Musher Frequently Asked Questions
Being a competitive sled dog racer is a LOT of work! But we wouldn't dream of doing anything else. Read on to learn more about Anna and Kristy, and what it takes to be a musher.
Q: What do you as a musher do to train and get in shape for racing?
A: You'll see mushers of all types and sizes out on the trail, but at the end of the day a successful musher is defined by the training and care he or she provides to the dog team. But, we have found that the better shape we're in ourselves, the better shape our team will be in at the finish line. We do a lot of running in the summer months, not only because we enjoy it, but because it allows us to take some of the burden off our dogs during a race. We will often hop off the back of the sled and run along side to relieve the burden of our weight. We also do a lot of pedaling (like pushing with one foot on a skateboard) and use ski poles to help the dogs and sled along. This requires a fair amount of strength and endurance. We have also found that simply living this physically demanding lifestyle goes a long way toward keeping us in shape. We get up early, stay up late, and are constantly on the move in between.
Q: What do you eat on the trail?
A: The twins need to eat a lot to maintain energy levels and stay warm out on the trail. What happens when you don't do that? When Kristy finished her first Iditarod, she got home to find she had lost nearly 20 pounds during the race! She learned the hard way what happens when you don't "fuel" yourself well. Both dogs and humans will lose fat and muscle to make energy if there isn't enough calorie intake, especially when you're going for days on end in very cold conditions. For her second Iditarod run, Kristy modified the foods she packed and returned home to a loss of only 12 pounds. She found it was best to pack food that wouldn't freeze as well as time-tested favorites. Any cooking that is done on the trail is done along with the dogs' food in a big, alcohol-fueled cooker primarily by boiling, so the people food is kept separate in vacuum sealed bags.
Q: What kind of gear do you need for yourself?
A: Most of the items we consider "must-haves" on the trail won't be surprising. High quality socks and long underwear are key. On top of that we have gloves and mittens, snowpants or lined bibs, jackets with fur ruffs, hats and ear bands, and goggles. High quality boots with thick soles to insulate against snow, water, and ice cold metal sled runners are another key item, and making sure they fit appropriately is equally important. Too tight and you decrease circulation, increasing the chances of frost bite. Too loose? Try getting a monster blister in the middle of a race or running uphill in 2 feet of snow in clown shoes. No thanks! Aside from the gear we wear, we also carry headlamps and extra batteries (ok... a few of those batteries might end up in a portable music player...), mandatory race gear like a sleeping bag and snowshoes, and practical things like a sewing kit and tissue.
Q: How much sleep do you get during the Iditarod?
A: In a nutshell? Very very little. The twins anticipate and plan for staying awake throughout the first 3 days of the race. After that, any rest they get for themselves is only after the dogs have been thoroughly cared for. Sleeping 2 to 4 hours per day is about as good as it gets out on the trail, aside from the longer, mandatory layovers. Even after reaching the finish line, there is still plenty of work to be done before enjoying a well earned rest.