Paul Gebhardt is dog tired.
That's to be expected, considering he ran the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in the fourth fastest time ever -- 9 days, 6 hours, 4 minutes and 23 seconds, to be exact.
Only three-time winners Doug Swingley and Jeff King have posted faster times into Nome.
"I had fun," Gebhardt said of this year's race. "I thought the dogs did great."
The Kasilof musher led the pack for the first half of the race until he took his 24-hour rest in Takotna. After that, all the mushers were chasing Swingley, who finished 5 1/2 hours before Gebhardt to claim his second straight Iditarod crown. Gebhardt said being in the lead was a novel experience.
"I had never been in the lead," he said. "It was a real uplifting-type feeling. There's a whole different feeling when you're at the front of this race."
Even after losing the lead to Swingley, Gebhardt said he did not lose any faith that he might retake the top spot.
"We never fell far behind," he said. "We just couldn't quite catch him."
At the end of the race, Swingley told reporters he never considered Gebhardt a threat, which upset the second-place finisher.
"It was a touch of arrogance on his part," Gebhardt said. "It upsets a guy. The best way to shut a guy like that up is to beat him. That's my plan for next year."
Gebhardt said he thinks full-time mushers, like Swingley, have a bit of an advantage, but part-timers like himself can overcome the difference.
"I think it's very possible," he said. "I plan on proving it someday."
Gebhardt said he will run most of this year's team in the Iditarod again next year.
"For them to finish happy and healthy, it's got to be a big confidence builder for them."
Gebhardt, who has improved his finish in each of the five Iditarods he has run, said he wants to continue to get better -- in both overall time and finish place.
"My goal is still to improve," he said. "My goal is to win this thing."
But winning is not the only thing Gebhardt values. He said he is concerned more with his dogs' well-being -- sentiment borne out of his earning this year's Golden Harness award, which is decided by a vote of competing mushers and usually goes to the lead dog of the winning team.
"If I have to win with a tired team, I don't want to (win)," he said. "I believe you can win this thing with a really happy, upbeat team."
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