Going into his third Iditarod sled dog race, Golva native Kelly Maixner can be considered a veteran.
He and his team ran the southern route in his rookie outing, finishing in 30th place, about the middle of the pack.
Last year was a tougher race for the 37-year-old pediatric dentist now living in Big Lake, Alaska.
His team of dogs was more seasoned than the yearlings and 2-year-olds in his first campaign but the injury bug hit his Mad Stork Kennel team hard. Even so, he still managed to finish in 32rd place.
This year’s race which begins March 2 with the ceremonial start in Anchorage will again follow the southern route, a 993-mile race.
Maixner moved to Alaska in 2007 to do his residency and fell in love with the musher lifestyle immediately.
He started his kennel with two bred female Alaskan huskies and has grown the kennel to about 60 dogs.
Maixner’s support team also has grown since then. He married his wife, Margaret, in 2009 and their first child, Rosemary was born in late 2011. They are expecting their second child in June, a boy.
There are 69 mushers listed on the official Iditarod website. Two rookies have withdrawn from the race and Maixner is wearing jersey number 12.
He is the only North Dakotan in the race. Bismarck native Heather Siirtola, who sat out last year, is not listed on the roster for the 2013 Iditarod.
In a phone interview Friday, Maixner said he was on his way to a “short” 200-mile race, only his second this season.
So far, he said there hadn’t been a lot of snow in Alaska and that has forced him to change his training regiment.
“Instead of running out of the yard, I’ve just had to go other places,” he said. On weekends, Thursday through Sunday, he loads up about 20 dogs and heads out to where the snow is.
“It just takes more time.”
Having run both the north and south routes in his first two races, Maixner said there isn’t a whole lot of difference.
Alaska has been getting more snow in the past week or so and he said during a recent visit, the race director said the first half of the trail is in good shape snow-wise and the rest is OK.
Maixner is running the same dogs he had three years ago, but now they are more mature and are coming into their own.
He said a prime dog is 4-5 years old and his team is 3-[4 years old now.
“They are just coming into their prime now,” he said. “And they look really good.”
A new sponsor for his team, a local meat market, and work with a veterinarian has changed the team’s diet since last year.
During the hunting season, he said his dogs were getting 200 pounds of fresh meat and fish a day, prime protein and with the supplements, the dogs have responded, he said.
His training schedule has changed somewhat, too. During the week he runs what he calls a maintenance schedule when they work on some of the basics.
Weekends, however, he says they hit it hard. “It’s a lot more intense,” he said. The last two years, Maixner would run his team six hours on and five hours off.
This year he changed to eight hours on and six off. It seems to be paying off, at least in his first race, the Northern Lights 300 where he finished fourth out of 30 teams.
“I was holding them back, pacing them,” he said. He said most mushers run between 10-12 mph and he likes to keep the pace around 9 mph.
Last year, although he finished 32nd, he was in the top 17 when he checked into the final stop where an 8-hour layover was mandatory.
“I had already rested 15-20 hours longer than I had wanted to,” he said. That was a result of a lot of injuries on the trail.
His goal this year is to finish in the top 20 — or better.
“That should be pretty realistic, especially with this group of dogs.”
And, as his team has grown, so has his fan base. “It’s amazing,” Maixner said. “Every year there seems to be more and more support.”
Maixner said he has high hopes for the 2013 Iditarod and for this group of dogs.
Last year he had to push to find 14 dogs he was confident with. Mushers must have at least 12 and no more than 16 dogs to start the race.
They must have at least six dogs to finish and no dogs can be added during the race.
Maixner says he likes his chances. “I have 20 dogs I could take out now and be comfortable with,” he said. “These are solid dogs.”
You can check out Maixner’s Mad Stork Kennel on Facebook: www.facebook.com/madstork.kennel?fref=ts.