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. :-)