Running has been a part of my life since I was eight years old. I started running cross country in 3rd grade, and since then I have finished 8 marathons (which is more than Michael if you are counting). For me running is my passion, a time for me to catch up with friends, and my ultimate stress reliever. The comradery of the runners and the joy of crossing that finish line are two things that keep me coming to my running group week after week.
As I’ve listened to stories about the Iditarod all week long, I discovered many similarities between marathoning and running the Iditarod. While I know the mushers and dogs go 1,022.8 more miles than I do, it is the dedication and perseverance of the athletes where the similarities lie.
When training for the marathon I must run 4-5 times a week, including a long run on Saturday mornings. I must stay healthy, and make sure I have the proper gear—shoes, shorts, t-shirt, etc. And then there is race week! The big pasta dinners, visiting the expo, and the lack of sleep the night before the race—it is all so exciting! Finally, it’s race day! Walking up to the start line, and running through the streets— the joy is just overwhelming. But then you get to mile 22 or 23, and the head games start and exhaustion sets in, but you push through it. Then you reach Mt. Roosevelt, as us Chicagoans call it, at the end of the Chicago Marathon. As you turn the corner the finish is in sight, and as you cross that line the joy, excitement, and sense of accomplishment come rushing back. It is emotional and amazing. It is why I continue to push my body to its limits and run marathon after marathon.
I have to think that the marathon experience is much like the Iditarod. For months the mushers train and condition the dogs, and they must run the dogs for miles and miles to make sure they are ready for the race. Mushers must be sure to have all the required and proper gear to be out in the Alaskan wilderness for nearly two weeks. They have to attend meetings and dinners the week before the race. And then, finally, it’s race day. The musher and their 16 dogs set out on the trail, and spirits are usually high the first few hundred miles. However, just like in marathon running, the fatigue and frustration set in later in the race. It is a head game, and the lack of sleep can really mess with the mushers mind. But then, the mushers reach Safety and they know the end is in sight. As they run up Front St. in Nome and cross under the burrowed arch, I can only imagine that they are emotional and overwhelmed with excitement, just as a marathoner is.
While I see many similarities, I think the biggest one I have yet to mention. VOLUNTEERS! The Chicago Marathon (or any marathon) and the Iditarod would not exist if it were not for the volunteers. I learned the value and importance of volunteering as child at mile 21 of the Chicago Marathon. We would stand at the aid station and hand out water and Gatorade for hours, while cheering on the runners and our cross country coach. Little did I know that decades later I would run through that very aid station as an athlete 4 times.
The volunteers for the Iditarod are amazing people. They come back year after year and give a day, a week, or sometimes a month of their time and talent to this great race. The jobs range from dog handler to Iditarod Air Force pilot and everywhere in between. Today I had the opportunity to sit in on the dog handler class and the communication training session, where I learned how much these volunteers really do! Some volunteers have been giving of their time since the beginning of the race, while others are volunteering for the first time this year.
I had the opportunity to talk to two volunteers today—Lucy Dorman and Stacey Cardy. Lucy is in Alaska for the first time, and has been volunteering for the last few weeks. She has been working with sled dogs in Canada and New Zealand for a few years and decided to come check out the Last Great Race this year, as this is the highlight of the mushing calendar. She is having an amazing time, and Lucy has even earned a spot out on the trail, which is very rare for a rookie volunteer. Stacey Cardy, however, has been volunteering for Iditarod for the last seven years. Stacey helps with communications and will be heading out along the trail this year. Besides comms, Stacey also volunteers her time to work the Teacher Summer Camp and the Teacher Winter Conference, where she welcomes all the teachers with her inviting Alaskan personality.
It is the volunteers that make the race happen, and I hope I will be back in future years to take part as a volunteer!
I’ll try to post again tomorrow after the official start.
All the best–
And now for some pictures…
Doggies getting ready to race!