Race Review – November & December 2014

For the next instalment of my race reviews, I decided to combine November and December because I ended up only going to one event in December.

The first event of November was the Mad Dog Jog, Forest of Dean, 2nd November – A very friendly and welcoming event run by members of the Forest of Dean canicross group. This was a canicross race with a difference, as the course was a challenging, twisty, turning route through part of the Forest of Dean with many ditches, tree roots and hills to keep us occupied. I had decided to run this with just one dog, as I had prior warning of the nature of the course! We had a great run and I laughed my way round the course and across the finish line, where I was handed my finishers medal but none other then Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards. We also enjoyed the special goody bags which contained a vast array of goodies for both me and Judo to enjoy.

We thoroughly enjoyed our Mad Dog Jog experience and the goody bags were incredible! Photo courtesy of Colin Roberts

We thoroughly enjoyed our Mad Dog Jog experience and the goody bags were incredible! Photo courtesy of Colin Roberts

The following weekend we made our way up to the Canicross Midlands / Adams Agility Race Series 1, Eland Lodge Derbyshire, 8th & 9th November – this was another brand new venue for a race series which promises to provide a challenge for many competitors throughout the 4 race weekends being held here. The course includes 3 water crossings, two man-made horse jumps (the route winds it’s way around a large equestrian cross country course) and one natural river crossing. Although, the race is set in just a few fields, it provided a mix of hills, straights, grass and mud that made it tough enough for even seasoned racers whilst managing to be suitable for the novice entrants who have their own classes in this series. I competed in both the bikejor and two dog canicross classes, with Donnie running so well in the bikejor, we even managed to come away with a second place trophy.

The uphill to the finish was a killer - Photo courtesy of Chillpics

The uphill to the finish was a killer – Photo courtesy of Chillpics

The three water crossings on the course proved to be challenging fun! - Photo courtesy of Horses for Courses Photography

The three water crossings on the course proved to be challenging fun! – Photo courtesy of Horses for Courses Photography

We were back up the country again for the Box End Collie Wobbler in Bedfordshire on the 15th November – Held at the Box End Park, this was the second race we had been to at the venue and yet again we thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere. The course, which flows around the central lakes and then off up into an area of small hills and single track, all on grassy trails, was just as fun the second time round. We participated in both the bikejor and canicross classes, getting some unusual prizes for taking part, which included a bottle of wine, some electrolyte tablets and a technical t-shirt.

The lake at Box End provides the backdrop for the 5km course - Photo courtesy of Houndscape

The lake at Box End provides the backdrop for the 5km course – Photo courtesy of Houndscape

The next day we were racing just up the road at the Stowe Park Pace Setter on the 16th November – This was a new venue for a canicross event and the timings dictated by the National Trust meant that only one class entry was possible per competitor, so we chose bikejor. The course was all on hard packed paths and incorporated one of the estate roads too, so although it was an easy trail, the terrain wasn’t ideal for a dog sport race. We had a good run and enjoyed seeing the different parts of the park (Donnie even got to take a mid-race drink from an ornamental fountain!). In spite of the fog it was easy to appreciate the beauty of the setting. Prizes were given over a wide range of classes but only for first place, so I’m not even sure where we finished but it seems that all who took part agreed that Stowe Park was a unique and charming venue.

The large arch at the start of the race at Stowe park was just one of the impressive sights we saw on the course.

The large arch at the start of the race at Stowe park was just one of the impressive sights we saw on the course.

 

Our final event for November was another local one for us, the Deans Doubles, Wyedean Mushing Event, Forest of Dean, 22nd & 23rd November – This was a team competition where the results were based on the combination of times from two team members from two runs (one each day). On the Saturday we completed a short course of approximately 1.6 miles and a longer course of 4 miles on the Sunday. We really enjoy the events based in the Forest of Dean run by the Wyedean Mushing team and this was no exception. The weather wasn’t kind too us with loads of rain and as a result, loads of mud, but it did nothing to dampen our spirits. This was also the first chance I had to record a video on my new Garmin Virb Elite sports camera, the footage can be found here:

After two really good runs for both myself and my team mate, we came home with a second place, only beaten by the team who had the fastest time over the whole weekend, so a great achievement!

Happy dogs enjoying the mud in the start chute of the race

Happy dogs enjoying the mud in the start chute of the race

Happy dogs enjoying the mud in the start chute of the race

Happy dogs enjoying the mud in the start chute of the race

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On to our only December event the Wyedean East Mushing / UCSC Event, Thetford Forest, 27th & 28th December – We made our way across the country to this one on Boxing Day and set up for the weekend in the beautiful Thetford Forest. All three dogs were entered in their own classes, two in the bikejor and one in the canicross, so we were all kept busy at this event. The course consisted of long, wide, grassy trails with only the merest hint of a hill, which suited us just fine! We had good runs both days, in spite of the non-stop rain on the Saturday, but nothing quick enough to get any of us into one of the top spots as both the bikejor and canicross were male and female combined.

The Wyedean East Mushing event was well worth the journey to Thetford forest for the great racing weekend.

The Wyedean East Mushing event was well worth the journey to Thetford forest for the great racing weekend.

To sum up, we had a manically busy November and needed a bit of a rest to recover in December but the events we attended just seem to get bigger and better, with more entries and even more open classes now. I think 2015 is going to be the best year for racing in the UK yet, with so many new clubs organising races and the established clubs gaining entries from the rapidly growing disciplines of canicross and bikejor.

 

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BSSF National Championship & IFSS Qualifier – Race Report

The British Sleddog Sports Federation (BSSF) National Championship event was held over the weekend of the 22nd & 23rd February in Kings Forest, Thetford, Norfolk, organised by the Wyedean Mushing crew. The event was also an International Federation of Sleddog Sports World Cup event, giving participants the opportunity to qualify for selection into the GB team attending the IFSS / WSA European Dryland Championships, to be held in France December 2014.

The venue itself was set down a long drive into the forest and is probably one of the best venues I have seen for a dog sport event in all the races I have attended. The camping area was large, dry and sheltered by the trees. When I arrived I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of mud anywhere and how perfect the conditions were for not only the races, but also for hosting over 200 competitors and their dogs for 3 days.

The stars over the race venue on Saturday night - Photo courtesy of Irene Dunton

The stars above the race venue on Saturday night – Photo courtesy of Irene Dunton

I arrived around lunchtime on the Friday so I could get out on the bike and check out the course in plenty of time before registration began at 4pm. It was slightly confusing trying to find the correct course, as all the course markers were up and there were four different routes for the different classes over the weekend but somehow we managed it. I took Tegan out to accompany me, as competing dogs weren’t allowed to see the trails but she was.

The course itself was all grass and dirt trail, very soft, with long straights and only a few turns to negotiate. It became obvious very quickly that this was going to be an extremely fast course as there weren’t even any hills to contend with. I also noticed there was no natural water anywhere on the route, which many people don’t consider an issue in racing but I like to allow my dogs to drink and so I made a mental note to take water out with me. In all the course was 4 miles of long, grassy trails and the furthest we have ever competed over, so I was nervous about how Donnie would cope, being the smallest dog competing in our class.

Registration was all very straightforward and after getting our number for the weekend, our CSJ goodie bag and getting the bike checked for safety, we were all set up for the first race Saturday morning. Due to the number of competitors taking part, racing was beginning at 8.30 am and continuing throughout the day until after 4 pm to give everybody the 1 minute intervals that was required by the timing system (in the case of the bigger teams it was 2 minute intervals).

A panoramic view of our little camping spot next to the trees

A panoramic view of our little camping spot next to the trees

Saturday morning started early with the sound of the husky teams waking up for breakfast around 5 am and there’s no disguising the husky woos woos when they start! The first competitors out were the big teams around the 4 mile course pulling rigs and then the bikejor class, followed by the smaller rig teams, the scooters, the canicross and finally the juniors around the shorter courses. It felt like a long wait until our start time of 10.42.

When it came to our turn, Donnie and I were raring to go, knowing we had to pull out all the stops to keep up with the other dogs in our class. We set off and I just had a feeling we were going to have a good run. Donnie was reading my mind again as to the turns and lines I wanted him to take and he was attacking the long stretches with great enthusiasm, which I wasn’t sure he would do. I was disappointed to be caught about half way around by a fellow competitor but we managed to keep more or less neck and neck with them for the second half of the race, finishing before them with a last push from both Donnie and I to keep our speed up. I did stop to let Donnie have a drink, as this revives him and when we crossed the line, I couldn’t have been happier with our first race of the weekend.

Donnie working at full speed down the start chute on Saturday - Photo courtesy of Tracy Evans

Donnie working at full speed down the start chute on Saturday – Photo courtesy of Tracy Evans

We hung around after our race to help others on the start line and watch people finish. One of the IFSS rules stipulates you can’t call in  teams on the finish, which makes for a very quiet finish area. I wasn’t sure I liked the lack of cheering but have to say the start and finish felt very calm for the dogs as a result and so perhaps this isn’t such a bad idea for the competitors as a whole. It was quite clear over the weekend how much thought had gone into the organisation of such a big event and although there were some slight issues I was aware of at times, none of it took away from the fact that the event ran extremely well, especially as it was the first event of it’s kind and size in England.

Saturday night was a fun, social event with a mushers meal in the evening provided if you wanted it and there was a talk and slideshow, plus cake for everyone. It was a nice opportunity to get lots of people under the roof of the marquee together to go through the days’ racing and share stories.

The cakes from Saturday night!

The cakes from Saturday night!

We were rudely awakened again by the sing song of the husky teams who were out even earlier on Sunday. All the racing times had been brought forward by an hour to help speed up the racing, as people needed to get home in the afternoon. It was cooler on the Sunday too, which was better for the dogs, as many had found the sunshine of Saturday had warmed the course up a bit too much for some teams.

Our start time of 9.24 reflected the times of the day before, as we were seeded in our class as the third out. I was fairly sure we couldn’t top our performance of Saturday and headed out on the course just to do the best we could. Yet again Donnie was absolutely on form and with only a small stop for a drink and toilet break (!) he kept up a very steady pace for the whole 4 miles. I was over the moon when I realised we were catching second place and it took everything I had to keep us both going up the slight incline into the finish.

We finished and had our vet and microchip check before being told that we had managed to make up a place and were now in the silver medal position. I couldn’t have been any more proud, as Donnie had worked his hardest for me over the whole course and to keep up with him had been a struggle. I took him  back to the van so he could chill out for the rest of the day and I went back down to the start/finish area to help others set off and come in. The NATB Dog Sports members had some blinding times out on the course and in the open 2 dog rig class, Petra Broadbelt managed to make up two places to take the gold with her two Australian Kelpies.

Petra and her incredible two dog Kelpie team - Photo courtesy of Tracy Evans

Petra and her incredible two dog Kelpie team – Photo courtesy of Tracy Evans

Following the Sunday races was the prize giving, where all the competitors gathered in the marquee to say thanks to the organisers and receive their medals and prizes from the race sponsors. There were a lot of people involved in making this event happen and it was a great first national championship for the Wyedean Mushing and BSSF team to have organised. I think this was a big step forward for the UK sled dog sports, as the event was attended by an IFSS representative who oversaw the racing to help ensure the rules were being adhered to and he was extremely impressed by the standard of dry land racing we have in this country.

If anyone is reading and thinks this is all beyond them and their ‘pet’ dog, please be assured that the majority of the dogs taking part in this event are ‘pet’ dogs and the competitors are not all people with huge teams of huskies or hounds. The dog sports of canicross, bikejor, scootering and dry land mushing in the UK are growing rapidly and the sled dog event organisers are opening up more and more events to all breeds of dog, this national championship being one of them. I think the BSSF National Championship event at Thetford was a resounding success and I look forward to attending an even bigger weekend of racing next year!

Canicross Midlands Tail Blazer Event at Bissell Woods – Race Report

The inaugural Canicross Midlands races were held on the Bissell Wood Equestrian Centre site near Kidderminster, over the weekend of the 1st and 2nd February. The venue was easily accessible from the M5 and being situated in the Midlands, this almost guaranteed a good turn out. As it turned out this was one of the biggest events we have attended all season, in spite of the gale force winds and rain predicted.

We arrived late on Friday afternoon to set up in the awful weather and settle down for the night in the camping field which unfortunately, but perhaps predictably, had flooded, following a week of constant downpours. We knew the course was going to be muddy and so didn’t worry too much about not checking it out, as the mud always slows the racing down a bit (for us anyway!). Team Thomas were bikejoring and canicrossing at this event so I was going to see the trail four times in total.

Marc and Donnie racing through the woods - Photo courtesy of Houndscape

Marc and Donnie racing through the woods – Photo courtesy of Houndscape

Saturday morning, after an early start, we got a chance to see for ourselves the course and to ride the hills we had been warned about the night before. The course started alongside the stable block on the flat and then turned sharp left along a very muddy straight, before another left turn and a road crossing. The crossing was very well marshalled and we zipped across into the woods for more muddy tracks, winding through the trees until the start of the hilly section in the middle.

The first section of muddy, woodland trails on the course - Photo courtesy of Houndscape

The first section of muddy, woodland trails on the course – Photo courtesy of Houndscape

After a gruelling uphill slog there was a very sharp right hand turn, taking you immediately back down the hill with a sweeping left at the bottom. The trail then wound it’s way back uphill for a slightly longer stretch but with less mud, so easier to negotiate. The course then descended down the side of the hill in stages, the last being a sandy slope which led onto a hard packed straight into the finish chute. There was another road crossing just before the end, again well marshalled and all cars were stopped for competitors.

The steep sandy downhill leading towards the home straight - Photo courtesy of Houndscape

The steep sandy downhill leading towards the home straight – Photo courtesy of Houndscape

We all managed respectable times on both the Saturday and Sunday, Marc and Donnie on the bike, myself and Judo also on the bike and myself with Tegan in the canicross class. Whilst we were not especially quick on any day over the course, we did manage to make up some time on the second day on the bikes.

Marc and Donnie placed 5th in the Men’s Bikejor category, Judo and I managed 6th in the Female Bikejor and Tegan helped pull me (sort of) to 6th in the Female Canicross and all this in spite of illness and injury in the weeks prior to the races. We had a fantastic weekend of racing and have nothing but praise for the team from Canicross Midlands (http://www.canicrossmidlands.co.uk) who kept us safe on the course with a special mention for Claire Martin who single handedly towed everyone on and off the camping field.

The NATB Dog Sports team brought home another prize haul and we all received finishers medals for completing the races.

The NATB Dog Sports team brought home another prize haul and we all received finishers medals for completing the races.

In conclusion with the terrible weather conditions and muddy trails, the Tail Blazer event could have been a wash out, but instead with the help of all the dedicated volunteers, the races were a huge success and I am looking forward to seeing the next Canicross Midlands race appear on the calendar.

Special thanks to Houndscape (http://houndscape.smugmug.com) who took all the amazing actions shots from the weekend and to Shane Wilkinson from Chillpics (http://www.chillpics.co.uk) who took some video footage which will be available for viewing on our stand at Crufts (Hall 4, 174)

Wyedean Mushing ABSA Iain Hutchinson Memorial Event – Race Report

The Iain Hutchinson Memorial event, hosted by Wyedean Mushing, under the ABSA banner was held over the weekend of the 11th & 12th January and was just down the road from K9 Trail Time in the Forest of Dean.

The races were run over the same course as we ran back in October, so we started off uphill from the Beechenhurst picnic area and then left down a long, wide hard packed track and out around the rest of the trail in the woods. The difference for us this time was that we knew we’d be starting out in the dark, as the Saturday race was an evening race.

The evening start line - beautifully captured by Irene Dunton

The evening start line – beautifully captured by Irene Dunton

With lights galore on the bike, Donnie and I managed a respectable 5th place after our efforts around the night trail. Riding in the dark is in some ways easier because you concentrate more on staying on and seeing where you’re going than choosing a line, plus there’s no public on the trails. However it is also quite frightening at times, especially when you can’t see the slippery mud until you hit it.

Knowing we had some time to make up, we tried our best on Sunday morning to negotiate the trail with a little more style than the night before. Unfortunately a few stops to say ‘hello’ to members of the public who were dog walking and a couple of dips in puddles we couldn’t see in the dark, meant we were actually a few seconds slower than the night run.

The trail ran very quickly and the dogs loved the opportunity to really stretch out - photo courtesy of Irene Dunton

The trail ran very quickly and the dogs taking part loved the opportunity to really stretch out – photo courtesy of Irene Dunton

Somehow we managed to creep up to third and take a podium place, coming second only to fellow NATB Dogs Sports members Mark Mazzucca (current European Bikejor Champion) and Mike Stone. It really does prove that you should always try your hardest, as it is very often down to luck and the mood of both you and your dog on the day. I’m always pleased with my results in the bikejor as Donnie gives 100% effort 99% of the time.

Another trophy haul for the NATB Dogs Sports members at the ABSA Iain Hutchinson Memorial races hosted by Wyedean Mushing

Another trophy haul for the NATB Dogs Sports members at the ABSA Iain Hutchinson Memorial races hosted by Wyedean Mushing

The Wyedean Mushing events (http://www.wyedean-mushing.com) are always well organised, fun and friendly, and the Iain Hutchinson Memorial race was no exception to this. Once again this was the first time there had been open classes to allow us to race with non-registered and non sled dog breeds of dog, so we are very glad to have been part of this great weekend of racing.

South West Coast Sled Dogs ABSA Wareham Forest Event – Race Report

The ABSA Wareham Forest event hosted by South West Coast Sled Dogs was the first ABSA event we had actually managed to compete in, although we had entered previous events and had to withdraw due to injury. ABSA events tend to be primarily ‘wheeled’ events and this one held on the 4th & 5th January 2014 was no exception.

Held in the forest near Wareham, the event weekend was forecast to be a very wet one and it was certainly that! We arrived in the rain on Friday night and camped at a local tourist park (there are many to choose from) called Birchwood. The rain stayed with us throughout Saturday morning and when we got to the venue of the racing, much of the forest was already beginning to flood.

The Forest was beginning to flood Saturday morning in the torrential rain!

The Forest was beginning to flood Saturday morning in the torrential rain!

In spite of the rain, everyone was in good spirits and we completed the morning racing safely. For the teams of dogs on the rigs the course was longer at approximately 3 miles but for us on the bike it was a short course of just under 2 miles. By the time we started, even the start chute was beginning to flood but after setting off, the rest of the course wasn’t too bad and most of it was slightly uphill to begin with.

The course gradually worked it’s way around to the right with gentle inclines on wide trails that were flooded and slippery but not too much of a problem on the bike. There were marshals in vehicles dotted around the course, even for the short course we were riding, so we were being kept safe at all times. After about a mile the course took us back down to the right via a sharp turn and then a long downhill which was very slippery then a left, back uphill before a right into the finish.

Wet Wareham 2

The wet weather didn’t let up for the majority of Saturday!

The course was the same for both days and after Saturday we were lying in third place in the bikejor class, praying for the rain to stop so that Sundays’ races could go ahead. On our way out of the venue the roads were all flooded and it wasn’t looking good for the next day but thankfully we did get a spell of dry which allowed the flood waters to recede.

Day two was not quite as successful for us in spite of the better conditions and we lost out on a podium place by less than a second in the timings. I found the course slightly easier to ride but so did everybody else and it was a competitive class! We finished up 4th and I couldn’t have asked for any more from my little Sprollie, the 3 dogs who beat him were all much bigger than him which can make a difference purely on the stride length they can take to cover the ground.

There was no less mud on the Sunday but it was (slightly) less wet

There was no less mud on the Sunday but it was (slightly) less wet

We enjoyed our trip to Wareham as much as we could given the weather and are thankful to ABSA for opening up their races this season and allowing us to compete in the open classes. The fact that these traditional sled dog organisations are recognising the demand for classes to accommodate the non-sled dog breeds of dog, is a huge step forward in the progress of the sports in the UK. ABSA is unfortunately not going to continue as an organisation after this season but I sincerely hope someone steps up to take the reins so that we can continue to attend these fantastic events, run by real dog sport enthusiasts.

The champions of the two dog open rig class and the one dog scooter class were all Kelpies, a fantastic result for a working breed who clearly love these sports as much as the sled dogs do!

The champions of the two dog open rig class and the one dog scooter class were all Kelpies, a fantastic result for a working breed who clearly love these sports as much as the sled dogs do