The location of this one day race on the 13th January was just outside of Ibstock in Leicestershire. The Forestry Commission now manages this 60-hectare, former open-cast coal site as part of The National Forest. The main thing I noticed on arrival was that all the tracks were compacted gravel and I have to say I breathed a sigh of relief, as with all the rain we have had, I was dreading a race on yet more mud. The morning was very cold and so there was ice around but the tracks looked in very good condition and on asking about the course, I was told there was only one steep downhill, albeit quite a tricky one with a series of sharply curved turns or ‘switchbacks’ to negotiate.
The start chute sent you off away from the car park to begin but then doubled back so you were running up the road that had brought you down to the car park and then off up another track left towards the top of the park. An uphill at the start is by far the easiest way to begin a race with two dogs, as they can burn off some of their energy on the uphill and settle nicely into the run for the rest of the route. At the top of the hill there were wide grassy tracks, which were a little muddy but nothing like the scale of mud we have seen at home and at previous races in the season so far.
Then came the switchbacks which I was dreading, but the tracks were grippy in spite of the icy conditions and I came down the turns with ease, very smug with myself! The dogs were great too, they seem to be responding better to my voice commands at the moment and this combined with a new Zero DC waist belt (can be found at http://www.k9trailtime.com) which allows the line to slide around corners and not drag me around behind the dogs like some sort of a cannon ball on a line, has meant I am gaining more downhill confidence again.
Onwards we raced towards the Horseshoe Lake in the middle of the park and then I did the one thing I thought I had surely avoided – fell over! I just caught the edge of an icy puddle on a corner and down I went like a ton of bricks. I managed to pick myself up quickly and limped along a bit before my leg stopped being dead and I could run on again. The rest of the course was thankfully flat and very easy under foot with the well maintained tracks allowing me to pick up a bit of speed, which has eluded me recently in training and racing. The finish, back up towards the car park was a welcome sight and I clocked the route on my GPS watch as just under 3 miles.
We finished near the bottom of the two dog class again and although disappointing for me to not be running my best, I can’t fault my dogs as they seem to be getting stronger and stronger. Just to prove it’s me who holds them back, a friend won the female class running with Judo, as I ran my other two and offered him as a running partner – at least he got the glory he deserved!
To sum up the Sence Valley course, another great location with a few tricky turns but one I would consider to be an easier option for anyone beginning canicross racing.