Preparing for Our First 1,000 Mile Yukon Quest!
Our race season is well under way and race training is in full swing. As I write this in the second week of November, we are running somewhere between 20 and 30 miles depending on the day. Our young team is currently on a program of running four days a week: two days on, one day off; two days on, two days off. Unfortunately, our snow has been a bit slow to come this year, so we are still doing all of our running on an ATV. We are making the most of it though, and have been out on a few camping trips, and have traveled to a few different trail systems. This is crucial race training, and gets the yearlings used to traveling, and eating and sleeping away from home.
On a campout with our buddy, and Black Spruce employee, Riley Dyche
The Yearlings, showing me they have the ability to sleep on the trail
In addition to training the team, we are also busy with Yukon Quest logistics. Running a team of dogs a thousand miles requires a large amount of preparation. Prior to the race start, we package 1500 pounds of dog food, over a thousand booties, runner plastic for our sled, personal food, dog and human supplements, and the list goes on. We are already working this time of year to bundle these booties, pack up our heat packs and extra gloves, package our supplements, and start thinking about the type and amount of meat we are going to want on the trail.
Pet dog, Koyuk, examines our bootie and harness order
All of this food and gear gets sent out prior to the race to different checkpoint along the race trail. In almost all of our long distance races, we have checkpoints; cities, villages or tent camps. At these checkpoints, we are allowed to have food and gear waiting for us, which is how we are able to travel the race trail at a fairly high speed with a pretty light sled. Every race has a different amount of checkpoints at different distances from each other. The Quest has only nine checkpoints spread over the 1000 miles. So, that is an average of 100 miles between refueling points (there are actually three sections where that distance is over 150 miles). That means as we are putting together our “food drop,” we have to think carefully about the provisions we are going to need at each location (not only for the checkpoint itself, but also for the campouts that we will make between checkpoints). Remember, everything that we plan to use for a thousand miles either has to be in our sled at the start of the race, or in one of our food drop bags that is staged and waiting for us. Mushers are not allowed any outside assistance while racing, except for help from veterinarians and other hospitalities offered at checkpoints. So while KattiJo will be driving truck for our team and meeting me at every road-accessible checkpoint, she isn’t allowed to give me any food or equipment. For this reason, we are already thinking about our race plan — how to pack, and how to train the dogs to meet our race schedule.
October – Putting away dog salmon for winter
Every musher starts their season with a general goal in mind. That goal will not only include the races you want to run, but the style and speed in which you want to run them. You then setup a training schedule based on your goals and the dogs in your kennel. For me and our team, the main goal is finishing the Quest. I want to achieve that goal in about 12 days. The plan for the first half of the race is to run a “four on, four off” schedule (four hours of running, four hours of resting). This is considered a puppy schedule, and usually keeps the team well rested and travelling at a higher speed down the trail. As we train for a schedule like this, I want to get the young dogs into a routine of fairly short runs, followed by mandatory rest where they learn to bed down (even if they are not really tired). So, our current campouts have consisted of running twenty miles, and then sitting at a pull-off on the trail to eat a meal and curl up for a nap. This does not necessarily come easy to a group of 14 to 18 month olds that are camping together for the first time. We have a few older dogs mixed into each team that are good role models for the young ones. They help teach the yearlings how to appropriately use their straw (not to eat it and spread it all over to be peed on), eat a full meal while in harness, and be reasonably calm as another team pulls up next to us to camp (all things that are essential in racing). As the dogs become more adept at camping, we increase the distance of our runs and keep the rest times about the same as in early season. It is a pretty reasonable task to get a team prepared to run this kind of schedule in early February. I do however, also have to look at the earlier races I have planned this season, and adjust our schedule a little in order to have a team ready to 50-65 miles in early December.
Our rising star, Qarth, running with veteran racer and puppy trainer, Dome
The ATV does hold a bigger team than a sled, which is nice for taking photos
So, we increase our mileage a little faster than we would otherwise, and go to training two groups of dogs, one that is capable of the faster increase in distance and clearly enjoying it, and another group that is a little slower to build endurance and needs a little more time to mature. At this point, I have 20 main dogs in training. About 14 of those guys are going to be eligible to run our first race on December 5th. The Alpine Creek Excursion is a fun 50 to 65 mile single heat race, with a campout and dinner at Alpine Creek Lodge. This should be a fun experience for the dogs, and will give them the opportunity to be around lots of other teams and camp in a busy setting. We will have a brief recap of the race before Christmas. For now, it is time to get back on the trail.
As always, thanks for following! – Jeff
Hiked out to Eagle Summit a few weeks ago… This will be a literal “high point” for our team on the Quest