The Iditarod

Today is the beginning of the running of the 40th Iditarod.  This is the dog sled race, that has become a tradition, from Anchorage, Alaska to Nome, Alaska.   Dog sleds are historically significant to the development of Alaska and the race became a standard in the late 1960s.  Today at 2PM EST the race will begin and it will end 975 miles later. 

The weather for the start of the race looks fairly mild, with cold temperatures expected, as usual. Anchorage saw the mercury dip to the low 20s on Friday night with flurries of snow to go along with the cold. Along the rest of the route, the weather was frigid — from 25 degrees near the start to below zero further north — but snow was only falling in trace amounts.

The following is from an article in the Anchorage Times following the 1973 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, written by Gordon Fowler, Times Sports writer: “Iditarod means clear water and was named by the Shageluk Indians for the Iditarod River.”

The following came from one of the Anchorage papers during the 1983 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race: “The word comes from the Ingalik Indian word HaIditarod which was the name for the river on which the town was built. It means distant place.”

James Kari, Assistant Professor, University of Alaska Native Language Center in 1979 stated: “The name Iditarod came from an Ingalik and Holikachuk word hidedhod for the Iditarod River. This name means distant or distant place. This word is still known by elders in the villages of Shageluk, Anvik, Grayling and Holy Cross.”



Iditarod Facts

  • The first Iditarod race to Nome started March 3, 1973.
  • Broken Records: In 1986, Susan Butcher broke Rick Swenson’s record, set in 1981, by completing the 1049+ miles in 11 days, 15 hours and six minutes, and this was done on the longer ‘Northern’ Route. In 1987 she broke her own record by finishing in 11 days, two hours, five minutes and 13 seconds. Then in 1990 she broke her record again, finishing in 11 days, one hour, 53 minutes, 23 seconds. In 1993, Jeff King broke all previous records, finishing in 10 days, 15 hours, 38 minutes, 15 seconds. In 1994 Martin Buser again set the record in 10 days, 13 hours, 02 minutes, 39 seconds. In 1995, Doug Swingley of Sims, Montana broke two records when he became the first musher from outside of Alaska to win the Iditarod and he did the 1150+ mile course in 9 days, 2 hours, 42 minutes and 19 seconds. In 2002, Martin Buser broke the record when he crossed the finish line in 8 days, 22 hours, 46 minutes and 2 seconds.
  • Carl Huntington won the 1974 race with the slowest winning time, 20 days, 15 hours, two minutes and seven seconds.
  • The teams average 16 dogs, which means over 1,000 dogs leave Anchorage for Nome.
  • There are 26 checkpoints on the northern route, the first in Anchorage and the last in Nome. On the southern route, there are 27 checkpoints.
  • The closest finish was in 1978. Dick Mackey finished one second ahead of Rick Swenson. Mackey’s time was 14 days, 18 hours, 52 minutes and 24 seconds. The winner was decided by the nose of the lead dog across the finish line.
  • The largest number of mushers to finish a single race was 77 in 2004.
  • A red lantern is awarded to the last musher to finish Iditarod. The longest time for a Red Lantern was 32 days, 15 hours, nine minutes and one second by John Schultz in 1973. The quickest Red Lantern musher Celeste Davis with a time of 13d 05h 06m 40s.
  • Rick Swenson is the only five time winner of “The Last Great Race”, having won in 1977, 1979, 1981, 1982 and 1991. He is now the only person to win the Iditarod in three different decades, a record that will probably never be broken.
  • Four time winner, Susan Butcher, claimed Iditarod victories in 1986, 1987, 1988 and again in 1990. Susan retired from long distance racing after the 1993 race in order to start a family with husband Dave Monson, himself a Yukon Quest champion. Their first daughter, Margarith, was born in the spring of 1995.
  • Dallas Seavey turned 18 on March 4, 2005. He is the youngest musher to run the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog race. The oldest musher to ever compete was Col. Norman Vaughan who will turn 88 in December. Col. Vaughan completed the race four times.


  • Rick Mackey won the race in 1983 to become the first son of an Iditarod champion to match his father’s accomplishment. Lance Mackey won in 2007 to become the second son of an Iditarod champion. To further set a record, father and both sons were wearing bib number 13 when they crossed the finish line in first position, and they all three won in their sixth Iditarod. Anyone superstitious? (Emmitt Peters was also wearing bib #13 when he won the Iditarod in 1975.) Add one more for Lance — he had just won the Yukon Quest two weeks before, so now he is the first person to win both the Quest and Iditarod in the same year.

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