March 14, 2017
NOME — Mitch Seavey just had the race of his life.
The 57-year-old musher from Sterling won the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race at 3:40 p.m. Tuesday, shattering the speed record by nearly eight hours to steal the title of fastest Iditarod musher ever from his much-younger son, Dallas.
Mitch remains the race’s oldest champion and has notched three wins in 13 years, his last in 2013 at age 53.
“Fifty-seven used to be old, and it’s not anymore. I’m just letting you know that,” Seavey said at a press conference after the race, his statement met by applause in the crowded building near the finish line.
‘Old guys rule’
In 4-degree temperatures Tuesday, Seavey pulled under the burled arch on Nome’s snowy Front Street with a team of 11 dogs, led by 4-year-old Pilot and 5-year-old Crisp.
Crowds lined the street, cheering on the team and taking photographs. One person held a sign that read, “Old guys rule.”
Seavey, in a puffy, red parka with a thick ruff, got off his sled and walked to the front of his team, praising the sled dogs along the way.
“Good dogs,” he told them, icicles stuck to his mustache. “Good dogs.”
He gave each dog a snack and then talked about the teamwork that allowed him to demolish the race record, arriving to Nome in 8 days, 3 hours, 40 minutes to win an exceptionally fast race. (Dallas set the prior record at age 29 in 2016 at 8 days, 11 hours, 20 minutes.)
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Mitch Seavey said of his team’s speed throughout the race, which started March 6, in Fairbanks, and featured a temperature swing of at least 70 degrees, with lows reaching 40 and 50 below in its early days.
A month before the Iditarod began, race officials said they planned to move the official start north, from Willow to Fairbanks. The course out of Fairbanks includes more running on frozen rivers in comparison to the Willow route that sends mushers over the Alaska Range.
But, Seavey said he didn’t know if the course necessarily contributed to the fast race.
“I’m not sure whether it’s slower to go a couple hundred miles on the Yukon at 50 below or take a little hop over the Alaska Range,” he said. Still, he gave the trail the grade of “A-minus.”
‘Let ’em roll’
Throughout much of the 1,000-mile course, Seavey’s team held its speed, allowing him to pull away from the other frontrunners.
“They love speed,” Seavey said of his sled dogs. “I think it frustrated them to go too slow, so I just let ’em roll. It was scary because I’ve never gone that far that fast ever, but that’s what they wanted to do and maybe it’s a new chapter.”
Seavey’s team recorded runs that averaged 10 and 11 mph between some checkpoints and the separation he built over other racers gave him the flexibility to bank generous rest for his dogs, and himself, as they moved up the Norton Sound coast in the race’s final days.
“They only know one thing and that’s 9.5 to 10 mph and they hit their feet, and they hit their speed and that’s what they do. And they trusted me to stop them when they needed to be stopped, and feed them, and I did that, and they gave me all they could. But I guarantee they’re tired now,” said the new champion.
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