WASILLA — Dallas Seavey is back.
His record-setting victory in the 2021 Iditarod has been described as a triumphant return, and the veteran Talkeetna musher credited his success to his dog team.
“The dogs performed excellently. I’m pretty proud of those guys I tell ya what. They had a long training season… I knew I had a very strong team. I was really excited about racing the team going into it, but we really didn’t know how they would stack up against the competition,” Seavey said.
Seavey made a historic return to the race after a four-year hiatus, achieving his fifth championship in 7 days, 14 hours, 8 minutes, and 57 seconds. This aligns Seavey with the legendary musher Rick Swenson’s record of five total wins.
“Right off the bat, it seemed like we had a pretty strong lead in the race. They just kept doing their thing and getting stronger and stronger as we went. By the time we got to the finish line, they were three hours ahead of second place and could’ve easily turned around and done the whole dang thing over again. It was a pretty amazing thing to see,” Seavey said.
Seavey said that he focused a little more on conditioning with this year’s training. He said that he’s been developing new training programs that are focused on developing more durable and cardiovascularly strengthened dogs, all while maintaining their training to travel at the appropriate paces.
He said that he pushed that type of training a little longer before getting into Iditarod-specific training like getting them comfortable with the trail conditions and practicing their camping routines.
“I do think it’s very, very important to have a dog mentally comfortable on the Iditarod, where they are just familiar with and comfortable with the environment they’re racing in,” Seavey said.
Seavey’s overarching training philosophy revolves around the individualized journey to develop each dog to the best of its ability. He said it’s not about setting goals with arbitrary numbers or having a “pass or fail” mentality.
“This is really finger on the pulse. You push a little bit. You pull back a little bit. You take that feedback from the team and you constantly adjust based on that feedback,” Seavey said.
Seavey picked up some interesting observations over the years as he continues to refine and experiment with his training regimens and methodology. Since he works with each dog on a case by case basis, he’s discovered how to move his athletes to positions where they shine the most based on their unique personalities, abilities, and other dispositions.
“Make sure that the dog is training at the appropriate level because it’s not going to benefit them if it’s beyond their means… Allow for things to change… I think that’s a really important thing in mushing, is don’t pigeonhole the dog. Just keep your eyes open and see what they are,” Seavey said.
Seavey said that he really enjoys the trial and error process and improving his training techniques. He established an indoor training facility with treadmills and internal refrigeration to extend the training season with a cool, controlled environment during the hot summer months. He noted that he didn’t use the facility this year, and that doesn’t make or break their overall training experience.
“It’s an awesome asset... but it’s not imperative,” Seavey said. “The net result is paying off… It’s been said in other ways by mushers for years and years, it’s who gets the most mushes right.”
The 2021 racecourse, referred to as the 2021 Gold Trail Loop, underwent an unprecedented change to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The race started and finished at Deshka Landing instead of starting from Willow and finishing in Nome.
“This year’s Iditarod challenges with the different trails, the different challenges. I really liked that. I don’t that it being shorter helped me any… It forced me to race differently, but I enjoyed that,” Seavey said. “Obviously it’s unfortunate with the COVID situation, that things had to be changed, but I’m glad that I got to be a part of that different race. I would have been really bummed if missed this unique one.”
The 2021 Iditarod was Seavey’s 12th race total, but this is his first time back since 2017, following a public scandal that led him to take a break from the event entirely. During Seavey’s break from the Iditarod, he raced in Norway.
“Because I was racing over there, I was focusing on training differently. That gets ya thinking and I was just kind of exciting this year to change it up a little bit and keep adapting and adjusting and I think it really did do this dog team well. I had a lot of very young dogs that did phenomenally well on the race,” Seavey said.
Seavey said that he was ready to come back to the Iditarod and the timing just felt right.
“The Iditarod will always be the one I grew up on and excited about. My grandpa ran the first one. My dad was racing every year. There’s no substitute for the Iditarod… To get back to it was fun. It was great to get away from honestly. It was nice to have a break,” Seavey said. “I’m really excited about the direction the Iditarod is going… The Iditarod had some tough years and I’m glad to see things back on track. I feel like it is an event that I can promote and endorse wholeheartedly now. Obviously, I wasn’t there for a number of years because I didn’t feel that I could. I didn’t feel like that was something that I really could get behind. I said that back then and I think that’s true then, and now I want to see this thing thrive, and I can get behind these people. I think they’re doing the right things for the right reasons.”
On top of his historic first-place victory, Seavey was the first musher at several checkpoints and received numerous awards over the course of the race, including the Alaska Air Transit Spirit of Alaska Award, The Lakefront Anchorage First Musher to the Yukon Award, Ryan Air Gold Coast Award, and Northrim Bank Achieve More Award.
“It’s pretty cool. I put my life into this thing. I try to do the best of my ability… This is my career. I think it is rewarding to be successful in that… I do this because I enjoy training dogs. I enjoy getting better at it,” Seavey said. “As far as really dwelling on them, that’ll happen when I’m too old to actually compete anymore. When I’m 95 years old hanging out on the couch, then I can tell the great-grandkids who I used to be right?” Seavey said with a laugh. “But in the meantime, as far as next year’s concerned, it doesn’t make much difference. It’s still a clean slate when we start next year. The dogs don’t care. The trail doesn’t care. The weather doesn’t care. Nobody cares what you did last year. The question is, ‘what’s the dog team you’ve got this year?’ So, we’re gonna focus on that.”
Contact Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman reporter Jacob Mann at firstname.lastname@example.org