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!