Training for the Iditarod definitely is a journey. It is quite the time commitment on the part of the musher. For the dog…it is pure fun! They’re doing what they love to do.
I spoke with a couple different mushers on what their fall training looks like. Some mushers do different things and start at different times, but one thing remained similar; fall training builds muscle, strength, and endurance in the dogs.
The first musher I spoke to was rookie musher, Philip Walters. Philip trains with Justin Savidis at Snowhook Kennel. Philip and the dogs started training in late July. His comment about fall training sums it up, “Imagine yourself being covered in water, fur, and mud.” While fall training is pure fun for the dogs, it’s not always fun for the less adaptable humans. Needless to say, Phil prefers being on snow training his dogs with a sled over fall training, but fall training is the basis of a successful Iditarod and has to be done. When fall training begins and it is still a little warm, the dogs are just taken on super short runs a few miles at a time. During these runs there are lots of water breaks for the dogs. As the weather gets colder the miles start going up; 20 miles, 30 miles, 40 miles, etc.
Fall training is also a time to start developing habits and routines for the dogs as well as the mushers. During the race mushers will be sleep deprived, chilly, hungry, you name it so it’s crucial that routines become second nature for them. Dogs need routine too. One could say fall training is as important for the mushers as it is for the dogs.
Iditarod veteran, Jodi Bailey, operates out of Dew Claw Kennel along with her husband, Dan Kaduce. She started fall training September 1. During the summer months she does a lot of free running with the dogs. Free running is letting the dogs run off-line and just having fun being dogs. In addition to letting the dogs by dogs, Bailey uses the summer months to focus on lead dog training. Once September hits, it’s back on the lines to develop muscle, endurance, and strength.
While there’s been a little snowfall here and there in Alaska, there’s not enough to run a sled on. So, how do dogs pull a sled in the fall with no snow? Philip and Jodi, and most mushers, use a quad (4-wheeler). A quad is about 3-4 times as heavy as the sled the dog will pull, so this is a great muscle builder. Some mushers will leave the quad on and in gear to make it a little easier on the dogs but others will leave the quad off, and put the machine in neutral.
Wow, these two stay busy in the fall. Imagine what winter training will look like.
Below is a video of fall training at S&P Kennel. Permission to use video granted by Aliy Zirkle.