Norwegian musher takes lead in Iditarod as finish nears

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© Anchorage Daily News

Richie Diehl arrives in Ruby, Alaska, Friday morning, March 13, 2020, during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. (Loren Holmes/Anchorage Daily News via AP)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Deep snow is slowing down mushers in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, but the leader has a secret for dealing with the difficult conditions.

“I’ve been training with 120 pounds of concrete and all the gear in the sled,” Thomas Waerner, 46, told a camera crew from the Iditarod Insider as he was preparing his sled to leave a checkpoint outside the Alaska community of Kaltag late Saturday.

“That’s perfect for these kind of conditions,” he said.

Waerner, a native of England living in Norway, was first to arrive at the next checkpoint — Unalakleet — on Sunday. He rested his dogs nearly five hours before leaving the checkpoint.

He said he's not worried about other mushers or making a mistake in the world’s most famous sled dog race.

“I feel I just will continue what I’m doing, and that’s driving the team, looking at them and keeping my eye on the mental part of it,” Waerner said, adding that his dogs have been upbeat since the race started a week ago.

“The physical, I don’t have to worry about it, but when I see them going down mentally, that’s when you have to rest,” he said. “But they haven’t been down yet, so I’ve been lucky.”

The checkpoint in Kaltag is normally at a community hall, but this year it was set up outside the village of about 235 people, 629 miles (1,012 kilometers) miles into the nearly 1,000-mile (1,609-kilometer) race across Alaska.