It was a very fast and furry month for us and our malamute Taiga: 3 dryland sprint races (5 total bikejoring runs), plenty of training and lots of lessons to learn.
Starting at the beginning of the month, we’ve participated in a dryland race for beginners, which turned out to be crowded – around 100 participants, both elite and green ones, opened the dryland season in a “Chipmunk’s Cup 2016” near Kernavė, Lithuania. Taiga did great in the short 3,5km run, held a steady pace of over 30km/h until the last kilometre, when she lost the scent of a very fast husky in front of her and started losing interest in running, which resulted in a speed drop to the low 20s. But, we’ve averaged at 23km/h and I was really proud of her. Though it seemed odd, that she lost the appetite to run until the end.
Next weekend there was the 1st race of the Baltic Cup in Latvia. We had some reservations about her wellbeing after that sudden speed drop the last weekend, but went there nevertheless. And it was a bit of a fiasco: during the first day of the 5,2km sprint race, Taiga ran perfectly for 1km, then suddenly stopped and turned around. Just like that. Nothing helped: encouragement, other dogs passing by, even strict commands – nothing. She just wanted to go back, so after trying to move on for 5 minutes or so, we just turned back and walked with a bike to the start line. 1st day result – DNF (did not finish).
Second day was a lot of stress and with fears that she won’t run again. It turns out the fears were substantial – she didn’t want to run from the very start of the race, even worse, as the team before us didn’t show up and we had a 2 minute window too wait and forget about trying to catch the dog in front of us. After a few struggles at the start line we basically ran (meaning, I was pushing the bike instead of riding it) for almost a kilometre, but that maybe actually help a bit, as Taiga got into better mood and started running in the front. So we proceeded in a slowly comfortable pace (at some points it was over +15C) and I wasn’t planning on pushing her to run faster, as she did look tired to me. But, 200 meters to the finish line we were overtaken by a 4 dog racing rig. Actually, even when we pulled out from the track to let the other team pass, the 4 dogs were too interested in Taiga and ended up running straight into her. It took a few seconds to react and untangle the dogs after which the rig was again advancing to the finish line. I don’t know if it was some kind of a trigger for our malamute, but she took that collision personally and probably decided to avenge that team – we’ve actually crossed the finish line clocking at 36km/h. Well, it’s a malamute…
We took these experiences seriously, tried to look for reasons of such reluctance to run and indeed – Taiga did catch a dogs’ cough in a dog show almost a month ago and the symptoms seemed to come back. So we cut on the intensive training, enjoyed hiking in a forest for a week until she looked better and more motivated to run again. As the end of the month and the 2nd race of the Baltic Cup was closing in, we’ve started gradual training on a bike again. And it worked – Taiga has clocked her personal speed record of 37,93 km/h and averaging at 24km/h in a 4,5km very technical trail. Not bad at all!
So the final sprint race of the spring season came. And we had only one expectation for it: to finish the track on both days, as the temperature increased to around +15C again. Long story short – it was much better than in previous race, but Taiga didn’t look happy at all while running, was seriously overheating and her only motivator was a husky, who overtook us soon after the start on both days. I didn’t push her at all, was praising her a lot and was actually sorry for her to work in such conditions. We’ve averaged at 18,9km/h in a 3,85km track on the first day and around 17km/h on the second. We’ve lost over a minute to ourselves on a second day in part due to my unexpected flight over the front of the bike. Nevertheless, although very slowly, we’ve finished the track, ended up at the bottom of the bikejoring-men list (13th place), but received a medal of courage for participating in a bikejoring sprint race with a malamute!
We are very proud of our girl and decided to leave the bike alone until the autumn. She needs some time now to fully recover and we need to rethink our strategy on how we work with our malamute, as she doesn’t seem happy at all. One thing to learn from this is that malamutes were never bred for high speed sprint racing and that they can be easily pushed too far and end up burned-out. We’ll post more insights about that in our next blog entry, but for now – some of the moments from our fast and furry April.