“I was DYING to write this piece,” he said, “but following the race is so expensive and difficult that I never thought I’d have the chance…. How could something so extremely spectator-unfriendly exist as a professional sport? It just seemed to take sports to a place that verged on religion, or maybe madness, and I found it incredibly compelling.”

Indeed, Phillips writes a great deal about how the vast icepacks and snowfields he encountered from above affect him emotionally. McGrath’s approach is more earthy, covering the history of the event, sticking with a couple of compelling main characters, and pondering the profusion of canine droppings he encounters (and lists some of the mushers’ euphemisms for those droppings—hockey pucks, stalagmites, and walnut veneer are just a few). “It all looked like dog shit to me,” he writes in the piece.

The vastness of the Iditarod and its setting easily accommodated two enormous stories. But I’d bet that a combined 20,000 or so words from McGrath and Phillips on the National Marbles Tournament would be equally compelling.

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Robert Weintraub is the author of The House That Ruth Built. He is a frequent contributor to The New York Times and Slate, and a television writer/producer based in Atlanta.