By Karen Fanning

It's called the Last Great Race. But to the world’s top mushers, the Iditarod sometimes feels more grueling than great. On Saturday, March 5, 79 brave souls will begin a 1,150-mile odyssey across Alaska's frozen wilderness that will test their strength—and their will.

This year, mushers will lead their dog teams along the Iditarod's southern route, a twisted trail that begins in Anchorage and ends in Nome. Because there is not enough snow to pack a solid trail base at the start of the race, the first leg of the Iditarod has been shortened by 9 miles. Sunday’s restart has also been relocated from Wasilla to Willow Lake, due to poor weather conditions.

To complete the race, each dog team must endure an obstacle course of rugged mountain ranges and dense forest, not to mention frigid temperatures.

The past nine Iditarod champions have conquered the course in just 8 or 9 days. But on average, it takes dog teams 10 to 17 days to finish the race.

Over the past three decades, the Iditarod has become legendary around the world. It is the pride of Alaska and its people, who turn out in droves every year to cheer on racers. This year, as in every year, crowds will be waiting in Nome. Every time a musher gets to within 5 miles of the finish line, a siren will ring and residents will pour out onto Front Street to greet their heroes and celebrate their remarkable feat.

Of this year's 79 mushers, 28 are rookies, including Dallas Seavey, who will become the youngest musher ever to run the Iditarod. Running the race is a family tradition for the Seaveys—Dallas' grandfather, father, and two older brothers are all Iditarod veterans.

With less than a week until race day, Dallas has no illusions about unseating last year’s champ, who just so happens to be his dad, Mitch. Instead, his ambitions are much more humble.

“For this year, my goal is to cross the finish line with as many dogs as possible, regardless of placing,” says the 18-year-old from Seward, Alaska.