The IFSS (International Federation of Sleddog Sports http://www.sleddogsport.net/ ) World Cup Triple Crown race was held at Darnaway in Morayshire, as the first of three events to be held as qualifiers in the UK for the 2014/2015 IFSS Championships. The Sled Dog Association of Scotland (SDAS http://sleddogassociationofscotland.wordpress.com/ ) hosted the event and it proved to be a fantastic start to the series with a good turn out in most classes, in spite of it being a long drive for anyone not based in the north of Scotland.
A friend and I decided to lift share for this event and set off late Thursday evening with a stop off at Tebay (Westmorland Services) to break up the drive. An early start on Friday to ensure we reached the venue in daylight was necessary and we continued our way up the motorway into Scotland and then on up into the Highlands.
We arrived at the forest late Friday afternoon just as the light was going and managed to get set up before the dark took hold. I decided not to walk the course that night as I knew it would be well marked to cater for those running the 8 dog teams at speed, plus we were all tired after an 8 hour journey.
Saturday morning we were up early for the mushers meet (race briefing) and to get our bibs which were provided courtesy of Buff who sponsored the event (as well as numerous others, including CSJ who we use for dog food). The mushers, bikejorers, scooterers and canicrossers were all required to attend this, as some of the different disciplines had slightly different routes which were changed between the classes.
By the time it was our turn to race I had heard all sorts of rumours about the trail, including that there was a huge hill and a trail overlooking a cliff on the course! I was a little nervous to say the least. To try and squash the nerves and also to add a bit of fun to racing we had bought animal ears to put over our bike helmets and so the other racers were treated to the sight of a black bunny and my friend had a panda, bikejoring through the forest over the weekend.
The course itself was fantastic, all under the cover of the trees and on wide, grass and pine needle covered, hardpacked trails. The first mile and a half ran mainly downhill with wide sweeping sections which made for some very quick racing. Not having ridden the course before I was cautious, especially with the rumours of the cliff flying about and I have to admit I took it quite steady on the first day, preferring to get around without incident.
I found the big hill that was mentioned after about the 2 mile mark and it was a killer! Donnie and I both had to work hard to get up it and in the end I jumped off to make it easier. At the top of the hill I discovered the ‘cliff’ that I’d also heard about, where the trail ran along the top of a steep valley and this was probably the best section on the course, requiring concentration and skill to negotiate the turns without ending up sliding down the bank. I don’t know how those running the bigger teams managed to keep their nerve, as I was struggling on the bike.
The last part of the course was undulating into the finish chute and took a last push to keep up any kind of speed after the mainly downhill stretch along the top of the valley. We finished in a reasonable time and I was happy we’d completed the trail without incident but knew we had to make up some time on Sunday and could push myself and Donnie a bit more now I knew what to expect.
Sunday morning’s racing started half an hour earlier and it was great to be able to go along and watch some of the bigger teams start and finish before our own race. I really enjoy seeing the 8 and 6 dog teams go out and would love the opportunity to run a bigger team at some point just to experience the thrill it must be to take them around a course like this.
Our Sunday race was a minute and a half quicker than Saturday because I had more confidence in the turns now I knew where we were going and I was able to push harder and take more risks. I had the back end of the bike sliding out from under me on more than one occasion but Donnie attacked the course with so much enthusiasm, I didn’t want to let him down. I even managed to cycle the full length up the hill which no doubt saved us quite a bit of time.
We finished the weekend in 7th place in the bikejor class, 4th female and 2nd in my age category. My friend took a podium place being placed 2nd female and 1st in our age category, which means that she should now qualify to represent the UK for the IFSS Championships in 2014/2015, so it was a worthwhile trip and we came away with great results from a world class race.
I would highly recommend this course (SDAS regularly organise races here as part of their race series) and am looking forward to the next IFSS Qualifier in February, if it’s anywhere near as organised and enjoyable as this one was, then we will have another great weekend racing!