Mountain Mentality

One of the key differences between sprint racing and longer distances in sleddog racing is that you will be subject to the elements for extended periods of time. You will have to have the tools at your disposal to survive in conditions which may be difficult. Even though I have not done longer races before, I do not go at it unprepared.

Before I started sleddog racing, I was an avid hiker and climber. Initially, my climbing focused on sports climbing, but at some point, the two passions collided and I found myself climbing mountains. Technical mountaineering combines the subjective hazards of sports climbing, with the objective hazards of the great outdoors.

Subjective hazards are those that you can influence directly. For example, your aerobic conditioning directly influences your ability to perform at altitude and for prolonged periods. Another example would be your technical climbing skills, which directly influence your ability to control risks during the steep sections of the mountain.

Objective hazards, however, are very different. They relate more to the environment around you. By definition, you cannot control objective hazards in any other way than by limiting the time you spend in the environment. An avalanche risk is a great example; you cannot stop an avalanche from happening, but by spending less time in its path, you can minimize your objective hazard.

Sometimes the subjective and objective hazards are contradictory. For example, most glaciers can only be safely traversed in the morning. The afternoon sun quickly melts the ice, making it hazardous and unstable. This requires you to climb fast. Climbing fast usually means that you have to limit the number of security precautions you take during the climb. Instead of constructing belay anchors to secure your ropemate across an ice bridge, maybe you decide to use a running belay instead, which requires less time to setup, but if something goes wrong, offers less safety for both.

I am happy that I joined my good friend Eero Kosola on a mountaineering course in the Peruvian Andes in 2011, operated by Skyline Adventure School. I feel like I have many of the necessary tools to at least identify some of the risks involved in longer distance sleddog racing, and start planning disaster recovery options.

Midnight Encounters

I just read TJ’s blog post ‘Night Run 4‘ about how changing to training at night features some exciting encounters. This motivated me to write a few words about my experiences.

Since we are now training for Gold Rush Run medium distance sleddog race in late March, we are building a lot of mileage for the dogs. That means that the training takes a lot of time, and I can no longer just use my lunch break to go for a quick spin with the dogs. (Besides: I have to use that time for my marathon training, sigh..)

In practice, this means that 90% of the time I train in pitch black. Our ATV is such a piece of junk that half the time the headlights are not working, so I rely on having a good headlamp (Fenix HL60R RAPTOR+) with an extra battery.

Where we live, there is not a big chance of coming across pedestrians. But every other night we do see cars or tractors. The dogs could not care less. But then there are the more exciting encounters!

This week we have met at least three deer, a couple of rabbits and what I suspect was a moose. Chaika is such a pro that he does not react in any visible way, but the younguns sure do! Just last night it felt like they could have pulled me and the ATV on top of the hill all by themselves while trying to chase after a deer that just would not head off road!

Of course, I feel pretty confident in these situations. After all, I am sitting on top of my ATV and if I feel like I have to, I can just stop the show. But that’s not the case always! A couple of years ago I was out walking three of our Siberians. It was half moon, so I did not bother to take my headtorch with me. At some point, the dogs just stopped and stared into the woods. At that location, the woods are pretty dense and without a light source, I could not see what they were looking at.

I stopped. I waited. The dogs waited and stared into the forest, intensely. Then I heard something heavy shift weight, just outside the visible range. There was something big, maybe 10 meters away, and I had no idea what it was. The dogs were silent, just stared. The thing took a few steps, then silence. I was feeling pretty nervous, but somehow I felt assured that since the dogs were not afraid, neither should I.

Slowly, the steps moved further away, and after what seemed like half an eternity, vanished into the foliage. Then I felt a yank on the leash, as Ritu signaled that she wanted to finish the walk and get some chow.

To this day I have no idea what it was that we met in that small forest road that night.

Anyways, thanks TJ for reminding me of this story! 🙂

Marathon training report pt. I

First two weeks of my marathon training are now done. I did not start quite from zero, as I had trained for and competed in a couple of canicross events during the autumn, but those 5K runs with a sleddog are a wee bit different thing than running the marathon.

I have come up with a plan with Ville, my running coach. The plan is pretty simple. My program consists of two week blocks. The aim is to run every other day, and take every other weekend off.

I run short runs (4K), medium runs (9K) and long runs. Long runs are either 15K or max distance, alternating. And maximum distance is what we are building up.

For example:

  • 4-9-4-9-4-15
  • 4-9-4-9-4-25

The max distance goes up, month by month. In November it is 15, December 20… And in April I should reach 40. Well in time for Helsinki City Marathon on May 19th.

That’s the plan. I was supposed to run 15K today, but my leg cramped after just 2K. I gave up after about 6 and walked another 5. I hope next block goes better…

Training progress report, first week

The first week of basic conditioning is now done, according to plan. We started on Sunday with a 9 KM route which the team was already familiar with (we had previously done it a few times to build up stamina for the last dryland sprint race), then built that up to 14 KM over a couple of days, and today took it down a notch to 11 KM. 45 KM total volume for this week.

I was cautious of how to dogs react to such rapid build-up of volume, but I have to say I am super impressed! No issues, what so ever, everyone was more than willing to work every day, regardless of weather. The picture is from yesterday… that was nice! Tonight we did it in pitch black rain. Super!

Plan to add mileage for the dogs

We have now finished the autumn dryland race season and the dogs’ training will focus on Gold Rush Run medium distance race at the end of March 2018, in Finnish Lapland. I have discussed the team’s performance levels at the moment with Vallu, member of our coaching team, and we are on a good track. We have come up with a rough plan called 3-Up-1-Down.

For the next couple of months, we will be working at most 4 days in a row, resting at most 3 days in a row. The objective is to increase daily mileage day by day, and then take it back a notch on the final day to the stretch. In practice, for this week it means the following structure:

  • Sunday 9 KM (or 5.6 mi)
  • Monday 11 KM (or 6.8 mi)
  • Tuesday 14 KM (or 8.6 mi)
  • Wednesday 11 KM
  • Thursday rest
  • Friday rest
  • Saturday 11 KM
  • Sunday 14 KM

So, starting from 9 KM on Sunday, we increase the distance until Tuesday, reaching 14 kilometers, and then take it back to 11, which we did on Monday. Next set will start at 11, then go up to 14, then 16, and back to 14. This way our totals slowly creep up. In the picture, you can see how the volume builds over time until the end of December.

The plan is still pretty rough, and I have not identified all the trails yet. So there may be some variance, an extra KM here, another missing there. But in general, we have a decent idea how we will build up stamina. The plan totals 662 kilometers (411 mi) for the remained of this year.

2017-2018 coaching team

I am happy to say that I am not working alone to achieve the goals we’ve set for 2018. In order to get myself and our team in shape, I have help from people whose experience and coaching will help me work harder and smarter.

Matti Santtila is an Adjunct Professor at National Defence University, Fitness Coach, PhD (Coaching and Fitness Testing), CEO of SanFitPro, and LtCol (ret.) Matti will make sure I train smart.

Ville Brofeldt is an endurance sports enthusiast with experience of multiple marathons. Ville is my running coach and mentor, who keeps track of my progress and makes sure that I achieve the volume and speeds required.

Valentijn Beets is the owner of Bearhill Husky, a professional husky kennel located in Rovaniemi in Finnish Lapland. He has been training huskies since 2000 and he is my dog training mentor, making sure I train the dogs efficiently and safely.

Anna Hirvilammi is my spouse and partner-in-crime, and the quartermaster sergeant of the Trailwinds training regime, onsite. She makes sure I stick to the diet and program, hit my weight targets and that the dogs are trained on-time. Couldn’t do this without her <3

I feel confident that with these people pushing me, providing feedback and adjusting the program when necessary, I can achieve any goal!

Tale of Two Goals

Länsi-Uusimaa, a local newspaper, published today an article about sleddog racing. I was expecting it to be an article about a race event our Club, Uudenmaan Valjakkourheilijat, organized in Hanko. However, a large chunk of it was about our – Trailwinds’ – objectives for this season.

This was not really planned, but then again, it’s a great thing! Now that the objectives are out there, we have but one direction. So what are the goals for 2018?

The Marathon, while not strictly speaking a sleddog related objective, is a personal project in support of my development as an athlete. And GRR… well, I think it is the most interesting sleddog race currently being organized in Finland! And a huge step up from the sprint races we’ve done so far.