This weekend was also really important to me for my own first race - my novice debut, and Frankie's veteran run! My goals were:
-not fall off the scooter/crash into a tree/pass out while scooting around the track.
-master the watering and toileting preparation process so Frankie could have an uninterrupted run.
-remember what the different coloured track markers meant (red = turn, blue = correct trail, yellow = caution).
-remember to relax and enjoy myself!!!
I was lucky that the AMCV was offering a Novice class on a nice flat 2.2km track - Frankie and I have been training on a 1.7km loop of a local park with a lot of small but steep hills and both of us have found our fitness is really not there for the beginning of the season. The flat and even nature of this track helped us cope with the longer distance, and we had a ball!
In the first race on Saturday afternoon, there were three entries - us and two Malamute teams. Malamutes are long distance dogs, who trot evenly and therefore cope better with warmth and humidity. And Saturday was a little warm and a little more humid, which is not great for Siberian huskies. Especially eight year old gents with very unfit mushers. Frankie took off beautifully, and ran solidly for the first km. Then we trotted. And trotted. Frankie was wonderfully consistent for most of the second km, except for when he caught a glimpse of the Mallie girl B was running in front of us, and he powered up... briefly! We never did catch the team in front of us, which was perfectly ok with me, as I was still really unsure about the whole process of passing of another team.
I managed to take all the corners without telling Frankie left when I meant right, or mixing up the different coloured markers. There was one point where the track bent back on itself and Frankie could see the group of dogs waiting for the next class... and his daddy. Oh dear! Although J was standing well back and trying to look inconspicuous... or tree like... there's nothing wrong with Frankie's eyes and he immediately veered right instead of left. I panicked a little and used my "teacher voice" and fortunately, Frankie immediately shot off left around the corner.
Our next challenge was my navigational skills/understanding of the trail markers at the last corner where I had a complete blank - despite having previewed the trail with J only a little earlier, I could not remember which of the two trails in front of me was the correct one. In fact, we needed to turn a hard right, almost doubling back on ourselves. Then the finish line was in sight, and there was a small audience, who called out to ask Frankie's name, and then cheered him home, which was lovely. Our official time was 10.01, which was a very good effort given the extra distance we weren't used to covering.
The race, being a rare, daylight run for me, helped me understand a little better, the mechanics of scooting. The idea is to let the dog do the work, keeping the tow line tight, as much as possible. Running alongside the scooter, or pushing it with one foot, is really just about helping the dog when necessary - up hills, through soft sandy patches, when the dog is getting tired. But the tow line shouldn't be slack, nor the scooter passing the dog. Technically, the dog must finish in front of the scooter. I'm getting the hang of it, but it is a skill!
To be totally honest, I was a wreck after the race, much to the bewilderment of the more experienced mushers. I'm usually a person who avoids competition, because it makes me feel really anxious and stressy. I think this might have been the first race I'd been in in about 20 years, give or take. I felt shaky, teary and a bit dissatisfied, for no particularly good reason. Once J realised I was mopey, he gave me a big hug and lots of encouragement, which gave me that shot of perspective to see I was being silly.
Next morning my first challenge was getting up early. Previously, J has let me sleep through the watering of dogs at 5am, but of course, in a little trailer, I never quite sleep through him getting up, lights going on, doors opening, cold air blasting in, let alone the clatter of dog bowls and slosh of water. He offered to water Frankie for me again, but I felt guilty, and ended up hanging my head over the edge of the bed - sleeping bag still firmly pulled up to my chin - to learn how to mix hot and cold water with puppy milk. I had previously thought the idea was to offer the pups a warm milk drink, but actually J said it should be room temperature, and the milk is just flavouring to ensure the dogs drink it. (Lord only knows why, it smells terrible!)
We had a brief nap until it was time to get up properly and toilet the dogs before the drivers' meeting. Second race, second bib draw, but I happened to get the same number each time - starting second out of three again! The driver's meeting is an opportunity for the organisers to give us last minute info about the track - any overnight changes due to rain or wind, any updates or reminders about track etiquette or the running schedule. No big news for those of us competing for the second time, but there were some people who had just arrived, so the organisers went through a quick checklist of reminders before we started again. This time, novice was the last class to run, instead of first, much to my relief!
J took Czar and Bolo out in four dog with two Snofall girls, Chermani and Layla, and had a great run. Then the two and one dog classes ran, before the novices were called up. A bit more relaxed, so we had time to stop and take a couple of pics before the race. A bit too relaxed, because we messed up the start and had to come back and wait for an extra 30 seconds. Oh well.
In front of me was a Mallie boy being run by a lady on her first ever race, so we weren't sure how they were going to run. Turned out that Frankie caught them not long after the first corner... hey, how does that passing thing work again? Fortunately, we managed it without any issues, although I don't think either of us looked too graceful! Frankie managed to pull away, and for a little while we had the track to ourselves in the beautiful chilly sunlight. But once we headed past the start chute again (no J imitating trees this morning, by request!) and headed towards the final corner, there was not one, but two Mallies on our tail!
I was keen to get round the last, extremely right bend, before anyone tried to pass us, so we didn't have to manoeuvre dog teams and scooters in the tight corner. I figured once we got onto the final straight, there was plenty of space for B and his Mallie girl to get around us. Frankie had other ideas! He spotted them as we went round the corner, and suddenly, he wasn't trotting any more!
We spent the last 3-400m running over the last little undulations towards the small crowd at the finish line. Frankie was pretty tired, but he put up a decent effort, with little spurts of speed on downward slopes. He never really stopped running, right up to J's legs. Part of the reason became apparent when he cut the corner straight past J, towards the trailer, stopped by his dropline, and had a quick pee. Clearly he'd been hanging on to go for a while, but he'd been so busy trying to beat the Mallies home, that he'd held on. I guess there's a first time for everything.
I was a lot happier with the second race. Not nearly as nervous, had a laugh with J at the start chute, survived my first pass, and the heart that Frankie put into the run was really amazing. Time for pancakes to celebrate!!!
After brunch, the club held presentations. I was a bit embarrassed to receive not one, but two prizes (show bags) for second place on both the first and second runs. More excitingly, J took out second place in his much more competitive four dog class, his first top three placing in several years. Then there were raffle draws (congrats to K & Evil T on their mystery appearance!) and souvenir auctions, the winner announced for the "guess the lollies in the jar" competition and lots of thanks and congratulations. It was a lovely weekend, but even more lovely was coming home for a hot shower and my own bed!!!