Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Meet the dogs: Cougar

    Cougar is the oldest dog on the team at 10 yrs old. He's a solid, experienced dog who was a life-saver in 2011 when I ran the Jr Race to the Sky - leading most of the way. This year he's had his challenges - being older it's harder to keep weight on him and his front feet got a little torn up on the rocks/ice. He's so tough I have to keep an eye on him because he won't tell you he's hurting. I'm expecting this to be his last year racing, next year he can retire to train puppies with Quest, but I really want to see him complete another 200 mile race...

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Meet the dogs: Legolas


    Legolas is a 4yr old Swingley line dog who came from, surprisingly, the same person who had Quest (my first sled dog) the season before I bought him! I was thrilled to get him as a yearling and he's led every season since. Each year he gets more and more confident and this year knows his Gee/Haw commands as well as enjoying being in single-lead. He's a one of the kind dog who eats, runs and seems tireless - despite the fact that he paces rather than trots (the only thing I don't like about him). When hooked up last, he practically roars with excitement!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Snow, No Snow

    After three glorious runs on the sled (during which I managed to break a stanchion tie/anchor), we had to go back to the 4-wheeler. I think it's about time (and mileage) for a "slump". I know I'd be bored to come back to the dirt if I was a sled dog - so I guess I can feel some sympathy for them!
    Still, they are moving smoothly and well. Feet are holding up pretty well, except for Cougar's front feet, and everyone is in good shape. Hopefully this week I can get some weight on the dogs in anticipation of snow...
    Here's some pictures from recent runs:

November 18th 2012 - 30+ mile run. Breaking trail...gorgeous! Legolas and Summer leading.

November 23rd 2012 - 32 mile run on the 4-wheeler. Zoomey and Razz leading.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Meet the dogs: Zoomey

     Zoomey is a natural leader who came from my good friend and mentor Lanette Kimbal in October. She arrived and, though shy, is one of my most reliable leaders - quickly picking up Gee/Haw commands. An amazing, fluid trot - she's not as big as Summer but definitely has the same, energetic attitude! I love watching her power up the hills - when we go too slow she barks and does a little hop...and pulls are the harder. I can't wait to watch her improve, as I'm sure she'll be a key part of the team for years to come. Just wish she wasn't so shy...fortunately it doesn't affect her appetite.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Why Train Slow?

    I wholeheartedly agree with Scott's training method, which I learned in Alaska. When we've talked since, he's mentioned the speed mentality of mushers in the lower 48...encouraging me not to deviate from what I learned! Of course, if you're training for shorter races it only makes sense to train fast...but for long distance I just don't see the point.
    On the 4-wheeler today I was thinking about how comfortable the dogs were, despite the heat, allowing us to run longer than would otherwise be possible. In fact, though we stopped more often than normal (to take advantage of the puddles), they were not really winded and quickly began to jump and bark, ready to GO!
    My thought was this: If you start out loping, you know your are going to slow down as the run goes on...and the dogs are more stressed/prone to injuries in those first miles when the speed is fastest. However, by leaving the yard at a trot the dogs gradually warm up to their cruising speed...a speed comfortable for all and one which appears to be able to be kept up forever. Basically, you "gain" speed as the run progresses because the dogs aren't being burned up. And another plus - few or no injuries!
    If a team can keep a steady pace throughout a race, isn't that preferrable to going out fast but burning up in the end? In Alaska I was able to see the results of both types of racing...

    I've noticed that my dogs are much easier to control and happier than ever before with this training method. Also, because I'm not pushing them for speed down (or up) hills they put their heads down, place their feet well and pull - confident that they can do anything! The trail we are currently running with the 4-wheeler I could never have attempted with other teams I've trained...it would've been too dangerous because of the steep, long, twisty (trees!) downhill. But, so far (and I owe God a huge Thank You for keeping me and the team safe!), we've made it down without mishap. Whether or not I can do it on the sled is another question for another day...

    Yes, it's hard to look at this year's runs v.s. my runs of 2010/2011. But when I remember I was pushing them to get speed they weren't ready to give, everything comes back into context and I know that when we move to the sled, they'll be ready to move faster. As Scott says, "...the dogs just move differently on snow." And now is the time to lay the groundwork for faster runs later on...I can no longer imagine pushing the dogs to run downhill, a method used among the Seppala mushing crowd, and thus taught to me, when I got into dogs.
    Another note: I've never been able to point out my weakest dog with ease. This year, however, the weakest link has shown himself and now I know which dog to use as a gauge for training. While it's hard to limit my more talented athletes, I can see that later on in the season, having the "team gauge" is going to be invaluable...

    Well, I hope this makes some sort of sense...it's harder than I thought, organizing my training thoughts and putting them into words!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Meet the dogs: Mambo

     Mambo - the dog who scared me so much in Alaska because soon after I got there he bit off the end of Flynn's beautiful tail! At 5-6yrs old, he's run the Iditarod and multiple mid-distance Alaska races with Scott Smith. What a gift of a dog - he isn't the smoothest but he pulls HARD and is a big boy. He was always a team/wheel dog for Scott, but I've started using him in lead...and he's quite good. I look forward to long miles with Mambo, who eats and has that "tough dog" mentality of a distance sled dog. In Alaska Mambo seemed to be a bit of a bully, picking fights with the other dogs. Here, so far, he's been great (of course, that might be because he gets to stay in the corner of the girls yard!) and hasn't even bothered the pups that moved into the girl's yard. Can't wait to see how 'my Mambo' impresses me this year!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

First Moose

    Running on my favorite trails, I saw the first moose of the season. Typically this wouldn't be such news, but this year's training runs have been devoid of deer, elk and moose - which we would usually see (or at least see fresh sign) most every run; even with the 4-wheeler running. I find it sad that with the wolves moving in, the wildlife is more scarce...though I don't really miss the moose all that much.
    The weather has been very warm, and rainy, so we've had to stop at puddles often along the way. But the dogs are doing well, keeping steady at 7 mph average.
    Here's some pictures from recent runs...
My favorite mountain - Frost Peak.

The team -
Razz - Zoomey
Legolas - Duke
Cougar - Jersey
Nibbs - Griz