Iditarod Race 2013: What To Expect From the "Last Great Race on Earth"

"This race, boy this is the meanest stretch of land God ever put together." - Iron Will

It's easy to think there's a Disney movie for everything. I even thought there was one for the Iditarod. Turns out I was wrong. Iron Will is a fictional account of a cross country sled dog race in 1917, and the Iditarod didn't start until 1973. Iron Will did get some things right about sled dog racing, and the above quote about the race course could hold true for the Iditarod as well: It is hard.

The 2013 edition of the Iditarod began Saturday with the ceremonial start along Fourth Avenue in Anchorage, Alaska. The sled dog race goes from Anchorage to Nome and will last about nine days before the winner crosses the finish line. From mushers to toggles, there's a lot to learn when it comes to the Iditarod. Here's a look a what you could expect if you were racing the more than 900 miles to the finish line:

The Race Course:

The ceremonial start takes place the first Saturday in March in Anchorage so a larger crowd can be on hand, but the real race starts the next day in Willow. In odd years, the racers take the Southern Route. 

Mushers:

Mushers are the guys in charge. They're the ones on the sled the dogs are carrying along. This look at "Mushing Terminology" from the Iditarod's website is a great insight into the lingo of a musher.

I bet you didn't know a that toggles were "small pieces of ivory or wood used by Eskimos to fasten tug lines to harnesses." Or that "gee" lets the dogs know to turn right and "haw" tells them to go left. 

The Dogs:

Siberian Huskies have turned into the breed of choice to lead the way in the race across Alaska. The dogs are bred with a desire to run. In a race like the Iditarod, they weigh around 45 to 55 pounds. Each sled has 12-16 dogs pulling it. In such a tough race, a dog or two might have to stop racing along the way. There are even health checks to make sure the dogs are feeling good enough to finish the race. 

The Conditions:

Make no mistake: the Iditarod is a dangerous race. Temperatures have dropped to -50 °F and winds have topped out at over 50mph, leaving windchills at frighteningly low levels. On top of that, there are icy sections, high altitude and raging rivers to worry about.

For more information on the 2013 Iditarod, check out the coverage provided by the Anchorage Daily News