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.

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