Sleddogs sports written by Cushla Lamen

Most people involved in sleddog sports will be currently celebrating the passing of the Summer Solstice, although they may not have been dancing naked to flute pipes at Stonehenge, they will be rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect of the days growing cooler and the race season starting again.

This is a relatively quiet time of year for most competitors, it is the ‘down time’ when you can mend equipment, rearrange crates in vans and generally potter around doing all the jobs you wish you had an excuse not to do! It can be too hot and humid to take dogs running, although most of us manage it early morning or late evening. Some owners, such as Natalie Lovegrove get inventive with exercise, Natalie dons her wetsuit and takes her four Alaskan Malamutes to the local canal for an early morning swimming session. Natalie said “The dogs really love it and can’t wait to get in. We only exercise one dog at a time and I swim with them, which is great fun. Our funniest moment was when one of our dogs came nose to nose with a water vole, I’m not sure who was more surprised! The vole turned tail and swam off at a speed worthy of an Olympic Champion, leaving my dog a little bemused by the whole experience!” Natalie further explained that swimming is a superb way of keeping her dogs fit, but with no risk of overheating, which is essential for dogs with such thick coats as Malamutes.

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For race organisers though, it is a completely different story, this is the time of year when the hard work is put in. We have an exciting BSSF race season in 2016/2017. The International Federation of Sleddog Sports (IFSS) European Championships will be held in Thetford Forest in November and the racing will take place over 3 days. There is so much to put in place to ensure that all the athletes have a wonderful experience as most will be visiting the UK for the first time with their dogs. Organising such an event is a mammoth task and every small eventuality needs to be taken care of. It is also very exciting to think of so many European competitors coming to experience our race trails and hospitality.

We already have a lot in place for the IFSS Championships and the excitement the event has generated is tangible. Galen Myotherapy, who specialise in using canine massage techniques to keep working dogs in the best possible shape, are sponsoring the event by sending a large team of Myotherapists to help warm up and cool down the competitor’s dog’s. Nicky Wreford a Galen therapist based in Thetford and who is co-ordinating the therapists said “We are all really looking forward to this wonderful opportunity to work with dogs who are at their peak of fitness, all of the volunteers are really excited be part of this fast paced sport and can’t wait to work with dogs who are competing at this level of competition”.

In addition to the IFSS Championships there will be a large Team GB will be heading to the Czech Republic in October to take part if the European Canicross Federation (ECF) European Championships. This is going to be a long road trip for both competitors and dogs and I had an opportunity to look at the race course during the Spring General Assembly which took place at the race site. The event will take place at an impressive biathlon stadium with seating for thousands of spectators. It is going to be a really challenging course, with some impressive climbs which will test both human and canine limbs, it is safe to say that the winners will have truly earned their European Champion titles.

For some intrepid canicrossers there is no summer break and there is a yet again a large contingent from the UK heading out to the French Alps for the Trophee des Montagnes, Trophy of the Mountains. This is the pinnacle of the canicross calendar for those with a sense of adventure, the race (or should I say challenge?) incorporates endurance, speed and a head for heights! The race is run over 9 days with a total of 10 races and competitors move locations throughout the week to ski villages, which host different stages of the race. Every year the race itinerary changes so two years are never the same, although a couple of the “old favourites” are always on the agenda. The second race of the series is usually the “race to the sky” which involves running uphill for 5km, (the organisers kindly arrange for you to catch the cable car back to the start). The super fit run all the way, towed by their amazingly fit dogs, the rest of us walk as quickly as the altitude allows and take in the amazing scenery which stretches out around us.

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All the races at the TDM are run at altitude, so heat is never a problem and humidity is non-existent. You are allowed to register two dogs for the whole event, although a lot of athletes run the whole event with just one dog. The overwhelming bond you feel at the end of the 9 days of racing with your canine partner is all encompassing, you truly know each other inside out after experiencing so many high’s and low’s together.

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Mandy Berry and her dog Star.

I have had the opportunity to attend two General Assemblies in the last few months, the European Canicross Federation (ECF) in the Czech Republic and the International Federation of Sleddog Sports (IFSS) General Assembly in Latvia. These meetings provide an opportunity to discuss ways of taking our sports forward into the future and one of the ongoing topics is how to encourage young competitors into our sports and how to keep them interested throughout their teenage years. It became apparent that this is a worldwide issue and although there were some healthy discussions and ideas, we are a long way from answering the question of how to encourage more youngsters into our sport. Perhaps we should have a cross discipline meeting to discuss and how to get young people and their dogs competing or even training at different disciplines?

Two young person who we never need to encourage are Lucy van Zwanenberg and Rowan Saxton, who are off to attend the IFSS canicross training camp held in Norway. This will be their second year at the camp which is attended by young people aged 13-19 and attracts teenagers from all over Europe. The youngsters have the opportunity to train at canicross, bikejor, scootering, hiking, roller skiing, line making and the legendary swamp soccer, after playing which, Rowan is encouraged not to bring his clothing home with him!

Written by Cushla Lamen, Galen Myotherapist. to find out more about the sport please contact her by email.

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