Saturday, January 29, 2011

King Boreas Skijoring Race

Mellie and I had been working towards this date for quite some time and here it was: the 7.5 km St. Paul Winter Carnival skijoring race. We had been putting in at least 15 km, more often 20 km per week at Highland 9-Hole, our training grounds. The last couple of times, Mellie had started to focus and keep the line tout, or at least out of my way, I took this as a good sign.

The week had been mild and the snow felt sluggish, I had just not gotten around to get some fluoride glider for the conditions but I did as good of a job waxing and prepping the skis as I possibly could. My heart sank when I checked with one of the participants in the 15 km race and he said "fluoride, lots of fluoride." However, when I stepped into the skis, it did not feel bad at all, the glide was much better than what I had expected and what I had experience during the days leading up to the event. 

Mellie was excited to rub noses with lots of her brethren, most were very friendly, a few were a bit antisocial and another few just scared. We warmed up on the trail before the kids came back from their race and scrambled out of the way when they got in sight. During the skijorer's meeting the rules were explained. The main one being to be nice to the dogs and another one not to pass back right after being passed by another team. Easy in practice, at least as the passing was concerned. 

Another few laps on the start/finish area, waiting for the stragglers from the kid's race to come in and it was time to line up. A lot of very excited racing dogs and their owners! At that time I wish I had had a handler, like some of the teams. I later heard that my friend Joel had tried in vain to find out where race was going to be held. I have to agree that the St. Paul Winter Carnival documentation did not make it easy to find out more about the events at Lake Phalen.

Here we were, without a handler, listening to the countdown and off we were. 

We were able to avoid getting tangled with our neighbor's lines and made the sharp left onto the trail with quite some speed. We were quickly passed by some of the faster teams, some dogs like to pull better than others and some owners ski better than me, But wow, was Mellie going. Like last year, we had the issue with the rope going under her midriff, but it did not seem to bother her. this may be a inherent flaw in using the guide harness in a rig: easy to fix during training but not during a race. Maybe also the remedy to Mellie liking to grab the tow in her mouth. 

No worries about her wanting to do this today, though. She--we that is, were moving. Passing the slower ones and being passed by the faster ones. Passing the ones who stop to do their business, on the side of the trail or more frequently on the trail. And passing the ones who simply stopped trailside to investigate some lovely scent. 

The latter was actually quite amazing and funny. Someone passes us, leaving us pale with envy over their athleticism, technique, style and sense of ski fashion only to pass them again a few minutes later when the dogs in the team decided to sniff the roses. 

I was amazed by the speed sustained by Mellie. She obviously did not want to be left behind by the faster dogs. I was worried that she might just tire after a while; we are a fit team and 7.5 km is close to our regular distance but this speed was quite a bit faster than usual. 

After about a third of the race, the field had stretched out enough for us to recognize our true opponents. First, there was #359, with a two-dog team, Weimaraners as far as I could tell. The other team, #357, consisted of a guy my age and a fast-looking hound (Dallas and dog Comet).  Anyway, we seemed to be trading off the lead in our small group, testing the passing rule. At one point, the two-dog team almost took a wrong turn and lost some time and at another moment the hound needed to use the trail-side facilities. but somehow they always managed to catch up with us again. 

video
Neck and neck with Dallas and Comet. Dallas is calling 
to his dog to keep going and NOT to say hi to his family
(thanks Dallas & Comet, for sharing this clip!)

The decision was made two turns before the finish, when the Weimaraners called trail to my left and hound called trail to the right. in the middle of passing, the two dog team slowed down sharply and Mellie got almost tangled up in their line. we hardly slowed down and kept up slightly behind #357. On the home stretched I pushed ahead and we pulled even while passing the finish line. It seemed to me that I was a step ahead, this was confirmed when the official results were released.

Mellie and I finished 9th of 18 overall, 1st in our age group. Our official time was just over 21:01. The fastest either one of us has ever gone! I think we are ready for next week's City of the Lakes Loppet event. 

The results can be viewed on this page, courtesy of Endurance Promotions

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