Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Race to the Sky 2014 - Leg 2

    We arrived with plenty of time to spare at the restart. It gave me time to get the bale of straw for Owl Creek and accompanying drop bag ready for Randy, who takes everything up to the unassisted checkpoint.
    Surprisingly, there was plenty of snow in Lincoln and the race had auctioned off rides for the first couple miles of the race. After getting parked, there’s plenty of waiting…
    When I dropped the dogs at the restart I had a shock. One of my main leaders, Mambo, whom I’d relied on in 2013 and had the most experience of the lead dogs on my team, wouldn’t step on his front left foot. There was no swelling and after a lot of consulting with the race veterinarian, we determined he pulled a tendon. It’s a tribute to his tough-headedness that he didn’t give any sign of pain on the first leg or even after – since pulled tendons are extremely painful.
    Leaving Mambo was a blow to my plans. I felt bad to leave him in the truck, he still wanted to go. As I thought about it, I decided to remain confident in my remaining two leaders. Although they don’t like to lead together, Legolas had led the entire way for Race to the Sky and Eagle Cap 2013 and Urchin had led the first 150 miles of his very first race in Alaska…so I didn’t anticipate any issues.
    I should note that I’ve found it interesting how my male leaders seem to jockey with each other for “first lead” position. Urchin was “my boy” in Alaska – I’d trained him to lead and watched him grow to a gee/haw leader in his yearling season! Legolas was my old friend; having led in every race since I got him…and I could tell he was jealous of my “new” leader. They always ran worse together than separate – now that I think about it, I might have been better off running each of them in single lead rather than together. This past season (2015) I don’t think I ever ran them together in lead, ever, and rarely ran them together in the team. Also in 2015 Legolas apparently decided Mambo can’t teach him any more than he already knows because he does better running with young dogs…when he can control the team himself. And I guess Legolas has some right to pride – he’s a good trainer! It’s little, often humorous quirks like these that keep mushing so interesting.
    Back to the race…we got out of the chute without running over anyone on the turns or when we crossed the roads (always a good thing!). The dogs settled to their trot as we traversed the windy fields and dropped our passenger off at the last road crossing. Then we settled into a good pace for the loop we run before heading up Huckleberry pass. It was an uneventful run into Whitetail; other than some passing with Bryce Mumford who was running two of my yearlings.

    At Whitetail I declared my mandatory 4 (actually 6 due to the time differential from starting position and differential from the first leg). The dogs ate well and we had no issues – I tried to get some sleep, which is very hard so early in the race. Usually my "sleep" is laying there with my eyes closed and mind racing. I think I’ll try putting in earplugs or music next race and see if that helps me calm down and sleep. My biggest fear, probably because there are so many race stories about oversleeping, is missing my alarm or a handler forgetting to wake me up. It can also be a challenge to sleep through teams coming and going; and at Whitetail there is always a lot of commotion. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Race to the Sky 2014 - Leg 1

    We may as well catch up from where I left off. Without further ado, Race to the Sky 2014!

    This year my Grandma was up for an adventure and came to be my handler to help my mom. It started with an early drive to Missoula to pick her up from the airport. My favorite airports are Fairbanks and Missoula...simply because Fairbanks is smaller than Missoula. But Missoula is pretty great - not much of a crowd and easy to navigate. We loaded into the truck and drove to Helena for the musher's dinner and vet check. Oh, I almost forgot - first we did a school presentation.
    I'll never rely on Google Maps for Helena directions! It had us going in circles - the wrong way! At last, we found the school and did several hours of presentations for the kids. I was kept on my toes, since some of the groups of kids had short attention spans; but it's fun to talk with them. The dogs loved the attention and the kids loved putting on my mittens and standing on the sled.
    One of the challenges of Race to the Sky is the amount of waiting. First is the day of meetings/vet check, then you've got the 1st leg which is a stage race and then a late afternoon start for the continuous portion of the race. I always have too much time to think over strategy...getting worked up and nervous. There's also the added pressure and stress of making sure the handlers and truck are good to go between checkpoints and overseeing everything at the checkpoints - where in non-handler races like Eagle Cap you send everything out the morning of the start and if you forget anything...too bad; you'll just have to make do! Anyway, I tend to worry WAY too much and an unassisted race is mentally easier for me...I'm still trying to figure out how to run Race to the Sky and not worry so much about handlers, truck and all. Also, down in the lower 48 February is usually warm and the trails start to disappear or get soft and slow.

    One of the best parts of Race to the Sky is our amazing host family in Helena, the Njos. My handlers and I always get pampered! It's nice to have a quiet place to drop the dogs and rest. Plus, being in Helena it's not far from the 1st leg start at Camp Rimini and we can crash there after the Butte finish of the stage race part; rather than having to drive all the way to Lincoln, when the continuous race doesn't start until 2 or 3 PM. We also get fed very well...and I love food almost as much as my dogs do!

    The race stage leg start was pretty uneventful. The weather was fine, it's always a bit warm, and there was better snow than in 2013 for the first couple miles, before we turned up the mountain. The trail goes steeply up on a fairly good trail, and then it got punchy/wind blown. This was the second time I'd run the trail, so I had a better idea of the length but it still seemed to go on forever! I tried to be cautious because it was soft, forcing the dogs to work extra hard, but we still got pulled into a soft corner and had to get unstuck.

    Once through the technical part (tight trees and narrow trail) I stopped and snacked the dogs. When we got going again I enjoyed the scenery and around a perfectly wide curve drove the sled right over the side and flipped over. It was my fault for enjoying the scenery too much! The dogs glared at me and yanked the sled back onto the trail. Fortunately no one saw me...

    My team is not a speed team and I was disappointed that we were slower than 2013, since it meant an extra 2 hours of additional rest we were required to take. It ended up causing me to brainstorm for ways to change my race rest strategy and I decided to try something new...

    I should note that Race to the Sky, and 2014 in particular, is a challenge for me - mostly mental - which affects the dogs because they feel everything through the gangline. It's hard to fool the athletes you've spent thousands of miles with! I've learned a lot each race and although 2014 and 2015 did not turn out as I'd hoped; I've learned a lot of valuable lessons. I've come to realize that if I stop learning, then I've got a problem!

Here's a photo - we made the front page of the paper!

A kennel name & where has time gone???

   Wow! It's been almost a year, and all those stories I promised and race updates are just waiting to be written. It's been a busy year, but I'll be back at it and get everyone caught up. There's training adventures, races, puppies and future plans that I'm excited to share about...sorry I'm so behind.
    Before I post some highlights from 2015 (pictures!!!) here's some news: we finally have a kennel name! After a lot of thought and brainstorming, here it is:

There & Back Again
(And you can now follow us on Facebook too: . I'll be posting blog posts to the facebook page also, so either place you can be updated!)

About the name:
This actually has very little to do with the Hobbit and the movies that came out has to do with the fact that I went to Alaska and back. I leave home, go on an adventure with the dogs and come home to "normal" life. Most of my training runs are out and back. There's a thrill to leaving civilization behind and a comforting feeling of completing each training run. There & Back Again sums up what an adventure is for me - I want to go out and experience an adventure with the dogs and come home.

To get us caught up; here's some photos from 2015 (I'll be posting videos from the season to Facebook later)...