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The drive behind human-powered Iditarod champion Herman Watson

Herman Watson
Posted at 7:30 PM, Apr 02, 2023

BOZEMAN — Imagine trekking through hundreds of miles in one of the coldest environments in the world. For Bozeman’s own, Herman Watson, that’s what he has to endure as a human-powered Iditarod champion.

“The first day it was 20 degrees; it got down to minus-40 that night," Watson explained. "35% of the field finished, the other 65% dropped or had to get medically evacuated. So you find this deep, almost primitive, primal connection with what it means to move or survive.”

Watson’s describing the 350-mile human Idatirod through Anchorage, Alaska. He qualified for it just over one month after setting a 16-hour course record for a 200 kilometer footrace in Idaho dubbed the "Fat Pursuit." The turnaround was anything but easy.

“I got up there, and I was stoked," he recalled. "I was like this is great. I’m going to have so much fun competing with everyone, but then I started jogging that first day and I was like I feel like trash. My knees hurt and my fitness isn’t here, and that’s when I flipped the switch, and was like everyone feels like trash. And I was like, 'I can do that better,' and then I was like okay, I can, so prove it to myself.”

Training for these races is a battle in and of itself, but he had an advantage. Living in Bozeman, just under 2,600 miles from Anchorage, he not only had an easier time getting there than some of his international competition. But also, he could train in an environment similar to one he endured throughout the Iditarod.

“I felt like it was a homefield advantage," he said. "Bozeman had some of its coldest weather in a long time this winter, so when it was minus 35 this winter, I was like I’m just going to sleep in Highlight now and see how that feels.”

Describing the endurance as uncomfortable is putting it lightly, they are getting barely any rest and at the point of hallucination. But sometimes they need to take a break.

“That was my plan, to move and only rest when its absolutely necessary, and by that I mean I’m falling asleep as I’m walking," he explained. "And if I’m falling as asleep as I’m walking and falling off the trail and kind of need to stop. And the reason I stop was because I’ll move faster once I’ve reset.”

But his story doesn't stop here, his goals are much bigger than what he just endured.

“[I want to complete] the longest, coldest race in the world, and the longest, hottest race in the world, so I want to do the Iditarod 1000 in March of next year, and then the Badwater 195 in July in Death Valley," he said.

If you’re wondering why Watson keeps going through something so tough, it's in his DNA. His philosophy runs much deeper than the race.

“It’s like I’ve finally connected to something I was designed to do which is endure. So I guess that’s my why. It allows me to be what I perceive to be, uniquely human,” he said.