Denali Park musher Jeff King never stopped looking over his shoulder during this year's Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race, though his nearest competitors were nowhere in sight.
King won the T-200 on Sunday, finishing 37 minutes ahead of runner-up and defending champion Cim Smyth of Big Lake.
"The field was loaded and I just brought the right team for the conditions," King said. "Cim and Ramey Smyth have passed me so many times in the last stretch of some race that I just assumed he was going to gain on me any minute."
King said Smyth's reputation, as well as that of third-place finisher DeeDee Jonrowe of Willow, kept him pushing his team hard. Jonrowe finished 57 minutes behind King.
While King didn't see his competitors often, he said of Smyth, "I know him well, and I was sure the pedal was to the metal."
King, who also won this year's Copper Basin 300, said conditions were speedy.
"I don't think I've ever gone that fast before," he said.
The four-time champion of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race said he picked the perfect team for the conditions.
"I'm not sure that I left a single dog at home that could have done what we did," King said. "It's just faster than we normally go, and not all the dogs can do it."
King dropped one dog halfway through the race, and two in the second half.
"They would have made it but I could go faster without them," he said.
For Smyth, the race was a different story.
Smyth said he was disappointed he couldn't repeat his feat from last year, when he edged out the 2008 T-200 winner and three-time Iditarod champ Lance Mackey by just a minute and a half.
Smyth said his training didn't match the conditions he encountered on Sunday.
"I haven't been training real fast, so they're not used to running that fast lately," Smyth said.
His team ran hard through the first half of the race, he said, but as the mileage wore on, the team's conditioning showed.
"Today it was telling on them, the fact that we haven't been training at that speed," he said.
He was also complimentary of the strength of King's team.
"I think had my team been as strong as it was last year we would have been giving him a run for it," he said.
Smyth ultimately dropped seven dogs, half his team, sapping the group of the power needed to keep up.
"I just ran out of distance and ran out of dog," Smyth said, laughing.
Smyth said he was considering racing the Denali Doubles, an event where two mushers run one team together, from Cantwell to Paxson and back.
The mid-February race is being organized by King, who won't compete in it.
The two will have a chance for a rematch this season at the Iditarod.
Top 10 finishers T-200
1. Jeff King
2. Cim Smyth
3. DeeDee Jonrowe
4. Micah Degerlund
5. Scott Smith
6. Lance Mackey
7. Zack Steer
8. Ramey Smyth
9. Jim Lanier
10. Ryan Redington
Top 10 finishers T-100
1. Paul Gebhardt
2. Colleen Robertia
3. Joseph Robertia
4. Daryl Gruet
5. Gary Van Loo
6. Merrisa Osmar
7. Charlie Allison
8. Jason Cameron
9. Jamie Kinszer
10. Jane Faulkner
Top 6 finishers Jr. T race (only 6 competed)
1. Rebekah Ruzicka
2. Guillermo Anton
3. Alea Robinson
4. Michael Stitt
5. Nathaniel Stitt
6. Palakiiya Rogers
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