Last weekend was the beginning of the racing season, with the SHCV practice race near Bendigo. It slightly snuck up on us with all the wedding festivities, honeymoon, and saying goodbye to my grandmother, who passed away just after Easter.
It was a bit of a relief to say goodbye to the nice hair and nails, throw everything in the trailer and head off to the bush. We headed up on Friday, arrived, set up... And it started to rain. It drizzled and poured and drizzled and poured. We were nice and dry in our trailer, so it wasn't too bad.
On Saturday, the race committee ran a workshop for the newbies. As well as lots of advice and information (lots and lots!) , the committee offered loaned gear and starter kits. The kits included safety googles, a one dog line, line cutter and a bum bag. Fantastic! We had several newbies who got their dogs into harnesses and hooked up for a trial run.
Earlier in the day I'd had a trial run of my own - taking Czar and Mischa out around the one dog trail. Normally we wouldn't run on the same day as a race, but I was pretty nervous about running two dog for the first time. I wanted to go out, in daylight, without pressure, and see how things would go. I was absolutely delighted by the result. Normally, Czar is wonderful for the first km and then starts sightseeing. He stops for a wee, a scratch, a sniff.... C'mon, buddy, we're in a race! Hooking Mischa up made a massive difference. Mischa has a wonderful work ethic - she just wants to pull and run, all the way round. She doesn't get distracted, doesn't want to stop for calls of nature, and she inspires Czar to really lift his game. Excellent!!
After the workshop, we got going with the racing. The temperature was still pretty warm (racing requires low humidity and temperature under 15 degrees) so we had a later start, with all the one dog teams going out with lights on after dark. Then it was time for the two dogs to go out. We had drawn first start, which didn't worry me, with Mischa's work ethic. We flew out of the start chute and pounded down the trail.
Trouble hit at the first corner. Last year, Czar and I had run this particular one dog trail at least three times, as well as once with Mischa in our practice run. But after 300m, the one dog trail went sharply left, while two dog went right. I called out "get ready guys, we're going RIGHT." I started braking, looked at Czar, who was pushing Mischa around to the left, shouted "RIGHT!!!!" and flew off the scooter to roll on the ground.
I stopped on my belly, lying sideways across the trail, a metre or two from the scooter. Thank heavens Czar had stopped and was looking over his shoulder at me, giving me a quizzical "what are you doing?" sort of look! I lunged at the scooter, hauled the dogs around, and started heading in the right direction, just in time to see the shocked face of the corner marshall, appearing out of the bush. Too funny!
The rest of the trail was interesting and I was loving watching Mischa challenge Czar to keep up a steady pace. It was only when we came over the finish line that it realised how sore my right hip and leg were - AND that my phone had come out of my pocket. Fortunately it was sitting right in the middle of the path where I'd crashed.
The whole crash had happened so quickly that I hadn't really caused too much damage to my run time - over 3.7km, we'd run 12.08 minutes, with an average speed of 18.3km/h. I also hadn't had time to notice how sore my hip and shoulders were. Fortunately, next morning I woke up not too sore, and determined to do better. Obviously, second heat of the weekend, the dogs were tired, especially little Mischa. I set myself a goal of coming under 13 minutes.
Sunday's heat was run in reverse order, with the faster teams coming up behind the slower teams. We set out close to the middle of the pack. This time I slowed ALL the way down approaching that first corner, coming to a complete halt to get Czar to come down the right fork. First challenge done!
Our second challenge was managing our pace and energy. One way to do this is to get the dogs to chase down another team. Seeing that Mischa was slowing, and another team was coming up behind, I pulled the dogs over and we paused til we'd been passed. Czar took off with renewed energy. I rode the brake to stop him dragging Mischa and we buzzed through a narrow windy bush trail. The team in front was flagging, so I asked if we could pass, and we stepped out in front. We ran down the next team, as the faster teams came up behind us. As we hit the final stretch, our bush path resembled a traffic jam of sled dog teams.
I was really thrilled to see that I'd managed my goal, not just getting under 13 minutes, but actually getting down to 11.48!! Wow!!! Given our lack of preparation, fitness and training, that was amazing!! Go Mischa, go Czar!!!