Friday, January 3, 2020

IFSS World Dryland Championships 2019

In October, Buck and I traveled to Nybro, Sweden to compete for the USA in canicross at the IFSS World Dryland Championships. It was a trip of a lifetime and an honor to compete for the USA in the red, white and blue.

The trip there was long and difficult. Buck, the family, and I traveled to Spokane the first night and we stayed at my cousin Troy's home. The next day, we drove through the Tricities, where my parents live, and I dropped off the family (they traveled with my parents to Sweden), and Buck and I continued on to Seattle. The next morning an old college friend, Carley, drove Buck and I to the airport. We arrived a bit too early as I was afraid to miss the flight and I had never traveled with a dog before. I wasn't sure how long it would take to get Buck and I checked in.

Happy boy before we headed into the terminal

Check in did not take that much longer with Buck. He handled check in well and we were off to Chicago. Upon arrival he was slightly freaked out but no worse for the ware. We stayed 24 hrs in Chicago before our next flight. We went on multiple walks but mostly just relaxed and destressed. The next evening had a long wait between checkout from the hotel and our evening flight (6 hours to be exact). We arrived, yet again, very early to the airport and Buck balked at the doors. Clearly the flight from Seattle slightly traumatized him. During our long wait we worked on going in and out of the door to the airport. By the time it was time to fly, he was comfortable with the airport again. 

Appears to have recovered back to his attentive, jovial self after stage one of the trip.

This flight was long. I couldn't sleep much and was worried about how Buck was doing under the plane. When we finally arrived on the ground in Copenhagen, I had to wait 30 minutes for him to come out at the over-sized baggage claim. I began to fear that he had escaped his crate while under the plane and was running free on the Copenhagen runways. Right when I was about to melt into a puddle on the floor, the poor boy was wheeled out. He was ready to be out of the crate after 9 hours but we still had to go through customs before he could get out and pee. Customs was fast and smooth and finally we were outside and he happily relieved himself. He recovered incredibly fast from the stress of the flight, as soon as he got out of his box he shook of and was his happy self; prancing around and exploring the world. I did fear that he would never get into his crate again, but he held no ill-will toward his crate at any point during the trip, if anything he became more attached to it. It became his safe-haven that he always had wherever we went; his security blanket.

We weren't yet done for the day, though. We still had to ride the bus to the rental car lot and then drive to our apartment for the night. We were a sight on the bus: the dog, my bags, the crate and myself. It was a bit difficult but luckily there are many kind people in the world, very willing to help a stranger.

We in Copenhagen for the arrival of our family the next day and then, after one more night in Copenhagen, we got the heck out of dodge. (I have been to Copenhagen before, when I was younger, and if we had been there to see Copenhagen, it would have been a wonderful place to explore...but using appropriate means of transportation (metro). Unfortunately, since we needed the rental car to get to Nybro, it was very difficult to be in Copenhagen. It resulted in a couple parking tickets that frustrated the heck out of me...hence why I couldn't wait to get out of town).

Buck was EXHAUSTED after the trip. I've never seen him settle down and go to sleep so fast! He was a tuckered out dude!
Surprisingly, jet lag had not affected me much. My body fell right into Sweden time. We arrived in Emmaboda, Sweden (just outside of Nybro) early enough to give our bodies time to relax. We took a couple shake out runs and checked out the race course. The day before we were to race, Buck had his vet check. This was the most stressful part of the whole trip as, unfortunately, the only vaccination record which had Buck's microchip number on it was the rabies vaccination certificate and all vaccinations needed the microchip number. There was no definitive assurance to the race officials that the other vaccinations had been applied to that microchip (i.e. Buck). There were other indications that Buck was indeed the dog the vaccination records were assigned to, so in the end, the head veterinarian gave us a pass on our vet check. PHEW!

After the vet check, Brooke Kish (another US canicross-er) and I ran the course. Nerves had been building and were running high at this point. Jogging the course helped calm them somewhat. The course was beautiful but difficult.
Wow! The start chute of the World Championships!

Buck checking out the start-line.
That evening was the opening ceremonies for the event. The team met up near downtown Nybro and assembled into the alphabetical ordering of nations for the parade. We marched a quarter mile into town center, where the opening addresses from the IFSS and race organizers took place. It was a short but fun ceremony (and just awesome to be a part of ) but, once concluded, it quickly disbanded. Athletes made for their accommodations and focused on tomorrow's task: Racing!

Almost the whole team lined up and waiting for the opening ceremonies (just missing 3 teammates).
During the race week, we stayed a cute old farm house, which was apparently the first house in all of Emmaboda. That night I got a surprisingly calm and fulfilling night of sleep. Nerves did not over take me the next morning either. I was nervous but had a healthy dose of nerves. I had realized during our run of the course the day before, that what I did now could only hurt me. The work I had put in up to that point was what would help me and I had to believe I was prepared as I could be.

Arriving at the race course that morning was exciting! The race course was bustling with activity. The bikejor racers went out first. Dogs, bikes, and racers were everywhere. The start chute was narrow and therefore, only able to accommodate individual starts instead of mass or group starts. Therefore, since the course was short, those who started at the beginning of the list finished well before the last racer on the list started. Slowly, throughout the day, team USA teammates started their races and I helped them at the start and finish. It was a warm day and I was getting concerned for Buck. The saving grace was that the sun was clouded but during the 1-dog scooter classes (right before canicross) the sun broke through the clouds. I was concerned about the temperatures which were in the upper 50s. Luckily, before canicross the clouds covered the sun again and it remained at or below 60 degrees F.

Side note on temperature: Dogs, because of their form of temperature regulation (mainly panting, not sweating), are not able to run/work at temperatures above a certain limit. That limit is usually a bit lower for Siberian huskies than it is for short-coated breeds. Typically, I will not work my dogs in harness, in their winter coats, in temperatures above 50 degress F. When they're in their summer coats, I won't work them in temperatures above 62 degrees F. Though they can still work safely up to those max temperatures, they are slower. Siberian huskies really prefer freezing to below freezing temperatures. Most of the breeds Buck and I were racing against were short-coated breeds (mostly greysters, eurohounds and german short hair pointers). Not only are they typically faster and stronger than Siberian huskies but they have on average slightly higher temperature tolerances.

Canicross was scheduled for the last races of the day, finally it was time! I watched Brooke and her dog Charlie get ready and head out. Then Joy and her dog, Oso. Then Sarah and her dog, Lyra. Finally it was time for Buck and I!!!!

A race official checks to make sure the competitors are starting in the right order and that I have the proper equipment per the rules. They were mainly looking for a bungee line, no hooks or clips that could release unexpectedly, and that I wasn't wearing metal spikes in my shoes.
Buck was excited, we hadn't had a good canicross in days and now was his chance. The day one start intervals were rather long between teams (1 minute wait when 30 seconds is usually good) but finally Buck and I were off.

Right off the start line there was a short, steep hill. That one did not hurt nearly as much as the one a quarter mile in. It seemed that the fact that we were racing hadn't quite sunk in for Buck yet. As he hit that hill, he slowed almost to a stop and looked back at me. I responded, "Yup Buck, we've got to keep going" and he lined out and powered up the the hill. We looped back by the start line before heading out into the woods. The beginning half of the race had some rolling hills, which could easily be classified as more severe than rolling. At about the halfway point through the 4.8km course, we were passed by a racing pair. This meant they had made up a minute on us. While I was disappointed we had been passed, I was also thankful because what Buck loves even more than running is chasing and passing. We were able to keep pace with her and it gave my muscles a bit a reprieve.

Within the last mile we came upon a large hill. We were still busy chasing so the hill, though it was long, did not feel too painful. Halfway up the hill the team we had been chasing practically came to halt. Buck and I passed them and continued up the hill. In the last straight away to the finish we were passed by another team (which means they made up two minutes on us!) That was a bit depressing but we pushed through the finish strong. Our time was solid but not nearly our best. In the finish chute they check Buck's microchip to confirm I ran with the dog I said I would. My family and the rest of the team was there waiting for us. At this point, I was starting to feel that I had hurt my left hamstring pretty bad during the race. I gave Buck a good job hug and pet and we went back to the team camp, where I took care of Buck before the team took a cool down jog.

Nick Weis (our top men's competitor and best team USA finisher on the week with a 10th place finish) holds Buck while I catch my breath.

Buck is a good boy!

Heading back to team camp.
The cool down was really hard because of my hamstring, I struggled to even lift my leg and worried about my ability to run tomorrow. Luckily, my dad had brought along a muscle roller and I had some ibuprofen. That evening I iced, rolled and took my medication that night, and felt confident we would be able to at least give it an effort for day 2. Dryland dog events are typically two days long. Racers will compete two consecutive days on the same course. Fastest cumulative time is how the final ranks are scored.

Overall, I went into day 2 happy with our day 1 performance and hopeful we could match our time or go faster. The morning of day 2 was a repeat of day 1, I was relaxed but nervous. The day was also warm but not has warm as the day before, though it was more humid, which is concerning for the ability of the dogs to cool down. My hamstring was workable and loose enough but still very sore and at the forefront of my mind. Buck was ready to go and had it figured out that it was a race. He was very excited to get on the trail again.

Day 2 start orders can be organized a few ways but typically in large races like this, the fastest are out first and the slowest last. This meant Buck and I were the 30th competitors to leave the start chute in women's elite canicross, as we had finished day 1 in 30th place. The start interval time was also cut down to 30 seconds, which was nice.

Day 2 startline 
Passing by the startline again on day 2

While my hamstring was sore, once on the course I was able to push that pain away and just focus on Buck's running. I do love canicross, because having a dog in front helps to keep me driving forward, their strength helps but just their desire to run can be enough. Their effortless run and beauty draws my mind away from my own pain and gives me something to focus on and get into a rhythm. We ended up running the same split at the halfway mark as day 1. Unfortuantely, that is where our race days diverged. We never got passed (yay) but this meant no one to chase during the harder, second half of the course. Buck had a lot of drive on day 2 but my legs did not. Especially on that last long hill. We had no one helping draw Buck up the hill this time. While I gave everything I had, it clearly wasn't enough and we crossed the finish line 30 seconds slower than the day before. This eventually led to us dropping two places in the standings. I was hoping to move up into 29th but we ended the competition in 32nd.

I am willing to take a majority of the blame for our slow times. My training throughout the summer was just not there. I was suffering through a foot injury, plantar fasciitis. I did a lot of pool running, weight lifting, and cross-training (elliptical/cycling). I was hoping to balance getting in competitive shape, at the same time not aggravating my injury too much where I would not be able to train or race. It had healed enough to where I could run short/fast track workouts the last month before the race. I felt strong and in good shape going into the race but in the race I did not. I think I really lacked the depth of endurance and strength I would have gained from from longer runs and canicrossing during my summer training. Best I can tell, canicross is by far the best way to train for canicross and I haven't determined many alternatives.

After the 1-dog events there were still 2 more days of racing for the 2+ dog events. I helped our 2-dog scooter team to the line and one of our 4-dog cart teams. I enjoyed watching the cart teams run, as we also compete in 4-dog cart at home. The last day of the race concluded with the team relay. It was first described to me as organized chaos and oh boy was it! It started with a mass start of 13 canicross racers and their dogs (representing 13 nations), they each ran a 2 km loop, when they came through the finish line they transferred their dog to a teammate and sprinted down to the start line (about 50 meters away) and tagged their 1-dog scooter team. They took off and ran the 2 km loop. When they crossed the finish line the canicrosser was waiting for them. The scooter racer tagged the canicrosser who ran down and tagged the 1-dog bikejor team who ran the 2 km course and finished the race. It was insane and fun and very competitive. France just edged out Great Britian for the win and they were ecstatic! Mexico fielded a team but they had just enough people to run the race but not enough handlers. So Carlos asked me if I'd be willing to help him and hold his dog after the canicross leg.

Carlos from Team Mexico! It was great meeting him and so many other dog powered racers from around the world

...Chile, Argentina, Switzerland to name a few....

Canicross mass start for the relay

And like that the race was over.

What an experience and what a time we had! I couldn't believe what a good dog Buck was the whole trip, not just at the race! He learned a lot (but still not to walk on a leash). From a pup, I put a lot of training into him for pulling and canicross, and although sled dogs can learn to do both, I didn't put the effort in to train him to walk on a leash. On this trip I paid for it. Otherwise, he had a lot of "firsts." He walked his first flight of stairs, took his first elevator ride,  his first plane ride, his first bus ride, his first boat ride, and his first train ride. And he took it all in stride without much difficulty. He was scared of all the things at first but with time, patience, and experience (and treats, definitely treats), he was taking them like an old pro by the end of the trip. I am extremely proud of him!

Buck, you're a good boy!

Three special boys!

My parents help to get my family to Sweden and I was glad to have them along.

Last but DEFINITELY not least, this opportunity would not have been possible without the support and donations from SO many friends, family, and community members. I can not thank everyone enough but I have been trying! Thank you all from the bottom of my heart (and Buck's)!

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