Musher Susan Butcher was about 70 miles from the finish line in the 1,168-mile contest when she knew she wouldn't catch Joe Runyan, who broke her three-year winning streak in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
"I'm not disappointed," said Butcher. "Everybody says it's hard to fall from the top. But I've had a lot of good races. I thought it would hurt, but it didn't hurt at all. So I don't feel bad."Butcher, 33, of Manley, finished second Wednesday, arriving in Nome with nine dogs about an hour behind Runyan, 40, of Nenana, and his team of 12.
Runyan crossed the finish line in the 17th annual race after 11 days and 51/2 hours on the Iditarod Trail between Anchorage and Nome, about three hours short of Butcher's 1987 record time.
Forty-nine mushers left Anchorage on March 4 with up to 18 dogs each.
The race was inspired by a sled-dog relay of serum to Nome during a 1925 diphtheria outbreak.
Butcher was followed by Rick Swenson, who holds a record four Iditarod victories achieved over six years.
Fourth-place musher Dee Dee Jonrowe finished the 22-mile stretch of trail between Safety and Nome at 10:47 p.m. Wednesday, with 36 other teams strung along the route as far back as Kaltag, 357 miles from the finish.
Nome was a partying town on victory night. The bars were packed with residents and people who traveled to the remote town of 4,300 for the race and the Iditarod Basketball Tournament.
Runyan's arrival in the finish chute drew crowds that dispersed after he was interviewed by reporters. He then walked into the lobby of a hotel with his wife and 2-year-old daughter. Race watchers, some sitting atop buildings on the south side of Front Street, reassembled for Butcher's arrival an hour later.
"It feels good to be at the end," said Runyan, who won Europe's Alpirod last year and in 1985 won the Yukon Quest from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, to Fairbanks.
"The main goal was just to get here first," said Runyan, who received $50,000 of a $250,000 purse shared by the top 20 finishers. "I didn't care about the record."
The timing of breaks was important in Runyan's race strategy. He waited until McGrath, 407 miles into the race, before taking a mandatory 24-hour layover that most mushers completed earlier.
Runyan said Wednesday that his dogs were in good shape.
"We've gone over 200 miles in 24 hours," he said. "The Alaska husky is unlike any animal on Earth. They can go 100 miles a day on rough terrain and they can take it."
Runyan's wife, Sherri, said she saw a change in her husband during the race. "Each time when I saw him on TV, or heard him on the radio, I could tell he was getting more aggressive, which is really out of character," she said. "He's really a quiet guy."
Some race watchers said Butcher fell victim to a jinx that seems to plague mushers who are at the race's halfway point first. Butcher put on a strong surge to beat Runyan by two minutes into the ghost town of Iditarod and win $3,000 in silver ingots. Only once in race history has the halfway winner gone on to victory.
Dogs and pigeons
Ever wonder what champion sled dog racers do in their spare time? How about racing homing pigeons?
That's what Joe Runyan does for fun.
Runyan, 40, is the winner of the 1,168-mile Iditarod Sled Dog Race from Anchorage to Nome. He came in first Wednesday afternoon, winning $50,000.
Runyan's Iditarod victory also makes him the first person to win the triple crown of mushing: the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest run half in Alaska and half in Canada; the 600-mile Alpirod run through the Alps in Europe; and The Last Great Race on Earth, the Iditarod, the crown jewel of sled racing.