Since the IFSS European Championship on-snow 2020 was organised in Sweden, I have decided to, despite my lack of skiing skills, go for it and start with Anti. I was planning to do skijøring, but then the official invitation came out and it had a new category: 2-dog sled! Things just got way more interesting. I only began skiing last year, but sledding was something I have been doing for a long time and the 5 km track suited Anti perfectly. The only problem was that I only had one dog. For a while I was actually considering to start in the purebreed category with the huskies. But Nina is turning 9, and the track was supposed to be quite hilly, which they do not like, so I dropped the idea.
Luckily, Beatrice Gatti came to the rescue and I could borrow one of her dogs, a quite special one: the sister of Anti, Helle! She is a crazy girl, with the same enthusiasm as Anti.
I got to first test out the duo at a small race, and they did amazing. I fell once (it was my first time standing on the sled since last winter), but they carried on once I got back on my feet.
At the same time I also started to get my skiing together and started with the huskies at our first two races. They really enjoyed it, even though I could only double pole, because the minute I tried to skate I lost my balance…
I also had a few sessions without dog and I slowly gained the courage to start with Anti too. Unfortunately there weren`t any skijøring races in Norway, so I could only start in the “happy dog” class. I won`t lie, I did cry many times on the trail, trying to figure why did I enter to the European Championships, where I will have to ski 15 km, when I am struggling to do a 4-5 km lap.
Luckily at home I was doing better and better. Helle also moved to us for a few weeks, and I really enjoyed skiing with her. She is fast, but lighter than Anti, which makes me feel like I have a bit more control. I managed to skate behind her and it was also great to be able to go together with Mikal, without having to wait for the other one to catch up.
In the meantime the snow conditions were sometimes challenging, and this unfortunately had and effect on the championship too. The organizers had to move it from Falun to Åsarna, in order to have enough snow on the trails. This unfortunately meant a less challenging sled trail, which I was a bit sad about, because for us it would have been better to have a bit more up and downs and technicality. Helle and Anti are not the youngest anymore, but still super hard working and also experienced, so for us the trails in Falun would have been better… But oh well, at least the event was not cancelled, the organizers just did what they had to.
Time flew by, and it was time for us to leave. We travelled together with Tessa, so first we went to her place to pick up her and her dogs. This meant a very full car, with several skis, a sled, a pulk, loads of dog food, crates, dog boxes, our clothes, dog equipment, three people and seven dogs.
Luckily we could drop off three dogs at Mikal`s parents, so everyone could travel comfortably. It was also better to not bring the ones who did not race, so they wouldn`t feel left out or bored at the stake-out.
We arrived Tuesday afternoon, and immediately went out to check the skijoring track. I read about it before arriving from other participants, who had been out on it earlier, and they were writing it is one of the hardest, most challenging trails they did at a championship. I also found it a quite hard track, but I have been skiing for a year… Every trail is hard for me.
Our accomodation was nearby, 5 minutes driving only. The championship dreamteam, Mikal and Tessa were my partners in crime for these few days in Sweden. They are both experienced racers, so of course they were way more prepared than me. At least I could learn a lot again.
Wednesday was about administrative tasks mostly. We went up in the morning to do the vet check. Unfortunately Tessa got some bad news there in the last minute, and had to finish the race before even starting it. No idea how she can keep herself together at times like these, but she managed to stay positive and just go around all week, taking videos, photos and helping everyone.
After the vet check I went out with Helle to check the sled trail. It was flat and fast, but at least a nice one.
We only had one last meeting that day, as I was the team leader for Hungary. At Nybro last year I really could feel, that being a team-leader and racing is a bit overwhelming, especially if the category one is participating in is the last one throughout the day. Unfortunately I was the only Hungarian, so I had no choice but to represent myself. This time although I did not feel that it was too much, but I did have to miss the opening ceremony (which I don`t like so much, but it is a race after all and it`s important to priositise), to catch some sleep. I was not feeling a 100% either, but I was hoping that it was only the nerves acting up. Mikal was being a super handler, waxing skis for me and helping me with the dogs.
Thursday was our first race day. I was doing skijøring with Anti. I was terribly nervous, I could barely eat anything in the morning. I was really scared of the trail, that I will just fall all the time, I was really unsure why did I even enter this category… But it was too late to change my mind, so I just had to get on the starting line. Mikal warmed up Anti, I had to warm up myself, and before I could realize we were out on the trail.
I managed to even skate a bit in the beginning, which I found quite impressive, but then soon the downhill started and all I had to pay attention to was not to fall.
I still have a hard time to believe, but I did get throught the first part of the trail, which was in my opinion the hardest part of the whole course. Then of course I faceplanted on a relatively easy part, when I heard someone coming behind me, but whatever.
Anti was amazing, running like crazy. Yvette, who started behind us caught up relatively quick, but I was expecting her, so we were chasing them a bit, but then they got away and we were mostly alone on the trail.
We had a really nice ride until the crossing, where we had to go left and take the same loop we have been skiing on once more, before arriving back to this crossing again and going straight, to make a long climp to the finishline. This extra loop was really not needed for us. I think I could have managed the last climb just fine, but then doing the extra lap and then the climb was just rough.
I could feel on Anti, that he was not so excited about doing the same trail again, but he ran well for me. We arrived back to the crossing after what it felt like forever. Here just to make an impression I stepped on my pole twice in a row, followed by two nice falls, on the only part people were standing (they were helping out at the crossing). Here I could also feel on Anti, that he is tired and not so happy with me being on the ground.
The last part was almost only uphill, not so technical, but for me really tiring. I was also dead in the head by then, so I had no coordination, and had a hard time to keep my balance and ski well. Poor Anti lost his motivation a bit, as he felt I was not pushing so hard. He will give 200% for you, but he needs to feel that it`s a team effort, and with my skiing skills it was mostly him dealing with a dead weight behind him. Can`t blame him for getting a bit unmotivated.
I might sound a bit negative, but I was actually super happy when we crossed the finishline. We survived, and even though realising I became last made me feel a bit sad (I was in front of one girl on the first 2/3 of the trail, but lost that advantage on the last uphill), I had to look on the bright side. I finished a quite technical and tiring trail, where I was pooping my pants even without dog a few days before. And honestly, looking back on the videos I was just simply smiling at the finish, and that`s the kind of memory I want to keep. Of course I am looking forward to the times, when I will be able to actually “ski out” everything I have in me, and push until I cannot go a meter more, but this has to wait.
It was amazing to have my start so early, so I could eat and chill (and sleep :D) all day long, apart from the mandatory team leader meeting of course.
Second racing day was Friday, this time another early start but with 2 dogs. Helle and Anti were ready, I really-really adore this brother-sister duo, I had the most fun racing and training with them this winter season. And now it was time what our team can achieve among the other 25 at this championship.
Early morning watering, warm up routine 30 before the start, everything went according plan. We had a few centimeters of fresh snow on the trail making it way slower.
Helle goes nuts when it comes to running, and that sticks over on Anti too. Luckily I had a handler for each dog, so we had a flawless start. It is still a bit ridiculous that I need two people here, while at home I can go out and train alone with them without any stress. I guess we all have race nerves!
The dogs started out flawlessly. I was pushing a lot, and as the track had some snow on it I had to help them as much as I could. I bought new skis for the sled, and I was trying to decide if it was the right choice, since it felt so slow compared to other times… but then again, so did the trail itself.
I measured 4,5 km on Wednesday, when I skied with Helle, and I had no idea what speed could be expected, so my only goal was to finish under 10 minutes. After a flawless run, that made me simply scream on a high pitch noise after crossing the finishline (my apologies to everyone who was schocked after hearing it, I have no idea where it came from either), we came in as 12th, with a time of 9:21! I was super satisfied, dogs were happy, the Sun was shining. It was a perfect day!
Again, I only had to attend one more meeting, but otherwise the day was about chilling, hanging out a bit at the stake-out and helping some friends start with their teams.
Our last race day, Saturday was also travelling day for us. Therefore we had to pack and also clean the small cabin we were living in before heading to the stake-out. Luckily our start was only in the afternoon, so we had time to fix everything in the morning.
Apart from having time for packing I did not enjoy waiting half day to finally head out on the trail again. The weather was also not as nice as the day before, cloudy, a bit raining, a bit windy… But after what felt like forever we were on the starting line again. Helle and Anti were super eager, and ready to rock.
Another flawless start, and we are out on the trail again. It was a bit icy and way faster than the day before. I had freshly waxed skis, so my glide was super, the only thing I had to pay attention to was not to slide to the side while kicking. Therefore many times I was just standing, the dogs needed way less help and we were still flying. I really hoped they can run fast enough even on the last downhill, that we can finish without breaking. And they could! Despite being 7,5 years old, they still rocked this race, and I could hear the speaker announcing us as 10th once we crossed the finish line. 10th! As it turned out we had the 9th best time on Saturday (8:46) which made us jump forward to places, and finish in the top10.
After a cool down walk and change of clothes we decided to leave quite soon. The original plan was to stay for the mass start and maybe even for the musher dinner, but since we had no accomodation and the weather was quite bad we chose to hit the road instead and get home in good time.
End of my first IFSS European Championship. It was fun, I reall-really enjoyed the company of Tessa and Mikal, I loved doing sled and actually compete with Helle and Anti and I am proud of Anti and Me finishing my first official skijøring race as well.
Huge thanks goes to Beatrice Gatti Semmingsen for trusting me with Helle, it was super nice to have Helle home for a few weeks and train with her.
Also huge thanks for Mikal and his family for letting me race Anti this season, it is always fun to do any type of sleddog sports with him.
Chances are big, that the next championship on snow, which is a World Championship will be in Canada/North America, so we are setting our eyes on the next European Championship which will be in 2 years. Loads of time to prepare, and I will make sure not to come last in skijøring then!