All the athletes prepare whole year for this event, including their dogs. Last few months I spend training my own dogs, as I knew I want to have fun and good experience before Masi will have his shoot. Unfortunately as for many athletes out there, my plans didn’t go according to plan: Roger got unwell and couldn’t train. I also knew Laferra just can’t do ICF as it is very chaotic and a lot of things happen on the trails, so for my little shy girl it was too much. I got an offer of a Dutch Racing Dog Buffy which I am very thankful as Buffy took my experience to a different level. After last year not the most successful and positive experience, Buffy really showed me that with the right attitude from both of us we can have actually so much fun.
We arrived on Thursday, which gives you in my opinion enough time to check trails, do the vet check and catch up with friends. There were strict rules for when the trails were open and straight from driving whole night I was influenced to go and check the trails. Oh, wait! Influenced to jog it even better eh!. Wow those trails really will take out a lot of my legs and unfortunately my recovery recently hasnt been the best, as my legs felt tired and heavy constantly. I blame myself due to fact that changing the country and still figuring out the diet here has been a struggle for me.
The afternoon was full of rest for all of us.
Day 2 which was Friday, brings the official opening ceremony and vet check. I decided to take my racing dog for a wee stroll just to see if she will even run for me! (I am glad she did, as I dont know what I would have done otherwise!). Well the vet check looked a little bit chaotic as people were going there without respecting the allocated times for the teams, so I decided to skip the queues and wait for the last 10min of team Poland slot. I took Buffy on my own, and she was very good. Luckily no queues and just us at the vet check! The vets were superb as I asked them to be gentle with her, and they were! Buffy was a superstar and not bothered about anything. I was glad we could be just two of us, as I could get to know how she behaves around busy tent.
Ok vet check was easy! we passed and we were ready to start racing tomorrow. Buffy got her well deserved rest and I took Mr Masi out and let him experience all too.
Well first funny enough he met his breeder…. oh he recognised them <3 his face was priceless and he couldnt hold his pee! haha
He first went to say hi to friends in that vet check tent, later in big warm tent (oh yes they organised heated up tent- great to keep warm before start)!. Masi very happy and not phased by anything there. Some dogs wanted to eat him even but he was not bothered at all. I am super proud as I really wanted to have a confident dog.
Finally opening ceremony in that big warm tent, so I decided to stay out. Masi was really a superstar, saying hi to all new dogs and people without any problems. Very happy but in future I would prefer keep him away from too many people saying hi to him 😉 For his first time he was amazing, playing with puppies too.
Nerves started to kick in, what if Buffy decided she doesnt want to do it, what if something else will happen…. My head was spinning and I wasn’t really in the game. I felt like maybe this is not right and I was worrying that mud will make me injured. But hey ho I should have been more positive! So we went out there….. oh gosh the rain was horrendous and it was cold. Roger and Laferra didn’t even want to get out of the car. I went out there to check hows my racing dog and see starts/finishes of bikers. I was very glad to have my snowboard trousers and winter jacket.
I wasn’t even trying to get my phone out and take photos as it was really heavy rain! All good, my nerves were kicking even more. And for the first time it kicked in that I was very alone at this event. Everyone else was busy with their own starts or helping their own countries/families. I felt like I am alone and not even going out there with my own dog. I thought I need to stop feeling that way, and just started to warm up. Oh it was cold. I agreed with Buffy owner that he will help and take Buffy as far as possible to the box with me. This was very awesome as I could jump, run around and just stay warm.
13:17 our box nr 3 was closing, if you missed that you missed your chance for run. They were very strict with this. I took Buffy and we are in. I am literally sh***** myself like never before. I try to bend over her so she doesnt get cold or wet. Oh come on time, it doesnt move quickly, I can see runner by runner starting with only 15 sec between, one by one… Oh they call us… ohh there is no person ahead of us so we have 30sec to catch a person in front. My heart is pounding but I can feel how much Buffy wants to do this.
10…. 5… oh there we go, we are off…. I keep saying to myself: pace pace pace this is going to be long run over 5km.
Buffy flew and never had any doubts of anything on the trails. After few meters I knew she is loving it and I can trust her. We were going for it overtaking one by one and only being overtaken by three teams. Buffy was 99% perfect only once when the team ahead didnt move to side and stayed in the middle, she wanted to say hi. However having experience from previous races I hold her on and we continue overtaking to run more.
Oh my legs really felt that mud and all of those hills. Buffy struggled a little bit too, but we kept going! She wasnt phased by any of the people or photographers on the side.
Oh Day 1 done and we finish 50th. I have mix emotions but I am super happy we ran and finished without any trouble on the trails, even tho once again it was super busy on those trails, never had a minute to be alone.
Time for rest.
I decided even tho the rain continue to take Masi out to start/finish line just so he can see the whole thing. Well he thought he is going for a run and dragged me through the mud. I need to remember to wear grippy shoes with that boy! Once again happy to be around and even met his half sister who lives in France and loved her (got muddy from trying to play with her). Yes another day that he showed me he isnt bothered about anything around him! Yass super happy.
Day 4- Sunday took me to think again about everything, slightly disappointed with my performance from yesterday, I had another thought.
Despite everything I ditched volleyball few years ago to be out on trails with my boy Roger… everything changed! I started learning how to run, every single step was new for me. Being out there just with a dog was something different mentally! I never sat down and I continue, never was easy due to fact I am just not natural at this running as much as I was on volleyball court.
Found princess Laferra who was very challenging for training, as she was literally scared of everything and needed to learn how to pull. Lesson for both of us.
Three years later I step on the most mentally challenging course with Buffy, that I always had my eyes on but never knew what she can do for me. Love that dog. Over 5km mentally tough course up and down, sucking your feet mud, and slippy downhills. On Day 2 I fully trusted Buffy and just followed her steps, oh wow even tho it was seeded start we have overtaken two teams.
This was the hardest race of my life. I am proud I finish, but at the same time feels all these early morning training well… But as my best friend said I improved a lot and I should be proud that I was out there and did it. Buffy and I finished 45th in very strong category Elite Canicross of 82 runners in the European Championship.
I take all these experience and lessons, but it is mentally hard! Yes noone said it is easy but I just continue with my head down being focus on the future with Masi.
I think many of us at ICF are pleased that they finished the two days racing in those conditions! Coming to finish on Day 2 was just the best feeling ever. I think those photos taken by Camille Paris shows how much it all meant to all of us!
Thank you Belgium and ICF organisers/Belgian organisers for some unique experience. I am proud and happy I was a part of it all.