FORT KENT, Maine — With the third-fastest run time in the event’s 18-year history, Matt Carstens made it back-to-back wins as he successfully defending his Irving Woodlands Can-Am Crown 250 sled dog title, finishing at 3:15 a.m. Monday.

Carstens, from Whitefield, N.H., covered the grueling course in 26 hours, 3 minutes, 30 seconds, a full 15 minutes ahead of second-place finisher Ryan Anderson of Ray, Minn.

Nathan Schroeder of Chisholm, Minn., took third with a time of 26:53:10.

This was Carstens’ third Can-Am win — he took first place in 2006 — in seven appearances. He joins fellow Can-Am mushers Don Hibbs of Millinocket, Bruce Langmaid of Blackstock, Ontario, and Andre Nadeau of Quebec as the only back-to-back 250 winners.

Hibbs finished this year’s race in 11th place with a time of 32:48:40.

“What a wild ride,” Carstens said moments after crossing the finish line at Fort Kent’s Lonesome Pine Ski Lodge. “That last section of trail was hard and fast [and] we even went ‘mudding’ for awhile in that clear cut four miles out.”

Carstens’ race strategy began at the first checkpoint in Portage where he rested his team a full hour and a half longer than Anderson or Schroeder.

“I knew the reputations of Ryan and Nathan and saw how they rested their dogs,” Carstens said. “But I also wanted to make sure I didn’t get too far behind them.”

Staying put at Portage, Carstens said, while watching a half-dozen teams leave before him was a huge mental challenge.

“But I got a chance to see them leave, how they were running and judge their performances,” he said. “At Rocky Brook [checkpoint two] the teams were all lying down and they got to watch me leave.”

Even with leaving that checkpoint early, Carstens said his lead over Anderson was a mere five minutes as he arrived at the third checkpoint in Maibec.

“That was not a very comfortable feeling,” he said. “Not long after that Ryan caught me but I was able to stay with him.”

By the time the two mushers and their teams reached the final checkpoint in Allagash, Carstens trailed Anderson by three minutes.

“One or two hours out of Allagash coming to Fort Kent we hit three miles of plowed road and I passed Ryan,” Carstens said. “I never looked back.”

Carstens’ 2010 win bests his 2009 time by a full hour.

“That back-to-back win was something I really wanted bad,” he said. “To have had the opportunity to beat guys like Ryan and Nathan makes it extra special.”

Carstens noted Schroeder is the 2010 John Beargrease Marathon champion while Anderson had won every race he entered this year.

This year’s Can-Am took place under unseasonably warm conditions with temperatures reaching up to 50 degrees during the day.

“To win this race under these conditions and with the trail they have you really have to want it bad,” Carstens said. “You need a lot of perseverance and if you don’t have that the trail will just beat you up.”

For his part, Anderson offered congratulations to Carstens after his arrival in Fort Kent.

“Matt had a better day than I did today,” Anderson said. “It was a good race and a tough race.”

Carstens’ team is owned by Mitch and Kricket Ingerson of Nevahome Kennels in Jefferson, N.H.

“Matt did just awesome,” Ingerson said. “He worked his butt off for this win.”

Ingerson has completed two Can-Am 250s, a Can-Am 60 and 30.

“I’d really rather have been racing this year,” Ingerson said. “Once you have the racing bug, it has you.”

Among the handful of spectators gathered at the finish in the early hours Monday to watch Carstens claim his 2010 win were Fort Kent native Nancy Hackett Buker and Becky Coleman of Readfield.

The two had met Carstens and his team while staying at the Northern Door Inn in Fort Kent this past weekend.

“Seeing all this from start to finish really pulls it all together,” Buker said. “Matt had to leave one of his dogs behind so we talked to that dog all weekend.”

George Theriault, longtime Can-Am race marshal, said he was impressed by the finish condition of Carstens’ team as well as the other teams.

“I was kind of worried about the warm weather,” Theriault said. “But the fact they are looking so good says a lot about the caliber of mushers and dogs this race attracts now.”

Twelve of the 25 teams competing in the race had reached the finish line by noon Monday with the race anticipated to wrap up just before midnight.

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Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.