Limited North American Championship, Race Wrap-Up: Probert takes 8-dog class, Gjestson takes 6-dog, Sterling wins 4-dog.

One of, if not the, most competitive limited class sprint races in the world is held in Fairbanks at the Jeff Studdert Racegrounds every year. The fast, mostly flat trails along with a 3-day format and longer distances than most limited class events combine to make it a premier showcase for the fastest sprint dogs to show their stuff. I’m not sure how many years this event has gone on, but I’d guess it is 30 or 40. Limited class sprint racing in Alaska is relatively new to the sport, considering that open-class events like the Open North American and the Rondy have been going on for 65 and 75 years respectively. In some ways racing a sprint team at the Studdert track in Fairbanks is easier than racing some of the other sprint trails I’ve been on around the country and in Canada. That is to say the ADMA club does an excellent job of preparing the trail, there aren’t many distractions along the route, it is wide and not overly twisty, and there are no road crossings. When you launch from the club house you are ensured you will be on the safest trail possible for your dogs, and are in good hands with the ADMA club. This year the weather – mainly lack of snow – in town conspired to almost move the event outside of Fairbanks to where there is a little more snow. Thankfully a handful of ADMA volunteers got together and put in some good old fashioned manual labor on the trail to make it safe and runnable. The trail wasn’t perfect – far from it – but it was the best it could be for the conditions.One of the byproducts of the lack of snow was the inability to use the 5.9 mile trail turn. This affected 3 classes. The skijor and 4-dog were to use this as the 3rd day mileage after going 4.5 the first two days. These classes ended up running the 4.5 mile all three days. The six-dog class normally runs the 5.9 for the first two days, then bumps up to 7.7 for the last day, but they voted to run the 7.7 all three days rather than a 4.5, 4.5, 7.7 format. The temperatures hovered around the zero to 10 above F. mark all weekend, with most classes going out in the single digits. Excellent conditions for racing. Being the race that it is everyone brings their “A” game to this venue. This year was no exception. The skijor class was won by Anchorage skijorer Rebecca Knight.img::Picture15.pngJennifer Sterling, running young dogs in the 4-dog class, moved up on the last day to take 1st place.img::Picture16.pngThe six-dog class was very exciting, New York’s Dawn Brown who just arrived in town last week, was leading after 2 days over local favorite 6-dog specialist Ami Gjestson, who was down to 5 dogs for the last 2 days. This is a significant disadvantage in a small class especially when the mileage was 7.7 for 3 days. Ami held tough and on the last day, Dawn had a leader problem and Ami was there to capitalize and take her first LNAC championship!img::Picture17.pngThe 8-dog class didn’t fail to disappoint either. Local speedster Jennifer Probert raced her team to a 1 minute advantage on the first day. This was a very fast run, and some speculated that it may be too fast and that she wouldn’t be able to hold on. She eventually did just that, not winning another heat all weekend, but managing her lead with expertise and hung on to take the win. Christian Taveau who has also had an outstanding year, was bumped out of second place by Dawn Brown on the last day to finish 3rd overall. After winning the last two heats of the race I asked her what happened on day 1, “It was driver error, I didn’t take my GPS and held them back too much. I was on the mat all the way to the 7.7 turn, and I probably lost too much time. The dogs have been on the truck a while now, and I didn’t want to hurt any of the dogs.” Steve Long, from Vermont had an excellent weekend also, moving up from 6th to 4th place with a fast 3rd day run. Amanda Byrd tried hard to beat her perennial 5th place finish position but couldn’t and took home another hard earned 5th. img::Picture18.pngOn a personal note ( after all this is my blog) I didn’t have a great weekend ending up in 8th position overall. On the first day, we started out fast, maybe too fast, because for the last 3 miles or so, I had a dog in trouble and had to slow the team down. I decided to slow the team down to his pace rather than put him in the sled bag and carry him because the snow cover was so scarce I was worried about setting the hook. On the second day I went with 7 dogs, and my big wheel dog Rudy, who normally starts slow, was holding back for the first 6 miles. I kept waiting for him to kick in like he normally does, but the best he did was float for the last 5 miles. At least he wasn’t holding back. I decided to not put him through the last and longer day and just took 6 dogs on Sunday. It was a long 12.5 mile trail, but the 6 remaining dogs did their best and we had a steady, but not so fast run. Here are my GPS 1 mile splits for the first 2 days. (on day 1, I started the GPS about 1/4 mile late so the last split is longer on day 2.)img::Picture_15.pngIn retrospect, I think the team was stronger a month earlier for the Anchorage races. After the Raven Electric (which we ran well in) I ratcheted back on the training a bit, and didn’t do the “day on, day off” schedule we had been employing up till then. The weather had a bit of an influence in me slacking off training, and so did the need to get the magazine finished, but I also sensed (maybe incorrectly) that the young dogs needed a bit of a break in training and racing. I don’t think this was a wise decision looking back, but it’s water under the bridge now, and we’ll try to get some of that magic spark back for the Tok Race of Champions in 2 weeks. This sport has a way of dealing out super highs, and super lows, and after getting your shit handed to you by 7 other teams, it is hard not to feel a bit disappointed and defeated. For me that lasted for about an hour until I took the race dogs out of the truck again and looked into their eyes. They, as always, did their best, now all I have to do is spend the year creating the right situations for them to reach their potential. Next year’s race training starts today.Stay tuned for video interviews, race updates and images from the Open North American Championships this coming weekend on mushing.com.

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