Last night, I watched most of Round 4 of the NADAC Championships on Eric Larsen's live feed. I've always had doubts that I would have the stamina to "run" the longer courses that are designed for the Championships, but I think with a little bit of conditioning on my part plus the distance skills Belle possesses, I just might be able to make it without collapsing at around obstacle #25.
I tried to create a course map using Eric's video. It will probably need tweaking if I ever manage to find enough tunnels to set it up. However, for my training purposes, it will enable me to set up exercises to practice the skills needed to handle the challenges presented by this course.
The opening, #1-#5 is extremely fast and was handled in many different ways. Those who started with their dogs had to have very solid distance skills to get their dog to #5. Taking a modest lead out enabled the fleet of foot to run with their dogs through this section. For those with good distance skills, a modest lead out provided the opportunity to handle #3-#5 either without layering the weaves or layering them. #5 was not necessarily a gimme if you chose to layer the weaves. Although many dogs committed to #5 upon exiting #4, many others took the off-course jump when their handlers failed to maintain pressure on their the line.
If the handler fell behind, coming out of the #7 tunnel provided many dogs with ample opportunity to spin and bark in frustration. The smoothest handling of this area involved being ahead of the dog. A few handlers were enough ahead that they were able to execute a front cross between #7 and #8. This turned out to be a HUGE advantage since nearly half the dogs running took the off-course jump (#14) instead of turning left after #9 and taking the hoop. For the few handlers that did the first front cross, a second between #10 and #11 made it pretty clear where the true path was. #12 through #17 was pretty straightforward.
Using what I learned from watching 100+ dogs run this course, my virtual plan for running the first half with Belle is as follows: Lead out between the first tunnel and the dogwalk--keeping as far to the right as #16 will allow. Pace myself so that I don't pass the plane of the weaves and send Belle to #3. Layer the weaves being sure to put pressure on Belle's line from #4 to #5 while I continue sliding to my right so I can do a front or blind cross between #7 and #8. This puts me in an excellent position to do another front cross between #10 and #11, thus avoiding the very looming off-course jump after #9. Run with Belle on my left and send her to the tunnel under the dogwalk.
I think we could execute this handling plan if I kept my handling spot on. However, the last half of the course would definitely require further training.
A rear cross between the weaves and jump #19 was the surest way to keep the dogs out of the off-course tunnel. (However, even that didn't always work.) Not layering the weaves was also the easiest way to handle the turn from tunnel #21 back to tunnel #22. Unfortunately, once again the #5/#23 tunnel is not a gimme, and if you have to handle the entry, that puts you way behind your dog for the finish. For many of the teams, the two tunnel finish ate up five or more seconds in spinning and/or redirecting!
(A spot that caused trouble for some of the less experienced teams was the tunnel/A frame/tunnel discrimination. For the handlers that had to think about handling the discrimination, there was either a bobble in the dog's line or an off-course. Those that ran as if there were no discrimination, usually had no problem--their dog took the A frame with conviction.)
This leads me to two different scenarios for my theoretical run with Belle, both of which require skills we don't currently possess.
First scenario: I work on improving Belle's response to the turn command so that I don't have to rear cross after the weaves. That would enable me to hang back and direct her on the tricky return to tunnel #22. But doing this while layering the weaves would also take additional training on turning sharply. I would run between #7 and the A-frame and send Belle on to finish the tunnels. This would require further "go on" training since I would be seriously falling behind once Belle hit the A-frame.
The second scenario begins similarly, but entails being able to handle Belle from further away and layering so that I can run the red line which would enable me to be a token presence at the last obstacle. To me this is the much better option. My yardage is shortened considerably, plus I can be a part of the finish. Handling #18 through #22still calls for additional training in executing sharp turns accurately, but the rest of the plan is more a matter of increasing the handling distance we're comfortable with.