But Who’s Counting?

For those of you counting, there’s 116 days left until the AKC National Agility Championships. That’s 16.571 weeks according to Google. Three months and 6 days. 2784 hours. Should I stop there? Probably.

I haven’t attended the AKC nationals since 2010 when I last went with Nike. We did really well. Nike won the ISC jumpers round (lost the cumulative by a technical fault, a total bummer) and made his way to the challengers round. I remember sitting in the stands, thinking we were out of it, before I heard my name announced over the PA. That was an awesome moment, and one I won’t soon forget. We didn’t win the challengers round, it was a great experience though—even if at the time watching the finals from the stands wasn’t where I wanted to be.

A lot has changed in my life since that point. Nike had emergency surgery last summer. An unexpected and scary procedure that left him unable to compete anymore. It coincided with Bolt turning one and getting ready for his agility debut. I’m not sure what I would have done if I didn’t already have Bolt in my life at that point—I’m not sure I would have been quick to jump back into the sport again, we’d sort of been fading out the last couple years as it was. I think in the end it was meant to be. It’s how he got his name; Written in the Stars. A too long name, too serious name for a goofy puppy. But I think it suits us.

Anyway, after four years I’m gearing up for my first nationals with a dog who has been showing just over a year. I’ve had the hotel reservations saved since September when we were absolutely qualified.  My best friend since I was 6 is coming with us for moral support & to keep me sane (thanks, Jen!). So with that being said, I want to use the next 3 months; 116 days; 2700+ hours the best that I can. I don’t mean just training, because yeah, that’s important too, but there’s a lot more beyond training.

So here’s a list in progress I’ve come up with to keep in mind in the weeks/ months leading up to our first nationals together as a team. (Feel free to add your own in the comments):

  1. You’re definitely qualified. Stop counting points, QQs, weekends, etc. Yes it happened. No, you didn’t miscount. You paid $7 to see it in writing. Just enter the damn show, already. You’ll feel better once you do (even if your bank account won’t).
  2. Every show from now until March 28, 2014 is a practice run for the nationals (tryouts too, by the way). Use it like practice! You don’t need to go out to the local, weekend shows throwing out running dog walks and a-frames like you’re Lisa-freaking-Frick at the WC. Stick to your criteria. Not every run is a gold medal run and it shouldn’t be treated like one. Blue ribbons at home are nice. Medals and NACs sound a bit better though 😉
  3. Don’t obsess (too much). Pull courses from the judges. Study maps—plan. You’re good at this stuff. But don’t over-do it. You can only prepare so much, so do the best you can. Just don’t go crazy.
  4. Training agility isn’t the most crucial piece of the puzzle. Marathon runners don’t run 5 marathons a week to keep in shape—the same applies to agility. You don’t need to train full courses multiple times a week. Strength train yourself & Bolt (even if he is way stronger than you). Hike  (avoid hunters). Stretch. Eat right, and get enough sleep. Drink more water. Watching movies on the couch together is okay sometimes too. The bond is the most important thing between you two.
  5. Don’t stress. Your dog can’t stress about the future. Bolt has no idea that his second biggest event of his career is coming up. And if he did? He’d be freaking excited, not nervous. So shed that nonsense. You’ve worked too hard to be afraid to get there.
  6. Remember that it’s agility, nothing more, nothing less. Yes, it’s a huge part of your life. But we’re not curing cancer, we’re not fighting wars, we’re playing with our dogs. We get to do it on a huge, awesome stage too, so be thankful for that. Don’t take it, or yourself too seriously.
  7. YOU ARE NOT COMPETING AGAINST ANYONE BUT YOURSELF. Caps lock needed. Don’t compare yourself. Don’t compare your dog. Don’t do yourself that horrible disservice. Run and train the dog you have. Love the dog you have. He is the best dog he can possibly be for you & comparing him to anyone/anything else is unfair. Don’t watch videos of your competition. Watch videos of yourself and find ways to improve. There are always things to improve.
  8. Your dog, like you, is fallible. Don’t treat him like he can’t make mistakes, it’s unfair to both of you & isn’t a helpful mindset. Move on from mistakes; work to understand them so you can try to avoid them again in the future. Know that you will make more, as will he. Life will go on.
  9. Take the pressure away. A much easier thing to say than to do. Clear your head, think of how far you’ve come, how far you have yet to go & know that this is just a step along a much bigger road. Pressure in the right mindset can be a wonderful thing. It can make us perform better than we ever have before. But too much of it can collapse our foundation. Do your best to find balance.
  10. Remember that tryouts are less than a month after Nationals, so keep this list going for then too 😉

Enjoy the ride. Enjoy the friends (the village) you have and the dog you have by your side for this journey. Smile after every run. Keep your heart light and happy. Hug your dog. Congratulate your friends. You never know when one of them might not be there with you anymore. 

116 days to go. But who’s counting anyway?

Naps count as prep too, right?

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