Summer training…..doggie style

When the mercury rises how do we keep our canine athletes in top condition?

Summer temperatures across the World dictate that harness work decreases. It’s not safe in the heat to run dogs far and it’s been common practise for mushers to give their dogs the summer off to chill. I do still run my boys, but it’s short and very early in the morning when it’s coolest. Major championships can be as early as October, so the pressure rises just like the thermometer to ensure your dogs hit the start of the season in peak form. So when you can’t run far, how do we do that?

Water that’s how. It’s a great cross training programme. with real benefits for the dogs. More and more you’ll see the most successful teams regularly posting pictures and videos of swim training. I’ve seen a really cool video of a guy in Norway paddling a canoe with a team of dogs moving swiftly behind him, like a torpedo cutting through the water. Just like humans, dogs can lose muscle and stamina during periods of inactivity, long breaks from training can be detrimental. I like to give my dogs ‘rests’ from harness work to keep them fresh and eager, but these aren’t usually longer than 1 – 2 weeks and they are in training blocks, with a break. It’s not haphazard, I keep an eye on the weather forecast, so I can plan breaks to coincide with the hottest days.

I’m lucky that my dogs absolutely love water. I start them young as pups, just playing around in the shallows getting their paws wet. Summer is best as they naturally want to get in and cool off. This also means that you can get the chance to paddle as well. A stroll along the beach is a great way to introduce them to running and playing in the water. If you have a water loving doggie friend then brill, it’s the ideal way to help a dog lose any fear of water, when learning from others.

Lakes can also be perfect. Some allow you to swim with your dogs in bathing areas, others may have special dog swimming zones, but always good practise to ask. I often squeeze into my wetsuit and take a dip as well. When you first take the plunge, make sure the water is safe and dogs can easily get out if they need to. Dog life/ floatation jackets do work and make life easier for dogs learning. I do recommend swimming with your dogs. It can help even the most scared dog give it a go, when they see their human enjoying the water. Dogs favourite toys can help encourage them in as well, but safety is always the number one priority. I always have someone on the bank on hand and try not to go too far out so the dogs can bail out and get to shore easily without panicking.

A few lessons I have learnt:-

  • dogs tend to swim towards their owners in the beginning and may try to climb up on you.
  • this can scratch, a wetsuit helps.
  • don’t go out of your depth. Treading water with a dog on your shoulder is not easy or recommended.
  • do check for wildlife. I avoid ducks, swans, etc.
  • occasionally dogs only use their front legs. You can hold them up, supporting them and let them explore paddling or even move their rear legs to encourage this.
  • know the water. Are there currents, blue green algae? Research where you go.

If you don’t want to try it yourself or your dog is really struggling then there’s always the professionals. Dog treadmills and hydrotherapy pools aren’t reserved just for dogs with conditions or recovering from injury, they can be a great conditioning tool as well. The water is temperature controlled, which is better for muscles and with a treadmill speed and depth of water can all be adjusted, so provide a more tailored exercise. There is also now a growing trend of dog pools, where you get in and swim with your dogs in a controlled and safe environment. There’s always the bonus of a member of staff here as well to coax your dog in or encase of an emergency.

However my dogs are water pups and they get a resistance workout either running through the shallows or having swim races to be first to the toy. They’re not gracefull swimmers and they do splash about, but I think that’s just them and they enjoy it. Swimming is hard work, so build up gradually and give frequent time outs. Dogs can inhale water jumping in and swimming and may ingest too much water. This can cause an imbalance of electrolytes in the dog and is called water intoxication and can lead to brain damage, heart failure and even death. Keep sessions short, swimming is both physically and mentally tiring.

Managed carefully water adventures can be great fun, great exercise and an awesome bonding experience for both you and your dog. After taking my dogs stand up paddle boarding (SUP), I’m now hooked and saving up for my own board. I’ve ambitious plans of gently paddling down the river with my boys swimming behind. We shall see, but a sleddog friend does this with her dog and they’re now up to around 2.5km. She’s trained him to place his paws on the board and she hauls him aboard when he needs a rest……how cool is that? If you’ve got a doggie ‘Micheal Phelps,’ or maybe fancy a challenge, then there’s even the chance to try a dog triathlon with Tri Dog. It’s a brilliant, fun event, which is held in September, whilst there is a competitive element it’s very much geared to having a go and getting stuck in.

Even if you don’t need water for conditioning, it doesn’t hurt for your dog not to be scared. My collie isn’t fussed about swimming. She loves to cool off and play in the shallows and really enjoys sitting on the SUP board, sailing around like Lady Muck and letting someone else do all the work!

For the boys though water is just another cog in our training wheel and one we hope means we can start the season in the best form we can. All this training does mean we need to fuel our dogs correctly. Training alone isn’t enough to bring success, we need top class nutrition. I power the team with Trophy Pet Foods Surf n Turf, which ensures my dogs are always refuelled and ready for action. You can find out more about Trophy Food here:- https://www.trophypetfoods.co.uk/

Sport or Hobby?

Should we call ourselves athletes if Sport England doesn’t realise what we do? Or without recognition is UK sled dog sports left to languish in the realms of hobbyland.

Let’s start with the definition of an athlete: one who participates in physical exercise or sports, especially in competitive events.

Going by the dictionary for all intents and purposes my dogs and me are athletes, albeit the dogs are far superior ones. I’ve trained very hard to earn my World and European Championship medals, battled out with the best competitors and have done this all whilst racing under a Team GB banner……. so I feel like an athlete. I’ve also sacrificed holidays, money, and going out to ensure I get up to train and can afford racing and travelling to events…….so I feel I have the dedication of an athlete. I follow a specific training programme and dietary requirements…….so I feel I live like an athlete. But if Sport England doesn’t recognise me as an athlete, what does that mean?

Sport England is the umbrella organisation for sports and there is an application process for sports to gain recognition. As an approved sport it would mean sled dog clubs could apply for possible funding for various reasons, but projects would need to provide a sustainable impact on people’s physical and mental health. The grant and funding process can seem daunting and clubs would need to be compliant in all aspects of club management and health and safety, but heh we’ve got dogs what better therapy is there for mental health than our canine buddies, so that’s one box ticked! Whilst difficult it is doable. I’ve some experience and have successfully submitted three funding bids (one for £6000, the second £2000 and third was on a renewable yearly contract) – the first was an 8 week programme to teach disadvantaged teenagers to ski, the second working with a similar demographic with dogs in harness sports and the third was teaching futsal in a school. The projects were aimed at increasing participation in a group who normally couldn’t access such activities. You would struggle to get money for harnesses, rigs, bikes, pay for race entries, travel or help with kitting out a van for dogs, unless linked to a community project that would increase participation and well being. There is money allocated to develop volunteers, which could help with races and possibly even an event could be supported, but you will be expected to show outcome goals and the success of the grant. The bids I was involved with were also done at a local level through County Sports Partnerships (CPO’s) which have now been rebranded Active Partnerships (AP’s) and most counties should have one. You may find some funding available through AP’s without Sport England recognition, depending on your project. AP’s are great resources for clubs, more info can be found here:- https://www.sportenglandclubmatters.com/

AP’s also champion something called clubmark, which is a gold standard accreditation for clubs. It ensures that clubs operate under codes, guidelines, etc and is for the protection of everyone. If applying for funding your club would be expected to have this or be working towards it and sport recognition approval can be tied to ensuring affiliated clubs gain this accreditation. This is normally a certain amount of clubs per year as it’s a timely process, with club volunteers needing to complete certain courses (mostly online). If you’re a club and have a project idea, here’s some of the Sport England codes that would need to be in place to secure grants, recognition, etc:-https://www.sportengland.org/campaigns-and-our-work/code-sports-governance

Once recognised by Sport England, the next step would be for UK Sport to accept sled dog sports into the fold and they deal with funding for elite athletes to fullfill their potential at the Olympics. At present sled dog sports are not an Olympic Sport, so we couldn’t access UK Sport money. The IFSS is a member of the Global Association of Sports Federations, which is the first step of becoming an Olympic Sport and if we ever did get in then we would have to part of UK Sport. However with lots of sports vying for a limited pot of funds, the standard to gain funding is very high and geared at those with a genuine chance of getting on the podium.

So given the fact that even if recognised an individual couldn’t access funding, is there a bigger picture? Of course there is and that’s the development of sled dog sports. Our governing body should pursue recognition, but with caution and perhaps prepare clubs as to how they may need to change and operate. Clubs can start the clubmark process even without Sport recognition, which may go to help the overall process. Opening the doors to a larger audience, does come with problems though especially from those that don’t understand what we do and dog welfare would need be a high priority. Shine a spotlight and it will highlight what you want to see as well as what you don’t. The wider community may not understand lean, fit racing dogs and education would need a strong focus. At present we enjoy our sport in relative isolation which is a luxury, who knows what notoriety could bring?

And then there will be those who will be quite happy with the ‘hobby’ label and when you look at the description it’s easy to understand why. Hobby: an activity done in one’s leisure time for fun and pleasure. What a great description of running dogs and instantly conjures up images of cuddly dogs, windswept hair and gliding through the elements with a beaming smile. It’s a no pressure statement and also requires little more than following race rules and having a club for support and insurance. It’s kinda more about camaraderie and ‘good times’ than the serious stuff and there will be reservations that the ‘athlete’ tag brings along the attitude of winning at all costs (will leave that one for a future post). Hopefully changing from a hobby to an official sport, we should still be able to maintain the ‘fun’ element.

Whatever happens in the future it will be interesting to see how things progress. It’s nice to dream of racing being shown on TV and the rewards that might bring, but in reality is it that spectator friendly? One of the reasons it’s not in the Olympics is it’s failure to attract crowds at previous demonstrations. Individuals would still struggle to get funding and grants. Sport England is community focused and not about athletes racing internationally, but in all sponsorship deals I’ve been involved with, sponsors need to see we have associations, Internationally sanctioned events, etc, so being part of Sport England would help with credibility. And perhaps more importantly as a recognised sport, athletes are better protected. National Governing Bodies (NGB’s) have to have fair selection & equality policies, transparent accounts and grievance procedures. You can even access legal fees, etc if you feel you’ve been treated unfairly. NGB’s have to be accountable and if your complaint isn’t resolved satisfactorily or correct protocols aren’t followed, then there would be a higher authority you can go to. Don’t discount this protection, sadly in sports allegations of bullying, discrimination and favouritism do exist. Take the example British cycling, which has long been embroiled in sexism rows with their macho culture and former staff being hauled over the coals for telling one female athlete ‘to just go and have babies’ and referring to his female protegees as ‘bitches.’ Both UK Sport and Sport England are trying to ensure more protection for athletes and the Code of Governance goes along way to address this, with particular emphasis on decisions being ‘athlete centred.’ It makes it clear that athletes should be able to speak out without fear of negative consequences. There is a long history of people being snubbed or dropped, because someone had an issue with them. There is no place for personal feelings within committees, they serve the whole membership, not just the ones they like or those who never speak up.

Proceed for recognition, but tread carefully and make sure the resources are in place, to comply with recognition requirements. Workload for those in power will significantly increase. Snowsport England over a decade ago got around £1.5 mill of Lottery funding to grow grass roots. There was little money for competitors, the bulk of this went on pathways to introduce new people into the sport. A substantial amount went on development staff, training to meet new standards, new offices and getting the many registered clubs ready to gain the clubmark award. It sounds a massive amount, but the investment in time, money and new staff needed to revamp and meet the conditions of the grant meant it was soon swallowed up.

I’m happy to call myself an athlete. I take it more seriously than a hobby and whilst I want to have fun, I also quite like to win. I’m not paid like a professional athlete and never will be, I can’t get grants or funding and can’t get to the Olympics. I can race at World and European Champs, call myself a British Champion and pull on a team jersey and race for my country…..that’ll do for me.

Hang on though if the dogs don’t care about the result and are running purely for fun and enjoyment…doesn’t that make them a hobbyist? But…..they are partaking in physical exercise within a competition so surely that defines them as an athlete? Bottom line we are both and that’s just how it should be. Defining one or the other doesn’t really matter as there are elements of each which should be present. Maybe we can be serious athletes, but still crave the thrill of running dogs. And that’s the difference in having animals as part of your team. Things may go wrong and your dogs may not be feeling it, so where you might push yourself to victory, the same can’t be done with the dogs. That’s where being part hobbyist can help reign in the athlete. Ultimately if we become an official sport or remain a hobby we should never lose sight of putting the dogs first and whether you class yourself as an athlete or not, we should all remember why we started running dogs…..and that’s cos it’s bloody good fun.


Lockdown with a canine athlete…..!

Covid 19 bought this years race season came to an abrupt end and now the ICF World Champs in October have been postponed. Staying safe and obeying new government rules has to be everyone’s priority, but how do we manage those dogs that run in harness or tons of exercise has been their norm?

We all know dogs do get bored, ‘cabin fever’ can strike the most even tempered dogs. This can manifest in anything from an attack of the zoomies, chewing table legs to even aggression. So how’s life with a top canine athlete and how do we keep them in condition and vented?


Running dogs in harness on the bike is my favourite form of exercise with my dogs. We usually train between 3 – 4 times a week, but with the current situation that’s just not possible. The local forest is closed and most trails are a drive away and not really essential travel. I can run round a field after a short walk from my home, but that’s far from ideal and gets busy. I can canicross Magnus, but can’t keep up with Marshall and if I let them all off lead together locally, there’s the chance Magnus may do a Fenton. My usual trusted off lead areas involve driving, but local walks are rather livestock heavy. So I’ve had to resort to something most working sleddog owners don’t really do…….dog walking!!!!

I only have 3 dogs to walk and not a whole team, but the combined greyster power of my boys means they could easily drag me to kingdom come. It’s been a long, boring slog to be able to walk them all together with some semblance of control, but something I’d been doing long before running privileges got revoked. So as a starting point if your dogs are horrendous on lead, now’s the time to use some of those walks as training. I don’t walk in a harness as that’s reserved for running and didn’t use halti’s or anything similar. I just did the old fashioned way of stopping when they pulled, waiting for the lead to go slack before moving forwards and plenty of rewards for walking to heel. It’s not a quick fix and you have to be committed, but worth it.

Walks help, but my guys like a little madness in their lives, they are competition dogs afterall, but reduced work means that I ‘ve had to come up with other ways to release that energy.  We have a garden it’s not massive, but has become the dogs new playground. I’ve found that even 10 mins of crazy playtime has been enough to give them a much needed vent, which on lead walks just don’t touch. Here’s my easy go to crazy play garden games:-

  • Flirt Pole – I have to use a short line due to the size of my garden and don’t do this for long as can be hard on dogs joints, but 5 intense minutes of this works a treat.
  • Football – As mine are all ball obsessed, it’s a bit of a free for all, but they do know ‘drop it’ so it’s not just a game of chase. I use a flat ball that they can pick up and a fully pumped ball that they move with the heads and legs.
  • Chase – with the football and we all chase the dog with the ball. I find if I chase the dog with the ball the others do the same.
  • Tug of War – with me and between the dogs themselves.
  • Swingball –  where I hit the ball and the dogs give chase. I don’t do this for long as again lots of jumping and changing of direction and make sure the dogs get the ball, so they can enjoy a win.

Having 3 dogs means they will also amuse themselves normally instigated by Miley the collie. She can whip the boys into a frenzy and get them to chase her, but after about 5 minutes she’ll call time, they all give a shake to change energy and then chill out.

It’s not all mental and nuts, I do try to get them to use their brains too, this can be very taxing for Magnus. I scatter feed around the garden, but we call it hide and treat. I use a mixture of Trophy kibble and frozen raw meat and initially just chucked it over the lawn. However the dogs have got to be so good at this, that I now have to get very creative and bury it or place it above ground in bushes. I use the whole garden and it takes them around half an hour and multiple sweeps before they’ve hoovered it all up.

Sticking with food related games these are games that have worked well with mine.  Fill a shallow container with water and then put kibble and fruit in for the dogs to fish out and try and catch, somewhat similar to playing bobbing apples. The kibble sinks and the fruit floats so they have to put their whole faces in to get the goodies at the bottom and chase the bobbing fruit around the surface. Top tip is play this outside.

I’ve also fed their meal rolled up in a blanket and even hid kibble in the ends tied up in giant knots. They have to use their paws to unroll the blanket to reveal their food and mine pawed and the large knots until they could get enough space to push their noses in.

Then there’s the spin the bottle feeder. Put some holes in a plastic bottle or leave the lid off and let them figure out that if it moves the food comes out. I start on the floor and then progress to put the bottle on a line and they have to make the bottle spin to free the treats.

I use these as a way to feed a meal when they’ve had a lazy day and especially now when they can go only go out once. These games have cost me nothing, but there are lots of games, feeders and chews on the market. My guys like most dogs love to chew, it relieves boredom, but is also great for healthy teeth. You can’t go far wrong with frozen kongs and I get bones from my local butcher. Do your research as to what chews work best for your dog and beware there is some rubbish out there, rawhide being one.

And then there’s training. Type in dog tricks in google and a whole host of ideas will come up from simple tricks to more complex stuff. Set yourself a challenge and pick a trick to teach your dog. Just be patient and training sessions are better kept short and frequent than being too long and the dog getting bored.

Let your imagination run riot and have fun. I made a dog assault course out of patio furniture and have been attempting dog parkhour. I’m currently trying to persuade them to jump through an old bike tyre. You can also make your tricks and games interactive, challenge your friends to see who completes the task first or even just to share ideas. There’s lots of pages on facebook full of games and things to try. We ran a live final of our dogs assault course over facebook where we timed each dog to see who was the quickest, rope in other family members and it can be a whole family affair. Obviously Miley the collie took the win here.

As boring as lockdown can be, it gives us this quality time to spend with our dogs, so lets make the most of it. Take the time to play some games, teach some tricks or just hang with your buddy. Not only is it good for your dogs, but we all know the therapeutic powers of our canine family. When the going gets tough, go play the with dog……stay home, play some games and stay safe.

We’d like to thank our sponsors Trophy Pet Foods for their continued support. Our local supplier even delivers to the door, so even more time for me to spend enjoying my team. You can check out their superb products here:- www.trophypetfoods.co.uk

The enigma that is Magnus…


Magman

I love running my dogs, one of which is competitive the other not so much. Both my boys enjoy running in harness, Marshall thrives on competition, you only have to see him at the start of a race to tell how much he wants to go. Magnus on his own however can struggle with the mental demands of races, but hook him up with another dog and he’s as mental as his son. This year I raced Marshall on the bike and then ran Magnus in rec class after racing (running the race trail, but without times). This more relaxed feel of running solo suits him and he does seem to enjoy the no pressure environment, but why the difference between father and son?

Magnus comes from great running lines and his parents, grand parents and littermates have a collection of trophies and titles to their names. Mags has a few notches to brag about, but has never really reached his full potential. He came to us from Norway as a puppy. He was the runt of the litter and was a lot smaller. He fought his way to full strength and by the time the pups were off to new homes, he was just as chunky as his siblings. We had the choice of him or his brother, but picked Mags thinking he must have heart to overcome his early difficulties. We named him after Magnus Magnusson 4 time winner of the World’s Strongest Man, it seemed fitting for our little Norwegian fighter.

As soon as he arrived he was a complete cuddle monster. He was equally as happy curled up on us as he was playing with the other dogs. To this day Maggie still loves lolling all over us for cuddles. He’d free run with the other youngsters, but was the slowest. We called him our little ‘dumper truck’ cos he never gave up and just trundled along at the back. He lacked the grace, finesse and speed of the other dogs, but made up for it with grit, determination and his happy tail. Magnus’s happiness is clear to see with his eager tail wags. That same wagginess has been responsible for countless spilt drinks, knocked over ornaments and various whipped legs!

He grew up with lots of other dogs and was never any problem. He has good social skills, but has been known to take off on his own for adventures. In the off lead field as a youngster he would tear along the fence line, showing a strong independent streak. We didn’t rush him into harness as it was clear he needed longer to develop, but he watched and when his time came he was well up for the challenge. Magnus grew into a powerful, compact dog around 32kg, not massive, but he has power. It was clear early on that Mags did not enjoy running solo, he much preferred to have no responsibility and ran wheel in the 4 dog team. Mags gave some balance and power to our young team, which comprised of 2 girls and 2 boys. Coming into the start of his first season of racing the team were recording some great averages of around 22mph….exciting times ahead.

Then it all went a bit ‘Pete Tong.’ On a short training run the 4 dog team were involved in an accident, when the front wheel of the rig came off. No dogs or people were injured, but the experience must have really scared Magnus, as when we tried to run him again he didn’t want to. I unhooked him from the team and he didn’t even bat and eyelid as they took off yipping excitedly. This was so out of character normally he’d cry if left behind, but now he couldn’t get away fast enough. Sadly Magnus would never run with that team again.

Mags became mine to run, dropped from the race team. I ran him on the bike. It was very slow and steady and all at his pace. He wouldn’t chase other dogs, was just spooked by it all. He also came to live at my house and away from the kennels he knew. It was just him and my collie Miley and these living conditions were perfect for him. No other dogs to compete for cuddles, he only had to share me with Miley, who is the gentlest collie you could imagine and maybe more crucially no other males for him to feel inferior to. Miley is occasionally bossy with him, but under her guidance he began to get his confidence back. Maggie needed time, love and patience, which would have been much harder in a larger kennel.

Our first race

Gradually Mags learnt to love the bike. We entered our first race and did surprisingly well. I was also asked if he would be a stud dog, he does have World class lines and is a good looking boy and Indi was also from a world class kennel, it was a great mating, so I agreed. He took his time with Indi, ever the slow learner, but eventually after about 5 days the deed was done and Magnus eventually became a dad to 10 pups. During this time Mags was running epic, growing in speed and confidence. He also managed a team race running joint lead, I was so proud. Then disaster struck again!

On a standard training run, we met an off lead dog on the trail, who attacked Magnus without any provocation. His owner was trailing behind, which left me to pull this dog off Magnus. We were both shaken and I did cry after, which I’m sure did nothing to help Maggie, we were back to square one. In fact it was worse, he was now backing out of his harness in a panic. Lots of people said he would never be the same again, but I knew he was a fighter from birth, so I went back to walking him with the bike in his harness. It would have been so easy to give up on him, he’d run a bit and then freak about something. I was heartbroken and started to think he really would never run again, but gradually the fighter in him surfaced and he started to run again. He was now quite rightly scared of other dogs, but only when he was running and he would stop if he spotted one on the trail. We did a sink or swim style training with him, where I ran him on the bike along a fence line full of dogs, they couldn’t get to him, but were barking and chasing him. This worked and still now he doesn’t care about dogs on the trail.

So with him back in the game, I entered the ICF European Championships that were being held in Italy. This would be his first international event, it was a big ask. It was a busy event with lots of people, dogs and noise. Crucially it was a PA system, which was quite loud at the start. Mags was very nervous, I could tell because he was being very clingy. He was used to people, events and dogs the new factor here was the PA. We took off the start line very gingerly, but once the noise became more distant, the faster Mags went. We had a great run, lots of clean passes and the last mile or so Maggie was stronger than ever. We finished race day 1 in 3rd place. I was gobsmacked, but amazingly proud of the boy.

ICF European Champs 2017

I never imagined my broken boy could do this and that night started dreaming of standing on the podium, Union Jack draped round my shoulders, Mags at my side and a European Championship medal round my neck. Well this is real life and not a fairy tale. Day 2 and it went wrong from the start, Magnus barely moved off the start line. We eventually got going and sometimes we were really shifting, but we suffered equipment failure with the chain coming off 3 times. These delays were costly and pushed us down to 5th place. I so wanted this, if anything to prove everyone wrong and that Magnus could come back, but he didn’t care about the medal and at times had run fantastic.

Slow going off the start

However this race left us with more than just dashed dreams. Magnus was left with a problem starting, my belief is it came from the PA, which was loud and maybe at a level that was uncomfortable for him, but I’m just guessing. His starts were awful, he didn’t really pull and I’d quickly be out pedalling him. We kept plugging away, but our results weren’t anything to write home about. I worked hard on my own bike skills and fitness, but it was a tough season and hard not to feel down. I knew he had so much potential, his previous results had shown this, but I just couldn’t find it.

During this season Marshall (a pup we’d kept from Mags’ litter) was growing up. I had started free running Miley and Marshall when training Mags on the bike. Mags started really well in training with no PA, etc and loved having the other dogs around for company. This was only compounding my frustration, in training he was great and then awful at a race. I knew then that Magnus wanted to be part of team, just like he had back in his early running days, he wanted another dog to rely on.

So when Marshall came of age and could race wheels, we swopped to 2 dog scooter and an even more audacious plan popped into my head to compete in 2 dog skijor at the World Snow Championships. We did very little bike and sacrificed the vets class overall British Title with Marshall, but this season was all about Mags and not medals. We had to build up to 18km for snow and did this racing around forest trails with the boys on the scooter, gradually clocking up the miles. Magnus loved this and it became clear that whilst he didn’t quite have Marshall’s top end speed, he did have great stamina and in the latter miles when Marshall was tiring, Mags would take the strain and power them home.

One of my best moments running dogs came when Magnus blasted off the start with cheering crowds and blaring PA at the snow champs. We came in a credible 9th and the dogs ran amazing. We could have been higher, suffering another equipment issue, but that’s a story for another time.

The big question still loomed could he ever run a race solo? I went back to training him on his own, but with Miley free running by his side and he seemed happy with that. So I took a gamble and entered him in scooter class at the ICF Worlds in Poland. He would have to start a race on his own, with a PA, could he do it? Scooter is slightly slower than bike class, but dogs need to be more powerful as you can scoot to help, but still not the same a pedal assist.

Matching smiles

He was a bit clingy at the start and whilst he didn’t take off with the same enthusiasm he does in training, he did run off the start. He was cautious at first, but the further we went the more he grew in confidence and by the finish he was in full stride. We finished day 2 in 7th place, I’ll take a top ten place at the Worlds thankyou very much. This was one of my proudest moments running dogs, only topped by staying on in the mud with Marshall to win a European medal. The photo above really does show how much we enjoyed this race and whilst we weren’t in the medals it didn’t matter one bit. I felt as if I’d won the lottery when he raced solo again.

So here we are at present day and he loves running rec class, but we love our training more. I do the serious training stuff with Marshall, then have a much more relaxed run with Mags and Miley comes along as well. These are my favourite runs, we explore new trails, stop to takes photos and enjoy the scenery. I’ve accepted that Mags is what he is and I’m not gonna change him. The dog that got written off and twice couldn’t run has proved what I thought when he was the runt of the litter. He’s a real fighter and one of the bravest dogs I know. I would love to have got an international medal for him, but he doesn’t care. We’ve found our happy place. He’s calm and content in the house and still gives the best cuddles.

We would like to thank Trophy Pet Foods for sponsoring the team and providing top class nutrition. I firmly believe that a good quality food goes a long way to having well balanced dogs, which allows for a healthy and happy home life. You can find our more about their products here:-

http://www.trophypetfoods.co.uk

BSSF British Championship Series Pembrey 2020

This was the second weekend in the 3 series race to claim a British Title and selection to the British Sleddog Team. With two wins in the bag from the previous event in England, a win here on the sandy Welsh trails would secure the title of British Veteran Ladies Bikejor Champion. The pressure was on.

My pit crew and co pilot for this race was my 18 year old daughter Bryony, a former racer herself and expert dog handler, so I was in safe hands for the support bit. Marshall was looking fit and was firing on all cylinders (thanks to Trophy Pet Foods for powering my boys), so if it went wrong it really was all down to me.

Mohome loaded we trundled through the middle of Wales for what seemed an eternity until we finally reached Pembrey Country Park. It’s a great location with the park and campsite nestled just off the Gower peninsula, meaning the trail is a mixture of woods, mud, fire track and sand dune climbs.

The beach is also massive and worthy of a visit even if just to let the dogs have a good old blast.

The weather was not it’s best with strong winds bringing rain, then sweeping the clouds away for a brief respite and sunshine, until the rain clouds gathered again. Rain, wind or shine Pembrey is a great racing venue with an interesting trail for all.

I did a course recce on the Friday before sunset, whilst Bry sorted the canine team. Th dogs are experienced travellers and enjoy mohome life, they seem to love going on adventures as much as I do. we turn in early, for a good nights sleep and ready to race in the morning. We’re always up early at races, sleeping in isn’t really an option at a dog event unless you have very good ear plugs or sleep extremely deeply. The dogs need to be hydrated well before racing so the big teams make their own dawn chorus with husky howls waking me long before my alarm does.

The dogs are dropped first for their morning abolutions and then hydrated. I don’t use a magic mix, just water, oil, tuna or a few pieces of Trophy kibble bobbing in the water is enough to make mine drink. I don’t feed before racing, due to a risk of bloat, but hydration is vital for top performance. The oils (salmon, etc) are fats and a good energy provider. This time I poured goose fat into the mix and they lapped it up, literally.

We were out at 10ish day 1, which gives me enough time to tinker with my bike, pump the tyres, check gears, chain, etc. I go over the trail in my head, so I can call the right turns, get my gear changes nailed, etc. It’s so close that every second counts and one bad turn is all it takes to slip off the podium. Vets ladies class is really competitive and growing every year. Actually the competition is fierce, but friendly and they’re a great bunch of ladies. We all push each other to achieve better, but are there to support each other if it’s gone a bit pear shaped.

Race time came soon enough, we harnessed Marshall and took him to the start. He loves running and racing and gets very excited come race day. He isn’t very patient either and screams to go when waiting for our turn. On hearing the countdown, Marshall gets serious and on go is like a bullet exploding from a gun. The pull he gives off the start line is incredible and I have to keep up with him.

We cover the 2.7 mile course in around 8.30 mins with an average speed of around 19 miles an hour. Marshall takes every turn clean and I don’t mess up. We have several overtakes and a dog stuck in the trail to contend with, but cross the line in one piece. Marshall happy and I can hardly speak I’ve pedalled so hard. Within minutes Marshall has recovered and looks like he could do it all again. We don’t hang about and get him back to the van to get him watered and cool off, but I see my main rival cross the line, she’s in pretty quick behind me, it’s gonna be close.

Once the boy has been taken care of, we go and have a look at the times. We’re first with a 15 sec advantage, tomorrow has to be clean and fast.

In the afternoon the rain came and it poured well into the night. That meant the trail would be a lot more muddy and slippy. Staying on was gonna be touch and go.

The next morning and again woken by the huskies singing the song of their people. Same drill as the day before, but we start an hour earlier. It’s a bit of a mental game weighing up the right tactics day 2, do I go all guns blazing or take it steadier on the slippier corners? Bry must have been thinking the same as she told me ‘to be careful’ before I raced, so that was tactics sorted, easier on the turns and gun it on the straights.

Marshall doesn’t understand tactics, go slow or being careful. He only knows one way to run and that’s as fast as he can. We blasted off the start line again and I was nervous on the first turns, Marshall was steaming along and I had to be quite heavy on the brakes to slow him enough for me to make the turns safely. I pedalled like my life depended on it on the straights, trying to make up time for my steady corners. I remember being told once to ‘turn yourself inside out’ when pedalling, which translates to ‘severe discomfort and pain.’ I opened the ‘hurt locker’ and pushed and pulled on those pedals with all the power and speed I could muster.

At this point I’m burning more energy than my body can produce by just sucking in oxygen, so my muscles switch to using lactate for energy. My body can’t sustain this anaerobic energy production for long, so I know I’ve got minutes to try and get across the finish before my muscles give up. The high levels of lactate accumulating will eventually force me to slow down, even if my mind and heart wants otherwise. I can feel my legs starting to burn, I want to ease off, but my head says ‘do you want to win or not…? Well pedal God damnit’ So I pedal.

Marshall is still going all out, no lactic acid build up for him and I’m hanging on. We turn the last bend and hit the final straight, which is bumpy to hell, pedalling becomes even tougher and I am slowing, but we cross the line. The boy looks great, wagging his tail and panting mildly, I’m breathing like I’ve run a marathon.

We’re first and have increased our lead, the head talk worked, but ultimately it’s mostly down to my incredible dog and his insane drive to run. Marshall is a racing machine and a World Class canine athlete, I’m lucky to have him. My job is to train him well, feed him well, love him lots and make sure that he’s always happy to run…..so far, so good.

British Title secure, we can travel to the final Championship race in Scotland in March, with no pressure and just have a blast. Before then we will be taking the team to snow for some adventures on the white stuff….stay tuned.

Many thanks to Trophy Pet Foods for sponsoring the Team by providing great quality food.

https://www.trophypetfoods.co.uk/

You are what you eat!

It was Dr Gillian Mckeith who famously coined that phrase about humans with her TV show, but the same is true for our pets. Feed your dogs cheap dog food, packed out with filler ingredients and they’ll be climbing the walls like a kid on blue smarties. For a racing dog this sort of high energy buzz, might seem useful, but just like kids on a sugar rush, this energy source doesn’t last long and provides no long term development for muscles or bones. Not only that but the comedown can make dogs tired, hungry and bad tempered. Ask any behaviourist and one of the first questions they ask, when assessing dogs is ‘what do they eat?’

I’ve owned dogs for over 31 years and in that time have used ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’ of the dog food world. I’ve taken vets advice, listened to those with more experience than me and have fed raw, dry food and a mix of both in the search for the best for my pets. With 3 decades of trial, error and research I’ll try and pass on my experiences and thoughts.

We all want to do the best for our dogs, but our lifestyle, budget, etc all plays a part when choosing dog food. Dry food is definitely the most convenient way to feed your dog, but is it ok to feed?

Firstly ignore the hype and compelling TV adverts. The supermarket shelves are full of dog food, all claiming to be the best. The proof is your own dog or those dogs that you can see or who you know thrive on their food. I’m sponsored by Trophy Pet Foods, but my sponsorship comes from doing well, so my dogs need the diet of champions. I also wouldn’t compromise my dogs’ health for the sake of a bag of food, my guys are too important for that and I also want to be in the medals, that won’t happen on a poor diet.

The first thing to do is check the ingredients and that includes raw.  My guys need a high protein diet, so lets’ start with that first. Protein in dry pet food can come from many sources, meat, meal, or plant based and each vary in their nutritional value. Pet foods must label their products by weight, so a food that lists a high protein content, but puts cereals first and meat lower down the ingredient list would mean the primary protein source came from plants and not much from the meat.

Dogs need protein to function daily as well as keep good condition and muscle mass. I feed Surf & Turf from the Premium Working range and has a protein content of 25%. The protein meat sources are named and are beef meal and salmon with their minimum protein content percentages shown, that gives me a pretty good idea of how much protein comes from meat or plant based. There’s no generic animal derivatives, so I know the protein meat sources and have an idea of their quality.

Meat meal is a term used on dry dog food labels and is basically a meat concentrate, a dried end product that has been rendered. Rendering is basically cooking a meat stew, where the water is boiled away and then baked until you get a highly concentrated protein powder or meat meal.

In this chart you will see whole chicken contains 70% water and 18% protein, yet after the rendering process, the chicken meal is 10% water and a staggering 60% protein…..that’s nearly 4 times more protein than in the whole chicken.

But meals are not all equal as it depends on the content of the stew. Throw in some low grade materials like slaughterhouse waste, spoiled meats, diseased cattle or battery chickens (who have little muscle) and your stew doesn’t look too good. A better quality meal will name the meat source and it’s percentage.

I fed raw before switching to dry food and with mixed success. I used frozen, complete meals which were comprised of 80% meat, 10% bone and 10% offal, which is the recommended mix. I was under the impression that 80% meat would mean a super high protein content, but I wasn’t looking at the moisture percentage, which is as a minimum 60% for most meats, significantly reducing the protein amount. This meant I was feeding way more than expected to get the protein levels I wanted and literally shovelling the food into them. The boys always seemed hungry and I was feeding 3 times a day.

I used one supplier for my raw experience and with some of the meats the dogs would get upset stomachs. Having dogs you become a bit of a poo expert, as that’s the first sign that there could be an issue. Sometimes they would have very sloppy poos and at other times they struggled to go. I realised the poos when they struggled contained more bone content, which does firm things up. I have no scientific proof to my theory, but can only conclude that sometimes the bone content must have been higher than stated. This started to worry me about how the completes were made and what went into them.

Salmonella bacteria

The dogs would also turn their noses up at some mixes, in particular the fish and rabbit, which made them physically sick. I just put this down to it being too rich a food or something similar, but whatever the reason I ended up binning some mixes as the dogs wouldn’t touch them. The final nail in the coffin came when I got an email about product recalls, after salmonella was discovered at the factory after a routine inspection. I threw away multiple meat mixes with contaminated batch numbers and this went on for several weeks as the factory failed every retest and even more bacteria was discovered. At that point my journey with raw food ended, I wasn’t going to risk my dogs in any way, shape or form. All I can sum up is that the same as dry food, not all raw food is equal or of the same quality.

I did research the company before taking the plunge and spoke to them in depth, as discovered an issue in the press from years ago. I explained that I competed and as such my dogs could be drug tested, so I would need to know the meat sources and that it didn’t come from animals on antibiotics and the food had to be top notch. I was given promises and reassurances and I will give anyone a chance, but I do feel let down and feel their promises were empty. Travelling and going away for several weeks for training and competitions was also difficult, trying to keep the mixes frozen and transporting cool boxes worth of meat was an issue, especially going abroad and taking meat with me.

Luckily along came Trophy to the rescue. I liked the ingredients and more importantly the dogs liked it. I was worried that having fed raw changing to a kibble the dogs wouldn’t be interested in this non-meat, looking biscuits, but they wolf it down and the bowls are licked clean. They have bones or filled kongs sometimes and I add Trophy Whole Body herbs to their food daily. Once a week I pop an egg over their kibble an when on snow or in periods of intense training and racing I will dribble some oils over their kibble to up the fat content.

Their energy levels are superb, they’re flying in training, always raring to go and we’re picking up medals at every race. Their coats are soft and shiny, their breath doesn’t smell, they have no allergies and have excellent muscle tone. All the things raw fed dogs are supposed to have better over our dry fed canines, like I said at the beginning don’t believe the advertising hype. I will accept that their is slightly less poo with raw fed dogs, but no more constipation from a meat mix with too much bone. Kibble dogs are supposed to have more tartar, so combat that with a bone or teeth cleaning chew to chomp on and that argument soon fades away.

Photo courtesy Matthew Shin


The bottom line is dog food is not one size fits all, which is why there are so many varieties out there. What works for mine or didn’t maybe different for your dog. Do your research, talk to people and see for yourself. I’ve found Trophy to be an honest and ethical company whose food does what it says on the packaging. They have great customer service and respond quickly to questions, etc. My food arrives promptly and I’ve never had a product recall. The best placed critics however are my dogs, who’ve never turned their noses up at a Trophy meal, never been sick from a Trophy meal and are performing on the trail with Trophy food fuelling them. That’s good enough for me.

You can find out more about Trophy Pet Foods here:-

https://www.trophypetfoods.co.uk/about-us.html

The Old New Kid on the Block……ESDRA

A short interview with ESDRA Sports Director and Vice president Girts Eldmanis


1/ What is ESDRA?

As the name implies, its’ the Association of European Sleddog Sports Organizations (federations).  It was only a matter of years ago that ESDRA was actively in charge of European sleddog business life. It was agreed to hand things over to IFSS, to try to implement the umbrella principle and run things under one command.

2/ Why do we need another organisation, when we already have IFSS?

A bit like the debate over who came first the chicken or the egg, the same can be said for ESDRA and IFSS, but there is no question who was first…..it was ESDRA. ISDRA and ESDRA were the founders of IFSS. Over time it was tried to pass all operations from ESDRA to IFSS, but that has not worked out as hoped.

3/ What does ESDRA hope to achieve in its’ first year?

Our members (European Sleddog Sport Federations ) have asked us, the new board to try to work closely with IFSS. The emphasis must be the needs and vision of the Europeans, which includes:-

1/ Development of quality based European and major events.

2/ Development of judge education.

3/ Improvement of animal welfare and

4/ Openness in general – being closer to mushers and their voice.

That means negotiating a better cooperation contract and setting up changes within IFSS for its next GA. These are the key things to be achieved as well as finding (together with IFSS Continental director for Europe) a great host for the European Dryland Championships 2020. Its not little to achieve.

4/ How do people or nations get to be involved?

ESDRA has almost the same members as IFSS from Europe with a small, but vital difference. Involvement can happen via national federations (a new website will be opened shortly). Interaction with open minded ESDRA board may also happen via social networks. We are open for ideas and communication.

5/ What is the history of ESDRA?

ESDRA is mainly till now remembered for the great European Cup (on what IFSS World Cup is based) and setting up the regulations that we still use (changed over time of course). We will try to publish a better retrospective of ESDRA at the new web page.

6/ Why reform ESDRA now when it has not been operational for so long?

A great majority of European federations are not satisfied with the current way the cooperation contract with IFSS is going. So a new board has been elected to work for a better solution that will benefit more countries than just one specific region.

7/ Will ESDRA runs races and would they be dryland, snow or both?

It’s yet to be determined. At ESDRA General Assembley members requested that the board tries to find the best cooperation model with IFSS and continue the cooperation. But ESDRA reserves the right to organize its’ own European Championship and World Cup in the future if no agreement is found that will benefit the federations. Sleddog sport is dryland and snow and ESDRA shall not forget any of those.

8/ What classes would ESDRA support and Nordic and open?

ESDRA GA voted in favor to return the veteran classes to the upcoming European Winter championships in 2020. ESDRA will support both RNB and Open classes.

9/ What is ESDRA stance on sleddog sports in the Olympics?

It was debated and requested by several members at the last GA that the development of the sport can not blindly follow the illusive dream of IOC recognition. Yes, we have to work for the recognition, as it will help develop the sport, but not at any cost. The sport has to develop on the requests of the national federations not on unknown recognition principles that IFSS current board has failed so far to present to its members including the European ones. The biggest controversy so far of course was the removal of the veteran classes in the name of IOC.

10/ Will people think this is just a knee jerk reaction to IFSS pulling the races from Latvia?

Defiantly not. Historically it has been set up that at IFSS one country can have up to 5 votes and others just one. At ESDRA its 2 votes per country, so everyone is equal. Over time IFSS system has created bitterness among many federations as their views are plainly ignored. If the votes for closing ESDRA had happened on IFSS voting principles it would have been much, much closer (just based on 3 country opinion) to a tie rather than now a landslide decision to keep developing ESDRA. It’s more to do with the level of openness and honesty the current IFSS board is ready to operate and include national federations in decision making. When people have had enough they require change. ESDRA elected a new board just for that – to find change for the better. Not to have decisions that are unexplained, not to have events that are unrepresentative and to have answers when requested not when some feel they feel like it. European federations have spoken and given a mandate for change to its’ new board with that we openly shall work.

Girts Eldmanis


Thanks to Girts and the ESDRA team for taking the time to talk to us and for opening up good lines of communication.
Back in July there was a motion for a vote of no confidence in the IFSS Council. 13 votes in support of a vote of no confidence, 50 in support of no, 6 abstained and 11 did not vote. Would seem like the IFSS has the majority of member support…right? But when you realise that some Federations did not consult their members, the spread of votes is not equal and IFSS had released a statement prior to the vote basically saying ‘they wouldn’t go even if the vote of confidence was successful, because there were no policies in place to deal with such a situation’ you start to realise that this vote was never going to get through. Certainly there are issues with the current way the IFSS is being operated. They don’t answer communications and don’t reflect the views of what the federations members seem to want, bar a few. And still no date for the promised Veterans World Dryland Championships.

Time will tell whether the reformed ESDRA will or can make a difference and what that impact might be. One things for sure interesting times ahead……..WATCH THIS SPACE!

Have your say and leave a comment, but remember to ‘say what you mean, without being mean’

Willow Bear

A dog that believed she could……..…….

Willow came into our lives for my daughters 9th birthday. We didn’t pick her she picked us, she came out with her litter mates and plonked herself at our feet, staring up with those big brown eyes. That was it, this fluffy, big red was coming home.


She was from show lines, not an ounce of running pedigree in her heritage. Willow was the stereotypical husky everyone expected to see in a Disney movie and in time would become the Arctic Quest poster girl, but that’s where anything stereotypical about this dog ended.

Coming from show lines, she should have been more at home in the ring, but Willow would have hated that, she was all about pulling. She wasn’t built like a lean running machine, had a thick coat and heavy bone structure. In fact Pullin and Willow were both not what you’d expect for athletes, but Willow had this heart and drive in harness that even the best dogs would envy. She was also as competitive as Vickie and they only needed to see a team ahead on the trail and both would give their all to try and catch them. This fluffy, show dog started our racing journey and gave Vic her first race, her first victory, her first International race and even won a Bronze medal for Russ at the Thetford Europeans. We would keep telling Willow to ‘just do your best’ and ‘not to expect anything,’ but she would toss her head, fix her eyes down the trail and time and time again she would surprise everyone.

At races Willow would trot around with an air of superiority, looking at other dogs like ‘you’re not as fluffy as me,’ she really did think she was a cut above the rest. An attitude she kept at home as well. She liked to try and boss the others around by being vocal and showing off, but we all kinda new it was just Willow being Willlow, our grumbling, gobby bear. She was very much all mouth and no trousers, but if you didn’t know her ways she could put the fear of God into you and she loved wielding that power!

She didn’t like kids apart from Bryony, who she loved and respected. At schools as soon as the kids saw her that would elicit an appreciative ‘wow,’ but Willow was very much all look and no touch. She didn’t like to be crowded or people in her space, but always wanted attention if other dogs were getting fuss and she wasn’t. I always stood near her in public and would rub the tip of her ear if I thought she was getting stressed, she didn’t complain so think she liked it. She was a brilliant learning tool for kids, who had to greet her on her terms only. I would demonstrate poor doggy etiquette, by shoving my face in hers and Willow as if she’d read the script would reply with a loud, growl and snarl. I never felt scared, we were playing our roles and she played her part with vigour.

Willow & Bryony

Willow did love to be centre stage and could command an audience, from afar. She could do the ‘I love you’ husky thing if she felt like, but would often leave Vic hanging in front of a large crowd and just sit there looking stunning. She didn’t like many people and you had to earn her respect, if you ran her well she might allow you a quick touch of her amazing coat, but if she sensed fear she would exploit that to the fullest. She also didn’t care who she offended by turning her back on them and famously, ignored Peter Jones on Dragons Den when he went to pet her. She gave him her ‘don’t care how many millions you’ve got in the bank’ look and walked away, leaving his outstretched hand stranded. No wonder we didn’t get an investment!

She also had this was of unnerving people by really staring at them. An AQ guest once said she felt as if ‘Willow was peering into her soul,’ tad dramatic, but I think she would size people up with her fixed glare and it became a game she would play, who would blink or turn away first, it was always the human, Willow didn’t do losing!

If you were one of Willow’s trusted few, then she did really love you and we all felt she would do anything for us. Maybe it was her massive confidence and ego in harness, but strangely she became a brilliant teacher for those dogs that were goofy, nervous or weaker when running. Was it she just didn’t tolerate messing or expected all dogs to work as hard as she did? Whatever she could make dogs run that we couldn’t and actually seemed to understand and be really nice to those minor league dogs. This was totally out of character for her, as she didn’t tolerate lesser beings, but shows the complexity of the bear. She became kennel mates with two in particular Koda and Tamzin and they grew in confidence feeding off Willows ego.

She didn’t care where she ran lead or wheel, on a team or solo on the scooter, as long as she was out the trails with the wind in her fur, she was happiest. Willow was one of the Arctic Quest original 4 and a few weeks ago was running regularly with the others. She was the only husky that ran with the Alaskans and believed she could keep up with them. We would use the brakes to make sure it wasn’t too fast, but in her head it was all her and she believed she was as fast as anyone else, no matter how she was built.

Two weeks ago Willow was rushed to the vets with Pyometra and a massive infection. Being the bear and strong as an ox, she pulled through and recovered well. She’d been spoilt rotten in the house, but cone off and whilst not 100% she was looking better and knowing she’d prefer to be back with her kennel mates that’s where she went, she curled up with them, went to sleep and never woke. It was peaceful, but there seems no reason for her to leave us yet. I guess it’s typical Willow doing things her way and surprising us right to the end.

Willow would not have wanted to grow really old or slow down and she would never have accepted that she couldn’t keep up with the youngsters. Retirement would not have been in her vocab, so maybe for a dog like her going quickly and suddenly was the right way.

This sums up how the bear lived her life…..

‘If you fall behind, run faster, never give up, never surrender and rise up against all the odds’

ICF European Champs Belgium Oct 2019

Not for the faint hearted………

Nov 2017 World Championships Poland and the muddiest race I had ever been to, so bad that by the end of play on the last day the relay was cancelled due to trail safety concerns. I was terrified and as the bike slithered around I froze and could hardly turn the pedals. I ploughed on and fell trying an overtake. Sprawled in the mud, on my hands and knees I remember seeing someone sail past me, slicing through the mud, like skis carving up fresh snow. Right there as I watched them with envious eyes I vowed never to be in this situation again……I would learn how to become a better, faster and fitter rider.

Forward 2 years and the European Champs in Belgium Oct 19/20th. This race has officially taken over the title of ‘muddiest race ever’ as well as the most technical and demanding trail to date. And that’s not just me saying this, even the sports greats were posting about mud, ridiculously steep climbs and hoping to stay safe. This time however I stood at the start line nervous, but believing I could do it. I was a better athlete, stronger, faster and with skill and confidence to match.

The first thing I did after Poland was research mud tyres, it’s common to run tyres for speed when racing bikejoring, but increasingly courses are becoming more demanding and in horrendous conditions, so I now always take my mud tyres to change to if conditions deteriorate. There’s a lot of choice for mud tyres and I still wanted something with a fairly decent rolling resistance, so after much reading, asking for advice and conducting my own trials I opted for Maxxis Shortys. I lovingly call them my ‘tractor tyres’, but they stick to the trail and have never let me down. This is a massive factor in riding mud fast, having the right equipment and confidence. I also invested in body armour cos if I was gonna learn to ride mud, the only sure fire way was to go out and ride it and that meant I was gonna fall.

A tad muddy out!

And fall I did, anyone who follows my facebook will see I have a pretty good collection of Bikejor bruises, but gradually those falls turned into near misses to the point where I believe I can stay on. The next skill I mastered was skidding the rear end of the bike. A hard pulling dog, drags you out of the turn and sometimes that means skidding the backend to get round. I did this by complete accident one day, but now regularly pull on the back brake mid turn to skid the rear tyre round.

‘That hill’ photo credit Mudd/tt Photography

So sliding bike and not being paralysed by the mere sight of mud mastered. That wasn’t all this track had to offer though, there were hills. Climbs are not my strong point, so I rode as many hills as I could dogless and then in August after scouting the steepest climbs I could find I hooked up Marshall. This didn’t go quite to plan, as soon as it got really steep to the point where we were hardly moving, Marshall would stop. He was all about speed and didn’t understand he just needed to plod and keep pulling, he would stand and look at me questioning why we weren’t going fast, when he was clearly trying his best. It wasn’t until September when he first realised moving slowly was an option.

I also found a really rooty trail and I mean seriously that bumpy it was teeth chattering, which we bounced over. I made a jump over a tree trunk, which we cleared and by now Marshall’s turns were pretty much dialled in. I felt confident I’d covered most of what a trail could throw up. At Belgium we did a course recce dogless and all had to get off and walk the two hills, there was no way we were getting up there, they were too steep. In fact out of the whole bikejor entry only one person made it up both hills and that was of course Igor Tracz. The rest of us mere mortals were gonna have to dismount and run. Darn it I hadn’t trained for running with the bike and a dog!

Marshal and I had a practise run before the race and getting off the bike confused him, he gave me his ‘wth” look and we were back to him stopping on climbs. I knew this was gonna be the toughest race of my life.

Marshall digs in on the hills
Photo credit Mud/tt Photography

Race day 1 dawned and the trail was muddy, but it wasn’t raining. For once I wasn’t too worried about the mud, but my nemesis would be that hill and would Marshall stop? Pushing those thoughts away, I powered out of the start and loved the first half of the trail. It was slippy, but such a buzz. My fingers hovered over the brakes, but I resisted using them and it felt great, we even passed 2 people. Then we got to the climb, this was the clincher. I got off and tried to run, but no grip, the bike needed lifting over roots and we were at snail pace. I got passed, saw her ahead clambering onto her bike, so sooner than I had anticipated I did the same in an attempt to catch her. Marshall pulled and we were moving and getting closer, then half way up the hill that is rideable, I ground to a halt. I was sucking in air, my legs were like lead and my mind had quit. I got back off the back and walked. The person ahead turned the corner and disappeared, I wouldn’t see her again. I was gutted, it had all gone so wrong and we were losing precious time whilst I tried to recover. Eventually nearly at the top I got back going again. Marshall unperplexed just got straight back to business and we crossed the line in 4th place, but only 6 seconds from 3rd.

I knew what had gone wrong, but didn’t know if I could do any better, it’s not like I could do much to improve my fitness overnight. I’m a tactician and analyse stuff, so needing a plan I reasoned that I’d got on too soon and that’s why my body quit. So if I walked up the steepest section further it would enable me to complete the easier part of the climb….. as plans go it wasn’t exactly a game changer, but I needed to try something different.

Day 2 and torrential rain all night meant the trail was just a mudfest, Glastonbury’s got nothing on this. It was still lashing it down come race time, but it was now or never. The mud was worse, the climb would be worse. Yesterday had been the hardest race of my life, but today was gonna strip that title away with ease. Once again the first half was great, seeing was hard, there were sliding rear end turns and twice I’ve no idea how I stayed on. Soon enough though the climb loomed and this time I had to fight the pain if I wanted to be on the podium.

I didn’t attempt to run just paced myself and the boy kept the line tight and pulled. I got on where I decided and we damn well pushed up that hill. We were so much better than the day before and I knew the game was on. The next real problem from here to the finish was seeing, wiping glasses just smeared mud across the lenses and it was impossible to see. I nudged my glasses down my nose and peered over the top of them like some old fashioned school teacher, squinting through flying mud and dirt. Looking back I think I could have pushed myself more in these final stages, but there wasn’t much left in the tank.

We rounded the final bend and I gritted my teeth and was out of the saddle pedalling hard, we had a slide near the finish which even managed an ‘ooh’ from the crowd, but crossed the line and with the second fastest time of my age group. This was enough to secure the Bronze medal, but I was one hundredth of a second away from silver. That’s the blink of an eye or one extra pedal, that’s how close and fierce this racing is. Marshall looked great and happy with himself, job well done I’d say. In those conditions when most had gone slower, we had gone over 30 seconds quicker and I put it all down to THAT hill.

The home straight
Photo credit Cindy’s Pictures

I’ve learnt a lot from preparing for this race and have trained some pretty tough stuff. I’ve fallen, cried on the trail and pushed myself to work harder than at any other time in my life. This race was a test, 15 people at least had gone to hospital and others withdrew. I feel so chuffed we did it and really does show that anyone can do it with hard work and determination.

The organisers did an amazing job pulling off this race in such demanding conditions and we now plan and build for the Worlds next year. Massive congrats to the whole of Team GB, 10 medals is a pretty decent haul. Well done to everyone.

Brodie, Tay & the boys chilling

None of this happens without help and support. It makes it even more special that my family join me and get involved in this crazy sport, Brods and Tay are the best travelling buddies (sorry G man) and we’ve recently teamed up with Trophy Pet Foods, who are fuelling the team. I can be the best rider in the world, but if my dogs aren’t firing on all cylinders, then game over. I feed Surf n Turf from the working dog food range and looking at last weekend and how well Marshall performed the proof is in the pudding (or dog food). Packed with ingredients it’s a quality food. More info about Trophys’ products can be found here:-

https://www.trophypetfoods.co.uk/

Training the musher…?

Facebook and Instagram this summer has been awash with pictures and stories about sled dog people training themselves. Whilst the dogs take it easy as the temperatures rise, summer is the perfect chance to work on the weakest link of the team…..the human.

I do quite chuckle when people dismiss bikejor, scooter or canicross as not a real sled dog sport and come out with the usual comments about mushing being all about running big teams. Yes running big teams is impressive, but don’t dismiss those that run mono, as you can bet they’re working twice as hard to be fit, ride a bike like a pro MTBiker, scoot like their life depended on it and all whilst trying to lose weight and keep lean. If you’re gonna attempt to run with a greyster strapped to you, you need to have legs that will travel at speed and that takes genetics and training. Mono athletes enter running, bike and scooter races dogless as part of their training, whilst they don’t have the commitment of managing a large kennel, they do have to work on their own skills and abilities.

I’m not blessed with the physique of a runner and I don’t run with gazelle-like ease, hence I opted for the bike as my mode of transport. Until I started racing I hadn’t really messed about on a bike since I was a kid. I’d always thought I was not too bad on a bike, but running with my boys has shown me that my skills needed a lot of work. Cornering with a powerful dog is an art, a strong dog will pull hard out of the turn and there’s a fine line between taking it too fast or too slow.

My primary training is on the bike. I try to ride as much as I can both with and without a dog. I’ve upgraded the difficulty of my bikejor training trails as my skill has developed, now I’m training trails harder than anything I’ve raced. I also try to play on my bike in the streets at home trying track stands, wheelies, etc….my neighbours think I’m quite mad. At 52 this doesn’t come easy. I’m lucky that my non-runner like build seems quite resilient and well padded for falling off the bike, but I’ve got an impressive collection of bruises and scars! Most of my riding is done on the MTB as it’s my favourite, but I do occasionally throw in a long road ride /run or add some intervals on the roller (which I loath).

This summer I’ve introduced proprioception training on recovery days. Proprioception is the ability to know what your body is doing without looking and adjust movements as required. This is done mainly subconsciously using our central nervous system. To train for this involves using balance balls or boards to teach your body to make adjustments to maintain balance. The thinking here being it may help me subconsciously make corrections to stay upright if my balance improves. I wouldn’t swop this training for time on the bike, but in the evening instead of just vegging on the sofa, I do 10 mins playing around on my homemade balance board (old skateboard, wheels removed and drainpipe) or the bosu ball.

It’s popular with XC World Cup racers Nino Shurter and Kate Courtney who can be seen juggling or flipping weights on balance boards in between work outs. So far I’ve managed not to brake anything!

I train weights, mainly squats and deadlifts to add in some power and strength, but for me as menopausal women it’s quite important for my changing bone density and body. Weights also help me maintain muscle mass and combat some issues of my slowing metabolism. I believe it helps to keep me a more rounded athlete and reduce the risk of injuries. As well as training for bikejoring I am trying to stay fit for life.

Talking about being well rounded, I started CrossFit in March. I do most of my training on my own and with the best will in the world, my motivation can at times be lacking. So training with a coach and other people has helped to push me further. CrossFit is a mix of high intensity functional movements taken from a variety of sports and aimed at getting the biggest bang out of your training buck. Sessions typically involve conditioning (which is normally weights) and then a workout of the day (WOD). These are normally under time pressure and with an element of competition, so if you’re competitive like me, you’re hard wired to try and beat people, so can’t help but try your very best. This means each workout I’m working to my absolute max. The workouts are fun, challenging and work the whole body. I really do enjoy it and must say a massive thanks to Matt and the team at CrossFit Navalia for all the help and support. Going to a gym at my age can be intimidating, but honestly I love it, the people are so supportive and the banters not bad either!

I was worried about starting CrossFit. I’d read about the risk of injury as you’re pushing yourself hard and did strain my back in the first few weeks, but as long as I remind myself I’m the oldest there, then I can ease off trying to keep up with the twenty somethings. The other thing I found was that it becomes addictive and I started skipping bike sessions over CrossFit or I was too knackered to do much on the bike. I’ve found a balance which works for me, which is CrossFit Mon – Wed and then bike the rest of the week. CrossFit will remain part of my routine long after I’ve stopped racing. It’s an awesome fitness programme.


My training alters according to races, etc and spring/ summer is my hardest period of training. I’m now 10 weeks out from the Worlds and adding in a few more sessions. In particular this is more core training and on the bike the focus has switched to working on my weaknesses. I assess my personal strengths and weaknesses (as per the photo) and then time allowing I can prioritise my training accordingly. This may all seem rather geeky, but I’m a great believer in stats, data and goals to help get the best out training. Otherwise it can all be very hit and miss. Let’s be honest, when we all have great dogs and a degree of fitness it’s those finer details that can make the difference.

Making time to train on holiday

I have to work, run a house and fit in training the dogs too, time becomes the most hindering factor to training success. To help I do follow a training programme, but also don’t beat myself up if I don’t manage everything on the schedule. Recovery is vital too for those muscles to repair and aches to fade away.

I do some form of training 6 days a week, but the intensity varies. It’s a pretty full on schedule hence why I’m usually fast asleep on the sofa by 9pm. This can be difficult for those in my life who don’t race, but they understand and support me. Whether all the effort will secure a medal….who knows, but it does mean I can cross the finish line and whatever the result think……I’ve gave it my best shot. And given the varying genetics, weights, dogs, ability and sheer guts of other competitors, to have given my best for my boys is enough!

More than ever mono sport athletes have been training, harder, faster and smarter. To be at the top takes more than just a great dog, the musher has to be a multi skilled athlete with dialled in nutrition. And all this for a bag of dog food and to keep our dogs happy…..the things we try and become for these dogs, we must be mad. As well as a good dose of crazy, I do however absolutely love what I do, training, goals, challenges, the dogs….they all drive me and at the end of the day that’s more of a reward than any medal.