Gold Rush Aftermath pt. VII

Vet checking Esko after Gold Rush Run

This is Part 7 out of 8 in a series of lessons learned from our first medium distance sleddog race. To start from the beginning, click here.

During the race, I think I had almost every dog in the lead at some point or another. It was quickly becoming evident, that our training had not been sufficient. On our way back, before the last, steep uphill section to climb to the top of Jorpulipää hill (200 meters of vertical), Remu wore himself out, having worked the whole day in the wheel in soft snow, and had to be bagged into the sledge.

My team was thus just 7 seven dogs strong for the last, hardest part of the heat, and I had to work hard myself, too, to push the sledge with one big stud in it to the top of the hill. My veteran dogs were showing the distance passed, but all the dogs were making me proud. Every shortcoming in the team was mine alone to take responsibility, I cannot pass any of it to my team, who with limited training and various amounts of experience crossed the finish line after the first day, coming in 15th out of 20 teams.

Lesson learned: It is not evident which of the dogs is doing the most work. Remu had shown no signs of fatigue before he went lame. Quite simply: he had given all he had to give.

At the finish line, I informed the judges that I had one dog in the bag and was instructed to consult the vet. He checked Remu and said there was nothing serious, he was just worn out. While he was around, he took a look at the other dogs and noticed that Esko had a limp, too, and his ankle was swollen. We were instructed to keep an eye out and consider the dogs’ condition in the morning.

The next morning, back in Sodankylä, I did a quick inventory of the dogs. Our veterans Chaika and Skoda were showing clear signs of fatigue and were quite stiff. Esko was still limping, and while I could not see any symptoms in Remu, I was still worried about his ability to perform. Altogether half of my time was in a condition less than ideal.

I made the call to DNS for the second day. My objective for this season was to successfully participate in a medium distance race and get the experience of a solid performance. I think we achieved that. A lot of lessons to be learned, but that was expected.

Click here to read part 8 – the Conclusion!

Gold Rush Aftermath pt. VI

Taking a break during Gold Rush Run 2018

This is Part 6 out of 8 in a series of lessons learned from our first medium distance sleddog race. To start from the beginning, click here.

Once on our way, the team was working really well. It was just an absolute privilege to get to see the Huskies working in what I can only consider as their natural environment, doing the work their ancestors have been doing for thousands of years and countless generations. Stunning!

As we started last, pretty soon we started catching up with some other teams. I lost track of events at some point, but we were passing teams on the left and the right, being passed from both sides, meeting returning teams head-on on a single width trail, and at one point even coming across a returning team head-on while passing an LD team on the same, single width track!

Lesson learned: For a race like this, you need to prepare for every conceivable event. At the end of the day, it boils down to your lead dogs, and their ability to keep it together. 

I am super proud to say that our dogs managed these rendezvouses without incident. Initially, I had Chaika and Skoda in the lead, as originally planned. At some point. Chaika started losing speed, as was expected, he is starting to show his age. This was also a conscious decision I made before the start, to use Chaika in the lead in the start, to help keep the speed down early in the race.

To continue reading, click here. Next lesson is about assessing the dogs' performance during and after the race. 

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Gold Rush Aftermath pt. V

This is Part 5 out of 8 in a series of lessons learned from our first medium distance sleddog race. To start from the beginning, click here.

Early in Saturday morning, we woke up in Sodankylä, fed and hydrated the dogs, and packed our team into the van for the last 130 km. We reached the starting zone with just minutes to spare before registration was closed, but we were finally there. In the mushers meeting I listened carefully, and amongst other things, learned that the race organization had prepared for teams of volunteers to escort the dog teams from the parking area to starting line.

We got our dogs ready, got some help to get the sledge ready, prepared mentally and generally just waited for those nerve-wrecking last minutes to pass by. Which they did. And the escort team was nowhere to be seen. I lost track of time, and once the team arrived, we were in a hurry. We rushed to the starting line, just to miss our departure slot by 15 seconds or so, resulting in a two-minute penalty and being moved to the last position in our class.

Lesson learned: Musher is always responsible for her team to be on the starting line, on time. Regardless of any other arrangements, there may be.

We had to park the team next to the starting line and spend the next ten minutes watching other teams, one after another, start before us before finally, it was our turn (again). The dogs had built up considerable frustration by this time, and when I was just about to get started, I fell over, quickly recovered, and was finally on my way!

Click here to read part 6 - about assessing the fit of the dogs

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Gold Rush Aftermath pt. IV

This is Part 4 out of 8 in a series of lessons learned from our first medium distance sleddog race. To start from the beginning, click here.

On our way up North we picked up Swing and Boogie from Bearhill's, but just 130 kilometres short of our 1000 km journey, we were stopped on our tracks and had to come up with yet another hairbrained scheme to get us to the starting line the next morning. Who do you think I called? Vallu (I am starting to feel a bit ashamed now that I am writing this!). He contacted a local musher in Sodankylä, who welcomed us to her house for the weekend.  We had scraped by another obstacle, but not without cost.

Lesson learned: If you have one major race event in your schedule for the year, make double sure you have logistics planned out well ahead of the event. 

Otherwise, if something goes wrong at the last minute, your schedule for hydrating and feeding the dogs will be compromised. Again, this is something that Anna did comment on, early in the project, but I refused to cancel. I should have planned better and made arrangements earlier on.

Click here to read part 5 - the musher is always responsible

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Gold Rush Aftermath pt. III

Trailwinds sleddog training camp at Koskenpää

This is Part 3 out of 8 in a series of lessons learned from our first medium distance sleddog race. To start from the beginning, click here

During our time in Koskenpää, our dogs lived in an old cowshed, and almost every night we set the dogs free for some free range speed training. In February, most, if not all of our dames were in heat, and while we did keep them separated from the studs, apparently we were not careful enough. Not one, but two of them ended up pregnant, which explains some of the behavioural problems we had in March, leading to some of the issues described above.

Lesson learned: If you go out for a training camp, you need to make sure you have proper kennels available.

Eventually, end of March was at hand, we were two dogs short of a team with just days to go until the race started. We had all sorts of other issues to manage as well, which I will tell in another story later on (too good a story to pass, we seem to have this tragicomedy thing nailed). It started to look improbable that I would be there on the starting line.

However, I think that unless you have actually tried everything, you cannot say "it could not be done". So one by one, we fixed the issues or rather worked around them, and I asked Vallu if I could borrow two dogs. Again, I am lucky he said yes.

Click here to read part 4 - about the importance of planning the logistics

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Gold Rush Aftermath pt. II

Training on frozen lake with Suunto Spartan Ultra

This is Part 2 out of 8 in a series of lessons learned from our first medium distance sleddog race. To start from the beginning, click here

In January we established a training camp in Central Finland, in the town of Koskenpää, near Jämsä. The winter is a lot more predictable there, and from first days of February until late in March that's where we trained.

I had limited experience of driving more than 4 dogs at a time when we moved there. In hindsight, that may have caused me to focus too much on a controlled training environment, which in this case meant that pretty much all of February I was training on a frozen lake. We racked up a substantial amount of mileage, quickly, but it was very monotonous.

Lesson learned: If training for a race with lots of steep climbing - like Gold Rush Run - you need to include a lot of hill training.

Anna did comment on this, but I had a theory that the somewhat heavy strength training period in the autumn, followed up with some late-season hill training would be sufficient. Anna was right, I was wrong.

First of all, it would be more motivating for the dogs to have a variable training program all through-out the training season, even if there is more emphasis on specific areas of development at different times.

Secondly, my "late-season uphill conditioning" failed to materialize due to random factors hampering our training late in March. If you focus some area of training, for example, speed, to only specific weeks, you risk missing that altogether if something comes up during those weeks.

Click here to read part 3 - the importance of having proper kennels during training camp

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Gold Rush Aftermath pt. I

Trailwinds Huskies early season strength training session

Sometime during summer of 2017, I set my sights on Gold Rush Run medium distance race to be held in Finnish Lapland late in March 2018. Considering we had only done a couple of years of sprint racing, most of which dry land racing, it seemed like a daunting task.

My background is in hiking and mountaineering. I have climbed in the Scandinavian Mountains, the Swiss Alps and the Peruvian Andes. I am compelled with challenges so long that adrenaline rush alone cannot sustain the performance. There has to be some epic element to it, and sprint racing does not provide that for me, even if I do enjoy those in a different way.

Preparing myself was therefore not a completely unknown territory, but how to prepare the dogs? I have attended some really great training camps arranged by L-SVU in Finland, but I felt the message was more geared towards sprint racing, and even then, it focused mostly on the athletic training and nutrition. For other areas of training, I asked Vallu from Bearhill's to act as my mentor, and I am happy he agreed.

I drafted a training plan with comments from Vallu, but failed to properly understand some of his key comments, which in hindsight carry a lot more weight. This especially:

"The best training is the one that you can actually do"

My training plan, especially for the autumn season and early winter down South was simply too much. As the conditions (weather, work schedules, and all those things I had not accounted for in the plan) started to hamper the training, I started falling behind, causing a domino effect which led to a sort of training paralysis in December, lasting halfway through January.

Lesson learned: Training plan should be milestone-based, and not a weekly curriculum. 

Curriculum - as in having a daily schedule - will break down eventually, which may cause you to miss out even more workouts, as you are "already behind schedule". Milestone based system, however, always dangles an objective in front of you, regardless of what you did or did not do last week.

Click here for part 2, lessons about matching the training to the race. 

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Distance Husky lifestyle

Trailwinds Huskies Remu shaking off snow after training on frozen lake near Jämsä, Central Finland.

Since 2018 kicked off, our dogs have now trained 233 kilometers or 144 miles. Before Gold Rush Run medium distance race starts in 31st of March 2018, the dogs will have spent well over 1000 kilometers in training after New Year’s.

For the dogs, this means a lot of hard work. For us, this has been a head-first dive into a distance husky lifestyle. We have moved from Southern Finland to Central Finland until the end of GRR race, and as a result of a 300-kilometer move, we now have a whole lot better chances of being able to train according to the plan, instead of the weather.

Right now the dogs are working 25+ kilometers per day, and we need to push this up to 75 in a time-span of five weeks. On average, we have about 5 training days per week and two rest days for the dogs. It is vital that our dogs are well-fed, with sufficient fat intake to provide fuel, and proteins to build-up muscle and protect from injury.

We are really happy to have Racinel Black Label sponsor super premium extra energy food for our dogs and tmi Kirsi Sinda to check-up on the physique and massage the dogs to enhance mobility and recovery.

We keep a very close eye on the dogs’ performance. If there are any signs of lack of motivation, asymmetry of movement or other signs of trouble, extra rest is scheduled and endurance training is replaced by free running and other fun activities. After all, we want our Huskies to enjoy this challenge as much as we do!

(P.S: There are currently 22 mushers registered in the limited class. I wonder if there is a Red Lantern in GRR…)

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.