Mushers in the 1,168-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race charged along Alaska's frozen west coast Wednesday in a tight race to the finish line in this historic Gold Rush town.

Joe Runyan, 40, of Nenana, led a pack of five front-runners in the Anchorage-to-Nome trek Wednesday when he left White Mountain, 77 miles from the finish, with a five-minute lead over defending champion Susan Butcher, 33, of Manley.Butcher, who has won the last three races, was down to 11 dogs - several with diarrhea - while Runyan was running 14.

Race officials expected the winner to claim the $50,000 first-prize sometime around 2 p.m. MST.

Rick Swenson, the only musher ever to win the race four times, arrived in White Mountain an hour before Runyan left and said he had given up hope of catching him. "My goal now is to get it over with," Swenson said.