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Husky ultra trail runners

March 18, 2010

They say humans are the best endurance runners but what about the huskies? Past week Iditarod, the classic trail race for superdogs & mushers has been held in Alaska. Each team of 12 to 16 dogs covered 1150 miles, approx 1850 kilometres, in 10 to 17 days. Which means they average 108–185 kilometres each day! The race course from Anchorage in south central Alaska to Nome on the western Bering sea coast isn’t a walk in the park either. The Iditarod Trail offers “jagged mountain ranges, frozen river, dense forest, desolate tundra and miles of windswept coast”. Winning musher this year was favourite Lance Mackey from Fairbanks Alaska. It was his 4th straight victory. Finishing time: 8 days, 23 hours, 59 minutes and 9 seconds. Mackey gave all the credit to his team and his leaders, especially his three year old female Maple. Click for photos.

These dogs are truly something special when it comes to endurance. In the last issue of Outside magazine there is a story about these super dogs, with VO2-max 200. When Lance Armstrong won Tour de France year after year his famous VO2-max was 85 as highest. Another example from the story: these sled dogs can run 3 K’s under 8 minutes – for 100 K’s! This special breed of sled dogs combine speed, eagerness and endurance. Many of the dogs actually get stronger during the race and want to continue running even after finishing. That’s eagerness. Anyway, scientists are trying to find out exactly how the huskies’ metabolism works, especially their ability to change fuel source from carbohydrates (glucouse) to fat. They are now trying to find the genetical signals for this ability, so we humans can learn how to use fat as primary energy source. However this would also force us to eat large amounts of fat, like these dogs. Their food consists of 60 % fat. If we ate like that we would get diabetes in no time, according to the writer. (LCHF diet followers might not agree about this, but they are probably aware of the various risks with their diet.)

But let’s get back to eagerness. A few years ago I ran with an Alaskan Malamut, which is a sturdier breed of sled-dogs. He wore a harnest, pulling several heavy chains, making loud noise along the trail. “He needs the excercise”, his owner had told me. It was winter and dark so we ran a popular 5 K running trail, and I couldn’t let this dog run loose, cause he’d run off chasing game. After the 5 K I wanted to run the loop again but when the dog recognised what we were up to he lay down and refused to continue. There was nothing else to do than walk back to the car. He wasn’t eager anymore, and that was what he needed to push forward. I think this eagerness is important also for us humans, like having a good feeling while we run, it could be enjoying the movement or discovering something new. For example, I like to run in the sunlight, seing the sun between the trees, feeling it warming my skin, making the birds happy, absorbing and experiencing this powerful force of life. The sun energizes me. Funky trails too. Secret trails. The leap of freedom into the wild, into the unknown. In my case this possibility lies just 10-15 minutes away by foot, in the forest, where old footprints in the snow slowly dissolve, where you hear birds more than the murmuring sound of the city. I think the secret of having a joyful running life is about finding what awakes your eagerness. This spring I added style to my inspirational palette. For me it means running the way I would like to, not necessarily the way I use to.

The past week we could read about “Runner killed by wolves” and “Runner killed by airplane”. Running could be fatal, but we shouldn’t forget that running also might be “the best pill ever”.

‘Nearly every top killer in the Western world–heart disease, stroke, diabetes, depression, hypertension, and a dozen forms of cancer–was unknown to our ancestors. They didn’t have medicine, but they did have a magic bullet–or maybe two, judging by the digits Dr. Bramble was holding up’
“You could literally halt epidemics in their tracks with this one remedy”, he said. He flashed two fingers up in a peace sign, then slowly rotated them downward till they were scissoring through space. The Running Man.
“So simple”, he said. “Just move your legs. Because if you don’t think you were born to run, you’re not only denying history. You’re denying who you are.”  (From “Born To Run” by Christopher McDougall)

And finally, if you feel a bit stiff, you might would consider doing some stretching.

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