Workers strung a finish-line banner above Front Street and installed wiring for television crews as leaders in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race pressed closer to Nome.

"There is no month of March in Nome," said Howard Farley, the finish coordinator who competed in the first race in 1973. "It's the month of Iditarod."The annual 1,168-mile race brings excitement, attention and money to this town of 4,300 people, and residents have been readying for the onslaught of mushers, spectators and news teams since competitors left Anchorage March 4.

Late Monday, Joe Runyan pulled into Shaktoolik, 229 miles from Nome, with a six-minute lead over Susan Butcher, who has won the last three years.

Barring a change in the calm weather that mushers have enjoyed since the race began March 4, the winner should reach Nome sometime early Wednesday - perhaps in time to beat Butcher's record of slightly more than 11 days.

The progress has been charted by the community's two radio stations, both of which sent reporters on the trail.

"We tend to go into overdrive about a week before the race starts," said Tom Busch, manager of KNOM and a member of the Iditarod Trail Committee's board of directors.

Other workers have been busy with chores such as getting permission to use the Volunteer Fire Department's Christmas lights and testing the municipal siren that heralds the arrival of each musher.

"Everybody's a hero when he finishes the Iditarod race here in Nome," Farley said.