Alaska's Iditarod, Self-Styled The Last Great Race On Earth: A Primer [PHOTOS]

 @MayaErgas on March 02 2013 5:30 PM
  • Sled dogs in Willow, Alaska
    Sled dogs look on before hitting the trail at the official re-start of the 40th Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Willow, Alaska March 4, 2012. Reuters/Wayde Carroll
  • The start of last year's race
    Dee Dee Jonrowe (L) of Willow, Alaska runs her team up to the starting line of the 40th Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage, Alaska March 3, 2012. Reuters/Wayde Carroll
  • A sled dog at the 40th Iditarod
    A dog barks during the ceremonial start of the 40th Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in downtown Anchorage March 3, 2012. This race event has grown from an obscure contest many considered a one-time lark into a world-famous, big-money sports extravaganza. Reuters/Wayde Carroll
  • Paul Gebhart of Kasilof, Alaska at the 40th Iditarod
    Paul Gebhart of Kasilof, Alaska, waves to the cheering crowds on 4th Avenue during the ceremonial start of the 40th Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in downtown Anchorage March 3, 2012. This race event has grown from an obscure contest many considered a one-time lark into a world-famous, big-money sports extravaganza. Reuters/Wayde Carroll
  • Dallas Seavey's sled dogs, last year's winners
    Dallas Seavey's team, from Willow, Alaska, races down the 4th Avenue during the ceremonial start of the 40th Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in downtown Anchorage March 3, 2012. This race event has grown from an obscure contest many considered a one-time lark into a world-famous, big-money sports extravaganza. Reuters/Wayde Carroll
  • Two dogs wait to be released
    Two dogs that are a part of Michelle Phillips' team look on as mushers prepare for the ceremonial start of the 40th Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in downtown Anchorage March 3, 2012. Phillips and her team came in from Tagish in Canada's Yukon Territory. This race event has grown from an obscure contest many considered a one-time lark into a world-famous, big-money sports extravaganza. Reuters/Wayde Carroll
  • A sled dog at the beginning of the 40th Iditarod
    One of Zoya DeNure's sled dogs stands on its hind legs ahead of the ceremonial start of the 40th Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in downtown Anchorage March 3, 2012. This race event has grown from an obscure contest many considered a one-time lark into a world-famous, big-money sports extravaganza. Reuters/Wayde Carroll
  • Zoya DeNure, from Gakona, Alaska during the 40th Iditatrod
    Zoya DeNure, from Gakona, Alaska, takes her team down a wooded section of trail during the ceremonial start of the 40th Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in downtown Anchorage March 3, 2012. This race event has grown from an obscure contest many considered a one-time lark into a world-famous, big-money sports extravaganza. Reuters/Wayde Carroll
  • Zoya DeNure sled dogs during the 40th Iditarod
    A team from Gakona in Alaska, led by musher Zoya DeNure, heads down the trail during the ceremonial start of the 40th Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in downtown Anchorage March 3, 2012. This race event has grown from an obscure contest many considered a one-time lark into a world-famous, big-money sports extravaganza. Reuters/Wayde Carroll
  • Two sled dogs belonging to Norweigan competitor Silvia Furtwangler at the 40th Iditarod
    The lead dogs of Norway's Silvia Furtwangler head down a snowy wooded portion of trail during the ceremonial start of the 40th Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in downtown Anchorage March 3, 2012. This race event has grown from an obscure contest many considered a one-time lark into a world-famous, big-money sports extravaganza. Reuters/Wayde Carroll
  • A handler checks up on a sled dog
    Heidi Sutter, handler for Canada's Michelle Phillips, puts protective booties on the dogs before the ceremonial start of the 40th Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in downtown Anchorage March 3, 2012. This race event has grown from an obscure contest many considered a one-time lark into a world-famous, big-money sports extravaganza. Reuters/Wayde Carroll
  • Bruce Linton, a competitor in the 40th Iditarod
    Bruce Linton, of Kasilof, Alaska, heads out of the chute during the ceremonial start of the 40th Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in downtown Anchorage March 3, 2012. Reuters/Wayde Carroll
  • Two dogs and their stylin' pink booties
    Dogs bark ahead of the ceremonial start of the 40th Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in downtown Anchorage March 3, 2012. Reuters/Wayde Carroll
  • A race fan greets a dog
    Race fan Zoya Epshteyn of Seattle gets close-up with a dog, "Aurora", from the team of Art Church, Jr during the ceremonial start of the 40th Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in downtown Anchorage March 3, 2012. Church's team resides in Willow, Alaska. Reuters/Wayde Carroll
  • Tom Thurston, a musher in the 40th Iditarod
    Tom Thurston of Oak Creek, Alaska and his team head to Nome at the official re-start of the 40th Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Willow, Alaska March 4, 2012. Reuters/Wayde Carroll
  • Brent Sass of Fairbanks, Alaska and his team during the 40th Iditarod
    Brent Sass of Fairbanks, Alaska, takes his team toward Nome at the official restart of the 40th Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Willow, Alaska March 4, 2012. Reuters/Wayde Carroll
  • The 2012 Iditarod winnder, Dallas Seavey
    Musher Dallas Seavey of Willow, Alaska, runs his dogs down Front Street to the finish line, winning the 40th annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Nome, Alaska March 13, 2012. Seavey, competing against both his father and grandfather, won the race on Tuesday, becoming the youngest musher crowned champion of the storied Alaska event. Reuters/Oscar Avellaneda-Cruz
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The Iditarod began its 41st running on Saturday at 10 a.m. local time, with its ceremonial first leg of 11 miles. Self-styled as The Last Great Race on Earth, Alaska’s annual sled-dog competition will cover 998 miles this year. It traditionally starts in Anchorage on the first Saturday in March and finishes when the last musher reaches Nome, which most likely will be around St. Patrick's Day.

Sixty-six mushers made it to the starting line from their homes in Brazil, Canada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Norway, and Russia, as well as the U.S. Sixteen of the mushers are women.

Among the mushers are Dallas Seavey, who became the Iditarod's youngest-ever champion at 25 last year. They also include John Baker, who holds the Iditarod record for the fastest time, as he covered the distance in 8 days, 18 hours, 46 minutes, and 39 seconds.

Meanwhile, most of the sled dogs on the mushers' teams are Siberian huskies. Each musher's team consists of between 12 and 16 sled dogs.

The Iditarod National Historical Trail runs across two mountain ranges, over the Yukon River, and along 150 miles of Norton Sound coastline.

The work of the mushers' supporters is being complemented by that of about 50 veterinarian volunteers who give all of the hundreds of dogs running the race quick checkups at its more than two dozen checkpoints, according to NPR.

The first 30 mushers to cross the finish line will split a purse of $550,000, with the champion winning a $50,400 check and a Dodge Ram pickup truck worth about $43,400, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

Despite unseasonably warm weather this year, race officials said there is plenty of snow on the trail, the Associated Press reported via the LaCrosse (Wis.) Tribune.

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