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. :-)