I have just done my first mid distance race that had 60-70 km in one day. I made it to the finish line with dogs in good shape. I should be happy and proud, but that is not all I feel.
During the race, trying to pedal and run all those uphills, I watched my little team go slower and slower in the soft snow. I realized how little I know about racing. Going slow in the soft snow would be normal and when trekking, but this is supposed to be a race. I thought I had trained my team to climb faster. How do the winners do it? How do they build more speed in their team?
My team did have some speed. As soon as we reached the good and hard part of the trail, they started galloping. And so they did for the first and the last 10 km of the race. So I know they had it in them, but they just could not keep it up all the time.
I know this race would hardly be one leg in a long race, but still it made me understand what the mental side of the sport means. "Trust yourself". "Trust your dogs". "Run your own race." Amanda Brooks repeats old musher wisdom after her first Copper Basin 300, and boy should I listen to her! (You can read her story here: smokinacekennels/copperbasin300)
Well, even if I read the article after my race, during it I did all I could to make it go well. I helped my dogs. I stopped once to change the leader and once to give snacks. Both times it was a right call, giving us more speed. I encouraged my dogs with my voice, and on the most boring parts of the trail in the dark, I sang happy songs to keep their spirits up.
Doing all this, we came eighth - an hour behind the winners. It is a lot and it isn't. My dogs came to finish with no problems, no upset tummies or anything. Given a harder track, they would maybe have been able to gallop more and go faster. Maybe. Or maybe this was just the best time my team could do with my kind of training.
"The only pressure you have is the pressure you put on yourself." Well, I admid I had hoped to be a little bit faster and maybe a little bit higher in the results. Now I realize I don't have the experience one needs for that - not yet. And I'm not sure if I ever will. They say age is only a number, and I'm happy about my heath, but when you are almost 50, you have to admit you probably don't have the same amount of active years ahead of you as someone who is 30.
I used to have horses when I was younger. Learning about horses and riding, I remember at one point been thinking people should not ride horses, because it's not good for either of them or their physiology. With sled dogs, I'm coming close to that point now. The more you know about dog training and dog care, the more it raises questions. Questions about their well-being, health and the whole meaning of this sport. With horses, it didn't stop me riding, but it made me have only one horse. Honestly, I did not have time or resources to keep more in good health, both physically and mentally.
With sled dogs - we'll see. I only have eight dogs as it is. Facing these thoughts probably does not set me towards bigger teams or longer races. On the other hand, three of my dogs are still puppies. They are the best ones I have had, and I really want to see and enjoy future with them. "Run with no regrets" says Amanda. Yes, and run with gratitude, say I.
I want to feel happy when I run my team. In a way, mushing should always feel like a miracle, which it is. Only a few people on earth can drive their own dog team in the wintry forest - for most of the people it is only a dream, that never comes true. And most of all, I want to appreciate the companionship of my dogs and take good care of them at home, on a trek and in a race.
|Start/ Finish Paljakka.|
Lähtö ja maali oli Paljakan hiihtokeskuksessa.
|Musher meeting in Safari Pub on Friday evening. |
Ajajien kokous pidettiin perjantai-iltana.
|Saturday morning, my team at start.|
Lähtö lauantaiaamuna, Mora ja Piitu keulassa, Diesel ja Igor pyörinä.
|4-hour rest. Neljän tunnin tauolla koirat nukkuivat kärrissä.|
|The other half of race in the dark. Paluumatka pimeässä.|
|Hill climbing, hard working, never ending Mora. - kullanarvoinen johtaja.|
|Young and eager, crazy galloping Igor - uskomaton voimanpesä laukkaaja.|
|So small, so cute, so tough - Piitu -Pieni, suloinen ja yllättävän kova kisoissa.|
|Puppywalks are the best.|
Pentujen kanssa ulkoilu on ihan parasta!
|Just like her dad Igor- Alma on kuin ilmetty isänsä.|