Our race season saw another challenging winter with at times little snow and many miles of trucking the dogs in order to get them trained with sled. This season was the first time we had less than 16 dogs in training, meaning we only had one complete team. On the mainstring were seven females and eight males.
By middle of January we usually try to attend Vildmarksracet as the season’s race premier. This time we entered only one 8-dog team as we had three rookies who needed to get some race experience. Previous years we had either two 8-dog teams or a 12- and an 8-dog team in this race.
Karsten went off to the race by himself with team members Pamuk and Puak, Bo, Flapper, Erasmus, rookies Abel, Timmie and only female Olive. Main leader Thor had been operated on an abcess in his foot beginning of January and was staying home with me.
The idea is to take Vildmarksracet as a nice little outing to get the dogs used to the situation at checkpoints where they have to rest in the straw, not get distracted of other dogs as well as to meet other teams on the trail. But Karsten did not get to see any other teams on the trail and by the time most teams were in the checkpoint, he was already out. Vildmarksracet has an open start with an two hours starting window, and Karsten was out first while many teams started one hour later. Still, the dogs had a blast with temps. of -30C. and the old man too as they not only won their class, but also had best time of the overall competition, beating both the 12-dog purebred teams as well as the 8- and 12-dog mixbred teams. Many teams from all over the European purebred scene made this competition a kind of ‘trial championship’ of which the official version would be held in March at Polar Distans.
Next race for me, would have been Femundløpet 600 which was hosting the IFSS European Championships. We would be representing Team Sweden in Nordic Breed. Both IFSS and the race organizer left it in the dark as to whether or not there was going to be a RNB (registered nordic breed) recognition in the same way as there had been on Finnmarksløpet in 2015.
I had signed up in the assumption it would be similar as the world championship of 2015, based on what IFSS has stated in their regulations about championships. Only few days before the race it was made clear there would not be a similar arrangement and so I decided to let this race pass.
By middle of March, we competed in Polar Distans 300 km. which was hosting the first WSA (‘World’ Sled Dog Association) European Championships Long Distance. WSA is an organization exclusively for the four registered Nordic breeds; Siberian Husky, Alaskan Malamute, Greenlanddog and Samoyed and also European or more so German orientated rather than global and more sprint focused rather than distance. Unlike the IFSS World Championships at Finnmarksløpet where there was a great welcome for the RNB winner with bottles of ‘champagne’ and a wreath for the leaddog of the team, there was not much championship atmosphere over the WSA event.
A total of 15 Siberian Husky teams were competing in the 300 km. distance over 2 classes. I started with 10 dogs in the 12-dog class; team members were Bo, Thor, Pamuk, Puak, Kahlo, Babe, Erasmus and rookies Olive, Abel and Timmie. Molly and Flapper were running on the 8-dog team of Pascal Rebord of Switzerland. Left at home were some really good females, but Finnmarksrace finisher Iden was expecting and young girls Pippi and Tom Poes had both pulled a muscle in their hindleg after we had climbed a steep uphill in deep snow on one of our longer trips in the mountains few weeks earlier.
New for the start of Polar Distans was the two hours start window, similar as to Vildmarksracet. The advantage of this arrangement is that there is less stress at the start, but on the other hand, one has no idea how the competition is doing in the race until the very end. ‘First over the finish’ does not automatically mean winner of the race, but depends on what time the team started out. This makes it however easier to run ones own race and not getting occupied by what the competition is doing.
We started out quite late and had plenty of teams in front of us, so the first leg was about passing the other teams and settling into a pace which would be good for the dogs. Towards the end of the first leg of 90 km., I felt that Thor was not himself and had to keep the speed down for him. This was quite unlike Thor who always is such a motor of the team. He was tired and warm upon coming into the first checkpoint and so I decided to drop him. I grumbled what could have caused this. Was it the operation on his foot what still bothered him, or the gap in training because he had been standing for several weeks, or was there something else? Admittedly, he had changed over the season and seemed to be lacking some stamina which I ascribed to his increase in body mass due to age. Thor has been such an important dog to me that I rather not start a race than having to leave him behind and now I had to realize that it was not fair to continue the race with him..
On the second leg of 140 km. the remaining 9 dogs were going very strong and I had to calm them down by voice and brake. It seems the strategy of taking the longest of the two mandatory breaks at the beginning of the race paid off. (one 6 hours pause and one 4 hours pause). We were passing all the teams who had started out ahead of us after the mandatory break on the first checkpoint. Unlike us, they had taken the shorter break first.
Kahlo and Puak were running lead. Kahlo is a very steady runner but not hysterically hot and a good choice in order to keep the pace down in a more normal tempo. Puak runs hard and intense, and needs to be up front as het gets warm more easily in the back of the team. They made a good pair and got us safe over the mountains which was the biggest challenge on this leg as it was dark and blowing when we crossed.
After the second break of 4 hours, the dogs were ready to hit the final stretch of 65 km. to the finish line. I myself had not been getting a single second of sleep as it was quite the madhouse at the only checkpoint of the race with all teams of both the 160 km. category and 300 km. category coming in and going out. On this race, it is not allowed for the musher to go indoors to rest so I was actually much more tired this time than the other year when there was only one mandatory break of six hours.
On the final leg, I took young leader Pamuk in lead with Kahlo. Dogs were doing really well although it was at times really warm when the sun was out. The last 20 kilometers to the finish were a challenge as the 10 mtrs. wide trail was full of moguls from heavy scooter traffic. The sled was slaming back and forth. It was not the comfortable ride to the finish as I had imagined. And even when it was bright daylight, I had difficulties to keep awake and not dip off. In the end I started to see barriers on the trail when they were not really there. Clearly, my physical condition was much worse than last year when I had at least some training before the raceseason, while this year I had done nothing.
I wondered how it is to run a long Finnmarksløpet or Iditarod and decided that I clearly do like my sleep too much. I was very happy to make it in one piece to the finishline and vowed that if we will be running this again, I will have to be in better shape again. With that in mind, it was funny to come up the finishline where Karsten welcomed me with a bottle of fishliveroil. It was the closest he could get to the lacking champagne for a Champion. 🙂
Jokes aside, the dogs were awesome and proved themselves to be fantastic athletes once again. They of course all got a big piece of their favorite meal upon reaching the finish.
Thanks: to our wonderful team members for their fantastic effort. To Karsten for his help and support. To all who followed and supported us during the race.
Thanks to the organization of the Polar Distans race. See you in 2017 at the ‘World Championships’ WSA Long Distance.