Thursday, 22 January 2015

My final say...

Well you can't end a race like LGO without a big show at the end. In Lanslebourg we were surprised with having to make a parade through the streets and the final prize ceremony outside with the public watching. It was a big show but actually nicely done. Other than it was freezing! Oh, and we had been told to take three dogs per team and surprised (again) by a big fireworks show to close. The dogs freaked. We had no warning of that. But they did a really nice presentation of pictures from the race and had put alot of effort in to end the race with a spectacular. Once again we felt a bit like puppets in a show. It's true what they say about the race... The media and show of it all is more important than the mushers or dogs. You can be sure the mushers will look after their dogs so it's just whether or not the mushers are happy to play their part. It's not really Milos's cup of tea but the French seem to love it and play up to the cameras. But then they are on home ground with a lot of adoring public so why not? But it can be a bit uncomfortable if you're not into that sort of thing and sometimes the balance is lost between racing dogs and making money or a media show. 

I'm just telling it how it is. Don't get me wrong, I think they do a great job considering how difficult the conditions etc can be and they certainly produce some good film footage and promo's and secure good sponsors. I like that the ski resorts get on board and on the whole embrace the race and promote the sport but I don't think we'll be back. It's such a long drive to get here and we lose a whole month of tourist earnings to do it. Unless we're able to get financial help for a race like this, we can't really afford it. 

It's shame we couldn't go out on top but in some ways I think we were winners there. Ok, we didn't come first (and sadly don't get the top prize money which would be welcome as its so expensive to do this race) but of the 10 days racing we were fastest on 6 of them, and only came second place on two more days by 2 seconds and 18 seconds. That's a staggering 80%of the race!!!! And if I'm honest, I feel like we deserved to win. But we had lost around 9 minutes on stages 2 & 3 because our dogs weren't eating after the long journey and just ran out of steam. Even Waf was in the sled on stage 3 and Milos said he was the best dog for the rest of the race. But he didn't eat at all the first three days and was more interested in the girls. He's getting a bit too used to being 'pimped out' for breeding perhaps. He's good at that too! Lol. 

But that's the problem for us. The journey is a killer, for us and the dogs. We just can't compete with European teams that have a few hours travel time. The dogs always take 3 days to recover and we just don't have the opportunity or chance to come a week earlier and train before the race. Of course, if there's any potential sponsors out there thinking they could help in some way, get in touch!! ;-)

But all in all we've had a good run at LGO winning it once and coming 2nd three times. Considering our success at long distance races as well I think we can be happy with that. We'd always be happy with our dogs anyway. Like any musher, we think ours are the best!!! :-)

As for Jan and his first LGO I think he enjoyed it. He won Best Rookie last night coming a very respectable 4th place with dogs from Taisto Torneus. Maybe next year he may want to return. 

Well, I hope you enjoyed following and don't forget we'll be racing again the first week in March at the long distance world championships in Norway at the Finnmarkslopet. I hope to be blogging then too. But for now I'll leave you with a picture of Milos on the podium from last night. 

See you soon!

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Final timings

The final timings for stage 8 are in and Milos was gaining time on Radek but ran out of trail to get the two minutes we needed. 

Here are the official times:

We're now relaxing with a coffee and I'm pleased to say Milos is almost back to his normal self health wise. Later we have to parade in Lanslebourg with three dogs and then we have the official prize ceremony at 8pm this evening. 

Milos crosses the line

I made a mistake in my calculations earlier and Milos actually left 4 minutes behind Radek so I think the winner of this stage will be close. Remy Coste will be in the mix too as he was fast today but lost a lot of time yesterday. Jan also made a good run... Will he manage the podium on this final stage? I hope so!

Milos is happy with the run. He said he couldn't do any more to catch Radek, the trail was just too short at 30km. It's a shame it couldn't have been the published 60 or 80km as that is what we have trained for but the cable car opens at 9am and the teams have to be in by then! Crazy!! 20km more and we might have caught him. But then again if stage 3 hadn't been such a disaster for us we could have won also. Who knows! We lost a lot of time there with Dixie, who hasn't run since. 

But there are always "if's"... We are happy that we've had our most successful LGO this year if you count stage wins. And Radek is the master at this race with dogs bred and trained just for this so he's a tough one to beat. Our dogs and Milos did brilliantly. 

The dogs themselves look super fresh after their 30km run, but perhaps a little confused at why they're back at the trailer already. Hannalore keeps jumping up ready for more. She'll get her chance at the long distance world championships this March at Finnmarkslopet 500km. :-)

The Czech takes the win!

radek is over the line already... Milos is some way behind. A good run by him but my guess is he slowed down a bit when he knew his chance was gone to catch radek. Better to finish safe and in 2nd place!!! Well done Milos. He should come in with Jan. :-)

Final push!

They've started and already about 15km in (half way). Milos started 2 minutes behind Radek who is flying down the course. We need to catch him and more if we're to win but I think the task may be beyond us... Well, at least the trail too short to allow it! And the last 10km is downhill and Radek always drives faster downhill than we do (a bit). In terms of motivation, which is greater? Someone who has everything to lose or someone who has everything to gain??

We will see! But they are flying... It might come down to one mistake. 

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Milos takes 1 minute 3 secs from Radek!

Jan managed to send me a quick unofficial update from the polar base. The results were:

Milos first 
+1:03 Radek
+6:52 Daniel Juillaguet 
+9:38 Remy Coste
+10:15 Jan

Milos was vomiting on the trail!!!! But now feels a bit better. All our dogs ate and look good but Radeks not so good (some were not eating very well). But things can change in this race... We'll find out tomorrow who has the stronger team... And stronger stomach!!!

He's at the finish of 8a!

Oh... My... Goodness!!!!! Were you watching live? In the end, I was. It turns out I felt more sick at the thought of everything going wrong than knowing the truth. So I tuned in to the live GPS. 

What can I say!!! I love my husband and our doggies!!!! What an amazing performance by all. I don't know the times and wouldn't like to guess but he has made it to the finish in good time. Taisto called and said he was about 4 minutes ahead (so gaining 2mins on Radek) but the GPS is unreliable and by the finish line I think it might more like 3 minutes (so 1 minute if we're lucky). But the last time I thought Milos had won according to the GPS, the official result was that Radek was faster by a second... So I don't dare guess again. We will have to wait and see...

But I'm so proud of him and the team for even starting tonight's stage. Having spent the day in bed I really wasn't sure which way it would go. I just hope he has the strength to look after himself and the team tonight. My guess is he'll head straight to bed!!! As for me... Something to calm my nerves perhaps... Slurp, slurp!

Ok, so I just took a sneaky peak at the GPS

Arrrrrggggghhhhhhhh.... Just a few more KM's to go and I'm biting my nails. Foolishly I took a peak at the GPS. The boys are at a point now where they'll be able to see each other on the trail. An old musher trick is to switch your headlamp off so your competitors can't see where you are but soon they will pass each other head on as they take the end of the loop. 

It's really hard to interpret the GPS accurately so I don't dare. They will travel at different speeds depending on the hills and their position on the trail. And the GPS takes a signal intermittently so you can never gauge how far the true distance is. But for now it looks like The Czech hasn't caught Milos yet! Although bear in mind Milos started 2 minutes ahead. I think it's pretty even between them at the moment. 

Oh goodness... Switching off again now. I feel so sick!!!!

Stage 8a - up to Polar Base

I can't watch the GPS. It makes me feel as sick as Milos. It was horrible seeing him set off tonight knowing he wasn't well. I'm not sure there was much fight in him despite a tantalising 3 minute difference to win. It's just not enough distance for us to get the time. I may sound a bit defeatist but I think it must be a protection mechanism for me because I get so stressed at the results!! It's easier when it's you on the sled... You just go along as best you can and that's all there is to it. Anyhow, we know Radeks hounds can beat ours on speed and I guess he will use that today. The two of them will most likely be quite even (sickness dependent!) until they get to the flat at the Polar base and then I guess Radek will charge ahead. I don't know and if you want to find out you'll have to watch the GPS yourself because my stomach is churning at the thought of it. 

I took one picture today of Radek at the start line. It doesn't show it so well but you might be able to see the difference in his dogs to ours. Not all of them are so different but generally his edge on the side of hound and ours huskies even though they have similar blood lines in some of them. 

Taisto called earlier and told me Jan's GPS doesn't work. He definitely started the race so don't worry! 

Maybe you'll hear from me later when I know what the damage is. The thought of my poor husband (rattling with all the pills he's taken) up on the mountain top overnight just doesn't bear thinking about. I've told him to put straw on the tent floor and take the dogs inside to stay warm. He just looked at me and replied "the only thing I need is this" and he held up a toilet roll in a plastic bag. 

A small disaster has struck!!

Well, we were hoping to avoid it but Milos has finally fallen to the sickness that is rife through the mushers and some LGO staff at the moment. He is in bed as I type with stomach cramps and a fever. He's sweating but he's cold and his stomach is painful. He won't be moving from his bed today and certainly won't be eating which won't exactly help his energy levels. 

The final bivouac stage starts at 17.30 from Lanslebourg. We have to be there by 15.00. That doesn't give Milos much time to recover. If we want to stay in the race he has to be on that sled this afternoon and complete this last overnight stage. The sickness couldn't have come at a worse time. I think our hopes for catching Radek are over. We just hope Milos can get on the sled today and finish otherwise we forfeit our podium position. 

When you think about how hard we've worked to prepare for this race with months of training and the effort to get here (driving 8 days and through the night, over 8000km return journey) it seems a shame to not be able to perform at your best. Actually, that's putting it mildly. It sucks! I'm finding it hard not to be annoyed and depressed at the whole situation. I have a vested interest in the team not only as a handler but as Milos's wife and the dogs guardian and trainer. To see the team not perform their best is utterly frustrating. And as a wife, I hate to see my husband unwell and not be able to help him. 

So who knows what will happen later. The dogs have two shorter stages today and tomorrow (one blessing) but Milos is supposed to be camping out again in a tent. We gave 18 seconds to Radek yesterday so have 3 minutes and 20 seconds to 1st place. It seems an impossible task to catch him. Perhaps if Milos had been fitting fit we stood a chance but now, well, you can imagine our spirits are quite low. The good news (if you can call it that) is that we gained time on 3rd place Remy Coste last night so our gap to him is a little more comfortable. I think we'll need it if we're to maintain 2nd place! 

Jan on the other hand is feeling much better today and starting to fuel up again after not eating yesterday. He was so close to third place last night - just a minute and a half after Coste - that we thought he might actually have made it to the podium. Sadly not. But his team still look good and with him coming back to form personally our hopes are good for him in the next two days. 

Monday, 19 January 2015

Stage 7 results... And it's close!

This is getting a bit ridiculous. Radek and Milos were separated by just seconds again today - 18 seconds to Radek. It's no wonder really as he has much faster, houndy dogs than we have. He sprinted his way to the finish after the two teams travelled together the whole distance. For him it was a good strategy to just stick with Milos. As for our strategy, well, Milos said he knew he had to push Radek today or the Czech would have just taken it easy (if Milos had followed him instead) and if the chance to escape came up Milos would take it. It didn't. So we have to be satisfied we only gave him 18 seconds. 

But for us that might spell the end of our chance for first place. Stage 3 cost us heavily and since then we've been running with only a 12 dog pool. Dixie can't keep the speed and Leepey has a sore toe. Very frustrating indeed! So the same dogs are running every day and we're only managing to swap 2 each stage. Radek most likely can swap 4. 

It's easy to feel a bit disappointed with our second place today - as crazy as that sounds!! But we really couldn't have done any better. The dogs gave it their all. They ran 60km in 2.5 hours - and it wasn't even flat!! A few of them were tired tonight but the vets gave them the all clear and we haven't had problems with injuries either. Cliff looks like he hasn't even been running and is eating unbelievably well. Waf too. The pair are doing great. Our racing drivers are notoriously fussy eaters and we're having problems with their eating which is shame because they're really great to run. Senna is doing really well in the race and is probably the best eater out of the three. Grony and Patch are our stable girls and they're still reliable and eating good (Patch a bit too well!). Toby looks a bit tired tonight but he's a big heavy dog to be doing such a fast race. Hopefully with a good nights sleep they'll all be perky in the morning. They were certainly very happy to be in the trailer tonight!

Jan had an extremely good race too. He missed third place by just a minute or so. Such a shame as he really deserves a podium spot. He's the only team even close to giving the top 3 any competition. And today Remy Coste had what looked like a bad day. His dogs caused him trouble in the loop and he was screaming at them and everyone around. Then he won Best Dog Care tonight... Go figure! But even his day wasn't as bad as Martin Bily's. He didn't run this stage as he was being sick in the toilet!! He felt so bad he couldn't even get on the sled! That meant he got 150% time of the last team. This virus, or whatever it is, is rife through the mushers. The last count was 9 out of 16 is on medication or having problems. Milos has been lucky enough to escape it so far. Jan is just about holding on!

Now it's late and I'm super tired. It's the last stage tomorrow - another bivouac double. Usually good for us but when you're competing with Radek nothing is easy! It's starts in Lanslebourg around 5.30pm. 

Good night all. 

The Czech is hanging on!!!

Radek was first out of the starting block but it looked like all three teams were fairly reluctant to be first. They know how it is. You have to pace the team at the start. But not long after and Milos had overtaken the Czech and was leading the group of three mushers who were in single file travelling the same speed. It looked like Remy was working the hardest to keep the speed and before the first loop Milos and Radek had managed to develop a gap between them and him.

The first loop was chaos. It looked as much as a mess as it does on the GPS. Teams looping everywhere and dogs turning towards the car park when they were supposed to run by. Milos got through ok but shouted "double markers down there" to me as he passed so I guess it must have been confusing. Radek was hanging on to the back of Milos and had an easier ride. He's making Milos do all the work on this stage. He knows he can't afford to make a mistake but at the same time he also knows he only has to stay with Milos to keep his overall lead. He only has to win by a second! I guess he's also pushing Milos to push the pace hoping that he'll pay for it tomorrow. He also knows that it is harder work for our dogs to take the lead... Its a bit like road cycling, the one infront works extremely hard and the ones behind look like they're taking a cycle in the park! If Radek forces Milos to be infront and follows him the whole way his dogs won't have worked so hard. 

It's a tough call for Milos. We've been told the next 2 stages will be quite short (around 40km) so there will be little chance to make time. We were hoping for something longer. So today is it. Our only chance for the three minutes I think. And I'm not sure that's possible. It doesn't look like it at the moment. And Radek could easily follow Milos all the way and then sprint the last couple of KM's with his fresher dogs, although that wouldn't be very sportsman like!!! 

Meanwhile, Remy had terrible trouble on the first loop when his leaders went towards the car park. He was so stressed and shouting loudly to the dogs who didn't really know what was going on. I felt sorry for him here because the crowds make it so hard to get a smooth path through. 

Jan did fine on the loop. He's making good speed and has just been passed by Milos and Radek. He's most likely on for 4th place again unless he can get third from Remy. 

But there's still about a third of the race to go. Come on Milos! I think you need to pull something out of the bag!!! 

I will try and post on Facebook another slo-mo movie I took near the start when Milos took the lead. Come and like our page - Milos Gonda and Gaynor Leeper sled dog race team. Thanks!

Stage 7 - not quite a mass start

Today we're at Bessans just at the end of the valley surrounded by beautiful mountains. Traditionally we would have the mass start today when all the teams set off at once but they have decided to let the teams off in three's. Milos, Radek and Remy will start together at 15.43 (14.43 GMT). Jan will start with two French teams, Daniel Juillaguet and Francois Pagnoux at 15.39. 

For the crowds sake the idea is to see who's the fastest out of the gate (so to speak) but any good musher will tell you that's just asking for trouble. It's like sprinting off the start line at a marathon. If the teams want to last the distance then they will be braking. Expect to see Radek, Milos and Jan all braking. The only exception will be if there is a pile up of dogs at the end when the trail narrows and one team wants to get infront of another to avoid troubles. 

The other bit of news from today is that about half the mushers are sick. Either physically being sick or sitting on the toilet. It seems it's mostly mushers as well as a couple of the event volunteers so they are wondering if the water at the Base Polaire was to blame. No-one really knows but they are handing out medication to anyone that needs it. There were some questions about doping controls but the solutions they're providing are allowed. 

I'm pleased to say Milos is fine. A stomach of steel!! Jan isn't fairing so well and has stomach cramps, although it doesn't look like its hit him with full force thankfully. Martin Bily is doubting his start today as he's so ill. 

Our plan for today is to try and not lose any time to Radek or Remy but we will have to see how it goes. In this game you can win or lose in one stage and the difference in minutes at the moment is quite precarious!

I'll post later from the start but meanwhile here are some photos of where we are including Pavol waxing Milos's skis on the sled and one of Jan's dogs enjoying a sled ride ;-)

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Stage 6a/6b winners!!!!

He's only gone and done it again!!! 1st place for the bivouac stage 6 over 2 days. Not only has he narrowed the gap between Radek to 3 minutes 3 seconds but Milos now has a much more comfortable lead over Remy Coste of 16 minutes. But he doesn't rest so easy on what might seem like a good lead because we've already seen that one disastrous stage (in our case stage 3) can turn things back again so quickly. 

So what's going on for everyone? Well, it was plain to see that some of the dogs are tired. I have to say Remy Coste's dogs looked pretty knackered at the Polar Base today and weren't eating well. (As an aside he was awarded Best Dog Care tonight which I'm actually pretty amazed at because I really don't think his dogs were in good shape at all! Maybe it was because he took all 10 in his tent because they're not used to camping out). Radeks were better but I'd say they're both pushing quite hard. Milos is too but ours still look quite fresh. We thought the shorter, faster stages due to bad snow conditions would suit everyone else but it seems that it has suited us too. The dogs are used to running 40 or 60km in training no problem and I think it shows. We have two out of the race so far (I think Dixie is too fat to run at all now and don't forget she was the cause of our bad stage 3) and Leepeys toe is still swollen because she broke her nail so she's also getting fat in the trailer. Whereas I would normally be shaking in my boots at the thought of the other 12 dogs taking up the slack, this year I'm not too worried. They all look good. No injuries so far and no real stiffness. I'm sure our routine of walking, stretching, and massaging after every stage helps. I hope I'll be saying the same as the stages get longer. Just three more to go! And three minutes to catch Radek! I feel quite bad saying that as he's such a nice guy and a fair competitor it's hard not to want him to win but I'd be lying if I said I didn't want us to go home Champions! 

I'd love to write more about Jan but he's being very consistent in fourth place and not troubled too much by anything. He got 4th again today and other than a couple of picky eaters I think the dogs are ok. Infact he says Remy Coste is 'hooking' up with him to get the team up the hills a bit quicker and then loses Jan when he drives a bit crazy down hill. 

It's a mass start from Bessans tomorrow so if you're watching the GPS bear in mind the first one on the trail is the fastest. The only caveat might be the rumour that they may start three teams at a time, instead of all of them. I'll let you know when I know! 

I'll leave you with a picture of Milos coming over the finish line tonight and the stage podium. Oh and the times. 

Goodnight all wish us luck for tomorrow! It's a bit longer at 64km. 

Start of stage 6b - Base Polaire

It was an unusual privilege to be able to see the teams at the Polar Base today. Normally they leave to come down the mountain very early but today's start was postponed to 15.00 when they departed in the order they arrived. That means Milos started 2 minutes behind Radek (who last night beat him to the top by just one second). 

When we arrived at the Polar Base (I took the cable car and Pavol took an exhausting 3hr ski up the mountain) Milos and the team looked really fresh. He didn't have any problems with eating and the dogs looked lively. In comparison Remy Coste's team looked exhausted and the handler was trying to feed them from his hand. They didn't look so great. But it can sometimes be misleading. Sometimes they can look bad then when it's time to go they just pop up and run like crazy! I have to say, Radeks team looked tired too and were taking every opportunity to sleep despite the crowds gathering. That could be good training but Milos said it was a really tough stage last night so we could see some shake up in the times today. 

I took this picture from the top. The mushers are already on their way down the mountain and it's a really fast stage again. They have two loops at the top by a lake then the steep descent to the finish in Lanslevillard. It's approx. 44km. We will be waiting!!

Saturday, 17 January 2015

1 second between them!!!

How can this be true??? Just one second, yes, ONE second between Radek and Milos after 39km. Wow wee... But unfortunately for us Radek was one second ahead. It's all to play for tomorrow!!!

The good news is the time difference between Milos and Coste is widening. :-)

Good run to the Polar Base...

Today's stage is the first half of a double stage that ends tomorrow. The mushers have driven 39km to the Polar Base above the french town of Lanslebourg where they will now stay the night in tents with the dogs sleeping outside. The temperature is most likely quite pleasant (around -5) with not much wind (according to the forecast- I haven't had news from the trail). 

This is usually a strong stage for us. Plenty of hills, the temperature usually drops a bit which awakens the dogs and our dogs are also used to camping out. Milos was sure to take those dogs that can handle a night away from the trailer the best. I don't know if Radek and Remy have much experience camping out but I know Jan won't have any trouble either. 

The boys have just arrived at the Polar Base and are now busying themselves with preparing food for the dogs, putting out straw, digging holes for beds, massaging and looking after feet etc. Knowing Milos he will also be making sure his tent is on the flat and making his own bed nice and comfy. 

Tomorrows stage would normally start early but it has been changed to start in the afternoon and finish very close to our accommodation in Lanslevillard. Unlike most of the stages, my guess is the fastest person from today will start first tomorrow. This should ensure the first one over the finish line tomorrow will be the winner of the stage. 

As for timings, it looks like both Radek and Milos gained time on Remy Coste with both of them catching him. He started 4 minutes ahead of Milos and 2 ahead of Radek so they both gained at least that much. The battle between Radek and Milos continues with a very tight race today but if the GPS is anything to go by I think Milos may have pipped Radek to the post - but maybe only be seconds!! Or dare I say a minute. 

Jan had a really good race too. He looked really strong on the hills today and is having no problem to hold onto 4th place overall. He still has a couple of picky eaters (as do we) but on the whole his team look good and will most likely do well on the bivouac. 

Tomorrow morning we're able to take the cable car to the Polar Base and join the mushers before the official start in the afternoon. The weather is forecast to be nice and sunny which always makes it a really nice experience to be there. Good for the crowds too. 

I'll try and post some pictures in the morning if I have signal! Meanwhile, sleep well... I'm not sure I will as it's been an exciting evening!! 

Problems with GPS!

If you're watching the live GPS tracking on the race it seems there is a problem with Milos's battery so his position may not be entirely accurate. But I think it looks good for him and Jan. Word on the trail is that Jan's team is strong up the hill and is probably a little faster than Coste uphill but overall the Frenchman has overtaken Jan. Milos is still in pursuit of Remy and Radek!

Last words from stage 5

Sorry if my last few posts seem a bit jumbled up but I didn't have internet access last night so couldn't post much. But I have some pictures from yesterday. A couple of dogs which I don't think you've seen yet and also Milos on the (makeshift) podium inside (as there was a snow storm outside!).

I am also really pleased that we won an extra prize last night... best Dog Care!!! It's awarded to someone at every stage and at the end they will award the final prize to the person who wins it the most times. Very proud of this as it's not so easy to look after these guys on the road in less than perfect conditions. :-)

(Fat) Dixie - she didn't run yesterday

A cute one of Foxy (and Button to side on left and Hannalore standing behind)

Alonso (just wouldn't look at camera). Have you noticed our F1 racing drivers theme with Alonso, Button and Senna? 


Milos on the podium

Rain turned to snow!

You know that rain storm I talked about? Well, it turned to snow about 30 seconds after Milos left on stage 5. It's been snowing ever since. We've had at least 50cm or more. The roads are treacherous and we are crawling along them at less than 20kmph. We have 140km to go to reach Lanslebourg...

A word on strategy...

Some might think strategy doesn't come into middle distance stage racing as much as it does the long distance races. But it does! Take stage 4 as an example. A flat 44km. Both Remy and Radek have faster dogs than ours, probably. Just a little ;-) They're certainly more houndy. But we hope we're better at the longer stages (although the other two won't be bad!). So, do you put your best, fastest team together or save your best dogs for a longer stage? Where are we likely to gain (or lose) more time? On a short stage there's less distance to lose time if you take slower dogs but with only a matter of minutes between the top three in the overall rankings we can't afford to lose anything. 

The other thing to consider is that we have a bivouac stage coming up, the first of two. That means Milos and the team will camp out overnight. Milos will feed and look after the dogs on his own. He is very used to this, as are most of our dogs, but it's sensible to take dogs that can cope with this situation and will sleep. Dixie's in heat so perhaps she's not the best dog to take? She'll disrupt all the boys who will be going crazy all night. Button's fast but not the best eater and this will likely get worse if she camps out. Grony gets off her collar (but never goes anywhere, only to go be close to her yard buddy Patch) but it's not great for her to be wandering around loose with all the other dogs. Have we checked properly for stiffness and aching muscles and at what point won't they be able to run because of that?

All these kind of questions are asked and pondered over before and after every stage. Sometimes you get it right (stage 4 and 5) and sometimes you get it wrong (stage 3). You have to know your dogs inside and out and be able to pick up on small anomalies with their behaviour that strangers would miss. A great sled dog race vet once said the "dog just ain't doing right". It's one of the reasons we left Hannalore out of the team in stage 5 (yesterday) despite being a fast dog that's always up for running and good to motivate the team! She just didn't look quite right when we let her loose. She looked a bit stiff. 

Now we're driving in the car to the start of the bivouac stage in Lanslebourg. It's about 38km today climbing to the Base Polaire where the mushers camp overnight. We start in last place (reverse order) at 17.46. The first LGO musher starts at 17.20. Yesterday saw the start of mushers doing a 3-day version of the race and they start before us.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Another good day!!

Well, we really didn't expect this!!! When the going get tough the tough get going!!! In the dreadful weather the team came through to win stage 5!! Our second stage win so far. Brilliant job by all. 

Has to be verified but here are the times:

Rain, rain and more rain!

We are about half an hour into the 5th stage and you would not believe the weather! What little snow there was is quickly being washed away by heavy rain. It's humid and very wet. Pavol (Milos's brother and the other handler) and I are hiding in the van, the leftover dogs are hiding in the trailer and Milos and Jan with 10 dogs each are battling the elements on the trail. Milos started last so he'll be out in this the longest. I hope he doesn't get sick from it. The poor dogs! I have no idea what the trail will be like but I know that Milos will sacrifice his 2nd place again to bring the team back safely if it's icy or slippery. 

I think we're expecting to lose our 2nd place today but the idea is to not give away too much time. If we can stay close to Radek and Remy then the field remains wide open. 

At the moment, on the GPS it looks like it's going ok for all of them. Take a look under the "results" tab on the homepage of to follow live events. Don't forget Milos started at the back so anyone he's over taking he's making time on. Jan started fourth from the end so 2 minutes before Remy Coste. Today's stage is two loops which may also cause a bit of confusion on the GPS site but if you click on the little sled icons you'll see the name and the distance on the trail they've covered.

Finally, a thank you to everyone for your encouragement which keeps coming in. I know some of you have problems to post comments and some of the Slovaks may have to get a translation (!!) but we know you're all reading and sending your best wishes. You should be very proud of your sons/nephews/cousins Milos and Jan!! :-) And thank you to Anne for braving the weather and coming to support us on the start line today. We managed a quick chat over lunch which was lovely!

More updates later. 

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Don't panic!

If you've seen tonight's results of the Megeve Challenge, don't panic!!! We came 9th and we're perfectly happy with that because the timings don't count towards the race. We knew that of course so just took the necessary 6 dogs for a nice, slow stretch. Milos didn't want to take any chances with injuries so took it really easy. Meanwhile the French sped their way over the 5km trail (super short) to give the crowds a pleasing 1st and 3rd podium position. Only Radek spoilt it for them with his 2nd place. 

Interestingly the first 6 mushers got pulled up for doping control. This is a random process carried out by an independent organisation that can turn up wherever, whenever. You never know, which is the point of course. Funnily enough Jan was laughing at the end saying that there was doping control and then promptly found himself peeing into a cup closely watched by an official. Milos missed it with his 9th place, not that it would have mattered. We had control on the dogs on yesterday's stage and we've had doping control for Milos several times before. But it was pretty funny with Jan. 

We're having a late dinner now so I don't have much time to blog but I'll try and post something about strategy tomorrow as it will be a tough stage for us - short and flat!

Oh, and before I go I should update you on Leepey. Her toe is huge!!! She had an X-ray to see if it was broken (thankfully it isn't) but I think she has broken the nail inside the toe which has now got infected. There's not much we can do for it without dropping her from the race completely (because of doping rules). But she can't run like this either so either way she is most likely done for the duration of the race, bar some small miracle. This isn't as much of a disaster as it would be normally because the dogs aren't running so much. With each stage being shortened it means they're not at all tired. So this means the other dogs can pick up the slack quite easily. Well, we hope. 

Finally, a little picture from the start. :-)

Night all!

I think they're a little bit tired...

Post lunch nap... Slovak style. :-)

Driving to Megeve...

It's a shame we didn't really get to wallow in our glory last night. By the time we got back to the accommodation it was about 10.30pm and we still had to take all the dogs out, walk them all (yes, especially important after they run) and massage them. But first we got stuck in the mud whilst parking. Backwards and forwards we went trying to free ourselves but in the end we had to unhook the trailer and re-park the van on its own then hook up the trailer again for our final parking manoeuvre. We hooked up and pulled forward and out popped the trailer from its hook and all the electric cables between the trailer and van. We were really all so tired it was the straw that broke the camels back and there was a lot of swearing in Slovakian!!!! 

A Leffe beer later (to calm Milos's nerves) and we finally got some sleep.

Morning came too soon and we needed to pack everything as we're moving to Megeve today. Our accommodation there is a gym hall, the worst nights sleep during the whole race. Everyone in together, sleeping on gym mats and snoring (except Coste in his luxury tour bus). It hate it. I never sleep. And we don't even have the chance to sleep in the car because we've put Grony in there due to her allergy to straw. Arbonne Sleep Easy spray will be required I think!!

So now we're on our way to Megeve, driving on the highway with some pretty nice scenery which I'll try to post later. Meanwhile, here is the podium from last night (Yay for us!!!) and a picture of my breakfast: a bowl of coffee (French style) and a Berocca!

(I think 1st place suits my husband!) ;-)

No race today, just a 5km show for the Megeve crowds. 

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Today's team in pictures...



Button and Foxy (not looking at camera)



Balto (always howling)

Toby (one of my favourites)

That's 10 of the 14 we have with us. The rest tomorrow hopefully!

Stage 4 - a good day!!!

Sorry it's late but the stage started at 17.00 today so we spent all day pretty much waiting around only to be running around like crazy things since. I'm writing this as I eat dinner and it's 9.30pm already. But there's nothing that can dampen our mood tonight because we are celebrating our first stage win!!! AND we've taken back 2nd in the overall ranking, although only by a small margin. But Whoop whoop for us!!! I have been playing psychological games with Milos all day trying to stay positive and giving him encouragement but I have to say the thing that worked best seems to have been the promise of a Leffe beer if he won the stage. Well, maybe a couple of other things I said too but whatever it was it worked! Now it's to try and keep the momentum. 

The stage itself was short but with quite steep hills, so although the distance doesn't really suit us, the hills do (don't ask me how we're so good at hills when we train on the Torne River but it seems we are!). We knew it would be fast and we knew Radek wouldn't have any problems so it was just to see how Remy Coste would do after yesterday's spectacular. To be fair, he did pretty well but thankfully we did better. 

Milos and the dogs were on fire! I think the biggest contributor to that is that they have now started eating. The mix of just dry food and water worked. And when they didn't take water we just gave them dry food hoping that they would then become thirsty and would want to drink. That worked too so by the time we got to the parking place today they had all eaten breakfast and after that we managed to water them twice! It was a joy to watch. 

We also took our faster dogs (no fat Dixie) knowing it would be a fast stage. We put Waf in lead for the brains and our rocket Cliff for speed. Together they're a great lead team. Behind we had our rising star Hannalore. She goes crazy for running and we put her with Button who's also good in lead with Waf. Foxy and Senna were next and two really good and fast team dogs. Then Patch and Grony. These two are such characters and such gentle dogs out of harness but put them in harness and they love to run! Patch is always good to rev the team up at the start. They're both good, strong dogs that can keep the speed. In wheel at the back were Balto and Toby. These two are safe bets. Big, strong dogs that can also keep the speed despite their size. They're brothers to Waf. I took pictures of them all before the start so will try and post them after this but for now I have included the stage results and overall rankings. 

Jan managed a good 4th place again which was actually pretty well done by him because he went wrong on the trail twice (very easily done) and when trying to remedy his first mistake he lost his team. Luckily they got caught up in some  barrier netting and they stopped after just 10 metres or so. But Jan wasn't particularly happy with that and lost his two minutes (start interval) to Milos straight away. There were several mushers that made the same mistake. And that's what you have to be careful of here. One mistake and you can lose everything. Luckily Jan keeps his fourth place overall and his standing as Best Rookie. I've no idea if there's a prize for that this year. I know there has been in the past. 

Anyway, I must go now as its late, I'm knackered and tomorrow we leave for Megeve! It's just a short show for spectators tomorrow so a day off for the dogs really. I'm sure ours will welcome it!


This is how the French do it...

Hands up if you want us to beat this guy!!! ;-)

Video from yesterday...

I have loaded a video from yesterday's stage on my Instagram account (gaynorleeper) as I've been practicing the slo-mo video on my phone!! It's fab!!! Be sure to check it out and follow me on Instagram for more. I can't seem to post videos to this blog (on my phone anyway). 

This was the only stage so far with reasonable snow. :-)

It's Milos about a third of the way in. Enjoy!

Waiting for stage 4 - and it's raining!!!!

If you could only see us now. All the trucks tightly packed into a small car park in the middle of Les Gets. It's pouring with rain and there's 20 trucks here full of mushers who probably have better conditions for dog sledding at home. Seems mad! The organisers must be having a nightmare fulfilling their promises to the ski resorts for the 'musher attraction', shipping in trucks of snow to line the start through the street (that's melting as quickly as they put it down), and still trying to put on the show. As for the mushers, they'll be putting on their waterproofs not their thermals today. In our camp the mood is a bit sombre. Milos is tired. Not just physically tired but tired of the whole charade. He's taking a nap now and hopefully we'll get a lift in the weather which will improve the mood. For me, I find chocolate helps! Although I'm starting to look like fat Dixie now. ;-)

Actually, I'm also tired. Travelling for 4 days with no sleep takes time to recover from. Last night I was lying awake til midnight thinking about the day we had and couldn't sleep. Well, until I tried some "sleep easy" spray from Arbonne that my sister gave me. A few sprays in my mouth and I was out like a light! Magical stuff and I can highly recommend it. I've also got the Arbonne protein shake powder with us and Milos is using it after every stage to ease muscle recovery. Without thinking he commented last night that he doesn't ache and can't remember a previous race where his muscles weren't screaming by now. Thanks Arbonne! If anyone wants to try any of it let me know and I'll put you in touch with a supplier. It's mail order so super easy and to your door! 

Anyway, as we wait (and caffeine load) here's a couple of pics. The rain! And of Grony and Milos taking a nap in the van. Grony is now sleeping in the van at night because she developed an allergy to the straw in her box. 

Thanks to all for following and also for the comments. We're reading everything and the encouragement really helps. Hope we can all make you happy today! And if there's anything you want me to write about let me know!!

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Stage 3 timings

Well it's all change after a pretty challenging stage. I asked Milos what I should write about today and his reply was "nothing". That just about sums up what we feel. The more we think about it the more unbelievable it is that Remy Coste out performed everyone by a pretty huge margin today. Milos said at the half way point (where radek caught him) he was 30 seconds faster than Coste (he could see him in the trail so could calculate) so Radek would have been 2m 30s faster. They were catching him up. Then miraculously Coste managed to gain 9 mins 20 secs on Milos in the last 25km! Ok, Milos had a few troubles but that's still a huge amount of time. Not only that but he gained 4 mins 30 secs on Radek too which just seems impossible because everything was going good for Radek and Coste hasn't been able to keep his pace til now. Very strange. But I guess you have to hand it to him, he ran an exceptional race, but I wonder how it will be tomorrow. It's only a short stage though (about 50km) so maybe that's the reason he decided to push it. We'll have to wait and see!

Anyway, this is how it is. Sometimes you have a good day and sometimes a bad day. We hope a good day will come soon for us. Meanwhile here are the timings of the stage and the new overall positions showing us now in third place. 

Stage 3 and we've lost 2nd place

This one is always tough for us. It's warm and it's a fast stage. And we took Dixie, one of the dark and fat dogs! What a mistake. She just couldn't keep the speed set by the Frenchman Remy Coste who finished in spectacular speed today. He was heard to say it was all or nothing and he took a risk which paid off. For us, Dixie got dropped at the vet check at the top of the mountain and Waf (who's been spending sleepless nights howling after the girls and not eating) took a rest in the sled at one point, although he then finished the race. Dixie got a snow mobile ride to the finish. With this in mind Milos did pretty well to keep the pace he did. And Remy took a big risk to gain 2nd place and only a few minutes in his battle with Milos. It's stage 3 of 8 so we will see if he pays for his gamble later. 

Our dogs recovered quite quickly at the van but they were tired. In another blow for our team Leepey has had her foot x-rayed as it appeared very swollen when she came out of the trailer earlier. Thankfully it's not broken but she will have to rest for a few days now. We're not sure what happened as she didn't even run yesterday or today, but these things happen. 

It's very easy to focus on that and the couple of dogs that struggle and forget that there were many that did really well. Today's favourite is Spendrup. 

I'll post up times when I know them but rumour has it Milos managed third place on the stage but we'll see. I think it was pretty close. 

Later we'll try a new strategy with feeding. No meat, just plain, cool water and the dogs favourite dry food - Royal Canin 4800. Fingers crossed it works. 

Meanwhile, Jan had another good stage today and will be fighting Milos for today's third place most likely. He's confirming his place as best Rookie and a strong fourth overall. That's a very respectable start so congratulations to him and all of his hard work to train his team whilst also working with tourists at Taistos kennel. There's no doubt the dogs have good breeding and he knows what he's doing in training and racing. 

GPS shows Radek, Milos and Jan together on trail

(Red is Radek, turquoise is Milos and Jan is yellow). 

We're avidly watching the GPS on the website and although it can be a little mis-timed it shows that Radek has caught Milos and Jan and is now chasing Remy Coste. At the moment Coste seems to be keeping the pace and it looks like a battle for 1st and 2nd between those two. If Milos can hang on for another 15km he might manage 3rd. At the moment Jan and Milos are together on the trail. 

The placing isn't so important but the time is! Milos can't afford to give away too much time to Radek in these early stages if he's to stand any chance of catching him on the longer stages. But  now Radek has over taken him he has already gained two minutes (Radek started 2 mins behind Milos) and is gaining even more. Hold on Milos, hold on!! It's important for Milos to keep in touch with Radek as long as possible. 

Start of stage 3 - Sommand

An early start today to get to the start line with plenty of time to spare. Now the crowds are gathering and the dogs are getting excited! I hope they will do ok today. I'm finding it hard to stay positive as our eating situation is reaching critical point. It's tough to know if you should take the dogs running that haven't been eating (trying to spike their appetite) or let them rest hoping it will change. We're trying everything but the boys are so focused on the girls or what's going on around them, all this chaos, that they don't have focus for anything else. It's depressing and personally it's getting me down. It's so hard to see them turn their noses up at food they would normally love. But they are all still very lively despite this. 

So this is a 60km stage and is usually very fast. Historically we don't do very well on this stage so if we're on the podium it will be a nice surprise. Radek is likely to take the stage win again as he looks really strong. I often wonder if people face the same problems we do. I know Jan had a couple of dogs not eating too but then his aren't used to the warm etc either so perhaps it's no surprise. 

Anyway, I have to run now and prepare the dogs... First to moisturise their feet, put booties on then harnesses and hook them up!!

The team today is Waf, Cliff, Hannalore, Button, Foxy, Toby, Senna, Dixie, Spendrup and Alonso. 

Enjoy the race. :-)

Monday, 12 January 2015

Stage 2 results

The timings are in and Milos lost a huge 4 mins 35 seconds to Radek today. He's quite disappointed as he felt he was running around the same speed until the last hill when Milos's team took a dive in energy and Radek easily lost him. It's not impossible to get that back but with the stages so short at the moment we will find that hard to do. The only good thing is that we couldn't lose to a nicer man. If anyone is going to beat us we want it to be him. :-)

So what went wrong? Well, Milos said the dogs were tired. I'm not sure what exactly it might be but travelling in a trailer for 4 days is certainly not going to help. Nor will the numerous coffee tours they took over Christmas. Hardly good training in the last couple of weeks. And their appetites have just disappeared. Not for all of them but for four or five. That's got to change. They can't run on empty. 

But Milos said he felt the same. He ran out of steam too. With 2900 metres climbed over 32km that is a lot of uphill and Milos hasn't trained himself that much either. 

Jan had a better day. His dogs performed well and the heat didn't seem to slow them too much. Jan himself said that he thought today's stage would be harder than it was. He was pleasantly surprised. The result is that he's climbed to fourth place in the overall rankings and now looks very good for the Best Rookie.

So now we're back at the hostel accommodation and about to go into the mushers meeting about tomorrow. The stage looks to be shortened again due to lack of snow. Again, this is a disadvantage for us (well, usually, although Milos says he was quite glad it wasn't any longer today). 

My final thought is that things are still quite good. If you can still manage 2nd place on a bad day then there's still hope. 

The pictures below show the Stage 2 times/rankings and the overall rankings. 


Stage 2 - another 2nd place

The official times will be released later but the podium remains the same as yesterday: Radek 1st, Milos 2nd, Remy Coste 3rd. Milos thinks Radek gained about 3 minutes on him today saying he looked really strong on the trail. Meanwhile Milos struggled especially towards the end. We have a couple of dogs that have put on weight whilst travelling and they struggled with the heat and speed. Even Cliff had trouble with speed today which is unheard of! And Balto struggled at the end too (he has his head firmly focused on Dixie who's in heat). The 'heat' cycle of the girls is actually quite a problem as the boys aren't eating well and they're not focused on running. But we all have our off days and it reminds me that this race can change in a matter of seconds. You never know what's around the next corner. And I hope things improve when it gets colder and longer towards the end.

Jan ran a really good race today and I think he must have taken 4th in the end although I think he enjoyed coming first into the finish (don't forget the time differential at the start means that mushers further back can be the fastest over the trail). He seems in good spirits. 

I'll post timings when I know them. 

Arriving at Stage 2 - Morillon

We're just arriving at the starting car park for stage 2 in Morillon. It's about 9.55 and 3 degrees. There's a distinct lack of snow other than a steep zig zag path up a mountain side. It's today's trail. A massive 2500m over the first 12 km. I can't even imagine what the trail is normally used for its so steep. No-one in their right mind would go up or down it... Except crazy Mushers!!! In the picture you can even see a waterfall by its side. 

Today's stage has been halved to approx 35km. We saved a couple of the bigger, stronger dogs for today knowing the hills would be a problem. Waf gets to go in lead today and I'm glad because he's been so excitable he's been howling at night and keeping everyone awake apparently... I did comment that the place was full of about 200 dogs but it just so happens it was one of ours causing problems (according to some mushers who chose to complain to the organisation. No-one said anything to us). Anyway, today we let Waf do what he does best. :-) 

The first musher starts at 11.30 and 2 minute intervals after that. We'll start second to last so I'm guessing about 12ish. 

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Oops, but excited, forgot to post the results list!!

Here you go... The official results. :-)

2 seconds between Milos and Radek!!

Oh my, official results just in and there was only 2 seconds between Radek in first place and Milos in second place. Wow!!! I'm pretty sure that hasn't happened before. Over 25km they practically ran the same time!!! Now we're really chuffed. 

Eating a good dinner now and off to bed soon. Tomorrows stage starts at 11.30am so it will be an early start for us. 

Well done to Milos (who worked as hard as the dogs today) and our amazing team of pooches. Special thanks to Cliff today... Not the brightest button but super fast leader. :-)

Podium Stage 1 - and we're on it!!!

We haven't had the official times yet but we have had the podium presentation and we were on it!! Yay!!! 2nd place after Radek. But I think it must have been a really close result... Down to about 30 seconds difference maybe. We'll find out later. Remy Coste came third. 

Milos is very happy with that. He says he actually went wrong at one point which cost him over a minute. The markings on one of the loops they made was hard to spot (even one of the organisers missed it when they were on the trail with a snow machine) and then up one particular hill it was a bit of a mess too. The pictures I posted earlier show how the teams were spread out. Unfortunately Jan went a little bit too far to the left side too and it meant he struggled to see any marker at the top of the hill and went wrong. He lost time here. 

Both probably struggled with the steep hills down. Milos said there was no way to brake hard enough even though he deployed his chain brakes and used every other way he could think of to steady his pace. It's essential to run the dogs steady downhill otherwise you're asking for injuries. 

But the first stage is just the start. Infact Milos says he's never been 2nd on the first stage before and in 2011 when he won he actually came 5th in stage one! 

I will try and post again later with timings. But for now all the dogs are fed (although we're still having problems with some not really eating) and we're heading back to the accommodation for dinner. 

And they're off!

16.15 saw the first team leave Les Carroz, closely followed by each team in 2 minute intervals. Jan left at 16.37 and Milos at 16.40. It was confirmed the stage would be 25km with only one big hill to climb. It was pure chaos at the start. Crowds walking between the dog teams (some with dogs!) and dog teams lined up next to each other on a narrow ridge before the start chute. We have met some Norwegians running Siberians and I think they are quite overwhelmed by it all. They seem quiet in nature, very friendly and wondering what crazy world they've come to. 

It wasn't long before we could see some mushers climbing the hill that skiers had been sliding down just an hour before. I managed to take a picture but I don't know of who. I just know it's not Jan or Milos. 

Now we're in a rush to beat the mushers to the finish line!

Our team today are Cliff and Hannalore, Foxy and Leepey, Button and Senna, Patch and Grony, Alonso and Spendrup.