Seeing it through!

Is seeing believing or is it just seeing?

Eyewear for bikejoring is critical. The speed can make your eyes stream and dirt flicked up by the dogs always seem to be on target for a hit to the eyes. I have several glasses, with a multitude of lenses for varying light conditions, I even have goggles for those really messy days. In the search for marginal gains could lens choice make a difference?

We got sent a pair of Gardom Photochromic Unisex Cycling glasses to put to the test.

Photochromic glasses have plastic lenses that darken on exposure to light and in the absence of bright light change back to clear. Sounds ideal for bikejoring, where trails switch between dark woodland to clear sunshine and then back to shaded forests. I hate having the wrong lenses for those murky forest tracks, where you need perfect vision for bumps and roots. I can’t say if it makes me slower, but I do know sometimes I start stressing that I can’t see too well and that can’t help me ride faster.

Gardom are on the cheaper scale of cycling glasses and these are no Oakleys, but they come at a fraction of the price and seem well made considering their modest price tag. They have quite a large vented lens (so no sweat fog), which fit fairly well and provide good all round vision and protection. They are lightweight and don’t feel uncomfortable to wear. I’m not sure how many high speed crashes they’d withstand, but time will tell.

So to the all important lenses transition, they go from clear to dark grey, but these are not sunglasses. I still squinted in bright sunlight and wouldn’t use them on a long ride in sunshine, but for dipping in and out of the shadows they worked well. I would guess as they don’t go really dark, it’s relatively quick for them to clear enabling better obstacle spotting in the shade. I think if they went darker the transition times would be much longer, as in my experience they darken quicker than lighten. They are also very good at dusk or night with near perfect vision.

So for the money they work really well and I’ll be using them next season for races, but if cost isn’t an issue then the next level photochromic glasses could be your thing. These are the futuristic Uvex Variotronic glasses, which can transition from dark to light in 0.01 of a second and at the flick of a switch.

The lenses are covered with an LCD layer, which essentially passes an electronic charge through the LCD coating on the lense. This forces the LCD film to change the level of tint!!

This can be done automatically or for an immediate change at the flick of a switch on the glasses arm. This does mean the glasses have to have a battery, making them heavier and will need recharging at some point. They also come with a hefty price tag, but heh they change in 0.01 of a second.

To conclude the Garmon photochromatic lenses work well, but aren’t miracle glasses, however they are only £20. If you’re cycling all day on a road in the sunshine then these won’t do the job, but when you want mainly clear with a tint for those brighter parts of the trail, then these performed brilliantly. And that just about covers most bikejor courses, I would rather squint slightly in the sunny bits to have clearer vision in the shade. It would be fair to say I see things differently now.

So light transitions nailed, now to find a way to clear mud from your glasses, when doing 2 dog scooter and you daren’t take one hand off the handlebars…..answers on a postcard please!

Lets talk tags

It’s a legal requirement for dogs in public, in the UK to have ID tags. This has been a challenge to find tags that are tough, durable and sleddog proof!

When my boys run as a pair they are hooked together, by a neckline. It’s safer and better for them to run together this way, we can get up to speeds of around 30mph,so collars have to be super tough and any vulnerability will be exposed. That means no plastic, metal products must be near bullet proof and fastenings must be able to withstand quite some force.

I’ve had issues with all types of the above from plastic breaking to material ripping and discs disappearing (normally on their first outing). The slide on tags (top left photo), I’ve only had one bend, but they are very hard to take on and off for cleaning or when washing collars. If you have a dog that loves to wear the aftershave of fox poo around his neck, the tapping of the tag rumbling around the washing machine, does eventually evoke those same feelings of wishing to punch the person who chews and chomps really loudly when eating.

Here’s a cautionary tale. A group of us were out training on Salisbury Plain. We were waiting for everyone to get ready and the dogs were obviously really excited and chomping at the bit to get going. One of the stronger dogs was a little too keen to go and in his eagerness snapped the line attaching him to the bike and his owner. Most sleddogs once off, only have one thing on their mind and that’s to keep on running. I’m sure my friends dog was having a blast racing across the plains, but we were all panic struck and a dog that is wired to run who gets free, is the stuff of nightmares for those of us that run dogs in harness. Luckily things ended well and the escapee was collected safe, but he was found running down a main road, his ID tag meant we got the phone call saying he was safe quickly and without the need for him to be taken to a vets to have his chip read. The dog was probably only gone for around 10 minutes, but it seemed like forever and what a relief to get that call. It was there and then I decided my guys would not go out without tags again.

So what’s the best ID tags for active and sporting dogs? We all want to stay in line with the law and not risk a potential £5000 fine or more importantly increase the chances of your dog being returned quickly if lost…….Flexitags have been the solution for me.

These slide on collar tags come in a variety of colours and are engraved with a diamond tip. Whilst that sounds really cool and a tad James Bond like, it also mean your details have more durability, with a refined and classy finish (and a side order of Vodka Martini, shaken not stirred!).Unlike other slide on tags these bad boys slide on and off with ease, but the silicone rubber bands give excellent grip to stop the tags from moving. The silicone also sits between the tag and collar, which seems to give it extra grip and a degree of cushioning. I think this may also help with impacts or to stop the metal tag getting damaged or bent…..so far so good.

The only weakness I can see would be the silicone band. Silicone manufacturers state that well made bands should last at least 2 years, but to check for signs of wear and tear. I remember buying a Lance Armstrong yellow Livestrong band, when they were fashionable back in 2004 and that band well outlived the trend to wear them. Over the years some 80 millions bands have been produced and there are very few stories of them breaking. However Flexitags have a solution if the band degrades, replacements can be purchased for just £2.50 and in a choice of colours.

So after a considerable amount of tag trial and error it seems Flexitags have possibly produced a sled and sporting dog proof tag and at a very reasonable price. As an extra ‘Brucey bonus,’ Karen at Flexitags provides a friendly, fast and efficient service.

Finally would I recommend this product…….you bet!

For further info, etc please visit:- https://www.flexitags.co.uk/

Should sleddog sports pursue that elusive Olympic dream?

It’s not stupid for those at the top of our sport to dream of representing their country at the Olympics. Proudly wearing their national uniform and marching into a stadium, behind their countries flag at the opening ceremony with thousands of like minded souls. It must be an amazing feeling and to get that Olympic medal hanging around your neck, the icing on the cake after years of hard work and dedication, it is the ultimate dream.

But is it a dream that could or should become a reality for sleddog sports?

To date it’s been a very long and protracted process. Sleddogs first appeared in the Olympics as a demonstration sport in the 1932 Games in a mid distance team format. Not garnering huge crowds sleddog racing slipped back into relative obscurity for some 60 years until the Norwegians and the IFSS managed to get the start of the Femundlopet involved in the 1994 Olympics closing ceremony, where the whole world watched teams take off on their 600km journey. Yet years later sleddogs are still not included on the list of eligible winter Olympic sports.

Switzerland’s Dario Cologna competes by the Olympic rings in the Men’s Cross-Country Skiing 15km + 15km Skiathlon at the Laura Cross-Country Ski and Biathlon Center during the Sochi Winter Olympics on February 9, 2014, in Rosa Khutor. AFP PHOTO / ALBERTO PIZZOLI (Photo credit should read ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images)

So what is going on?

It’s no simple process to get Olympic sport status. The IFSS was formed back in 1985, under recommendation by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), that was the start of the box ticking exercises. In 1987 the IFSS was accepted into the General Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF), which is the first step on the Olympic ladder. As a side note here the GAISF was renamed SportAccord, but is now changing its’ name back to GAISF but replacing General for Global…..are you taking notes?

In 1993 the IFSS made their first IOC application and were refused. 2003 saw their second application and subsequent failure and a third attempt came in 2007. I have no idea what discipline was applied for and why it was turned down, but still the IFSS ploughs on. Their persistence to the cause is admirable, but increasingly reminds me of Teresa May and the way she belligerently trudged on with Brexit ignoring what the people really wanted or were saying and she ultimately couldn’t stay the course…..will IFSS face the same fate?

The IFSS must meet requirements set out in the Olympic Charter and what Sport Accord tells them and that means jumping through hoop after hoop to comply. These are things like amount of participant numbers worldwide, must add ‘value and appeal,’ must adhere to World Anti-Doping Code, etc….the list goes on.

Some of the things in the Charter are great for our growing sport, but some are detrimental. One of these is the removal of Veteran Classes for mono’s at the upcoming World Championships. The classes were removed to fall inline with practises in other sports in order to comply. Take a sport like athletics, where participation is massive, as well as the number of events. It makes sense to split age groups and give the Vets/Masters/ Juniors their own World Championships, otherwise the event could go on for weeks.

The same does not apply for sleddog sports. The numbers entering are not that vast and certainly nowhere close enough to host a separate Veterans or Junior event. The Juniors will have to be split eventually for compliance sake, but given that is the lowest category entered, with sometimes just 3 or 4 entries how would this become financially viable? Sport Accord will also want the amount of classes streamlined. This means they will not want dog classes split by breed, so Nordics and hounds would all compete in the same class. To them racing a dog is racing a dog, they see no distinction in the size, capabilities or type of dog and nor do they care about the history of traditional sled dogs. To them if you want to be competitive you get the fastest type of dog.

Only one event would be accepted and we are led to believe pulka is now the discipline to be championed. As an event it’s ok to watch, but no crowd puller as skiers and their dogs disappear off into the mountains on their 18km journey. It also ironically involves the least amount of dogs being one human and one dog, which sort of takes away from the whole sleddog thing. In real life terms though this means that the proportion of people and dogs who could compete in this event compared to the sport as a whole is very small. So we are all being made to jump through hoops and lose classes, etc for a minority of people to possibly be able to compete in the Olympics.

At the moment we enjoy our sport in relative solitude, but Olympic status would put us all in the spotlight. You only have to look at the Iditarod and the problems animal rights groups have given that race, to see what could happen here. Welfare and dog care would have to change as well as educating ‘jo public’ about sled dogs. Dogs are lean and fit, but compared to the average pet, some would look skinny and underfed. The first World Snow Champs I attended was in Germany and due to rain which then froze, the trail became icy, this ripped some dogs feet and the finish shute was blood stained and looked like a scene from a slasher movie. Whilst an easy fix for the dogs, it looked bad to the watching public seeing dogs leaving a trail of blood on the snow.

Adhering to the anti-doping code would be very difficult for both IFSS and even more so for the home nation governing bodies. Part of this code is conducting regular out-of-competition drug tests, which I’m led to believe cost in excess of £200 per time. We don’t even drug test at national championships let alone when training. IFSS seem to have run out of funds for this as well as at this years Snow World Champs there was no talk of drug tests. Another point here is drug testing for dogs has not been well researched as yet (human test results, bare no comparison on dogs). There is no real qualitive data to know how long drugs remain in dogs systems, the effect or how much is needed. Much more research needs to be undertaken to garner more knowledge to provide reliable and trusted results.

With Olympic status would also come money, but lets look at the UK for example and how this might affect us. Firstly we would need to be recognised as a real sport by Sport England and then we can look at funding for an Olympic training and racing programme. UK Sport is tasked with dishing out the dosh, but this money is given to those with realistic medal hopes. Success is measured by the medals won, the number of medallists developed, and the quality of the systems and processes in place to find and support the nation’s most promising future champions and remember these would be future champions in skijor/pulka . We have no elite level coaches, we don’t even have a qualification process in place to produce our own coaches and with Sport England recognition qualified coaches would need to be present at all clubs, etc.

Speaking from experience skijor is not easy and totally dominated by the Scandinavian countries, who pop on cross country skis almost as soon as they can walk. The level of fitness required is quite incredible and coming from a lowland country to be competitive you would have to be based abroad. I come from a skiing background and the alps are like my second home, but even for me this was a mountain too hard to climb. The only chance we would have of getting a medal is to find a retired member of the GB Cross Country Team. Remember we need results and medals to secure Olympic funding, we are a million miles from achieving that dream and I say this as the first British Skijorer to take part in a World Championships. We are currently the Eddie the Eagle of the skijor world and just like Eddie the Olympic dream would be self funded.

No doubt going to the Olympics would be amazing, but for most of us the cost and expertise needed is prohibitive. Most nations are granted 3 places per event. Only 3 people from each country get the chance, which seems crazy when most countries have sacrificed way more than 3 veterans to gain those Olympic spots and as we know they are only the first of many to go. I worry how the IFSS overlooked the pleas of many to reintroduce veterans, they seem lured by the seduction of Olympic status without fully thinking through the consequences and then I worry that if that’s how people not racing dogs can be affected, then what happens to those dogs involved in the hunt for those 3 coveted places?

So do we sacrifice the many for the lucky few? Do we chase a dream that is stunting and damaging a growing sport? It’s dividing nations, people and friends as well as calling into question the ethics of the International Federation. Gaining winter Olympic status will not change the world for us here and won’t secure funding, but it will be a gamechanger in how we at a grass roots level run our dogs.

I’ll leave the final words to the founder of the modern day Olympics Pierre de Coubertin, seems more relevant than ever given the current circumstances:-

‘The day when a sportsman stops thinking above all else of the happiness in his own effort and the intoxication of the power and physical balance he derives from it, the day when he lets considerations of vanity or interest take over, on this day his ideal will die.Pierre de Coubertin’

How do you ‘grow a pair….?’

Meet Marshall…..my powerful, driven, force of nature who tears up the trail in front of me. Keeping up and staying on is way harder than it looks. I need the skill of a top class mountain biker, the power of a track sprinter and kahoonas the size of church bells!!

Without a doubt Marshall is the most awesome half of our partnership. He runs because he loves it, I only have to pick up his harness and he’s at the door crying to go. He doesn’t seem to hold it against me that I’m not THAT great on a bike and he sure doesn’t care if we win or lose, for him the sheer thrill of running is enough.

That doesn’t stop me trying to get better for him. Having only started biking again in the last few years, it’s been a steep learning curve. We can get up to speeds in excess of 30mph and average around 20mph, so handling a bike like a pro would be really helpful. Sadly I’m no Rachel Atherton, but I ride at least 4 times a week and on the toughest stuff I can find.

It’s hard to recreate the force of a dog pulling you out of a corner and I have an impressive collection of bruise art pics. I am lucky enough to have some natural protection from falls, but padding is a sensible investment and has certainly helped me from serious injury.

Then there was clip ins to master!! I had my fair share of timber moments, usually on a hill when I couldn’t get my feet out quickly enough, but now wouldn’t ride without them. The combined speed and bumps often mean your feet can slip and a missed pedal stroke could be enough to lose.

It is that close at the top, the best split by mere hundredths. I won bronze at the Worlds in 2018 by one hundredth of a second, that’s not even the blink of an eye. Not only does your dog need to be perfect on turns and physically at their peak, but the rider needs to be an athlete too.

It was hard to think of myself as an athlete and I still giggle sometimes now, but to help focus and train it’s what I needed to believe I could become.

I follow a fitness programme with strength training and ride several times a week. I train in blocks and the emphasis changes according to time of year, competitions, etc. I will go into much more detail about my programme another time, but would like to thank Matt Branton and team at CrossFit Navalia for all their help and support.

Skill and fitness can be worked on, but the real question is how do you ‘grow a pair?’

How do you control those feelings of fear?

Prof Steve Peters (the man credited with turning Victoria Pendleton into a winning machine), a consultant psychiatrist and specialist in the functions of the human mind and author of ‘the Chimp Paradox (highly recommend), says ‘whenever we have feelings, thoughts and behaviours that you do not want, you are being hijacked by your chimp’.

Prof Peters goes on to elaborate that we all have this powerful entity within us, or chimp, who acts quickly without thinking. The chimps job is survival, which causes a fight, flight or freeze reaction. Your chimp is prone to emotional outbursts, is illogical and attacks you with negative head talk. In real life terms when I reach a steep drop off, my chimp goes into flight mode, has a meltdown and does everything it can to put me off even trying.

It all boils down to managing your inner chimp. This is mine. He’s sweet and super cute when happy, but gets easily scared and will attack when the shit hits the fan. I am still learning to calm him down, sometimes I agree and cycle away to return another day, other times I reason that we can do it.

I have to draw on facts or previous experience to calm my chimp down, essentially meaning practise, practise and more practise. Victoria Pendleton said that if she could stand on the start line and think ‘there is nothing more I could have done,’ then your chimp will understand and let you race your best. That does work for me for those start line nerves.

I also hated mud, I would tense up as soon as I saw it, my chimp yelling at me to slow down. I fell so many times it became my nemesis. The only solution was to ride it as much as I could, forcing my chimp to face this fear and now my chimp simply says ‘oh shit’ as we sail through.

I do sing to my chimp on the trail as well, to keep him happy, when I feel he’s getting nervous. I sing ‘Relax’ by Frankie Goes to Hollywood and it does seem to keep him calm and allow me to keep riding. It’s all still a work in progress. Some people’s chimps will be more crazy than mine, allowing them to do more and others will be more scared than mine, it’s the way were hard wired…..but it doesn’t have to define us, we can change.

So in answer ‘how do we grow a pair?’ It really does come back to that old adage of practise makes perfect. Apparently it takes 10,000 hours to become and expert or roughly 10 years of deliberate practise. If you’ve experienced and learnt to handle the majority of what a trail or race can throw at you, then your chimp will believe it’s an expert and then you’ll really be in that sweet spot when you ride.

I’ve felt that sweet spot several times when racing, so much so that it’s actually made me smile. As I’m not thinking about smiling on the way round, it’s gotta be my chimp loving the ride too.

If you want to banish those fears then just ride…..it really is that simple!

You do what?

Bikejoring……

Bike Whating?

Essentially bikejor is a sport where your dog is attached to the front of a bike and pulls ahead, whilst the human tries their hardest to stay on and keep up.

Bikejoring is a bit of an odd name, but hails from it’s Scandinavian roots. When the snow melts those Nordic folks switch skis and sleds for bikes to keep their sled dogs conditioned in the summer. Well it proved to be a popular pastime and quickly grew, so now Bikejor is an event in it’s own right, drawing the biggest entries at races and the best reaching speeds in excess of 30mph.

Bikejoring has grown massively and you don’t need a purpose bred racing machine to get out and enjoy the trails. Your normal, pet dog can learn to bikejor, as long as they are relatively fit and healthy. There is a chance for the more competitive inclined to race against other like minded, crazy souls and even race for your country at the World Champs. But whatever your goals, bikejoring is great fun for both human and canine and an awesome way to enjoy the outdoors and keep active. Races are in winter to make the most of the colder temps, which is better for the dogs, but you can run all year as long as you’re sensible. Just take it easy, don’t go very far and go when coolest. Let common sense be your guide, if it feels warm and humid then give it a miss.

It takes time and patience for dogs to learn to run properly, the higher drive the dog the easier to train. As they’re running ahead the dogs need to know left and right, straight on and probably the most important of all ‘on by’ or ‘leave’ for those ‘oh shit’ squirrel moments. As there are no reigns to control the dog, the only thing you have is good brakes (highly recommended) and your voice. I say very little, just let my dogs run, but if tiring I will inspire them and always praise them for turns, etc. I also can’t help letting out the occasional, excitable yell when we’re really flying, the dogs seem to love this too. Dogs need a properly fitting harness for sled dog sports, a line to attach the dog to the bike (with bungee to help absorb the pull) and something to keep the line from dropping into the front wheel and you’re good to go.

I practise and train in woods and forests they’re the best places to run. I go early in the morning when coolest so the dogs don’t overheat and on trails where the surface isn’t too hard, so less stress on their bones and feet.

I love my time in the woods with the dogs. Nothing like a cold frosty morning, sunbeams streaking through the trees to make you feel alive. The Japanese call that feeling Shinrin-yoko which means ‘taking in the forest atmosphere’ or ‘forest bathing.’ I like nothing better than to bathe in the forest and am a convert to the church of the woods and blasting through the trees with my trusted dogs makes it all the more special. It’s a complete contrast, the still and calm of the forest, to the rush and thrill of running dogs…..it’s quite some buzz! Interested to get started or find out more, drop me a line or send a message.

Have dog….have an adventure?

If you’ve got a dog then welcome to the world of fur, muddy paws, ungodly smells, grassy vomit, to name a few, but also adventures with a creature that has this amazing capacity to really enjoy the simple things in life and love with out limits.

I have 3 dogs who I’ll introduce in time, but first lets tackle what is adventuredogsonline?

Essentially it’s a place to share stories, laughs and adventures with our canine buddies. Maybe we’ll inspire someone to try something different or discover a new place or even just share experiences and photos of life with our dogs. We’ve all embarked on the this dog crazy adventure and we all have something to share. Got a story to share? Leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.

There will also be a fair amount about life with my crazy trio and the sport we do called bikejoring, which is an offshoot of sleddog sports. I’m pretty lucky to travel and race abroad and we have such a blast, that sometimes I just wanna shout about it from the hilltops. A blog however seemed the more sensible option!

So who am I?
Continue reading “Have dog….have an adventure?”