Friday, 13 March 2015

Sigrid poised to win!!!

It seems Sigrid has played a good strategy this race and has arrived in Jotka with 11 dogs and good speed from Karasjok. She's about 2 hours ahead of her nearest competition and should surely keep the lead for the last 50km to take the Gold medal and World Championship title. And the cabin of course. And the quad bike. And the prize money. It was worth to come for her. :-)

Behind her Kjell Brennoden and Ralph Johannessen are fighting for Silver and Bronze. Kjell left in 2nd place but it looks like Ralph is moving faster and currently takes 2nd on the trail. The GPS can be a little misleading sometimes so we will wait to see if that is confirmed when they arrive in Jotka.

For now, we wait for Sigrid to leave Jotka and arrive at the finish. She must be so excited to think there's only 50km of the 1100km left to go!!! She's been on the trail nearly 83 hours already (in total) and on the race since Saturday. And barely more than an hour's sleep for her at each checkpoint if she was lucky. Pheweee! Talk about stamina. Hats off to her and all the teams that have made it this far.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Hotting up in the fight for winner of FL1000...

Just because the FL500 has finished doesn't mean to say we're no longer obsessed with checking the GPS updates for the Finnmarkslopet 1000 that's still going on. Infact, it's hotting up a treat despite the windy weather cooling things off.

The leading teams are heading for Karajok where they get a final 10 hours mandatory rest. Up to that point resting has been a huge part of the strategy - where, when and for how long. Unlike the FL500 the teams take more than the mandatory rest as the race is longer and cannot be completed without it but of course this is the easiest thing to skip if you think you're in with a chance of winning! However the winning teams are usually those that stick to their race strategy and don't skip rest time, which you would pay for later down the trail.

Sigrid Ekran, last years winner and general all-round great girl, is in the lead. She's developed a healthy gap of nearly two hours as well as managing to rest her dogs more than the teams in 2nd and 3rd position. The events of the last 12 hours, namely the storms and gale force winds in the mountains that has hampered the progress of teams behind her, has strengthened her position infront as she was able to take advantage of longer rest at Levajok without the pressure of her greatest competition (at that point Birgitte Naess Waerner) catching up. Out of the top four teams Birgitte was the only other team that had rested at at the previous checkpoint Sirbma so she knew Ralph Johannessen (3rd) and Kjell Brennodden (2nd) would need to rest long at Levajok and this meant she could do the same. Meanwhile, Birgitte (left Levajok in 3rd position but has now slipped to 5th) had trouble with a storm in the mountains and parked her team to take respite in her wind sack until Steinar Kristensen came to her rescue and helped her progress along the trail. This episode has most likely cost her a podium finish on the race but I can imagine she was just grateful to have help to get out of the storm. Up to that point she has been fighting Sigrid for the Cabin - a prize to the person who finishes in the best position over 2 years. Birgitte came 2nd to Sigrid last year so if the positions were reversed this year it would come down to running times. But Sigrid has managed to hold on to the lead and is getting stronger with every km and Birgitte has now slipped to 5th more than 5 hours behind Sigrid. Surely, Ekran must feel confident at this point, but we also know anything can happen!!!

Completing this race is an awesome achievement and all credit to those teams that can finish competitively too. Our money's on Ekran to win and I can't think of a nicer person to win it! Go Sigrid!!!

Monday, 9 March 2015

Reflection... And call for sponsorship!!!

We're back at Alta campsite and chatting about the race and the team etc. Milos was really happy with the team this year and he said they looked really good even at Levajok. It was only the two shoulder injuries (probably old injuries from LGO) that meant he dropped two dogs and he didn't want to carry on with just 6. He's a big guy probably weighing twice what someone like Elisabeth Edland weighs and it means 6 dogs would have to work super hard to get him through. He was still keeping good speed with 6 or 7 dogs but with my accident it just wasn't going to work for us. 

One common theme has cropped up for a couple of years now and that's about the need for sponsorship so we can dedicate a team of dogs and one musher to racing and not have to run the dogs with tourists. We love the tourism - it pays our bills and allows us this incredible lifestyle - but there's no denying it's difficult to keep the race team in shape when they are out in small four dog teams every week being driven by beginners. But even more than that, it ties up our time to give them additional training. When we're working with tourism so much (and February is the busiest month) we don't have time to train long distance... And even if we did, we can't take the dogs because they need rest after a regular tour. 

I believe we have an almost unbeatable long distance team at the peak of training in December. Our dogs ran a 180km training race with a 21kmph average back then. But since Christmas their training has been little more than 40km day trips with tourists. Us too! We are busy with overnight tours, coffee tours and day trips throughout the season. Don't get me wrong, I love it, but if we can do well despite this imagine how we could do with some financial backing!!!

So, this is our call for sponsorship. If a millionaire with a few thousand rattling around in their pocket just happens to be reading then do get in touch!!! ;-) Or if anyone has any good ideas or contacts please do let me know how we can make this happen! I would love our dogs to be able to reach their full potential. The right breeding is there, the right training know-how is there, the conditions in Kiruna are good... It's just the time for training and the financial backing to free up a dog team for racing. 

Finally, I would just like to add that we already get great support from Royal Canin for dry food and this helps enormously. And our dogs love it! I'm not just saying that because we're sponsored, they really do love it! We hope that relationship will continue for a long time to come. And we've recently added Canada Goose to our sponsors too. They have provided us with jackets that we are evaluating. We would like to thank them both for their support... Without them we'd be pretty cold and the dogs hungry!! ;-)

Radek is the last man standing...

Radek remains the only team in the race from our little group. Both Taisto and Jan have also scratched. Mainly because the dogs weren't eating (I think). We've always said that getting to Levajok is just a journey and the real race starts there. It's true! Elisabeth Edland has a good lead now but things happen and she may need the extra time. But for now it looks like she's unbeatable and all credit to her for a fantastic race so far. 

So let's focus on Radek now. He's doing so well. He has all 8 dogs and is keeping good speed. He's not threatening Elisabeth Edland for Gold but he is fighting Ronny Wingren for Bronze. At the moment he has 15 minutes on Ronny but that can easily be lost so he will have to keep pushing. Third place would be an amazing achievement in this race for a number of reasons... As a rookie most people just hope to finish but all the best teams are here for the World Championship which makes his position even more respectable. Amazing. He's also had a total of one hour 15 mins LESS rest than someone like Elisabeth Edland because of the time differential in starting at the back of the pack. That's a big disadvantage for him. So even more impressive at how he's doing. 

Milos has decided he would like to stay for the finish so we will hopefully see Radek finish on the podium!!! :-)

Sunday, 8 March 2015

And it's over... Milos scratches

This is just a quick update as I know people are asking... Yes, Milos has scratched at Levajok. Infact, he wasn't even going to go that far but it was a nice, sunny day so he decided to hook up six dogs and go. 

The problem? In short, two dogs with shoulder problems and a stupid wife who broke her wrist fighting with the generator (I must think up a better story). 

Milos arrived in Karasjok and after attending to the dogs came back to the van to find me collapsed on the ground outside the van door. I was faint at the pain of the accident and couldn't get up. He called the organisers over who found a nurse and took me inside. Next I went to the nearest doctors clinic to receive an assessment. He sent me to the nearest accident & emergency 300km away in Hammerfest! By taxi!!! It took about 3 hours one way. Once x-rayed it was a clear crack across the big bone of the forearm, nearest the wrist. Serious but clean I was told so luckily no surgery. They put on a cast (gyps) and back to Karasjok I headed to find Milos had run on to Levajok but had already decided to scratch because of the whole situation. Waf was already dropped and Toby now had the same shoulder problem. He probably could have gone on but best he didn't. Of course Milos is disappointed. He said the team looked really good and strong other than the shoulders. But I think my accident finished him off. I can't do anything! I can't even tie my own hair up. I can't drive, I can't look after the dogs and I can't look after Milos. Not much of a handler!!!

Totally gutted after so much preparation, expense and hard work. 

I could write more (one handed) but I've just realised it's going to take me about an hour to clean my teeth and get undressed with one hand!! And we've just got back to Alta where we'll stay the night then head home tomorrow. I have no idea how I'll cope from there... I'm supposed to be guiding a dog sled trip on Friday and I'm completely useless!!! So annoyed...

Out of Jergul

Quick update. Milos and Taisto are on the trail again with seven dogs each. Milos said the last leg was really windy hitting him from the side and it made things pretty tough. He also had one dog limping which didn't help. The rest of the dogs look good though and he's ready for Karasjok!

Milos was first into Jergul followed closely by two other teams. However, he isn't the fastest on the trail. Radek was the fastest between Jotka and Jergul followed by Elisabeth Edland. Ronny Wingren also did well on the last leg. There are many good teams still battling for a good position for when the race hots up later. 

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Results into Jotka

It's just the beginning but here are the results into Jotka, sorted so fastest on the trail is at the top. Not much in it!! As expected Radek has had a good start and is in 5th place after Milos in 4th and Elisabeth Edland in 2nd. The fastest team is a Norwegian team I've not heard of... But I don't know that many Norwegian teams! And at the start, they announced Jorn Sodahl Kvam was one to watch so perhaps we should put him on our radar too. But it's still so early to be talking about any positioning (it's just hard to resist!). It actually means very little when you're about 10% into the race. 

Milos stopped for about half an hour at Jotka and many teams did the same. Now they're heading for Jergul 78km away. We have just arrived so will prepare for the 3-4 hour mandatory layover. 

Milos 4th into Jotka

A steady 16.3kmph has seen Milos come 4th into Jotka. That's pretty good going in such bad conditions. Taisto came in 10th with a speed around 15.5kmph. He came in at the same time as Eilsabeth Edland who is currently fastest on the trail just one minute faster than Milos. No worries there. It's not a race that starts in Alta or Jotka! The real race starts after the half way point! And of course there could be faster teams at the back! 

So far Espen Hamnvik is the only musher to head straight through the checkpoint. The others are resting and I think this is a good idea as the first 58km would have been quite tough for the dogs! 

Storms have hit already...

Less than a couple of hours in and the teams have hit their first storm. The winds are howling and snow is being swept through the valleys. The first team is due to reach Jotka soon (Hilde Askildt). This is a small checkpoint which teams normally run through because it's the same checkpoint on the way back and if the dogs stop the first time round chances are they'll expect to stop on the way back when they're tired but need to carry on. Mentally this can be challenging for them. But with bad weather it will be interesting to see what the teams do. It's good to keep the tank full for as long as possible so to speak so it might be a good idea to stop and rest for 15-30 minutes perhaps. Strategy plays a big part in the race so everyone will work out their own way. But even mistakes this early can mean you pay later!

Milos seems to be doing well, somewhere around the 4-6th team on the trail now. I can't find the others in the GPS yet so I'll update you on that later. 

And they're off!!

It feels like we've been waiting ages but finally the teams are go!!! We're in the centre of Alta starting in the Main Street. There are so many teams, so many enthusiastic dogs and a crowd worthy of a good pop band in concert. They really embrace the race here in Finnmark, a good example for us all. 

The weather is a bit rough. Not so cold but windy which is making it feel cold. Ok for the dogs now but I'm afraid the trail is going to demand a lot from the dogs on this first leg. I don't think any records will be set on this first bit, let's put it that way. 

Toughest competition this year? Probably Ole Sigleif. He's taking the race very seriously and really wants that gold medal! I wish there was only one team to worry about but there are many other fast, top teams here. Taisto and Jan should do well (incidentally Jan had taken Leepey, one of Milos's spare dogs), Radek (despite his quiet unassuming nature) is one to watch for (we expect a strong start from him but it's the end of the race that will decide his fate), Elisabeth Edland pushes her dogs hard so a good start from her and time will tell us about the rest, Ole Wingren and his son Ronny Wingren who won last year and will want to gain a reputation for being a consistent winner (although both have taken a sit-down sled so I'm not sure if they'll planning on scooting much!) and I'm sure there will be some surprises in the mix. 

For those that want to follow the GPS or Results Service it can be tricky to figure out what's really going on (if you don't know how it works). Because of the time differential at the start the first teams into the first checkpoint aren't necessarily the fastest. But after the first checkpoint in Jergul they equalise the time so the teams will leave more or less in the correct order. From then on the fastest should be in the lead. You can follow online at or download their app from the App Store. 

We're off on the road ourselves now and hope to get to Jergul before Milos!! I'll leave you with some pictures of Milos (looking very relaxed - he doesn't stress at the races at all), Taisto and Jan at the start. 

Friday, 6 March 2015

Start numbers in!

They have their start numbers... Milos 23, Taisto 28, Jan 50, Kent 68 and Radek brings up the rear with 76 due to his late entry. 

They're coming up with some fascinating facts here. Did you know there are 135 teams competing (that's slightly reduced from the number who registered) with over 1400 dogs at the race! By the time they all finish the dogs will have run over a million kilometres, enough to go around the world 27 times!! That's impressive by any standards and I'm pretty sure there's no other race in the world that can beat those kind of statistics!

At the starting banquet!

Finally it feels like the race is getting going... We're at Scandic Alta hotel at the start banquet. There must be several hundred people here. We're sitting in tables of 10 and of course we choose a table with our closest neighbours from Kauppinen!! Other than one... We also have Radek and his handler Lubos at our table. It should be a good night! I hope to post more pictures as the night continues and the mushers receive their official starting bibs for tomorrow. For now here's a quick picture of Taisto and handler Rasto, Jan and handler Lenka, Radek and handler Lubos and Kent and handler Tor. And Milos of course. :-)

Could the winner of Finnmarkslopet 500 be at this table? :-)

The calm before the storm

Yesterday was a bit crazy. We arrived in good time, around 9.30am, said a quick hello to some fellow mushers (including Radek Havrda, Daniel Juillaguet and Jean-Phillipe Pontier all from LGO) and headed for our Cabin. It's about 3m x 3.5m with beds for 4 inside plus a table, fridge and little cooker. Quite civilised really. After a little unpacking we went off to see the vets to get our papers and chips checked (we had already done a full assessment of all the racing dogs with our vet in Kiruna who signed them all off with good health). Then it was a quick drive into Alta city where we had some lunch, registered for the race then headed to the mushers meeting. It finished after a couple of hours and we were surprised to hear that the ceremony in the city centre would take place that evening. So we all trundled outside, in little more than a light jacket, and the mushers paraded infront of the locals at the Borealis Festival. It was quite funny to hear them announce all the countries involved, including one from the UK, Jan and Milos from Slovakia, Radek from Czech Republic, a number of others from Spain, Switzerland, Germany etc and then a whopping 99 Norwegians!! 

Many teams have dropped out already, a lot with kennel cough, including (I think) Marianne Skothaug, who won the Femund 400 world championship title a couple of years ago. She would have been big competition for us in the FL500 but her absence doesn't make it easy... On the starting block will be Ole Wingren, his son and last years winner Ronny Wingren, Ole Sigleif Johansson (husband to Eline who took 2nd place in 2013), Elizabeth Edland (who does really well in good conditions and hard trails), Taisto of course, Jan, Radek... I'm sure I've even missed a couple from this list of top competitors. Everyone who's anyone in mushing seems to be here. 

The picture is from last nights ceremony. It's a rubbish photo I know but I couldn't get any closer because of the vast crowds! In the distance you'll see the flags from each country with the mushers beside. 

After the festival we went along to see Kenzo and Patje at Holmen hundcenter where they work. Kenzo worked at Taistos kennel last winter and he sent us a kind invitation for dinner. It was totally yummy food and good company so a huge thank you to both of them for entertaining such a big crowd of us (3 mushers and 4 handlers). 

So today we're now preparing everything. The sled, the car, the dogs, us!! And later we have the start banquet where Milos gets his official starting number. Then we'll know when he starts tomorrow. I think it should be around 11.20am (or 10.20 GMT). 

I'll be back with more later. Til then ciao! 

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Finnmarkslopet 500 here we come!

It's 4am and we've been on the road about 20 minutes. We're heading North West to Alta in Norway, the start of the 2015 World Championships. It occurs to me this is pretty much why I froze my butt off in the Autumn putting in so much effort into quad bike training. The basics of training is done then, before the tourists arrive in winter at which point we just try and maintain the dogs fitness. It's not an easy combination. Imagine what we could do with a dedicated race team... Sponsorship anyone?? 

Back to the van. We have on board:

Milos - superstar musher and worlds best husband :-)
Gaynor - blogger and handler (try's to be worlds best wife)
Louis - our friend from the UK who's a glutton for punishment (he actually thinks getting up at 3am is fun. In fact, in Louis's life everything is fun). He's our driver/handler and positive thinker for when things get tough. Thanks Louis!


Waf (best dog in the world and trusted leader who continues to impress)
Cliff (our speed demon and leader)
Hannalore, or Hanca/Hancha for short (a budding new leader in her first race season and she's proving to be smart and fast. We had her mum in lead at the first LGO we ever did and she's just the same)
Patch (another experienced swing or team dog, also smart and can lead when everyone else gets tired and we need some enthusiasm at the front)
Grony (sister to Patch and Cliff from a different litter but same parents. Our Houdini who slips her collar and likes to roam free to say hello to all the other dogs. Runs really good with Patch who is never more than a few metres from her side)
Toby (Waf's brother and a really great, dependable power house at the back of the team)
Balto (also brother to Waf and Toby from the same litter. These three are from the original line up of puppies that started Milos's racing career in 2011. Experienced, strong and fast)
Spendrup (named after the beer, he's an excitable, loveable dog who's just as comfortable going fast as he is at a slower pace. He's slim but strong and really tough in the head)

In reserve:

Leepey (named after me, or so I like to think - my maiden name is Leeper. She's the mum to a really spirited puppy called Ratty and the mum to some great potential racers who are in their first working season. Another good leader or used in swing. Jan Slosar may take her in his team)
Senna (named after the famous F1 driver. This is Senna's first season racing and she was with us at this years LGO as were her siblings Button and Alonso. She's really fast and good to run but not our first choice for FL500 as she's not such a good eater which could become a problem on the race. Again, she may race with Jan and it would be interesting to see how she does. She impressed us at LGO)

Along with us and the dogs I can't even begin to describe how much 'stuff' we have with us. We spent two days packing dog food for a week (including separate pre-prepared food bags for each checkpoint), our food, harnesses, lines, sled, a checkpoint bag with blankets, jackets and other bits for Milos and the dogs), our personal bags, maps, GPS and other mandatory equipment for the sled (including axe, cooker, emergency wind sack, sleeping bag etc)... I could go on but I'd quite like you to get to the end of this post before falling asleep!!

The journey should take about 6 hours if all goes well. We'll be staying at a camp site tonight and will make the most of relative luxury before sleeping in the van during the race (if we're lucky enough to get sleep!).

Keep coming back over the next week to follow our progress (by which time I hope to have changed the blog title - who knew you couldn't change it on a mobile device!). You can also follow They do a really great job of updates and interviews and you can follow the live GPS tracking. The race starts 11am Saturday. 

Wish us luck!