Only 15 runners have ever covered the entire Iditarod Trail during the winter. Only three more than have been to the Moon, and orders of magnitude fewer than have summited Everest.
Which, along with an unusually snowy and cold winter, might help explain why I did not complete it on my first attempt! I stopped at mile 600, after crossing the finish line of the 400-mile event in third place, in McGrath. Only two people continued beyond McGrath. We both stopped in Ruby, on the Yukon River. Deep snow made progress very slow and required death march after death march, mostly in the dark. Lots of competitors suffered severe frostbite to their hands, feet, and nose; most dropped before mile 200.
I had to reframe the concept of ‘race’. This is more of a journey, lined up with fascinating places and people. Any preexisting idea of what a town is or how it functions was blown away time after time as I slowly moved West and North. Larger-than-life individuals met me in those towns and gave me a glimpse of their originality.
Mental game was key, even as fatigue took a terrible toll day after day. The Iditarod Trail threw mental challenge after mental challenge at me, and I discovered that my game was barely up to par; and I had to develop new tools and responses on the go. Although I never felt my life was in danger, I was working hard to adapt to the situation. As a result, my catalog of mental game tools and my understanding of the mental game increased dramatically.