For the second year in a row, IdeaScale was glad to sponsor Brian Berube in Alaska’s k300 dog sled race. This week, I had some time to talk to him about his racing experience. Please enjoy the interview below!
IS: How many years have you participated in the k300? And how did you get into it?
Brian Berube: It’s actually the Bogus Creek 150, that I do. And I’ve been doing this for just for a year, I got started last October. I’ve always loved dogs and after you start, you find yourself in the middle of eighteen lives that totally depend on you and then you’re sort of just “in it.” I knew the daughter of a woman who couldn’t run last year and so I got started from there.
IS: You race with a team of ten dogs. What are their names and how do you determine what order they race in?
BB: Well, there are eighteen in the kennel and after working with them all year, you pick the ten best for the race. The lead dogs were Steve Nash and Foxy. The lead dogs are the smartest one. In this case, I sort of balance them out: I have one smart one and one kind of ballsy one. The smart one steers and the ballsy one keeps ‘em moving forward. The rest of the dogs in the middle are the raw horse power. That’s Sugar and Diva as the swing dogs and Posey, Honey, Benito, and Brandi as the team dogs. Then Link the Stink and Berube are the wheel dogs. And the wheel dogs are the ones that pull you from that starting position and get you moving again. They are generally the largest and strongest dogs.
IS: How do you train the dogs (and yourself) to run a race like the Bogus Creek 150?
We train pretty much year-round. In the summer we’re doing 15-20 minute pulls where they pull me around on a four-wheeler in neutral. Starting in late August, we’re running on the bare tundra. They pull the sled on the tundra and over time, we just keep increasing the mileage. I’d say we had at least 700-800 miles of training before the race. I run them about 3-4 times a week. Some days it’s 100 miles and sometimes it’s just 5 and it just kind of varies in between. You figure out which dogs work best together, what sort of work they want to do. There are a thousand different nuances that you have to learn about each dog before you can use the to their fullest potential.
IS: How do you protect those paws in the snow?
BB: Well, these dogs are bred to run and that means that their paws are pretty resilient. For the longer runs, we put boot all the dogs. It’s basically just a sock with a piece of Velcro over the top of it. Their feet are really pretty tough though, I mean, they’re incredibly hardy animals. They deal with quite a lot. Like in the summer on the tundra, there are just bumps and all sorts of different terrain that humans cannot even walk through without injuring themselves. If you notice that one dog is having trouble, you work your way up the legs to see what’s wrong. But I’ve only ever had one dog even limp or anything. I mean, they’re selectively bred to do this over the course of a couple thousand years – so they’re pretty solid.
IS: What was the race like this year?
BB: The temperature was actually pretty good for the race this year (somewhere around -10 degrees – last year it was -70). And on the way home we had some pretty bad wind. And really, the snow’s not very deep – it’s mostly just windblown and icy. In some of the more wooded parts the snow was deep and that tired my dogs out since they aren’t so used to that. But still – the trail’s pretty well-marked (every hundred there’s a stick with a reflector on it). Basically it was about a 20-hour ride total.
IS: Do the dogs rest?
BB: Yes, every 75 miles, there’s a mandatory four-hour break. We feed the dogs and let them sleep. If we didn’t do that, the dogs would just run themselves into the ground. I mean – they really have this natural desire to just run forever. It’s
like their whole purpose in life.
IS: What happens to the retired dogs?
BB: We keep them. They’re really pack animals and so it’s hard to separate them from the rest of the dogs and just send them to live in different homes. They all live together all the time and that’s the only life that they know.
The old school of thought, was to put down the animal after it couldn’t run them any more. But we want to make sure that we find them families where they can still stay together – isolating them is actually pretty cruel. They just howl for their family all night long.
For puppies, it’s different. They aren’t as embedded in the pack culture and can still go to a family. They’re great dogs; they’re pretty much bred to have an even-temper and they’re pretty mild mannered.
IS: How did IdeaScale contribute to your team?
BB: Well, apart from sponsoring me for the race, Rob also comes along and helps with dogs from time to time. During the race, he comes out at different check-points and brings some food to the camp. This year, he even gave a dog I had to drop a ride home in his lap. Also – they gave me a really nice sweater this year. So IdeaScale contributes in a couple of different ways.
IS: So will you run again next year?
BB: Definitely. We had two older dogs that ran with us this year (one’s 11 and one’s 12), but we still have at least 14 to pick from for next year, but the majority
of the team will still be the same.
Thanks for representing IdeaScale in the k300, Brian. We definitely look forward to next year’s race as well!