The final installment of my blogs inspired by the recent European Canicross Federation Championships. The event was held for the first time in the UK, hosted by Cani-X and attended by the largest team from one country in the ECF events’ history – the UK. This blog focuses on the sports as they are experienced in the UK.
Bikejor and canicross are relatively new in the UK and originate from the more established world of mushing (dry land sledding using wheeled rigs instead of sleds). However, they seem to be taking over in terms of popularity because they are far more accessible to your average dog owner, allowing an individual with their beloved pet dog to take part in a sporting activity and compete in races alongside other runners.
The South Downs Marathon – One of the many events we have been lucky enough to participate in – Photo courtesy of Phil O’Connor Photography
Personally, I wouldn’t have taken up running had it not been for my dogs, as it is the connection I have developed with them, the bonds that are formed through training and the positive effect canicross has on all of us, that motivates me to get out there at 5am in the dark, wet and cold!
Canicross and bikejor racing has gained in popularity in the UK for the same reasons. People have seen the opportunity to train and compete with like minded people and their dogs and have experienced the benefits of canicross and bikejor with their pets.
You do not need a particular breed of dog to enjoy the sports, you do not need expensive kit and specialist gear (although if you’re taking part regularly you end up with it!) all you need is you, your dog and a simple harness, bungee line and waist belt (or bikejor attachment for biking).
One of the obvious characteristics of the sports as they have developed in the UK, is this idea that canicross and bikejor is something fun to participate in with your pet, not necessarily a serious competitive sport that means abandoning smaller, less athletic dogs breeds for the breeds known to excel in the races.
The dogs we compete with sleep on our beds at night, share our homes and our lives, not just our competitions. Our dogs take part in other activities such as agility, flyball and obedience during the summer months when it is too hot to run. I can’t imagine the sports any other way and wouldn’t want to be involved if they weren’t open to everyone and every type of dog.
That doesn’t mean to say that we’re not able to hold our own in European competitions, as our recent ECF medal haul proved. We’ve also had many UK individuals competing in various European competitions throughout 2012 with some fantastic achievements and podium places – all with our pets.
My dogs’ muscles are kept warm after racing with their very own pjs – in team colours of course!
The other thing about canicross and bikejor races in the UK is that they are held throughout the autumn, winter and spring seasons which inevitably means mud! If you’re not prepared to get wet and muddy to train and compete, then these sports will not be for you.
We have some fantastic off road trails spread all over the UK, which we can benefit from for our races and my own experience of racing has taken me from the depths of Devon, across to the beaches of Pembrey in Wales and up to the Highlands in Scotland. We’ve not made it across the water to Ireland yet but I have no doubt we will.
My dogs love the mud and there is nothing better than challenge of getting round a technical course when it is wet and ankle deep in mud. If all our races were on hard packed ground, requiring no more than steering our way around the trails, my dogs would switch off and I would not be so interested in the sports.
Losing a shoe in the mud is a regular occurrence with some of the trails we run on!
It is true to say that with bikejor in particular, the mud can cause a few issues and requires the rider to not only have a grasp of technical mountain biking but also to have very strong voice commands. It is not just a case of being able to pull your dog one way or the other to avoid the worst of the mud, you have to be able to work as a team in order to navigate and this is where true partnerships are rewarded.
To conclude: If you’re interested in either canicross or bikejor races in the UK be prepared to meet a wide variety of people who are passionate about the sports but more importantly – their dogs. The number of rescue dogs involved is an indicator of how much we care about our canine companions. So many of the dogs competing in UK races might have otherwise had a very different ending to their story without an owner who cared enough to find them an outlet for energy, which these sports provide. Also be prepared for mud, because we have lots of it in this country, due to the rain we also seem to have in abundance. Take the opportunity to enjoy getting mucky with your dog and see it as a chance to get better at running or biking, as you will find everything else easy after some of the races you may take part in!
Donnie, my rescue Sprollie who attacks every bikejor course with the heart of a lion! – (Photo/Chris Clark) © Chris Clark 2012