March 6, 2012 Day 3 Midday
Day 3 started with Aliy pushing into Nikolai. She arrived at 9:14 am AST in the first position. On the surface, she has been running a very different race than she has in the past. There seems to be speculation about her plan, going so far as calling her the "rabbit". I think it is important to remember two things about Aliy and how she runs any race.
She will always run the race that "her" dogs can run. What I mean by this is that she doesn't look at Hugh Neff, Lance Mackey or anyone else and say "he or she stayed at Rainy Pass for X amount of time, so I need to leave at that same amount of time." She plans a schedule based on what she thinks her team will be capable of doing, usually 3 different contingencies, and then runs that schedule, watching her dogs to pick what is best for them. I guarantee Aliy isn't trying to be in the lead at this point in the race, not that I think she is complaining! Her dogs and her schedule are allowing her to be at the front!
Secondly, she doesn't like to stay in checkpoints during the early part of a race and will choose to camp between checkpoints if that is the best schedule for her dogs. Staying in early checkpoints means staying with lots of other teams and people. They are loud and the dogs don't get as much rest as they could get out by themselves. If you watch any of the videos from the early checkpoints, it is hard to hear the announcers because of dogs barking, teams coming in and out, airplanes landing and snow machines (mobiles) zooming around. More quality rest means happier, healthier and faster dogs. Also, anytime there is a large group of dogs together, virus' and sicknesses begin to move through the teams. Aliy likes to limit the dogs exposure.
It is critical to have a strong dog team on the coast. Aliy will not jeopardize that by trying to stay in first place now. She will continue to run her dogs as they need to be run. It's a good sign that they are in the front pack, but it isn't critical for her to stay in first for her and the dogs to have a great race. And to win!