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RUNYAN TAKES IDITAROD LEAD; BUTCHER LEADS PACK IN PURSUIT

Joe Runyan finally stopped to rest in this ghost-town checkpoint while Susan Butcher led a pack of mushers in pursuit as the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race neared the halfway point today.

Runyan, who won the Iditarod in 1989, reached Ophir at 4:35 p.m. Wednesday and declared he would take his required 24-hour layover there.Doug Swingley of Simms, Mont., followed 45 minutes later, and Bill Cotter of Nenana was half an hour behind Swingley. Neither had taken their 24-hour layovers, either.

But the mushers pursuing the front pack already had taken the rest.

Butcher left McGrath at 7:43 p.m., followed 10 minutes later by DeeDee Jonrowe. Also in McGrath were Bruce Lee, Jeff King, Ketil Reitan, Martin Buser, Tim Osmar, Matt Desalernos, Emmitt Peters and Rick Swenson.

Runyan, of Nenana, grabbed the lead early Wednesday on the way to McGrath.

"Basically I just don't want to be with the crowds," he said.