Armchair Musher: A Guide to Trackleaders

Sunday, February 3, 2019

2-3-2019 5:00 PM

Well it is only day 2, fairly positive the race has not been won yet, and there is plenty of time and trail to shake things up. But I have to say that Hans is posting some great times with his team.  If I am correct he now has the fastest time on record for the run from Whitehorse to Braeburn, beating Jeff King's 2015, time of 9:26.  Jeff would end up scratching that year. And then he tied Brent's 2015 record time of 7:24 running to Pelly. A strong start like that bodes well, but as I said there is plenty of time for things to change, and there are some strong experienced teams coming right behind him.  Now I am “old school” Dan started racing the Quest years before spot trackers. Back when groups of handlers and officials still huddled together outside in the cold waiting for a sign of a dogs or headlight in the distance.  And the common knowledge was that the real race didn’t start till Dawson.

Back then teams would leave checkpoints and disappear into the void only to appear again at the next checkpoint.  Things would happen out there that we wouldn’t even know about until mushers came in and told their stories. Leaving Pelly was one of those areas, but now with trackers we can locate anyone.  The problem is they are just a blip, and a single location never tells the real story. It is not that I am anti-tracker, quite the opposite. But I think I may look at them differently than some people.  Knowing someone’s location is great, but then what? Well if you are me you start looking at how they got there. And there are 2 really cool ways to do that other watching the replay on the map. And for folks like me who are better visual then mathematical learners they can be a real help in understanding what is going on. 

First you might want download the Yukon Quest Distance Chart, to get familiar with the distances between known points, but please remember distances are approximations as every year the trail is slightly different to accommodate different conditions. They also have good maps on the website. Then as you watch the race you will know there are a few traditional stops on that run. Why is this important? Cause when you see your team stopped and wonder why, you can look at trail information and find out if they are stopped at a known location or camping on the trail. Both of which can play into a successful race strategy. 

Then you can click on the musher’s individual history (click on their name in the mushers list on the main tracker page) for more detailed information. Along with listing the most recent spot posts you will also find 2 graphical representation of that musher’s history. In addition to a speed plot there is a very helpful speed over time plot. Now for non-data savvy folks like myself let me give you a crash course in what you are looking at….

The speed over time plot is a great indication of how a run is going for a musher. You are looking for a steady average speed line while the team travels. Little abnormalities are normal; we are dealing with dog teams not machines. But in general you want to see a nice even average moving speed. You can also see where the line is at zero, and that is the time teams spend resting. Short stops appear where the team will drop to 0 MPH for a quick stop. These are often snack breaks, or a quick stop where mushers check booties or adjust things quickly. Sometimes the average speed will seem to be getting much faster for a period, or much slower and the average line slowly declines. That is where you go back and look at you map and see is the team on a steep incline, an obvious reason for a declining speed. Or are there other geographical features that might be impacting team. Are there weather reports in that area that might affect the speed of a team? Did other teams show the same pattern?  If everyone seems to be having a similar change at the same place in my mind I think, wow maybe something is going on with the trail there. If only one person shows an extreme change in a specific place I tend to think it is team specific. But again these are just my own personal observation and guesses. All of this goes into consideration in my mind as I watch the trackers. 

Over the course of the race you can watch this graph and see patterns emerge. Mushers call them run/rest schedule. The balancing act of run to rest is how mushers manage their teams to best performance possible. And that is going to be different for each team, based on how they trained and what that mushers goals are. Because let us all remember there is one champion, but everyone out there has personal goals for this race, and that is important too.

The other super valuable tool is the Race Flow Chart, and here I am going to point you in the direction of my good friend and one of the smartest people I know, Melinda at Mushing Tech. She created this great little video reviewing the race flow chart, and has done a much better job than I would. Watch the Mushing Tech Video Here.

I honestly believe that the more you learn about the trackers and how to read them the better you will enjoy following the race.  What is going on out there is far more interesting the that single blip on the map, and by playing with the Trackleaders tools and trail information you can get a more complete picture of what is going on out there on the long dark cold trail. And while we are at it, lets all give a shout out to our friends Matthew and Scott at Trackleaders for all their efforts behind the scenes to make tracking teams possible, Thanks, guys!!

** Currently records for past races includes data from  2000 to today so we are working with the data we have available to make these observations.

Mush Love


Jodi Bailey