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From the RSH Archives
Winter 1990

Strategy from Sled Dog Racing's Winners:

An Interview with Jim Welch

Part Three

Racing Savvy is proud to present the third of several segments of an interview between RSH's racing editor Rick Petura and Jim Welch, the successful Alaskan musher and author of The Speed Mushing Manual. This valuable book, which has received high praise from some of the world's top mushers, was published in 1989 by Sirius Publishing.

RSH Racing Editor:  Would the basic pace of a group of dogs change because a person decided to run them only 6 miles rather than 12 miles?

Jim Welch: When conditioning dogs, one usually builds from shorter miles to longer miles. If the distance is increased gradually, the basic pace can be maintained for longer distances. There comes a point, however, when as the distance increases the basic pace will drop off somewhat unless the team size is increased or the load lightened. This is why Open Class teams can maintain the same speed for longer distances than limited class teams.

This is why drivers of Open Class teams will increase the size of their training units when they start going longer miles (over 12 miles). The first two times I ran the (Fur) Rendezvous, I had been finishing in the top three in all the races leading up to it. I had a small kennel and was used to training in 8-dog units, so when I started putting 16-mile runs on them, they handled it with no problem, BUT THEIR PACE SLOWED DOWN. The answer was to increase the team size of the training unit when the distance was extended to those levels.

This is about as productive as running a motor behind a team of slack-lined dogs. You can be sure that when these dogs have to pull during a race, they will slow down. Who could blame them?

For the same reason, this is why limited class teams should avoid training in larger units than they are intended to race in. If you plan to race the 6-dog class, don't train in 8-dog units. I know of one fellow who races in the 5-dog class who likes to put all 10 of his dogs together for "speed" runs. This is about as productive as running a motor behind a team of slack-lined dogs. You can be sure that when these dogs have to pull during a race, they will slow down. Who could blame them?

The shorter the race, the closer the basic pace can be to the physical speed limits of the dog team. A longer race requires slightly more efficient pacing.

The shorter the race, the closer the basic pace can be to the physical speed limits of the dog team.

In Anchorage, the Exxon Open (two 16-mile heats) occurs two weeks before the Fur Rendezvous (three 25-mile heats).  Charlie Champaine will not run farther than 16-mile runs run to the Exxon Open. Two days after that, however, he goes home and starts putting 20-mile runs on his dogs, running them every other day. This breaks their pace down just enough so that they can race the [Rondy's] long distance more efficiently. He wants to go into the Rendezvous with a basic pace of about 18 mph.

So the answer to the original question would depend on how many dogs are in the team in question, and how fast they were traveling at a distance of 12 miles. If a 5-or 6-dog team has been running steadily at 12 miles, their most appropriate basic pace for a six-mile run would almost certainly be faster. Shortening the miles in their training runs would be a good first step to increasing that basic pace.

In Part Four, Jim will address this question: "If basic pace training entails conditioning dogs to run steadily at a speed they can't yet hold to steadily, how do you get enough 'relevant' conditioning on them so they are able to hold a steady pace?"


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1990 by Heritage North Press, 2013 by R&BP
It will be continued in Part Four, to be
posted at RSH Online
in partnership with WorkingDogWeb.

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