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Mushing in mush

By Heather Hintze 10:50 PM January 19, 2014

The warm, sloppy conditions make Iditarod training challenging.

WASILLA - Sled dogs are born to run, rain or shine.

With the Iditarod less than two months away, Scott Janssen’s dogs need all the training they can get to take on the thousand-mile trek.

“The full run is probably going to be about 45 miles today,” Janssen said.

January’s unusually warm temperatures aren’t making it easy though.

“It’s a little bit more work when it’s warmer like this for both the humans and the dogs,” Janssen said. “But it’s important that they’re able to get out and run. They’ve got a big marathon coming up in March, and we’ve got to keep them in fine physical shape.”

The dogs and sled run best when it’s well below freezing, not the 42 degrees it was on Saturday.

“Personally I’d much rather have it ten below,” he said.

He’s had to make some adjustments like shorter runs and revamping his sled.

“With this kind of snow I don’t want the dogs to go too fast so that’s why I’ve got the wrong runner plastic on to make sure that there’s more resistance for them going down the trail,” he explained.

His handler, Iditarod veteran Anna Berington, traded a sled for a snowmachine. The extra weight allows her to run more dogs without losing control of the line.

While the rain and sleet weren’t ideal, she said the dogs didn’t seem to mind.

“It’s not fun conditions, but they’re obviously excited and happy to still be out here so it’s hard to not still have fun even though it’s raining and nasty,” Berington said.

For now they’ll have to make the most of the mushy mushing because Mother Nature will have a lot more in store on the journey to Nome.

“Throughout Iditarod we’ve seen a lot of different trail conditions and weather,” Berington said. “The more stuff you expose yourself to in training the more prepared you’ll be when you encounter that on the trail.”

Janssen said his dogs need the extreme cold and snow to really train their best. If the warm weather continues any longer, he said, he’ll likely make his way north to find better conditions.

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