Big Lake musher Cim Smyth has reclaimed his title as winner of the Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race as the event returned from a three-year drought.
Smyth beat out 20 other sled dog teams — the race started with 23, but two scratched — to claim his fourth T200 championship Sunday in Kasilof, crossing the finish line just three minutes ahead of Nicolas Petit after the pair were neck and neck for several miles. Smyth said he pulled ahead and kept the lead for about the last 11 miles, though, and finished first in 26 hours and 3 minutes.
“It was fun, but stressful,” he said. “This is probably one of the tighter ones I’ve had, even though all of my wins … here … the three previous ones, I passed the second-place guy within 20 miles (of the end).”
Petit, who moved to Alaska from France in 1992 and has raced in every Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race since 2011, came in second in this weekend’s 200-mile race through the Caribou Hills after 26 hours and 6 minutes. Smyth said the race was close in part because Petit’s team was so strong.
“I think I had some advantages — being able to run a little better,” Smyth said. “My footwear were more suited to running behind a sled, and my sled doesn’t have a seat on it, so you can run a little more square. So I had that advantage and it’s kind of one of my talents, I guess, to be able to push at the end.”
“If there’s one person in the world you don’t want behind you with a seven-minute difference 50 miles from the finish line, it’s that guy or his brother,” Petit said jokingly of Smyth.
T200 newcomer Dave Turner, from Fairbanks, finished third in 26 hours and 48 minutes, and Mitch Seavey, who won both the T200 and the Iditarod in 2013, came in fourth at 26 hours and 50 minutes.
Race Director Tami Murray said some falling snow up in the hills over Friday and Saturday helped improve race conditions. The warm weather that hit the peninsula in the week leading up to the event also didn’t hurt, she said.
The only trail hazard this year was that Deep Creek got a little high, Murray said, but the mushers got through it.
“The water got a little bit high, and there’s one bridge that they had to negotiate,” she said. “Some of the seasoned mushers went right through it. Some of the not-so-seasoned had some issues, but coming back (there was a) different way of approaching it and they had no problem at all.”
The lead mushers crossing the finish line Sunday said the hills were tough but that their teams handled them well. Turner, who moved to Fairbanks from Oregon over the summer, said he has been hearing about the notorious Caribou Hills for years from friends who live in the area.
“I’ve heard about the T200 for years, ever since I got into dog sledding, so I was excited to sign up in late fall,” he said.
Turner is in his 13th season of racing sled dogs, but said races his teams have done in the Lower 48 are organized differently and didn’t include overnight checkpoints.
“What we used to do was travel all over North America and we’d do stage racing and long sprints,” he said. “These dogs, this is their first year doing any sort of camping. They’re used to finishing runs, being let loose, run around, get in the truck, eat some food, get back out.”
Turner said his dogs did well and that he had been hoping to place in the top five.
Seavey, too, said he was pleased with his team’s performance.
“I couldn’t believe they would go that fast, because we’re an old slow Iditarod team, you know?” he said. “This is kind of like a marathon runner doing a 5K, so we didn’t really have expectations on this kind of trail.”
When Seavey won the T200 the last time it was put on in 2013, he said it was a slow race. He described his dogs at vet checks on Friday as being more about power pulling than speed.
“They just flew,” Seavey said after crossing the finish line. “But I was trying to keep them slowed down because we’re trying to keep some semblance of law and order. I’ve trained a speed limit into them, and we completely blew that out of the water all yesterday and today. But I’m super happy with them.”
Petit, who ran in the T200 for the first time the last time it was held, said his dogs did great as well.
“I couldn’t ask for a better dog team really,” he said.
This was Petit’s first time finishing the T200, and he said he was excited to come back to the race.
“We have had an excellent race,” Murray said. “Tons of volunteers, some great mushers that came out. They all loved the trail. Our trail guys did a wonderful job — took advantage of that good weather and all that good snow.”
Murray said a few hundred people came out to the race’s start on Saturday and that she has been getting positive feedback.
“It’s one of the best races around,” Smyth said. “This race is always well organized, always has a good trail, it’s always well-marked. People are really friendly here, and it’s just a good place to come.”
“I’m so happy for the community and for the race organization to be able to have that again,” Seavey said.
Reach Megan Pacer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Cim Smyth, 26 hours, 3 minutes
2. Nicolas Petit, 26 hours, 6 minutes
3. Dave Turner, 26 hours, 48 minutes
4. Mitch Seavey, 26 hours, 50 minutes
5. Joar Leifseth Ulsom, 27 hours, 58 minutes
6. Noah Burmeister, 28 hours, 2 minutes
7. Wade Marrs, 28 hours, 3 minutes
8. Ray Redington, 28 hours, 12 minutes
9. Monica Zappa, 28 hours, 15 minutes
10. Tim Osmar, 28 hours, 21 minutes
11. Paul Gebhardt, 28 hours, 43 minutes
12. Anna Berington, 29 hours, 9 minutes
13. Dean Osmar, 30 hours, 24 minutes
14. Sean Underwood, 32 hours, 55 minutes
15. Emily Thiem, 34 hours, 45 minutes
16. Kristin Bacon, 35 hours, 7 minutes
17. Tara Cicatello, 35 hours, 15 minutes
18. Cindy Abbott, 40 hours, 21 minutes
19. Jacob Vallee, 40 hours, 23 minutes
20. Gary Young, 41 hours, 15 minutes