures they faced. If you’ve been a fan a long time, the books will bring back memories of past mushers. If you’re a new fan, they’ll introduce you to the fascinating history of the race.
Iditarod Dreams: A Year in the Life of Alaskan Sled Dog Racer DeeDee Jonroweby Lew Freedman and Dee Dee Jonrowe. Dee Dee Jonrowe is a perennial favorite. In this book, Dee Dee shares how she started racing and gives you a glimpse into a year of her life, including training, her participation in a European race called the Alpirod, and finishing with the 1994 Iditarod. This book is a bit outdated, but it still gives a fresh look into an inspiring woman.
Backstage Iditarod byJune Price. This book is a must for all fans. If you’re planning on coming to the race start, it gives you a preview of what to expect. If you just wish you were coming to the race start, it gives you an opportunity to experience it vicariously. June Price is a die-hard fan herself, and she shares from her personal experience.
Iditarod Fact Book: A Complete Guide to the Last Great Race 2nd Editionedited by Tricia Brown. This book is more of a reference book, though die-hard fans will read it from cover to cover. It starts with a year-by-year history of the race through 2006, and proceeds to facts about the race today, the checkpoints, dogs and training, gear and mushing terms and unforgettable people. An excellent reference to keep next to your computer while following the race.
Cold Hands, Warm Heart: Alaskan Adventures of an Iditarod Championby Jeff King (with Joe Runyan). Although written in first person, this isn’t a biography per se. It’s a series of stand-alone chapters, little vignettes from the life of a musher. It’s well written and very enjoyable, even if you’re not a mushing fan. “Breath of Life” tells the story of a dog who was miraculously revived by a fellow musher during the Yukon Quest. “Chowhound” is about Peg, a dog with an amazing appetite who ate a highway flare. My favorite chapter, “The Colonel,” tells about a Halloween visit from Norm Vaughan.
Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way: Unconventional Sled Dog Secrets of an Alaskan Iditarod Champion, Vol. 1by Mitch Seavey. This is a training manual, of sorts, written for dog mushers. What makes this story appealing for fans is that we can hear Mitch’s voice in the writing. There’s no editor here. It’s purely Mitch, with his dry wit and blunt honesty. Parts may find you laughing out loud. And you’ll learn a lot about mushing too, which will make you a very savvy fan.
The Lance Mackey Story by Lance Mackey (with Joe Runyan). No list of mushing books would be complete without the inspiring story of Lance Mackey, who overcame addiction, poverty and cancer to become one of the best mushers in the history of the race. It’s a very well-written read and one that you won’t be able to put down.
Graveyard of Dreams- Dashed Hopes and Shattered Aspirations Along Alaska’s Iditarod Trail by Craig Medved. The Iditarod is not just about the winners or even the front runners. It’s about all the mushers who attempt this great adventure. Graveyard of Dreams tells the story of several back of the pack mushers in the 2010 Iditarod, including some who made it to Front Street and some who did not. Relive the tragic stories of those who had to scratch or were withdrawn, as well as those who managed to finish.
And there are many many other mushing books out there. Thousands of pages of tips, stories and education. It seems like everyone who runs the Iditarod writes a book. There is much to be learned from these mushers accounts and are always entertaining, but the only way to really learn how to run long distance dog races is to do it. Each different scenario that occurs on a race could have a good or bad outcome depending on how the musher reacts and the split second decisions that are made. The only way to really know what to do is if you have had something similar happen before, this is where preparation, practice and training are key to making it through a race.
As a musher, you and the dogs make up the team. It is your responsibility as the driver of the team to provide the dogs with everything they need and just the right amount of it (food, water, clothing, affection, rest, etc.) to make it down the trail. There will always be a weakest link in the team, whether it be the musher, the leaders, the sled, or just one team dog. It is not good for the team if the musher is the weak link because likely they won't perform to the fullest potential, and real problems could develop if the team is not well cared for. It is not good when your leaders are weak, it will be very hard to get down the trail. Ideally the weakest or slowest dog should be in team and the musher can use this dog do judge how hard to run, or how long to rest. As long as that one dog is maintaining, the rest of the team should be performing within their target range.
Something that describes unique terminology,
I found this list on iditarod.com, it has a fairly inclusive list of Iditarod terms
ATV: All terrain vehicle
Big Su: Refers to the Big Susitna River
Booties: A type of sock that is made to protect the dog’s feet from small cuts and sores. These are made out of various materials, i.e., denim, polar fleece, trigger cloth, etc.
Burled Arch: The finish line in Nome
By-Pass Mail: Service provided by US Mail System for remote villages to get mail and goods delivered. By-Pass Mail has been used to ship everything from toilet paper to refrigerators. Service only in Alaska provided by US mail System.
Come Gee! Come Haw! Commands for 180 degree turns in either direction.
Dog in Basket: Tired or injured dog carried in the sled
Double Lead: Two dogs who lead the team side by side.
Dropped Dog: A dog that the musher has dropped from his team at a checkpoint. The dog is cared for at the checkpoint until it is flown back to Anchorage to the musher’s handlers.
Gee: Command for right turn
Haw: Command for left turn
Heet: Alcohol based fuel used by mushers in their cook stoves on the trail.
Husky: Any northern type dog.
Last Frontier: Alaska’s State motto. Alaska was the last frontier in the United States
Lead Dog or Leader: Dog who runs in front of others. Generally must be both intelligent and fast.
Line Out! Command to lead dog to pull the team out straight from the sled. Used mostly while hooking dogs into team or unhooking them.
Mush! Hike! All Right! Let’s Go! Commands to start the team
Neck Line: Line that connects dog’s collar to tow line and between the two collars of a double lead.
Outside: Any place in the lower 48 states.
Overflow: When the ice gets so thick that the water has nowhere to go, it pushes up and over the ice. This overflow often gets a thin layer of ice when the temperature drops making it dangerous to cross.
Pacing: Leading a team with some sort of motorized vehicle that can set the ‘pace’ at a specific speed.
Pedaling: Pushing the sled with one foot while the other remains on the runner
Picket Line: A long chain with shorter pieces of chain extending from it. Used to stake out a team when stakes aren’t available
Rigging: Collection of lines to which dogs are attached. Includes tow line, tug lines and neck lines
Rookie: A musher who is running the race for the first time or who has never completed the race.
Runners: The two bottom pieces of the sled which come in contact with the snow. They extend back of the basket for the driver to stand on. Runner bottoms are usually wood, covered with plastic or Teflon. This plastic or Teflon is usually replaced at least once during the race.
Siberian Husky: Medium sized (average 50 pounds) northern breed of dog, recognized by the American Kennel Club. Siberians usually have blue eyes.
Slats: Thin strips of wood which make up the bottom of a wooden sled basket. Note: Toboggan sleds have a sheet of plastic as the bottom for their basket
Snow Hook or Ice Hook: Heavy piece of metal attached to sled by line. The snow hook is embedded in the snow in order to hold the team and sled for a short period of time.
Snub Line: Rope attached to the sled which is used to tie the sled to a tree or other object.
Stake: Metal or wooden post driven into the ground to which dog is tied
Swing Dog or Dogs: Dog that runs directly behind the leader. Further identified as right or left swing depending on which side of the tow line he is positioned on. His job is to help “swing” the team in the turns or curves.
Team Dog: Any dog other than those described above.
Termination Dust: The first snow that covers the top of the mountain in the fall. So called because this is a sign of the termination of summer in Alaska.
Toggles: Small pieces of ivory used by Eskimos to fasten tug lines to harnesses
Trail!: Request for right-of-way on the trail.
Tug Line: Line that connects dog’s harness to the tow line.
Wheel Dogs or Wheelers: Dogs placed directly in front of the sled. Their job is to pull the sled out and around corners or trees.
Whoa!: Command used to halt the team, accompanied by heavy pressure on the brake.
Note: It should be thoroughly understood that as dogs are not driven with reins, but by spoken commands, the leader of the team must understand all that is said to him and guide the others accordingly. An intelligent leader is therefore an absolute necessity. At times it appears that there is ESP between musher and lead dog. Don’t be surprised if you hear a musher have an in-depth conversation with his lead dog.
how dogs make a team, are there starters and 2nd string?
This is something that is going to be specific to each musher depending on their race goals and long term goals and just what the overall situation is. For us, at the moment we are training 34 dogs, any of which could make the team. There are only 16 spots on Iditarod. I will take the dogs that are the most appealing at the time of the start. Things that are important to consider when choosing a dog for the team.;
Age- is the dog young and inexperienced or a veteran who can't run quite as fast?
Feet- can the dog run long runs without getting sore feet or do the often get nicks or splits. This is often genetically determined and we have both good and poor footed dogs on the team. As a general rule all dogs will run with all feet booted in the race.
Overall health- are they prone to getting stressed or get sick mot he trail? Maybe other health concerns? All dogs on the race will be thoroughly examined at vet check and had blood tests to determine health at start.
Appetite- are the good eaters or not? Very important that dogs eat lots on these long races!
Attitude- are they happy to run long runs day after day?
Get along with others- are they pleasant and calm or grumbling with neighbors?
Many other smaller factors to consider, but these are the main...,
What I seek is some material that we can build up on Social media for the start.
I'd also like info on the cause you are working on. Send this over to Gabi.
To make it all work you need: the factors and variables.
Good dogs: lead dog(s), that are tough mentally, fast, strong, hard working, love to run, love you, listen to you, don't cause problems with other dogs,eat well, have good feet, good coats
Good gear : gangling that works (no frozen snaps, minimize chewed necklines, camping capable), cooker that works (efficiently, quickly, packs well) clothing for musher ( warm, venerable, comfortable, easy to dry, function,won't freeze up) need: boots, socks, long underwear, underwear, fleece layer, wind block, bibs, parka, ruff, vest, face guard, neck gator, gloves, writers, hand-warmers, mitts, hat/hats, sunglasses, goggles, headlamp and batteries; clothing for dogs: harnesses that work ( no rub, best pull, gait), jackets, booties, belly bands, pee pee protectors, wrist wraps, shoulder coats, vests, leggings, blankets-
Good Organization: Know where all gear is how to use and be able to quickly access what you need on the trail. Have places and packages for everything.
Good sled: strong/no weak points, easy to steer, good break, good track, correct size, caries a load well, light, fast, correct runner plastic,sled bag that works and is durable.
Good dog truck: good breaks, starts good in cold, good tires, hauls a big load, looks good, doesn't break down.
Good attitude: this is for you and the dogs and your support crew. One depends on the other. If the musher has a bad attitude it can rub off on the dogs...and vise versa.
Good support crew: the logistics of doing a major Distance race is incredible
Good sponsors: to get everything that it takes to successfully make it through a long distance race it takes an incredible amount of money. On the low end $20,000 would be a minimum cost for Iditarod and can easily increase from here. Unlike other professional sports, dog mushers don't make much salary. Some races have decent purses, but only mushers that finish I the top 5 or 10 will even break even on race costs. That means everyone else is putting up thousands to compete. With out sponsors, side jobs and dog tours, we would not be able to even enter the races. The more sponsorship, the better dog food, better gear,less stress, better health, better attitude and all around better chance of being competitive.
Good dog food
Good health and physical condition: keep up on vitamins, keep hydrated, avoid food poisoning,be in shape for less soreness,
Good weather/trail conditions:
Good luck! May the wind be at your back.