Iditarod 2013, the 41st running of the Last Great Race On Earth, is well underway, with pups, sleds and mushers alike barreling toward the finish line.
With less than 400 kilometers (250 miles) remaining, however, there is also plenty of room to maneuver. With all that jockeying sure to engage on the leaderboard, the race is sure to be heavy on intrigue.
Though the dogs are the real stars of the show, the mushers who guide them are just as impressive. Winning the race requires unthinkable amounts of endurance, and even more incredible deployments of strategy.
With six past champions in the field, 2013 is one of the strongest rosters in Iditarod history. Let's take a look at three mushers to keep a close eye on as the event wraps up:
*All standings courtesy of Iditarod website
The race's current (and new) leader, Seavey is no stranger to first place. He won the 2004 Iditarod in impressive fashion (not that it's possible to win without being impressive), and is threatening to repeat the task.
He pulled into Unalakleet, in first place, helping put an end to Martin Buser's reign atop the standings. (more on him to come). But with hundreds of miles still left to go, he'll need to keep up the pace (literally) to stay there.
Fun twist: Seavey's son, Dallas, is also in the race, currently placing 11th.
Between that and Dallas' win in 2012, it's not a stretch to call the Seaveys the first family of mushing.
Zirkle dropped off a tad, placing fourth at time of publication, but has spent most of her time closer to the lead.
If Zirkle is able to rally and make another run at the title, it will be a semi-historic feat—only two women have ever won the event (h/t Los Angeles Times).
Is No. 3 in the cards? If Zirkle races up to her potential, it very well could.
Buser and his pack of 11 dogs may not currently be in an auspicious position. At time of publication, they rank 10th. But anyone who knows anything about the Iditarod would not be foolish enough to count him out.
Buser led for the majority of this race before falling behind in recent legs. More importantly, though, he's a four-time champion—a consummate legend—who won his first Iditarod in 1992. Per the same Los Angeles Times piece from before, a win would make him just the second five-time winner in history.
Can he do it? He's certainly got his work cut out for him. Zack Steer of the Alaska Dispatch doesn't think he can, writing:
The only way to get from point A to point B faster than your competition is to cut rest. Buser cut his rest in the beginning of the race and will not be able to match the rest cuts the chase pack will inevitably make along the coast.
Most likely, his race is toast.
That said, Buser was on world-record pace for a large portion of the early legs. It may not be easy, but he's done the impossible before.
Don't count him out quite yet.