Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Champion of Finnmarkslopet 500 in 2013!!!!

Well, if you haven't heard by now, Milos was crowned Champion of Finnmarkslopet 500 yesterday afternoon after a steady last leg from Jergul to Jotka then on to Alta. It was a nail biting wait at the finish line as the last 50km seemed to take forever but he actually managed an average speed of 14.2km/h on what is considered to be the hardest part of the race for the dogs, not just because its the end but because they go through the same checkpoint as at the start of the race and its often a mental challenge for them to keep going at this point. More than once I've heard that you have to keep the dogs going through Jotka 2 because if you even stop for 5 minutes the dogs think they are stopping for a good rest and will often not get up again. Milos planned this well and snacked the dogs just a couple of km before the checkpoint to give them a mental boost to carry on straight through.

He arrived just after 3pm, half an hour after Eline Lihagen who along with Katy Meier had both managed to over take Ole Wingren who had trouble with his dogs wanting to stop on the final river run towards Alta. It proves anything can happen in the race, even at the end, and he went from second place to fourth in those last few km. Eventually he finished with 6 dogs whereas Eline had 8 dogs in really good shape at the end and Milos and Katy both had 7.

It was a stunning performance from the team, all in their first 500km race. Waf out-performed himself again, proving his worth as a fantastic leader especially through the mountain storms. He was invaluable to the team. But the team isn't just abut leaders and all the dogs did a great job. They were even ready to go again at the end but I think were very pleased that they only had to go as far as the car!!! Yes, they were tired, but there's no way they were ever going to give up.

Since finishing, we have been treated like kings... We were given a suite at the Rica Hotel in Alta (courtesy of the hotel) and managed to get a fantastic nights sleep in a full size bed! Milos was especially grateful as we were staying at the campsite before and he is 20cm longer than the bunk bed he slept in!!! And of course we've all been sleeping in the van the last couple of nights although all three if us have only managed 2 hours a night. So now, we are off to the local spa in Alta thanks to NRK, a Norwegian television channel. They have given brilliant coverage of the race including some live reports which can be seen on the website via the Finnmarkslopet site.

After that we have the prize ceremony and banquet. Milos won First Place and Rookie of the Year, and there are rumours that he also won Best non-Scandinavian... He has been recognised as the first non-Scandinavian to ever win the race. So it should be a good night... But we can't forget those teams that are still out on the trail and will not even make the banquet! We wish them luck in finishing the race.

Finally, I'd like to thank everyone for their support. We've seen many messages and comments on Facebook and on the Finnmarkslopet website etc and its great to see so many people enthusiastic about the race. We would also like to thank Jason De Carteret, our friend and entertainer throughout the race, who travelled all the way from London to help us on the race. Thank you also to Royal Canin who as always keep our dogs in good shape with their premium range of dry food that is most definitely our food of choice for the dogs. They love it and we had no problems with dogs eating on the race.

I will try and be back with some pictures and hopefully a word from Milos in a final update before we head home tomorrow.

Thanks for following!!!

Monday, 11 March 2013

On the last leg!!!!

Sorry if my posts aren't being published, I'm having trouble getting Internet! But it's all happening here despite my silence. :-)

Milos has been going really well. He managed to extend his lead on Ole from 4 to 12 minutes last night between Karasjok and Jergul. At Jergul there was a 6 hour mandatory rest period so he was out again at 07.00. He left with 7 dogs as Gina was dehydrated and tired. Ole and Katy also had 7 dogs, Eline 8. On this downhill stretch we hope it won't make too much of a difference. Milos himself was in good shape after a few hours sleep too.

Ole was really pushing for quite some time on the trail with Katy and Eline sticking together just a few minutes behind him. But then Ole started to slow a little and it looked like Eline was gaining time on him. Now we have the results from Jotka, the last checkpoint 50km from Alta, and it shows Ole was having trouble with a dog and dropped one more. He now has only six dogs so will find it hard to catch Milos now (unless something goes wrong). But all three behind Milos still pose a threat and I know he will want to just maintain this steady, natural pace for the dogs all the way in. Just 50km of 500km to go!!!!!

The stats show that Milos is running 16.1kmph, Eline is running 16, Katy 15.8 and Ole 15.7. It's a fast race.

Come on Milos!!!!!!!!! How proud I am of him and the dogs whatever happens.

A pic of Milos leaving Jergul this morning.

Fastest into Karasjok!!!

Wow, wow and wow. I can't quite believe it. I couldn't be more proud of Milos and the dogs right now. They had the fastest time between Skoganvarre and Levajok as well as Levajok to Karasjok. Although Ole Wingren was behind Milos by one minute into Karasjok. Katy Meier and Eline Lihagen also had good times on this last section just a few minutes behind Milos.

The time gets equalised at Karajok. That means all the different starting times are accounted for and each musher is given a start time to leave Karasjok. From here on, first on the trail means first in the race.

Milos left at 20.40 with Ole Wingren just 4 minutes behind. This small but vital time advantage had been gained last night in stormy conditions through the mountains. Today's run along the river was a much better and faster trail which allowed all the mushers to push the speed a bit and things were pretty equal between the top teams. I think Milos was really pleased to be going at a more natural pace for the dogs and to be on the trail for only 5 hours on the longest stretch of the race (85km).

All the dogs look good and went off in fine form tonight (out of Karasjok towards Jergul 67km away). Grony and Gina are perhaps showing a few signs of being tired but he can give them a longer rest here at at Jergul as there's a six hour mandatory rest for all the teams. Toby is performing great after his little blip earlier in the race.

So we are waiting for Milos now. The stage follows some hills and mountains through the valley so we know that this is a place Milos can gain some time on his competitors... And it looks like he's taken the chance. Although the live GPS tracking can give a slightly confusing picture with different GPS's being updated at different times it looks like Milos is doing well. I'm glad, as he looked in worse shape than the dogs at the start line tonight! I think the lack of sleep is taking a toll on him now but he will also get a break on arriving later this evening.

Meanwhile it looks like Taisto is struggling a bit. He's down to 7 dogs and the weather and storms have definitely made the trail more challenging and he's finding himself out for longer periods of time. This in turn adds to his exhaustion. But he skipped some rest at Skoganvarre so maybe he can add some rest time at Karasjok and recover a little.

So, we're in a position we never thought possible right now... Although we have heard so many people say "the race starts at Jergul" so it is a really long way to go still and the competition is fierce!

Keep your fingers crossed for us!

Pictures of Milos arriving at Karasjok and leaving a few hours later.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Levajok - 3rd checkpoint

It was pretty hard to see Milos leaving at around 11.15pm last night. Having had Toby in the sled at the end of the trail from Skoganvarre, Milos wasn't sure whether to take him further. But Toby seemed to enjoy his time in the sled and made a good speedy recovery so he left with the rest of the team towards Levajok. Cliff took a little encouragement to get out of the checkpoint but once he was out he was also doing well.

Milos said the trail was really hard going... Or rather soft going! Lots of new snow and bitterly cold wind on the mountain top. He couldn't wait for it to be over. But luckily the team were in good shape responding well to the 4hrs 17min break they had at Skoganvarre. For this section/stage Milos was fastest on the trail with a time of 6 hours 6 minutes. For now, that puts him in 2nd place (looking at trail time only) behind Leif Wilhelmsen. He came into the checkpoint fifth in front of Katy Meier, Ole Wingren and Elisabeth Edland. There's some really tough, new, competition in the race it seems - Eline Lihagen to name just one - although I think all the well known mushers must be pleased with their performance. It's a super long race that's only just begun and its all to play for.

For those that are following, Taisto was almost 8 hours on the trail and he said it was really tough. He was having problems with one of his lead dogs who would keep going off the trail. But he can rest longer here having only taken a couple of hours rest at Skoganvarre.

Milos is now sleeping in the van and the dogs are resting. Although he's due to take 6 hours break here, he only gets a couple of hours sleep by the time he's heated water for the dog food, settled them down to sleep with straw, fed them and so on... Then of course feed himself when he gets to the van (although I help there of course!). Soon the routine of feeding, booties, moisturising feet etc will start again. A special thank you to Milos's mum at this point because all he wants to eat are her homemade sausages!! i have a car full of other things to eat but when i ask what he wants I only get "sausages" as a reply. :-)

I think (hope) he will be leaving with 8 dogs again but Gina and Grony look like they are starting to tire. But to be quite honest, there's not a dog here that isn't tired! But they are very well looked after by their mushers.

I hope you are also following on www.finnmarkslopet.no. You can see live GPS tracking if you go to the main menu then click on GPS Tracking. The results service is also a good choice as it shows information from the checkpoints (including detailed breakdowns of stats).

Be back soon!!!!

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Skoganvarre - 2nd checkpoint

I'm sitting in a cafe in the far north of Norway not far from the northern coastline that leads straight to the North Pole... And it's warm!!! By that I mean about -5 degrees and of course it's snowing heavily.

Skoganvarre is 108km from Alta and the 2nd checkpoint in the race. Everyone goes straight through Jotka as its too early to rest and the facilities are limited so Skoganvarre is the first real break. With about 160 dog teams, 1350 dogs, there's a lot going on although teams are already starting to spread out on the trail.

Milos said it went really well to Jotka, braking quite hard, dogs doing good, they even liked the hills. But then the snow came, the trails got soft and the wind struck up a storm. These conditions are the worst for our dogs who are used to the hard trails of kiruna and the problem is they work too hard to get through the snow. It shows in the average speed: 18kmph to Jotka then down to 12.3kmph to Skoganvarre.

Most of the team coped well but unfortunately Milos came to the checkpoint with Toby in the sled - our biggest dog in the team! With no visible signs of anything wrong other than being tired the vets also cleared him of any ailments. But it's a bit strange. I don't think I've ever known Toby to go in the sled. This is the dog that did every stage of LGO this year with much longer and harder stages. Maybe it's just not a good day for him but Milos's worry is that the other 7 dogs had to work harder because Toby was missing.

In this case Milos has done sooooo well coming from 9th place in Jotka to 6th place in Sloganvarre. But when you look at the fastest times and account for starting differences he did drop some places and lost time. He's gone from 3rd to 8th - and a minute slower than Taisto in 7th. Leif Wilhelmsen seems to be fastest on the trail so far followed by ole wingren, Eline Lihagen, Katy Meier, Roy-Age Jensen Ugseth, Elisabeth Edland, Taisto then Milos.

So, it's only a quick stop here and I have to wake Milos from his nap in 20 minutes to go again. I think this will be a slow hard stage for the team but I hope they can make it ok. Traditionally this can be the slowest stage for most of the "good" teams.

I attach a photo of Skoganvarre before the teams came in... It's now dark so you don't see so much now!! ;-)

And we're off!!!

Milos left the starting line at 11.33am. :-) He almost didn't start on time as he was going down the line giving the dogs a cuddle and the commentator had been so busy introducing this "Rookie who is after the Championship" that they only gave him a countdown from 4 seconds to run back to his sled. But all went well at the start line and I will now meet him at the second checkpoint at Skoganvarre (108km) as the first checkpoint is not accessible by road.

We've left Patch in the car and he's taken Gina. Thank goodness we bought a spare dog with us. Patch had her toe nail ripped off somehow and it's sensitive in the soft tissue underneath so she's limping. It's not hurting her now but the snow is cold on it even with a bootie. I think it knocked Milos's confidence a bit because Patch has been the top performer on the races this year so he's gutted he's had to leave her. But it's so important for him to try and keep 8 dogs as long as possible (he's a big guy with the same number of dogs as female competitors 30kg lighter than him) that is just wasn't worth the gamble taking her.

So our team are below in pics (in order): Waf and Cliff in lead, Grony and Wuf, Balto and Toby, then Gina and Spendrup in wheel position.

You can take a look at the results/tracking live on http:/www.finnmarkslopet.no. Remember the starting time is equalised at Karasjok.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Preparing for our longest race yet!!!!

Some might say that we're no strangers to racing and it's certainly true that Milos has managed some pretty great results in the last three years but our latest challenge is something out of the ordinary for us: a long distance (500km) sled dog race. The Finnmarkslopet.

This is no ordinary sled dog race. This is the world's most northern sled dog race, starting in Alta, Norway, high up in the Arctic. Despite what you may think, the weather is usually a little warmer up there (not far from the coast) than it is at our base in Kiruna, Sweden, but temperatures can still plummet to a record-breaking minus 46 degrees C!!!! As a comparison, your freezer at home is a mere minus 18 degrees C. But we hope it won't get that cold this year. Minus 15/20 degrees C would be great as it will make for better (harder) trails and fresh dogs.

There are two disciplines for this race: 8-dog (limited) class and 12-dog+ (open) class. The 8-dog class is restricted to the 500km trail whereas the open class is a staggering 1000km long! Not for us, not this time, probably not ever, we'll stick to the 500km trail. The farthest our dogs have ever run in one go before is 300km. (Not to be confused with La Grande Odyssee where the whole race is close to 1000km but over 10 days and with overnights rests at a base, dogs in trailer, mushers in beds!). These long distance races are a test of the musher as much as the dog as once the race starts they are on their own with the dogs, stopping only to complete mandatory rest stops. They drive through the day and through the night, in all weathers, getting weary and pushing themselves to the limit, physically and emotionally. 500km is likely to take between 50 and 55 hours (and that's for the faster teams!). It starts at 11am on Saturday 9th March.

For those that follow us regularly, you'll know Milos usually runs 12-dog class (well, he's a big guy of over 6 foot and needs all the 'pulling power' he can muster from the dogs) so having only 8 dogs over this distance is perhaps the most worrying of things for us. You can only drop a maximum of 3 dogs before you're forced to scratch from the race. So now, we're running the farthest we've ever been with fewer dogs than we normally run. And did I mention that we haven't done any specific Finnmark training?? Our dogs have been too busy with tourists. Hmmmm... but not to worry, we gave them excellent Autumn training and the LGO race was also a good warm up, despite being a lot faster than we want for this race.

I think it's safe to say we'll just see how it goes, with no great ambitions. I just hope there aren't too many "eyes" on Milos.

We have nine dogs in mind at the moment so will need to drop one from the start. So far, we have:

Waf (of course - Milos's favourite leader)
Cliff (young leader, great for speed but works hard and prone to exhausting himself)
Grony (one of my favourite girls - so cuddly and obedient! Great leader too)
Patch (another young dog of 3 years, good and steady but prone to tiredness over long distances)
Wuf (also good for speed but great head too so can keep going even when tired)
Spendrup (proven race dog and perhaps more suited to longer distances than speed. He's got a rock hard attitude and never gives up)
Toby (our biggest race dog but also light on his feet. He ran every stage of the LGO this year when the other dogs got sick and didn't even look tired!)
Balto (he missed LGO from sickness - remember him on the drip? - but he's race proven and back to full health. He's strong and lean)
Gina (our 'reserve' dog. Another strong-headed girl but smaller than the boys so with only 8 dogs we may need to choose strength over any other attribute)

With almost 200 teams taking part this is Europe's most popular race bringing people from far and wide. Hugh Neff, the legendary musher from Alaska is also taking part!! He's usually seen in the Iditarod and Yukon Quest so that will be exciting and interesting.

So, wish us luck - again! Thanks for your ongoing support and I hope I can keep you entertained with stories from the trail. :-)

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Last stage timings and general rankings

I thought I would upload the final timings from yesterday's stage and general rankings. Milos clearly won the stage yesterday (his first win this year) with a 10.5 minute lead over Pontier. It was excitement all the way for the race and the public and organisers loved it.

Final rankings show Milos ahead by over 6 minutes so it was a convincing win in the end.

At the awards ceremony last night Milos was also given "best climber" as the musher who climbed the three highest and steepest mountain slopes the fastest. Not bad for someone who lives and trains in (flat) Sweden! Our dogs definitely like the up hills!

Now we're on our way back to Slovakia. It was a super early start again, so little more than 4 hours sleep for about the 14th night in a row! The drive should take about 24 hours of constant driving through the day and night. Then we stop for two days before starting the 3000km drive from Slovakia to northern Sweden.

We have a new passenger on board! His name is Terry and he's one of Radek's race team. We bought him from Radek after he was loaded in the sled on the first stage and Radek no longer trusts him to run. I think the race was a bit scary for him as he's a nervous chap but we hope he will make a great tourist dog. I'll try and post some pictures later...

Bye for now.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Final results - Milos storms home for 2nd place!!!!

What an unbelievable turn of events. Last night ended on a knife edge for Pontier and Milos who was only 2 minutes behind him. When on the finish line waiting for Milos I heard from the vets that our dogs slept well not moving under the blankets Milos had put out for them. He had to push hard yesterday to get back some time and he said Sonnie and Heineken looked tired. Heiney wasn't so great as he had been suffering diarrhoea for the two days but he was given five star treatment by the vets and managed to finish the race today. All 10 dogs did. Infact, we didn't load a dog in the sled the entire race.

In contrast, Pontiers dogs had been pushed hard for the entire race and this last stage was just a step too far for them. He had to drop one dog and many were exhausted. The advantage he gained down hill was short lived as Milos caught up on the flat and lost him on the up hill. Then it was just a case of gaining the time difference and getting to the end. Milos said he was on the edge of how hard he is willing to push the dogs but he knew it was the end and he saw the chance for 2nd place.

I don't know the official times yet but Milos won this stage and took 2nd overall in the tightest race the LGO has ever known. I really can't believe it. I never imagined this outcome what with everything that's happened. Milos and the dogs are a special combination and I'm so proud of them all.

In the team were: Waf and Cliff in lead, Foxy and Wuf, Grony and Patch, Toby and Sonnie, Heineken and Spendrup.

Here's some pictures of the podium and I'll be back later with a final update with times.

Pontier and Milos neck and neck!

Arrrrghhhg!!!!!! With only 2 mins 34 seconds between them at the start, Pontier had caught Milos quickly with some saying Pontier was ahead by 2km or about 6 minutes within 2 hours. But this advantage was surely gained down hill where Pontier is happy to run his dogs faster than Milos.

At 9.45 it was reported Milos had caught Pontier and they were travelling together after about 50km. Is Milos saving the dogs in the hope that he can gain minutes on a hill climb later in the trail? Or is he giving up on 2nd place and happy to bring home the dogs gently for third? I don't know. But I feel sick with nerves. Pavol and I have just left for the finish line as the first teams are expected soon (perhaps around 11.00/11.30).

Whatever happens, I couldn't be more proud of Milos or the dogs. What a spectacular performance by the team under such difficult circumstances. Go Gonda!!

9b start and conclusion from 9a

For most teams last nights stage was about consolidating positions. Jimmy has secured fifth against Juillaguet and Jiri has secured first place. The only fight left is between Milos and Pontier and its proving a really tough one!

Milos was obviously looking to see if he could push the Frenchman last night and put in a really good run getting to the Polar Base first last night. But Pontier stuck to him like glue and let Milos pull him along the whole trail crossing just behind Milos at the top. We haven't had official timings as this is a 2-part stage but it looks like Milos managed to reduce the time difference to Pontier by 1 minute 44 seconds!!! that was an incredible achievement given Pontiers improved performance this year. From what we could see on the trail Pontier was only a minute behind Milos so because of the start time difference he will have been a minute faster so Milos must have taken the extra time on the climb to the Polar Base. Milos is known for his strong performances up hill as much as Pontier is known for fast down hills and as the trail starts with a big down hill, I hope Milos can hold on.

Last night leaves Pontier ahead by a mere 2 minutes. Of course he will want a safe run but he will also take the chance if he sees it and that sort of time difference can easily be made if Pontier has to drop a dog this morning or put one in the sled on this massive 95km trail. (Officially its 88km but Radek measured it on a GPS last year and said it was 95km). It also comes down to dog care as the mushers were alone in caring for the dogs last night and it is a short night so incredibly important that the dogs get as much rest as possible. Both Milos and Pontier are used to being out with the dogs so its just a case of who rested better!

In summary, Pontier has the pressure on him today. Milos's performance last night saw him widen the gap against Radek so his third place looks pretty comfortable now - maybe even as much as 40 minutes. But Pontier also has the advantage of the home crowd and the organisation who openly support him in the race.

In honesty I don't know how Milos feels this morning. I know he has enough of a competitive streak in him to take the chance but whether he'll be pushing to get 2nd today I have no idea... He may just play it safe but with just 2 minutes between them I think it will be impossible not to try.

Whatever happens, it'll be an unbelievably tight finish and my nerves are in tatters already! It's 6.44am and Milos and Pontier have already started the race from Polar Base. They should finish around 11.30am all going well.

A quick note on the dogs... Milos has taken the 10 dogs that have pretty much run the whole race due to sickness. Waf and Toby have done all the stages apart from one! A lucky one at the very start before our sickness troubles arrived. Next in the team with strong performances are Cliff, Patch, Grony, Foxy, Heineken, Spendrup, Wuf and finally Sonnie. All of them have been sick at some point with a diarrhoea bug but have only been out for a couple of days. Balto, Slash, Gina and Falco have done only 2 or 3 stages each due to sickness or injuries from the trailer. We haven't had one running injury the entire time and I hope it stays that way for this stage. But the dogs are really tired now and I can't wait til they get back and we can rest them and spoil them!!!

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

This is so exciting!!!!

So rarely can we see the teams on the trail but today we've been fortunate to follow them up the valley. It's really exciting to see their progress and see how things change on the way.

We have the whole family with us tonight... Milos's mum and dad, one of his aunts and three cousins plus a cousins husband! See the picture of them taking shelter in the van on this cold night!

We've just seen Milos in Bonneval (half way point) and he crossed just ahead of Pontier. This means Pontier still has an advantage of about a minute on Milos. Some time later Jiri crossed, now ahead of Radek by 30 seconds or so. It seems Pontier is going fastest, Jiri and Milos have about the same time now and Radek is about 2 minutes behind Milos. Jimmy Pettersson also crossed with a good time.

Lets hope Milos can keep it up!

On route update!

We have just seen Milos pass through Lanslebourg. Pontier was just ahead but Milos was sticking to him. Radek and Jiri are definitely working together to help both their teams and passed by 3 minutes behind Milos. That means Radek had gained one minute on Milos. Unfortunately Milos doesn't have anyone to "work with" so will have to try and stick to Pontier. If he can do that he may be able to finish ahead of him on the steep climb up to the Polar Base.

More later...

Stage 9a - the beginning of the end!

This morning we took a convoy to Aussois, the start of the race at 3pm. Milos started at 3.22, two minutes ahead of the Frenchman Pontier. The order, in 2 minute intervals, was then Radek, Jiri, Jimmy and Remy Coste.

Just outside of Aussois (about 50 minutes in), Milos was still ahead of Pontier but the French had reduced the two minute time gap. Radek behind was taking it easy, perhaps waiting for Jiri who was catching him fast so the two Czechs could help each other through the race. Jiri looked fast. Jimmy too. Remy Coste also looked quite good but this is a long, long stage of 83km up to the Polar Base and its a really warm day in the sunshine so its best to take it easy.

This is usually a good stage for Milos and the dogs like the Polar Base as its a bit colder. Milos sleeps out in a tent tonight which the mushers don't usually look forward to but he is at least used to it because of our tourist business.

The climb up to the Polar Base is one of three mountain ascents that count towards the Best Climber award which Milos won last year (in an unofficial way as they were just testing the idea).

I won't know much until late tonight but I wish for the best. Last nights results came out and Pontier only gained 24 seconds on Milos yesterday which is great. Milos lost another five to Radek but we still have half an hour for him to catch us.

The pictures today are of last nights results as well as one of Pavol waxing the sled skis, Martin Bilys dog with his head in the cooler and one of Milos and his mum who arrived last night to see the final 2 days of the race.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Stage 8 - final thoughts

Thank goodness that's over!

In a quick summary Milos had good control of the race from the start, leading the way with Jimmy Pettersson following behind. He said he controlled the speed and it was really nice. Jimmy then went ahead as he had a GPS and they agreed he would keep pace. Jiri, Pontier and Radek were close behind. In an unfortunate turn of events, Jimmy took the wrong trail with Milos, Jiri and Pontier following. Radek managed to take the right trail which meant Milos and the other teams had to turn around and were now chasing Radek. Pontier managed to turn first giving him a slight advantage although his dogs got tangled in the process.

At this point, about 50km in and now minutes behind, Milos had to speed up so Radek couldn't get away and it pushed Balto and Slash a bit too hard. Both struggled with the speed having not run for a week. The rest of the trail was just really hard work from there.

No official results are in yet but Milos came 6th. Remy Coste took a surprising win, followed by Jimmy then Jiri. Radek crossed the line about 4.5 minutes before Milos and Pontier 45 seconds before Milos. It was a decent result from a bit of a disastrous stage for us. Radek now has only half an hour to catch us and we have 5 minutes to Pontier. But we are thankful it wasn't worse than that! There's still a lot to be grateful for.

Milos hopes to be back with a stronger team tomorrow. We've just worked out that 11 out of 14 dogs have been sick with 3 out of the race for a week. It's really held us back so it is a small miracle we are hanging on to third. It's just a shame we couldn't come here and show what our dogs were capable of as they were in great shape this year. Oh well, we are thankful the dogs seem to be doing ok and Waf and Toby are our absolute stars of the show!

See you tomorrow.

Stage 8 - all or nothing!

They've gone! At 3.40 it was the big off at the mass start, all teams setting off together in lanes and coming together after a few hundred metres to turn a corner... Which can quite often turn into a mess! So the trick is to either go out super fast and get ahead or go slow and filter in with sensible teams who have control of their dogs. The first option is never really a good option as it exhausts the dogs immediately on this 83km trail. Having said that, Milos got quite a fast start which surprised me but may be he did it to avoid a tangle that he could see coming.

We have 9 dogs today and I notice a few others do too. They're all saving dogs for the last big stage tomorrow (overnight). Radek took 9, Jiri 8 (he's got a big time gap so can afford to rest dogs today and give away a few minutes, if indeed he does) and we think Pontier took 8 too. That was surprising. I'm not sure why he wouldn't try to keep his small time advantage over Milos but perhaps he wants to save dogs for a strong finish, a stage where he usually shines.

We know some people are looking at our team and wondering if we have taken too big a risk taking dogs that have been out of the race so far and some that we would choose to rest longer if we could. They could be right but Milos knows his dogs and he would also prefer to take a risk today than wait until tomorrow when, if things went wrong, he would be in the middle of a double stage.

I have mixed feelings. Looking at Slash and Balto they look good and Balto particularly has been ready to run for a while. The others look good too. Infact I would say it would have been a bigger risk to take some of our other, more tired dogs. This way, at least he has four fresh dogs out of the nine.

Now it's just to keep our fingers crossed. This stage could change everything for a number of teams.

A rather bad picture of Milos just a short while after the mass start consolidates into one lane.

Mass start at Bessans

Things are brighter in the team today, mainly with us after a good nights rest... And a little help from Guns & Roses blasting on the car stereo!

The mass start is at 3.40 this afternoon so we are just preparing now. The dogs look better after last nights rest. The great news is both Balto and Slash are back in the team! So is Gina and Wuf. All have been given the go ahead by the vet. Yay! We hope the team will stay healthy on the trail. It means we have 4 fresh dogs in the team today and although we have 10 we can take, Milos will take 9 and rest one extra for the last overnight stage when we hope to be back to a full team of 10.

Here's Milos enjoying Fika in the car... With a smile!! :-)

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Stage 7b - results

The Swede Jimmy Pettersson did it! He managed to keep his lead today and finished first, taking his first stand on the podium. He hasn't stopped grinning ever since. :-)

He managed to get a staggering 7 minutes on Jiri who had a dog in the sled almost the entire trail. Radek came third, Daniel Jillaguet fourth and Milos fifth. Jean-Phillippe seemed to be struggling and ended up losing 10 minutes to Milos (J-P came 7th after Miki), a blow to him no doubt at this critical time in the race. He now only leads Milos by 4 minutes. Jiri continues to bolster his position in lead gaining almost half an hours gap between him and Pontier now. And Jiri's dogs still look really strong despite one in the sled today. So do Jimmys.

Jimmy now has his eye on Radek and almost certainly Daniel. The time difference between Jimmy and Daniel is not so much, about 4 minutes, which must be very threatening for the Frenchman. But he has half an hour to Radek which may be a step too far, especially as the Czech is giving a strong performance now.

For Milos, he really doesn't have ambition for 2nd place but he would like to keep third if possible. But the pressure from Radek in fourth means that we need good results to not lose too much time. We have half an hour to Radek which may seem a comfortable lead but it can be easily halved in one stage if something goes wrong. So Milos's game play is always a safe run, don't push too hard and hope to bring the dogs back in good shape.

Tomorrow is a Mass start (not my favourite as its very tempting to go too fast - watch for Pontier, Juillaguet, Salva and probably Jimmy getting a super fast start) but its also a long stage of 86km so anyone going too fast in the beginning will most likely pay by the end, unless Lady Luck is on their side. It's an afternoon stage so most likely a late blog again.

A quick update on the dogs before I go. Balto and Gina should be good to go tomorrow but Slash has taken a turn for the worse and is most likely out if the race. Wuf is making a quick recovery just as 3 other dogs look like they may be going down with the same bug as the others. We are working really hard on giving all of them liquids/hydration to try and boost their resistance to it. We're not the only ones suffering. It seems quite a few dogs are sick with the same thing... That's the problem at races. Lots of new dogs together bringing new bacteria and viruses at a time when immunity is low due to fatigue.

Talking about fatigue, I'm exhausted and off to bed. Good night! Wish us luck tomorrow, we need another solid performance from the team.

Picture of the results and Milos at the finish with Jiri.

7b in progress

Milos left at 8.22 this morning. They started in reverse order from last night. From the first part 7a he finished 6th behind Jimmy, Jiri, Daniel, Miki and Radek. Jean-Phillippe was 8th after Salva. But of course these aren't official results as it is a double stage. We will see how the teams go on this longer stage - will the fast teams manage to keep their speed?

I'm sitting in the temporary Headquarters of the LGO watching the GPS tracking on a big screen. It's like a car crash... You don't want to look but you have to! The GPS only updates every few minutes so sometimes it can look like someone is falling behind or stopped and then they will jump ahead. It's really stressful watching which is why you have another blog post from me today!! It's a distraction.

Milos has a team of 9 this morning. The vets confirmed we could drop Falco as he's limping on his swollen leg. It doesn't look infected but he had a fight with Heineken and Spendrup on our way to the race and got a nasty puncture wound which looks like its gone through to the muscle and now it's causing problems.

We continue to give fluids and nutrition to Wuf and now Slash again, although Slash has now eaten some meat too (perhaps breakfast was just too early for him!). Luckily Wuf still has some appetite left so his main problem is hydration.

Balto looks great and has started whining and barking at the team wanting to leave with them. That's great because we would like to run him tomorrow. His poop (sorry to talk poop!) looks good and he's actually been quite well for a couple of days now but we wanted to rest him to be sure. I hope he will finish the race now.

So, the GPS shows Milos doing ok so far although they're only half way. He has 9 dogs compared to everyone else's 10. J-P is obviously running the dog he had in the sled last night. But I have to say the dogs I saw in the teams this morning looked pretty good and so far it looks like another fast stage with Jimmy continuing to lead the way.

More updates later.

7a completed

There are no official times for last night as this is a double stage but it was 58km and super fast. Less than 3 hours.

In a surprising but pleasing twist of events Jimmy Pettersson from Sweden romped home with the fastest time of the night. He says his dogs seem to have woken up! We're pleased for him as he's fighting a battle around 5th place against Daniel Julliguet who also ran a good stage.

Milos was 8 minutes behind Jimmy losing time to Jiri (second fastest we think) and a few seconds only to Radek. Jean-Phillippe came over the line with a dog in the sled a couple of minutes after Milos.

Of course this is just the first half. We woke at 5.30am this morning in order to leave in convoy for the start at Lanslebourg at 6.30. They start in reverse order at 8.30am. Milos commented that it will be interesting to see how teams do today after that fast stage last night. It's 86km with quite a bit of uphill. Jiri's dogs still look super strong and compared to J-P I think he has secured his top spot now. Milos is still trying to hold on for third against Radek. If we can just keep the same pace as him we should be ok as there is quite a big time gap to Daniel.

But it's not easy. Our bad luck with viruses and sickness this year is unbelievable. No sooner is one better then another one goes down. Wuf, Patch and Grony have all been ill in the last couple if days and now Slash has stopped eating again. Balto looks good though and Gina is slowly on the mend although I don't know if she'll be ready for tomorrow. Milos said he had to go slower last night because of Falco too so we will decide if we take him today or drop him. Other than sickness we've had no running injuries at all. The dogs have been in amazing health all through training too. It's so disappointing to know we can't give this our best shot this year as the dogs were in such good shape and were really well trained.

It has not been easy. Spirits have been fairly low and we're all so tired its hard to keep positive. The health of the dogs really affects us and I can't wait for them all to be well again.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Stage 7a & 7b - bivouac in a storm!

Stages 7a and 7b were scheduled as a bivouac with an overnight stop at the Base Polaire, but a storm has blown in the valley and it has been cancelled. Instead, the stage will be run as two separate trails (today and tomorrow) but the timing will only count as one. The mushers have a late start today and we are scheduled to leave at 17.46 so I shall make this quick. It's windy but still fairly warm and really quite a dull day. Not the sort of weather you want to go out in with snow blowing in your face.

Milos will take 10 dogs today. Falco included. Gina is still off with her toe which seems to be getting a bit bigger again! And Balto and Slash are still in recovery too. Technically Balto could run today as he's been off Imodium for some time and Slash can run Monday. But Milos is airing on the side of caution and will leave them for this stage (2 days). Wuf is also taking a rest.

I hope to update you later but it will be a late one!

Picture of Milos chilling in the car before the stage.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Stage 6 - results

It was an early start this morning. Having spent two nights in the gym I think everyone will be pleased to move on to the next area of Lanslebourg where we sleep in a bed! But first we had a run to prepare for. A relatively short one of 50km and not much altitude gain or loss (in relative terms anyway!).

With Balto and Slash still out of the race (although they are recovering slowly), Gina suffering from a swollen toe (also improving today) and Falco suffering a slight infection of a wound from days ago, Heiney needing a rest as well as Grony, Milos decided to take 8 dogs compared to most taking 9 (Radek, Jimmy Petterson from Sweden and jiri) and both the french taking 10 dogs. We need to save as many dogs as possible for the longer stages as we don't have much in reserve as it stands now. So, we had low expectations today knowing we would allow Radek to creep closer to us and again lose minutes to the leaders but if we are to finish the race then this is how it had to be.

So, we were very pleasantly surprised when Milos crossed the line after Remy Coste (who ended up in 7th with the start time difference). Of course Milos started some minutes before Radek, Jiri and Pontier so it was just a question of watching the clock. In the end, jiri came in first, Radek second (gaining another 2n 20s on us) and Milos third! A fantastic achievement by the team at a time when spirits have been quite low due to our (what feels like bad luck) during the race this year. It's given us a boost and what with our favourite stages coming up we can at least hope we may hold on to third place. If we can get Balto and Slash on their feet again then even better but I know Milos will only run them if he's 100% sure he can rely on them to make it.

Pontier dropped back a little today so it will be interesting to see what that does to the overall rankings. Perhaps because his dogs are starting to tire after such hard and super fast stages in recent days, who knows. But Daniel did well again today and followed Milos by another minute and half. Jimmy also had a really good race and said his dogs seem to be warming up to the race now.

The French teams still look strong, fast and threatening but if I was a betting person my money would be on Jiri. His dogs look fantastic. As long as he doesn't make a mistake or get into trouble, I think he'll get the trophy this year. But we've said it before... This an unpredictable race and anything could happen.

A special mention should go to Toby as the only dog that has completed every stage so far without a break. He still looks so strong and not tiring one bit. He needs a bit of extra feeding though. And of course, Waf, who is Milos's best leader. He's also looking good with one days rest so far. He has a lot of admirers here wanting to breed from him!

This afternoon we drive to Lanslebourg for the final stages. Tomorrow is a late start at 4.30pm as its an overnight bivouac stage. This will not only gives the dogs an extra few hours to rest but also allows us some time to recover.

I leave you with pictures from the start line, a view of the region we're in and the stage/general ranking results showing Jiri now back in lead.

Thanks again for your support!

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Stage 5 - results

I'm not sure how many times I can say this but it is such a tight race this year. The top three are separated by only 17 minutes but very quickly being caught by Radek who has finally found his running feet and was on the podium again today. Also on the podium was Daniel Juillaguet who is getting some really great runs in and slowly climbing the leader board... But we hope to have enough time on him to stay ahead. Radek is starting to look dangerous in fourth place and the gap between has reduced to about 40 minutes.

At this point Jiri and Jean-Philippe look unbeatable. Jiri's team looks really strong and in good shape. J-P's team perhaps not so much. But what Pontier might be losing to injuries or tiredness in his dogs, I think he will gain with the longer stages, known to be his favourite and strongest part of the race. It will be interesting to see if they can both keep that speed for the longer distances or whether the toll of running the dogs fast in these first few stages will start to show.

Milos has been running a very sensible race and does not have eyes on the top spot any more. We've been dogged by bad luck this year (excuse the pun) so although we still have a lot to be grateful for (ie. that we're still here after Balto and Slash's suspected Kennel Cough which thankfully turned out to be something else) we're now just hoping to hold on to third place by not losing too much time. Having said that I'm sure Milos will take any opportunity that comes his way but he will not be pressured into running his dogs fast down hill which is where the other teams are gaining speed on him. They catch him up and overtake down hill but quite often he will be faster up hill. But he says it's a risky strategy and the sight of dogs falling in the snow as they speed down steep slopes is horrifying to him. No top prize is worth that and teams will suffer injuries because of it, without fail.

Back to today, he managed fifth, giving the leaders about a 5 minute gain in the general rankings. He's now some 17 minutes behind, which isn't much really but when you see how these guys run, they don't give anything away!

We had 9 dogs today as Milos wanted to leave Sonnie and Grony, Balto and Slash are still out and Gina appeared from the trailer this morning with a swollen toe! We noticed it as we prepared to race. The vets said it is yet another problem that is unrelated to running and she probably caught it on the trailer or twisted it somehow. We now have another dog that needs special attention... Icing her toe every 2 hours then re-applying a compress to help the swelling. We hope this one will be a speedy recovery but I doubt she'll run for a couple of days. The good news is both Slash and Balto have normal temperatures again and both have started eating from the bowl. It's a great sight and I'm sure now they're eating their recovery will gather speed. Yay.

Tonight at 7pm we have to take the dogs out again for the Megeve Challenge, a short 6km "show". It doesn't count towards the rankings although there is a separate prize. But we will just take what dogs we need to (8) and take it easy. We don't want to make any mistakes at this point.

That's it today. Results below and see you tomorrow!

Stage 4 results - tight race!

The results for yesterday are in and we got 4th place. A bit surprising not to get a podium place as Milos said the dogs ran really well (he took 10) although he took the downhills slowly because Sonnie doesn't like them too fast. We missed 3rd place by 15 seconds. And infact we were only 3 minutes behind Pontier who won. Another surprise from Daniel Juillaguet who got his second podium place in a row with third place... There seems to be no stopping the French this year although the Czech/Slovak contingency is trying! Radek took second place and seems to be warming up now, although a podium place is still going to be hard to get if the other teams have a good run as the time gap from the first few stages is about 50 minutes. Jiri lost a few minutes in this stage and consequently conceded his Leader standing back to Pontier. Those two keep playing Cat and Mouse with first and second place in the general rankings.

Despite not reaching the podium, Milos ran a good race for us and has managed to take about 1.5 minutes off the difference between us and first place overall. Now there is just 12 minutes between us and Pontier and only 7 or so minutes to us and Jiri in second. It is such a tight race this year, it's almost unheard of. The top three (us included) only have 12 minutes separating them having run four stages and nearly 20 hours on the trail!

Meanwhile back at the trailer we (the handlers) are having a tough time with the sick dogs. Slash, who seemed to be improving, took sick again and his temperature went back up. He now has antibiotics for the fever. Both Slash and Balto are on Imodium. It means its unlikely they will run again in this race, maybe a small possibility for the final stage. They are requiring constant care as we are feeding by syringe to try and keep them hydrated and their weight up, and its massively time consuming when we have other dogs needing attention. Sonnie needs a lot of massage on her back legs for tight muscles (although its not causing her too much of a problem), Gina seems to have knocked her front paw and has a swollen toe (not through running, probably in the trailer) and of course all the dogs need walking, stretching and massaging not to mention feeding and feet moisturising for cracks and cuts. It's an unrelenting task. We've had little more than four hours sleep each night and the tiredness is beginning to show. Tonight will be our second night staying in Megeve's sports hall and its full of smelly mushers and handlers who snore and walk around at different times if the night (including us!). Beyond that horror we move further south and get to stay in an apartment in Lanslevillard. I can't wait... I'm cold, wet, smelly and tired. We all are.

We hope to just hang in there, keep running a safe race and not push too hard. Milos just wants to finish with a healthy team. We're saving as many dogs as possible on each stage and the team look really good when they finish. The dogs are so strong still and not looking too tired. We've had no running-related injuries at all... Just bad luck so far. Balto and Slash didn't even run the day they got sick and neither did Gina run when injuring her toe.

Anyway, thanks to everyone for reading and sending your comments... And also your support for Falco who got better very quickly and has been back in the team for a couple of days and doing well.

I will blog again later when I get a chance. Milos left for stage 5 at around 9.45 this morning and although there is light snow it's cold at around -10 so it's much better for the dogs.

Pictures today are the results and a few from our day (Wednesday).

P.S A special hello to the Czech spy who is apparently reading this blog to get information on our team... ;-)

Ooo, and I've just had an update from the vet and Slash's temperature is normal again now so fingers crossed he's really on the mend now. Yay!

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Transfer to stage 4 start

We're on the road this morning heading towards Chamonix and Mont Blanc for stage four starting at 14.00. This is a 59km trail high up into the Mont Blanc range - a real treat for the Mushers who get an excellent view of this famous mountain. It's a bit colder today and the fog is clearing thankfully. It's likely to be a late night so I may not be able to post later.

We weren't sure we'd get this far. If I'm honest we thought we may be heading home yesterday. It was really bad with Slash and Balto. Even the vets were wondering what it was. Kennel Cough was mentioned (which would mean leaving ASAP to prevent it spreading through the other teams) but neither dog was coughing and as time went on it has become obvious it isn't kennel cough. It looks like some kind of virus and stomach bug together. Both dogs have responded really well to intravenous liquids although they are not eating/drinking on their own yet. It is likely to be the end of the race for them, or at the very least a long rest. The other dogs will need to step up if we're to continue. My guess is Milos will take smaller teams in these next few stages and hope to hold on to third place. With Radek quickly making up time it may be hard but we have about 50 minutes. But the race is secondary to the health of the dogs so as long as they get better and the others stay healthy then everything else is just a bonus.

The vets on the race have been excellent. Very attentive even though they have many dogs and teams here. Balto and Slash are getting the best care possible and really look so much better today with normal temperatures. It seems the virus might be a quick one but the gastritis is lingering a little.

Just a quick picture to show their progress. :-) And one of the scenery on our drive.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Stage 3 - Sommand

Another late blog I'm afraid but its been super busy again... For some wrong reasons as well as good ones.

I'll keep it short. Today was a bit colder but really wet in the air with thick fog and 12 inches of new snow during the day. The weather should have suited Pontier but he didn't manage a podium place today, surprisingly, and the results of today mean he's lost his first place standing overall. Jiri Vondrak now takes the overall lead with Pontier in second.

Milos ran a good race. Much better than we expected considering the dreadful winter conditions and so much snow. He managed third place again, with 9 dogs, this time conceding to Jiri and Daniel Juillaguet, who has perhaps experienced a podium place for the first time. The mistakes of Pontier mean Milos has closed the gap on second place to just 10 minutes and only 13.45 to first place.

Our results today were blighted by bad news. Just as we were taking out the dogs to harness them for the race Slash threw up. Balto also didn't look so good. Both were due to run but we decided very last minute to swap them with Heiney and Spendrup. It was a good decision. Within an hour or so both had temperatures of 39+. Since then the vets have been checking the dogs every hour. Both are now on a drip and their temperatures are normal again. Slash is recovering really well but Balto is a little behind. Both will be sleeping with us tonight. At this point the best we can hope for is that the dogs don't need antibiotics (as that would mean the end of the race for them due to anti doping controls) and that they make a recovery in a few days. But at one point today we thought it was the end if the race for us. It is still unclear what the problem is but it seems to be a mix of virus and gastro/stomach problems. I will keep you posted.

Pictures today are the results, Milos at the finish and our dog hospital/bedroom.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Stage 2 - Morillon

I apologise for the late post! Things are so busy here, there's always something to do. I've just come in from outside where we've been massaging the dogs, walking them, treating feet, feeding and so on. It really does take hours but its great bonding time with the dogs so I like it... And it means the blog is left to last. :-)

Today was so warm again and foggy. At times the mushers couldn't even see their lead dogs. Milos said it was quite nice not to be able to see where he was going so the down hills weren't so scary!! It was another tough stage but he said easier (for him physically) than yesterday. But it was 77km and a 2800m ascent with one slope some 14km long at an incline of 14%! That's like level 14 on a treadmill in the gym for those that don't know... For 14km! And that was just one hill. You get the picture and unsurprisingly the fitter mushers are finding themselves in front. The rest are nursing cramping legs and sore muscles.

In summary Milos said he had a slow start, taking it easy and pacing the team. But team after team caught him so close to the start, some thought he had troubles. He said Pontier and Vondrak (both starting behind him) overtook him within the first few km and he watched them all pass. Then after 25km the big, long hill came and one by one he passed them... Pontier, Vondrak, Radek, about 15 teams in total. All of them have teams that don't work so good up hills. Because the going is so slow and it's harder for the musher than the dogs, the team can get a bit bored and start messing around or becoming unfocused. Milos said the secret for him is to just keep going, however slow, just don't let the dogs lose focus.

After that, teams started to catch him again on the down hill. He doesn't run the dogs fast down hill, never has, but its true to say that both Vondrak and particularly Pontier run their dogs too fast down hill. It's where they gain their time difference (but at what price later in the race?). It was a bit 'cat and mouse' between Milos and Pontier after that with Milos finally arriving to the finish line just a couple of minutes behind Pontier. Vondrak arriving very soon after with Radek. Pointiers dogs looked absolutely knackered at the end, immediately lying down, tongues hanging out. In contrast, our team looked good, standing up and energetic still despite a tough run. The last two stages have really shown Milos isn't running the team beyond their capabilities whereas Pontier is so hungry for the trophy this year he is pushing his team so hard... And it's easy to see when he has the full vet team at his trailer at night. It's a risky strategy but if he can keep going like this, the number one spot will finally be his and he'll be hard to beat (he also likes the later stages of the race). Vondrak is also proving his worth with a very fast team that look good at the finish and we're not sure we can beat them. But we will try and it's a long race so anything can happen.

For those of you wondering what's happened to Radek, he's running some young dogs this year and he had two dogs fight before the race meaning he had to leave one of his leaders behind. But he is still putting up a fight and his problems may settle down as the race goes on. Martin Bily may also be a surprise but he has suffered from really bad training conditions this year and its proving too much to get over - so far.

In the end (taking into account the start time intervals), Milos managed third again. A good race by him as he had some troubles with Sonnie and with the warm weather but I hope we can start to pull back some time over the next few days. We've been promised cold weather coming in (maybe -20) which our dogs would love! And the last stages are usually our best so we keep everything crossed for luck.

I have three pictures tonight... Results from today and the general rankings, and one of Milos at the finish.

See you tomorrow. Good night.