Sunday, January 30, 2011

Hallingen 160 - part I - The Decision to Scratch


Today I read the online version of the Hallingdalen newspaper, which covered the Hallingen race. And that finally motivated me to write the rest of our adventure and story of the race, as I have promised!

I will start where the Hallingdalen article left of. It says (as I have mentioned to the reporter) that I scratched because I found the trail conditions too tough. While this is actually true, I need to say a lot more to this.

First of all, I would like to thank the organizers and the volunteers for this great event. It was a beautiful, tough race with a wonderful atmosphere and breathtaking mountain surroundings. Very well organized, easy and relaxed atmosphere.

My dogs were in a great shape and good spirits before the race started, and what made me feel very happy and proud was the fact that they were in the same condition after running the first half of the race. Only couple hours after resting well on the straw in the checkpoint, they were sitting up, looking around energetically, looking for action, ready to roll again.

I found the trail tough in terms of sugary/sandy snow, in which we swam for 80km, up and down throughout the mountainous terrain. Rocks, stumps, roots and branches underneath, as there wasn´t that much snow. Holes and "ditches" created by the many teams using the trail, hidden under "steps" which we often flew over in the air. Hitting the hole was then about the correct angle - you either landed on the bottom straight and kept driving, or if you hit it a bit sideways, the sled tipped over and you got dragged behind the team. I wasn´t the only musher being dragged that night :)

But none of this is said with a single word of criticism. This is long distance racing - the trails are not perfectly groomed as on highways or those speed tracks of sprint races. This is just the way it is, when you´re travelling by dog team for miles and miles of the real wild back country.

I did find the trail tough, needing to focus all the time on the trail and I was concerned about the dogs stepping into moose tracks or slipping in the sandy like substance. I was extremly careful to avoid injuries. I chose this over speed and I drove the drag brake most of the time, averaging the speed down to 10-11km/hour. Did that eventually cost us the race? Maybe. But none of my twelve dogs were stiff or injured, and that was my goal. This was the first race of the season for us and part of the training process for the main race of the season, the Polardistans 300.

But there is another part to our story. The one I am not so proud to mention. By the time we arrived to the checkpoint at 7:21 am, after 8 hours and 1 minute on the trail, I was beat up. Not the dogs. I was tired from riding the drag brake, from worrying about the dogs and mainly I was exhausted physically overall.

It is no secret that I am still overweight from my health issues, although I have already lost some weight and have been working on improving my overall condition. I believe that this race was a test of where about I am standing on my road to better health and condition.
In the weeks prior to the race, I slept just a few hours in total, due to not just some heavy overnight training, packing, and also sorting out a lot of stressful issues. The night before our 15 hour drive down to Hallingen, I slept for 2 hours. Although it embarasses me greatly, I was not in the shape to stand the trail conditions. I was a wrack.

So when the race officials informed Jachym upon my arrival to the checkpoint, that my starting time is 12:45 pm, and with this speed average I will be on the trail until about 8:00 pm, meaning that not only I would miss the banquet, but also many race volunteers would have to stay out on the trail, waiting for me, I tried to make the most sensible decision. Which was tough, after no sleep and rest. I had a nice chat over cup of coffee with one of the race judges and after that I announced my official scratching from the race.
I went over to the dog resting area and decided that I will not let the dogs feel any of the disappointment. Instead, I gave them their favorite snack of herring straps, gave them each a thorough rub and told them how proud I was of them. Then I packed my sled, we watched our closest competitor Ulf Hope with his siberian huskies to prepare and set off for the trail, posed for reporters and gave them an interview, and headed to the truck.
When I woke up after couple hours of sleep, I still felt no regrets over this decision.

We dropped the dogs to make them a nice warm meal and watching them happily bounce around and eat their food, wagging tails, I was ready to start thinking towards our next journey.

I will write more about the dogs and the race and post more pictures in another blog entry.

But now, let me just express my most sincere thank you to all our friends and family who supported us during the race and who gave me some nice encouraging words after I decided to scratch. I am not a quitter and never was. And deciding to scratch is never an easy thing to do, I believe.

I sure hope to come to Hallingen next year and conquer those trails that gave me hell this year! :)

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