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.