‘The Italy Experience’ by Leigh Marsden

Our journey started back in November 2012, when we entered the 8 dog open class at the Sleddog Association of Scotlands (SDAS) in association with CSJ Ford Estate race. We knew that to do well at this event would put us in a great position to qualify for the International Federation of Sleddg Sports (IFSS) World Championships at Falze Di Piave in Italy scheduled for November 2013.

The race trail at Ford was very technical and the weather was not on our side. Torrential rain and muddy slippery conditions forced us to err on the side of caution and drop two dogs from the team and run a 6 dog race instead. The move paid off and we won our class with the second fastest time of the weekend. So we reached our first goal and a trip to Italy was on the cards.

It was a long summer and we made our preparations, however the weather was against us yet again – warm humid temperatures are not good for training hard working sleddogs.  Very early mornings and late nights ensued to get the team into condition, lots of free running helped, but we felt that we were lacking training and it was only possible to do what we could manage. We trained more frequently with heavy shorter runs and lots of free running with the quad bike.

Time was fast approaching and we were pleased with the condition of the dogs fed on CP24 during the summer months then moving on to CP30 into September with a little Salmon Oil each meal. For the last training runs, we moved to a lighter 85kg cart and I was surprised at how easily the team ran with it and they looked strong and happy.

D Day was Tuesday 05th November 16:30 hours

We set off for Italy from Derbyshire. Our preferred method was by the channel tunnel and we arrived in France 10:30 our time. The route we chose to Italy was through Germany to Austria, then South into Italy. It was a very long drive and we arrived at Falze Di Piave, Italy on Wednesday 06th November around 11:30 hours. Now the team including the drivers and handlers could get a few rest days before the weekend of the race. We set up camp and checked the race trails a few times, carefully picking out lines and planning our strategies. The weather was very warm and humid but the forecast planned lower temperatures and rain to come.

Thursday evening started with the opening ceremony for the IFSS World Championships which was opened by the Mayor of Falze Di Piave. Teams from all over the world were in attendance flying their flags and banners. Great Britain put out an 18 member squad running and racing in all categories. This is where it became reality – we were there at the WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS!

Race Day 1

988777_10151777423395896_1821148540_nIt had rained continually all through the night and the conditions were looking incredibly difficult. The trail was very technical – a twisty turny, helter-skelter that ran alongside the river on grass and soft trail, so we knew the trail was going to be tough. We had picked the team formation before we traveled and decided that we were going to run Quinoa, a very eager and fast young female alongside our more experienced go to leader Soul. However the trail conditions and the amount of spectators forced us to go back to our very solid co-leader Millie, we knew we could be potentially slower but better to get a clean round  and put a time down on the board.

5,4,3,2,1 and Go Go Go…

We were off! The team set out at a very fast pace, but the amount of standing water was incredible and the brakes were useless, we were literally water skiing. Controlling the cart became very difficult and on a few occasions we found ourselves out of position with dogs over or under the lines. We had made it to the finish arena where a large group of public were attending and cheering over a barrier. Only a few members of the team had seen such a spectacle and this caused some of them to slow and stop thinking it was the finish line. Our experienced leader Soul pulled the team unwillingly onward, until again they picked up the pace and raced to the real finish line. We waited for the results knowing that the few mishaps would have cost us time. Soon they came through and we found ourselves sitting in 4th place 13 seconds behind 3rd and the bronze medal position and only 26 seconds behind 1st place. The race was on!

Race Day 2

1455111_10151777423580896_97332643_nAll to play for – the weather had turned for the better and hadn’t rained since the previous day, so now it was time for the young eager female Quinoa to have her turn. The team looked to have recovered well from day 1 and seemed very happy all eating and drinking well. We used the same routine as before and found ourselves on the start line. Off we went and we were flying, cutting through the difficult trail with ease. This time I had fitted my head cam so we could review the footage, after unfortunately our race had a twist in the tail at around 09:05 minutes into the race and about 1 mile from the finish line, when the steering system on the four wheel cart failed. The left hand side wheel had a mind of its ow,n flip flopping about making the cart virtually uncontrollable, I still had steering on the right hand wheel, but it was taking all my effort to keep the cart running in a straight line. The team was not slowing and we were traveling around 20mph. I thought at any moment the cart would fail completely and cause us to crash, but I needed to keep us going  and get the team back safe, so fought with the steering all the way to the finish line. We waited again for the results but thought the steering problem would have cost us dear, then to our surprise, we put in a near identical time to day one! In fact, we were slightly faster and hung on to 4th position – just incredible.

There are no words to describe how proud we are of all the team Soul, Qiunoa, Tikka, Aladin, Millie, Molly, Fenris and Pan. They worked so hard and gave everything.

The weekend ended with the closing ceremony, presentations and the handing over to Canada for the next World Championships in 2015

We left Italy for home via France – a faster route and we arrived home in the early hours of Monday 11th. Again the dogs traveled incredibly well, but we think they were pleased to be home.

Our next goal is to qualify and race at the European Championships in France 2014 where we hope this time to bring home a medal

We would like to thank everyone who helped us leading up to and at the World Championships and a very special thank you to Ceri and CSJ. In all our preparations for this race, we knew we had one thing right from the start and that was the fuel for the team CP24 and CP30. Not once during our travels of over 2000 miles have we had an upset stomach and all the team ate well from the moment we left until the moment we got home. Many factors play into getting a team like this ready for a major international event and if the food is right that’s a big part of your preparation done.

Thank you again CSJ we couldn’t have done it without you.

Leigh, Sam and the Team   

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