The enigma that is Magnus…


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:-

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