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From the RSH Archives
Winter 1990 Issue

Strategy from Sled Dog Racing's Winners:

An Interview with Jim Welch
Musher & Author of The Speed Mushing Manual

Part One

Racing Savvy is proud to present the first 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:    First, would you please define what you mean in your book by basic pace training?

Jim Welch: Though basic pace is trained into dogs, the term "basic pace training" is a little misleading. No matter what kind of training you use, your dogs will develop a basic pace: fast, slow or in-between.

What I mean by "basic pace" is that speed a dog team will travel on its own, with no help, urging or commands from the driver. This is the speed the dogs settle into after the initial starting burst.

Training dogs to have a certain basic pace can include a host of training methods, including slow heavy pulling, interval training, or steady fast runs. It does not demand one exclusive method. In fact, training dogs to have a certain basic pace is an end goal, not a particular method at all.

"Training dogs to have a certain basic pace can include a host of training methods...."

Interval training, for example, is not the antithesis of "basic pace training." You train dogs to have a basic pace. This is not the only pace they have (hopefully), nor is it necessarily achieved by always traveling at that steady basic pace. Interval training can well be incorporated into a training program that also wants to pay attention to basic pace.

As you condition dogs for any length of time, they come to have a basic pace. By manipulating different factors, a trainer can influence what that basic pace will be. The speed level of a basic pace results from the combined influence of many factors.

Among the most important are:

1.  Genetics -- A dog cannot go faster than he is physically endowed (both in conformation and metabolism). And although the basic pace is never the dog's fastest possible speed, if you conceptualize the basic pace as a percentage of the dog's top speed, it is easy to see that it is easier to have and to hold a faster basic pace if your best possible speed is greater to start with.

This is the advantage for the genetically gifted dog and the driver fortunate enough to own it. You can try to compensate by manipulation of the following factors, but only to a point. You cannot go faster than the limits of the raw material with which you start.

2. Health and nutrition -- A less than perfectly healthy, optimally nourished dog will not perform as well, as easily nor as fast as a healthier, better fed counterpart.

3. Physical condition -- as fundamentally obvious as it may seem, too many dog drivers ignore how much more easily a well conditioned athlete can run fast, run far and maintain a higher basic pace than an under-conditioned team can. Think of the times when you yourself were in poor physical shape and the effort and difficulty it took to accomplish the same task that was easily done when you were in good shape.

4. Training -- A driver can influence the basic pace of his team in training by manipulating several factors, including size of team, distance of training runs, frequency of training runs, the load the team is pulling, position of dogs within the team, and so on.

He can also motivate his team to want to do the job or he can squash any desire to work at all.

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1990 Heritage North Press, 2013 by R&BP

This interview is continued in Part Two
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