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Reaching the finish line with your own dogs feels like a victory in itself

Lanullva Å komme i mål med egne hunder føles som en seier i seg selv

Feminist race 2024

Around you, Røros' narrow streets are filled with eager dogs and expectant dog walkers. Loud dog barking, nerves and chaos.

High fives and cheers follow you up Kirkegata. You hold your breath through the fabled 90° turn. Then it's quiet and the tension runs out of control.

You are finally up and running. You and the dogs.

When Annbjørg Bakken was 10 years old, she wrote a note to herself. The message was crystal clear:

"You're going to be a dog walker when you grow up!!! Even if you have
change your mind now and you will become a dog walker!"

Annbjørg keeps her childhood dream, and eventually moves to Finnmark to work for one of the country's best long-distance teams. Three years later, she takes part in Europe's longest race; Finnmarksløpet, an adventure of 1200 km. Together with the dogs from Jotka Fjellstue, Annbjørg becomes the best first-time runner and woman across the finish line. She drives to an impressive 5th place, and is nominated for the award for best dog grooming.
"It's on the run that you learn the most. You are really challenged by what you have trained for, and that is often when you get dogs that surprise, take responsibility and show what lives in them," says the 29-year-old who now lives in Ålen, Trøndelag.
The years in Finnmark give the girl from Lillehammer the knowledge she needs to start for herself. Today, Annbjørg is well underway with her second racing season on her own, and in her kennel there are 15 eager huskies. A big contrast from when she was a child added 'dog' on all the mother's shopping lists in the hope that a four-legged friend would come home from the grocery store.
Last year's Femundløp did not go quite according to plan as both dogs and driver had to retire due to illness. "This year, on the other hand, I have decided that we will definitely make this happen," says Annbjørg firmly. The strategy is to enjoy yourself and rest a lot.
"It's extra great to drive with your own dogs. You get a completely different ownership of everything you do," explains Annbjørg, who is running the Femundløpet's 450 km distance this year. "I really feel like this is my race."
Annbjørg and the dogs at a checkpoint
The temperatures settle well below early -30°, and even Annbjørg has to admit that it tears well in the lungs along the way. Dressing for varying activities in such cold is no easy task.

"You're standing there on the sledge dressed for the freezing cold, and then suddenly you have to run up a mountain. Such off -and-on work would usually make me clammy, and so very cold, but with several layers of wool from Lanullva it went really well."

Despite the cold, the Trønder winter landscape offers several magical experiences, and over the mountain towards Søvollen, dog walkers get a rare sunset. Around Annbjørg, the sun colors the mountain peaks red, and in front of the sled eight dogs walk in fine rhythm. This is the payment for all the hard work, for everything you sacrifice throughout a season and the long hours of autumn training in rain, sleet and mud.
"Over the mountain there, I cried a little on the sled," admits Annnjørg. "My dogs work so incredibly well in all the headwinds we encounter, and with that sunset as well. That's how you get moved."
Distributed at the Søvollen and Tynset checkpoints, three of the dogs are released with minor injuries. Lykke, Centi and Kora thus get to drive with the traders for the rest of the race.
As the results lists in long-distance dog sledding often show, it is not a given that you will reach the finish line. During long races, it is important to make good choices, look after the dogs from the start and have a bit of luck. Small mistakes and accidents can have a big impact after several hundred kilometres.
"I really enjoy working with animals, and in a sport like dog sledding, animal welfare is very important," says Annbjørg. "It is then safe to know that you can also make good choices and still think about animal welfare with the clothes you wear. With Lanullva you know you are getting ethical production and that the sheep are doing well."
Driving the last 200 km with five dogs can be a tough task, but Annbjørg is optimistic. "So far, we have run nicely and gracefully, and the five dogs that are left are incredibly good. So if I continue to make the right choices, we will get all the way to the finish line.”
From the last checkpoint of the race, the five remaining dogs howl and jump with eagerness. There is no doubt that Loki, Nasa, Lava, Grim and Grå are ready for the trip over the mountains towards Røros.
"Seeing that joy so far into the race is overwhelming as a driver. You are very moved by the fact that they still want to work their ass off after running so far," says Annbjørg proudly.
The last stage begins with steep downhills, and Annbjørg's dogs work like gods. Every time there is a sign to stop, the leader dog Loki starts a bark while jumping in the harness.
"Running to the finish line with my own dogs after a training season with difficult tracks and uncertainties - then it's really great to make it happen, even if you end up in the middle of the results list, it feels like a victory," says a clearly moved dog runner who reached the finish line with dogs still wanting to run on.
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