GOLDEN HARNESS AWARD WINNER — Seavey showed some love to Golden Harness winner Aero, one of the lead dogs that got him to Nome.BOOTS MADE FOR MUSHING — Dallas Seavey showed off the prototype pair of lightweight mushing boots he’s been perfecting at the Nome Mini Convention center shortly after he finished the race on March 12.

Inside the mind of an Iditarod champion: Dallas Seavey reflects on his historic win

Immediately after his arrival in Nome last week, Iditarod champion Dallas Seavey walked to the Mini Convention Center for a press conference so that reporters and fans could gain insight about what it takes to win the 1,000-mile sled dog race six times.
 One media member commented that it was impossible to get into the mind of Dallas Seavey, to which Seavey quickly joked, “It’s a very small place.”
He was being modest. For over an hour, he discussed his analytical, strategic approach to running the Iditarod while he rubbed ointment on the cold-cracked skin of his sore hands, drank a glass of champagne and scarfed down a hamburger.
In his characteristic competitive spirit, Seavey said that not finishing the race never felt like an option for him, even as his team faced challenges like a dangerous moose encounter. But going into this year, Seavey said he was reminded of winning his first Iditarod in 2012, at age 25, in that he wasn’t entirely confident he had the best dog team on the trail.
This year, he started the race with 16 dogs, some of which hadn’t made his team the last several years and instead were doing tours at his kennel in Talkeetna or running with puppy teams. He had other dogs retire. He didn’t have any new-recruit 3-year-olds coming into the team. Then, early in the training season, Seavey experienced a tragic accident that decimated his team. A snowmachiner hit one of his kennel’s teams on the Denali Highway. Two dogs were killed, and three were severely injured. Seavey was able to tap six dogs from his father, three-time Iditarod champion Mitch Seavey, who runs a kennel in Seward. And though they were talented dogs, they weren’t dogs he had worked with since they were puppies.
But the team surprised him on the trail. Seavey gave the example of Frank, who he says has a lot of “personality quirks.” 
“He’s not the hardest worker, he gets down the trail, he has fights with everybody except his sister, who he runs perfectly with,” Seavey said. “Because of all those issues, he kind of gets passed over a lot of times. We didn’t have the choice to pass over him this year.”
Instead, Seavey had to reframe his thinking, and ask questions like, “How do I help Frank be the best version of himself today?” That became especially true early in the race when Frank’s sister, Faloo, got stomped by the moose outside of Skwentna and had to receive medical care after the incident. This meant Seavey had to work with Frank without his sister to run next to. He paired Frank with another dog, Timon, and they are now “more or less friends, when supervised.”
He was also surprised by Aero, one of his father’s dogs, who had an impressive performance in lead position this year, despite being a “happy goofball.”
Seavey made history as the only musher to win the race six times, but he said he wouldn’t dwell much on what that means.
“I’m more of a doer,” Seavey said. “I’m a builder. I like creating things. I like creating dog teams. I like bringing them together as a team, and having a puzzle to solve, which is the Iditarod. How do we do this best? How do we do this better? How do we improve? What can we learn? I’ve learned a lot from races that we’ve done well on, and I’ve learned even more from races we’ve done poorly on. So, there’s always an opportunity to learn and grow and adapt. And that’s what keeps us coming back each year.”
One of Seavey’s creations that got him to Nome was a lightweight carbon fiber sled that he finished building just before the race and only got to test out on a three-mile loop.
“We reduced weight by about 12 to 14 pounds,” Seavey said.
He also wore a mismatched pair of lightweight boots he’s designed, one prototype 3 and the other prototype 4. (He didn’t have time to make a second prototype 4.) The boots combined Norwegian felted wool and replaceable, moisture-absorbing inserts made from a beach towel. He said he was seeking the expertise of electrical engineers for his next mushing innovation.
Impressed that his son was able to hold such an articulate and coherent press conference, Mitch Seavey revealed another one of Dallas’s “superpowers”: He’s able to sleep, even in just 20-minute increments, on the floor or gyms and other less-than-ideal conditions on the trail.
Seavey acknowledged the benefits of growing up with sled dogs in a legacy mushing family. Not only is he the son a former champion, his grandfather, Dan Seavey, helped organize and ran the first Iditarod.
“There has to be some value or advantage to being able to knowledge-share, too, when you think about things that are in my brain that are there because my grandpa was mushing in the 60s,” Seavey said. “That’s a pretty big advantage over somebody who got a job handling somewhere at 30, and now they’re 40 and are running their first Iditarod.”
Seavey said he keeps coming back to the race because it involves strategy, game theory and brains. He is also drawn to the brawny side of the competition—the challenge to perform in the worst weather. But ultimately the relationship with dogs is what drives his passion as a musher.
“The heart and soul of this sport is sled dogs, it’s spending your life with sled dogs, it’s understanding sled dogs to such an infinite level that you can go do something really amazing with them and accomplish big tasks with them and goals with them.”
And that understanding of dogs directly feeds into his race strategy. Seavey said his mind is naturally and constantly in problem-solving mode, and he comes up with solutions by first trying to figure out if he’s asking the right questions.
“A lot of times we come up with solutions for problems or situations, but we’re not asking the right question,” he said. “For example, if you are in Ruby, and you’re two or three hours behind the lead pack, and you’re saying, ‘How do I catch up with these guys? What can I do? What moves can I play?’ You will come up with a solution, and it will probably answer that question.”
But stepping back in that scenario to ask the principal question, “What do my dogs need?” would provide a different answer, he said, one that might force you to think about how to use the next stretch of the Yukon River to rebuild your team.
“Your plan just changed dramatically by asking the right question,” Seavey said.
For as analytical and driven as Seavey comes off, he also said he often had to shut off his problem-solving mode so that he wouldn’t fixate on little things. On the trail this year he would distract himself by making up songs or inventing funny scenarios between him and the other mushers. He had Mungo Jerry’s “In the Summertime” stuck in his head for much of the race, an ironic earworm while facing temperatures of -47°F.
“Sometimes you just need to make it down the trail and not think about anything serious.”

 

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