Why we race (when we know we’re not going to win)

When we first got into canicross we’d never done any dog sports competitively (unless you count a failed attempt at a flyball show!) so it was quite daunting going along to a ‘race’ particularly as I’d not taken part in a running race since I was at school. But it was explained to me that I didn’t need to be fast to enter and it was all about having fun with your dogs. That first race with CaniX got me hooked and from that point on, I knew this was something I wanted to do regularly. However I never have been and never will be, a fast runner, so why did I want to keep entering races I knew I wasn’t going to win?

Our very first CaniX race at Stanton Country Park – Photo courtesy of Chillpics

The answer lies in the whole experience of racing, not just the races themselves. To take part in a race there is an element of training, you need to have spent time before the race, building up your distances, making sure your dogs are happy to run alongside other dogs, other people and also working out what equipment will suit you best. This training also builds a strong bond with you and your dogs, you have good days and bad days, all of this can only be achieved through teamwork and working with your dogs to make improvements.

I joined plenty of social canicross runs, driving over an hour each way in some cases to go and run with people I’d never met before. I was welcomed with open arms (and cake in most cases) and began to develop friendships on the back of my training for the races. I could never have imagined myself regularly entering races previously but there was something special about the events that made me want to do more. I just enjoyed taking my dogs to new places and meeting new people who didn’t see my dogs’ slightly unruly behaviour as a problem, they accepted it and helped me channel that behaviour into something positive.

Social canicross runs are a great way to train your dog to get used to being alongside others and part of building up your dogs’ confidence to race

The more races I went to, the more people I met who had similar interests to me and I quickly made some really good friends who I still see regularly nearly 8 years later. Now I still use races as a way of meeting people but also to get my dogs to new parts of the country I haven’t seen before and to socialise them in a way that doesn’t stress them out, with people who understand what it’s like to own dogs who might not be perfectly behaved.

I also started to get a feel for who in my category was a similar standard to me and that gave us something to train for. If I was only 20 seconds behind someone in one race I would try and improve my times at home so I could beat that person by 20 seconds the next time we raced. I also learnt a lot from other people at races and still do, everyone has a slightly different approach to racing and training and so by talking to people about their dogs and their routines, I have picked up great information to use to make changes to my own habits.

Spending time with other people who are doing the sport allows you to pick up training tips, learn from them and vice versa

Of course we have had some successes too, when you work hard and give yourself goals then anything is possible and together with my dogs we have been placed in many National races and Championships in the 8 years we’ve been racing but the majority of the time we don’t race to win and more often than not we are not being placed these days. Someone said to me last year that the dogs believe they have won every single race if you tell them they have and it really struck a chord with me. So now I tell my dogs every time we cross a finish ‘well done, you’ve won’ and it sounds daft but they don’t know or don’t care if we’ve won but my excitement and praise lets them know they’ve done well and that’s what counts.

So it is everything about racing that we love, not just the race itself. The time you spend, training you do and bonding with your dog all creates an experience which I personally wouldn’t want to live without now. We’ve done local races, national races and European level races and can honestly say all of them have given us so much enjoyment no matter where we have placed. If you’re thinking about racing but don’t feel confident, my advice would be just to give it a go because so much of the fun is in the preparation and social side of it, whether or not you actually do well in the race is down to your perspective on it. My dogs ‘win’ every time and the happy look on their faces is all that matters to us. Happy trails!

Whether or not we win, we enjoy the whole experience of racing and the dogs ‘win’ every time!

 

K9 Trail Time A-Z of Canicross – S is for Sport

We’re still working our way through the A-Z of Canicross and so now we’re at ‘S’ we can’t ignore the fact that canicross is a recognised sport, with it’s own races and even different championship series taking place all over the UK, Europe and the world. Canicross was also recently added to the Kennel Club listed activities, although we would suggest going to one of the more experienced clubs and organisations who have actually been involved in the sport for over 10 years if you’re looking for up to date information and advice. One such organisation is CaniX http://www.canix.co.uk who set up the first race series specifically for canicross in the UK and are still holding events all over the country today. Another of the largest clubs who organise races and who offer training, advice, and kit to try, is the Canicross Midlands group http://www.canicrossmidlands.co.uk/. Although canicross is now known as a sport, CaniX and Canicross Midlands have always encouraged people to run with their own pets and to just enjoy the bond you can create with your dog through running together. As the sport has developed many people are beginning to take the racing side of canicross more seriously and have invested in purpose bred dogs (mainly originating in Europe) to compete in higher level races such as those organised by the BSSF (British Sleddog Sport Federation) and the IFSS (International Federation for Sleddog Sports). However, whilst these dogs are beautiful athletes, there is no need for you to change from your pet dog to enjoy canicrossing with your four legged friend and we would suggest that the most fun you can have is in seeing your dog simply enjoying activity with you, keeping you both fit and healthy. Our slogan is after all, active dogs are happy dogs, and so for ‘S’ in our A-Z of Canicross we have chosen to highlight the fact that canicross is a sport that anyone with a dog can enjoy!

Although canicross is a sport with it’s own races, it is also something that can be enjoyed by anyone with their pet dog – Photo courtesy of Dylan Trollope

K9 Trail Time A-Z of Canicross – Q is for Quick (you don’t have to be)

One of the most common things that people say to me about why they haven’t gone to a canicross race is that they don’t feel they are quick enough to enter, so I wanted to make the ‘Q’ in our A-Z of Canicross represent the word quick and explain why you don’t have to be! Canicross is growing so quickly in the UK because it provides an outlet for many dogs and their owners to engage in an outdoor activity which is good for both. Canicross racing for most people is just a way to challenge themselves to get better and give themselves a goal to aim for. I have been competing now for eight years and have never been quick but I have enjoyed running at many different venues and met so many like minded people by attending the events. If you are very competitive and want to improve, racing is a great way to improve your times but being a fast runner is not a pre-requisite for entering and I would always encourage anyone to have a go regardless of your speed. Of course you don’t have to race at all, there are now so many fantastic canicross groups who arrange regular fun runs that you can enjoy the social aspect of canicross with your dog without ever making it to a race. The canicross groups will always cater for every level too and even the slowest of runners will not get left behind.  It is for that reason I’ve chosen the word ‘quick’ for my Q in the K9 Trail Time A-Z of Canicross, as in, you don’t have be quick to enjoy this fantastic sport with your dog.

I think we enjoy our canicross racing more because we’re not quick, it’s gives us time to enjoy the scenery! – Photo courtesy of Horses for Courses Photography

So you don’t want to race?

Recently I’ve heard a number of people say that they’re not interested in taking part in races with their dog. Reasons for this seem to be related to people feeling they will be too slow, not knowing how their dogs will react to a race situation or just not feeling that they want to travel for a race which might be less distance than they run at home. All of these things I can understand but I would like to use this blog to encourage people to come along to a race and have a go.

I personally never thought in a million years I would enjoy racing. I’ve never considered myself a runner and I hadn’t been on a bike since I was about 8 years old, so if you’d told me before I started all this that I’d be competing in European Championship canicross and bikejor events, I would have laughed in your face.

We have now competed in two European Championships in both Canicross and Bikejor

We have now competed in two European Championships in both Canicross and Bikejor

It was a friend of mine who mentioned the canicross racing to me and suggested that I should give it a go, in her words she described it as ‘wonderful madness’ and I liked the sound of that, so signed myself up. Of course I didn’t go to a race without having done some training first. I’d been running with my dogs for a few months before I entered my first race and I was pretty nervous about what to expect, not having been in a running race since I was in school.

The whole process was very laid back and put me at ease right from the start, with plenty of information about rules on the website when I entered and the race organisers holding a briefing for runners to explain how the race would be run. Nothing could have prepared me for the start line however! The sound of close to 100 dogs all excited and all raring to go is quite something to behold.

Is your dog ready for the stress of a start line? - Photo courtesy of tzruns.com

Mass starts are actually quite rare but even with a mass start the racers ensure their dogs have enough space – Photo courtesy of tzruns.com

At this point I’d like to reassure anyone who is thinking about racing, the dogs are generally all kept a good distance apart, with runners understanding that in situations like this the dogs’ excitement can lead to unwanted behaviours such as lunging, therefore the focus of the runners is always on the dogs.

The race itself (once you are off the start line) is generally very quiet and all you hear is the sounds of the dogs panting and runners or bikers puffing hard in their efforts. The odd directional command for the dog or warning to another competitor is all you should hear when you’re out on the trail unless you choose to start up a conversation with another runner (which has been known to happen in my case!).

Once you are out on the course it can be a relaxed and quiet experiencing racing on the trails - Photo courtesy of Houndscape

Once you are out on the course it can be a relaxed and quiet experience racing on the trails – Photo courtesy of Houndscape

One of my concerns was how my reactive dog would handle a situation in which lots of other dogs would be passing shoulder to shoulder, and knowing that I’m not a very quick runner, I knew there would be plenty of people overtaking me. What I found was that as long as I kept her under control at the start and just asked people to give me space when overtaking, that she has learned to accept other dogs passing very closely and in fact is focused on her ‘job’ and will run happily alongside dogs she would not tolerate standing with under normal circumstances.

I have now competed in well over 100 races and can honestly say I don’t take part for the prizes or the thrill of the race. I enter races to see new parts of the country, to run on trails I would otherwise never know to explore and also to meet up with the many like-minded friends I have made over the years. For me however, the main reason I race is the fun the dogs have when they are out doing the activities they love. It makes me so happy to see them excited and and also how relaxed they are and how well they sleep after a weekend away socialising and racing with friends.

The dogs may enjoy some of the prizes but they aren't bothered by the rosettes, medals and trophies!

The dogs may enjoy some of the prizes but they aren’t bothered by the rosettes, medals and trophies!

So if you are considering taking part in a canicross or bikejor race, my advice would be to go for it, if you don’t like it, you haven’t lost anything except the cost of a race weekend and if you do like it, you may just open up a whole new world of fun and friendship for both you and your dog.

Happy trails and hope to see you at an event soon!

 

 

Canicrossing the Cotswold Way – Completed!

After completing the Cotswold Way (officially 102.5 miles but we made it about 106) over 5 days with the dogs, canicrossing the trails successfully, I thought I would do a last blog to sum up what we learned from the experience, in case anyone else is considering a long distance trail with their dogs.

CW Finish circle

The circle at the end (or beginning) of the Cotswold Way – Photo courtesy of Colin Roberts Photography

The first thing I would say is that I don’t think I would have wanted to do this without a support team. There were moments when I knew that if I had needed someone to collect one of the dogs, a van was never very far away and that was reassuring with some of the terrain we were covering.

Having the support crew waiting in vans for us was a must!

Having the support crew waiting in vans for us, was a must!

The fact it was much warmer than I had anticipated it being, had meant I was concerned about canicrossing in the heat. I am always very cautious about running dogs in higher temperatures and especially higher humidity. In the past I have shared this article:

Can My Dog Get Heat Stroke?

which I feel is a great reference for anyone who is unsure of what to look for in overheating in dogs. We kept a close eye on the dogs at every stage and had no problems at all over the 5 days.

The next thing I think we got spot on was the kit – for the dogs, we were sponsored for this challenge by Arctic Wolf who provided us with these fantastic Multi-Sport Harnesses for the dogs:

http://www.k9trailtime.com/shop/dragrattan-multi-sport-harness.html

The harnesses are a great mix between a short and long style harness and worked really well over the 100 odd miles, providing a comfortable and practical option for the dogs to run in when they were pulling and when we needed them to walk with us.

The lines we used were these:

http://www.k9trailtime.com/shop/arctic-wolf-line.html

which were amazing, lightweight but tough, I even got mine caught on barbed wire as Donnie made his way through a gate. The sharp barb actually went right through the webbing but it didn’t fray and the strength wasn’t compromised.

We are grateful to all our sponsors for the fab kit

We are grateful to all our sponsors for the fab kit

The belts were the other important part of our kit and we were lucky enough to have been given these Ergo belts:

http://www.k9trailtime.com/shop/dragrattan-ergo-belt.html

These belts are well padded, sit low on the hips and have a sliding clip on the front of the belt to attach your line to. The Ergo belts are also very adjustable so fit a wide range of sizes.

With regard to kit for ourselves we were sponsored by Arctic Wolf to have technical t-shirts made up by Jess at

http://www.pupmalup.co.uk

and these lightweight tops saw us through the 5 days. Trainers, back packs, socks, leggings and shorts were all selected by ourselves, months in advance to trial and test them in plenty of time to make sure we suffered no rubs or other problems with our clothing.

Our fabulous sponsored t-shirts printed by Pupmalup

Our fabulous sponsored t-shirts printed by Pupmalup

T-shirts back

A big consideration for the challenge was nutrition and again for the dogs we were sponsored by Meat Love (also known as Fleischeslust), who provided the dogs with their specially developed MEAT and TReat Power sausages, which contain essential electrolytes and amino acids for faster regeneration during exercise. We had these sausages on hand during the runs as a quick pick me up treat and also for refuelling the dogs in the evenings after we have finished the days activities. For more information see the link below:

http://www.k9trailtime.com/shop/other-activities/toys-food-treats/fleischeslust-food-meat-treat-power.html

Other than the addition of the Duck Power sausages, the dogs diet remained as normal and we fed them either a few hours before or after the exercise they were doing to minimise any risk of bloat. I have always given the dogs joint supplements due to the amount of exercise we do, so this was just continued to support them as usual.

our stash of Meat and Treat Power

Our stash of Meat and Treat Power for the dogs

For our diet, it was a little bit trickier to get the balance right and because we were covering all the miles (not just stages like the dogs) we needed to make sure we got everything right with nutrition too. We both took a number of supplements to promote general health in the lead up to the challenge and because my other business is based in the health and wellness industry, we used the products from the range I trust.

My fitness and training routine is supported by a great nutritional supplement programme

My other business has some great supplements we used to support us on the challenge.

Our last sponsor was Big Bobble Hats and unfortunately due to the heat we didn’t need our bobble hats, however I’m sure we will be needing them again very soon!

It won't be long before we're needing our Big Bobble Hats again, just not over the challenge weekend!

It won’t be long before we’re needing our Big Bobble Hats again, just not over the challenge weekend!

Other things to quickly mention were:

– The dogs pads – we covered most of the mileage on grassy trails but there were a few roads and stony tracks, so checking the dogs pads was part of the daily routine.

– How much water we were drinking – it was warm, so keeping hydrated was hard, especially for us, as the dogs had many natural water points to refresh themselves in.

– The time of day we ran – to avoid the bulk of dog walkers and general public (especially at the weekend) we started our runs at 6.30 am most mornings which worked very well and meant we were finished by lunchtime.

– We had first aid kits on us at all times – thankfully we didn’t need to use any of it but it was there in our back packs just in case.

– We had fully charged phones on us and had enabled tracking on them – you can download apps to allow people to track your location and our support crew knew where we were the majority of the time.

I hope these blogs have been useful and fun for you to read, I’ve certainly enjoyed writing them and re-living the memories of each day and the experience as a whole.

Once again thanks to all our sponsors and those who supported us, to date we have raised over £1,000 for charity and with pledges of more money, we hope to have raised a bit more when the final donations come in!

https://www.justgiving.com/teams/CanicrossingTheCotswoldWay

 

 

 

 

Canicrossing the Cotswold Way – Day 5

Day 5, the last day, was forecast as another warm one but not quite the temperatures we encountered over the weekend. We were dropped off in the centre of Winchcombe to begin where we left off the day before. It wasn’t long before we were trekking up another of those ‘all too familiar’ Cotswold hills and then at the top of the hill looking down over the spectacular scenery.

The route took us passed Hailes Abbey and the fruit farm, then out onto the hill through fields of sheep, with their lambs bleating away happily until they spotted the dogs. The first section of the final day was estimated at 12 miles, so I had Donnie with me to help me power march up the hills. Unfortunately he also wanted to speed down the hills even faster and this didn’t agree with my knees!

Donnie at the top of the first hill above Hailes Abbey

Donnie at the top of the first hill above Hailes Abbey

We found plenty of water on this section in the form of small streams and water troughs so although humid again, the dogs were well watered and we kept up a good pace. After dropping down into Stanway, where one of my best friends got married nearly 7 years ago now, we then climbed back up through a village called Stanton, which even by Cotswolds standards, is one of the most picturesque places I’ve ever seen.

Donnie by the church my friend got married in, at Stanway

Donnie by the church my friend got married in, at Stanway

Another monster hill up out of the village brought us up to the top of Shenbarrow Hill, where we knew we were getting closer to our dog switching point in Broadway which was now at the bottom of the hill. The only problem with going downhill on the Cotswold Way is that you know, inevitably, you’ve got to climb again somewhere. So after swapping Donnie for Tegan to complete the challenge and the last 6 miles, we had a murderous ascent up to the Broadway Tower.

Broadway Tower felt like the top of the world!

Broadway Tower felt like the top of the world!

It was at this point my left knee really started to complain about the battering it took from Donnie earlier but I knew we were so close, I just popped some pain killers and we rattled on. From Broadway Tower on, it was almost all downhill and nice gentle descent too. We made our way down through some crop fields, then a long grassy trail to the road where we crossed over and found ourselves at the top of Dover’s Hill, just above our final destination in Chipping Camden.

The dogs on Dover's Hill

The dogs on Dover’s Hill

The last downhill section on trails and road, flew by, and within minutes we were in the town and marching through the market place to find the acorn in the floor to mark the end (or beginning) of the Cotswold Way. We took our pictures as proof of the achievement and wandered off with the dogs again to the waiting vans.

Tegan and I were happy to have completed the Cotswold Way

Tegan and I were happy to have completed the Cotswold Way

I wasn’t sure what to expect with this challenge, and at times it seemed like things were stacked against us with the unexpected heatwave over the weekend, but I can honestly say I did love it. I’ve already been asked if I’d do it the other way now, North to South and I think I would. The dogs seemed to enjoy the ever-changing scenery and we have all finished tired but happy, so we can now sit back and relax for a bit – until the next challenge!

If you fancy sponsoring us for our efforts, the team page can be found here:

https://www.justgiving.com/teams/CanicrossingTheCotswoldWay

We have had so much support for this and I’d like to thank our sponsors again, Arctic Wolf, Meatlove, Big Bobble Hats and Pupmalup, plus all the people who have generously donated to the charities we have been supporting, Macmillan Cancer Support and Animal Health Trust. A big thank you also to the support crew Marc and Colin, Colin was also taking pictures for us at changeover points and the end of each day.

The whole team, Karen, myself and from left to right - Misty, Prince and Duke (Karen's beautiful Belgium Shepherds) Judo (sitting) Tegan (lying in front) and Donnie

The whole team, Karen, myself and from left to right – Misty, Prince (lying down) and Duke (sitting), Karen’s beautiful Belgium Shepherds, then Judo (sitting) Tegan (lying in front) and Donnie my three collie crosses and all rescues. Photo courtesy of Colin Roberts Photography.

Canicrossing the Cotswold Way – Day 4

Day 4 was another early start at the top of Crickley Hill, with Judo accompanying me for this 14 mile section along the top of the escarpment above Cheltenham to Cleeve Hill. The weather was still humid but thankfully there was a bit of a breeze for most of the route and it remained cool enough for the dogs throughout the first few hours.

The views once we got out of Crickley Hill Country Park and back up on Leckhampton Hill, were just stunning and we took time to just admire them and appreciate we were more or less the only ones on the hill. We also got to see the Devil’s Chimney and Leckhampton Limekilns, although we deviated slightly from the trail and added in a monster hill in the process.

The paths along the top of Leckhampton Hill provided us a stunning view over Cheltenham and beyond

The paths along the top of Leckhampton Hill provided us a stunning view over Cheltenham and beyond

The Cotswold Way then led us (gently) down the hill to cross the A435 and back up the other side into some woods. The trail has been very conveniently set up so that you have to do very little on roads and wherever there are roads, they tend to have pavements or be quiet lanes for safety.

We wound our way through a couple more woodlands, Lineover and then Dowdeswell Wood, where we started the climb back up to Prestbury Hill Nature Reserve. I did comment at this point that it was like trekking in a rainforest with the humidity, so I was grateful when we were back out on the hill again with the breeze.

It was cooler on the hills with a light breeze to keep us comfortable

It was cooler on the hills with a light breeze to keep us comfortable

At the main Cleeve Hill carpark after 14 miles, we swapped dogs over for the last 6 miles of the day, down into Winchcombe. I had the company of Tegan for this leg as she had missed the two long days. We had a killer hill just a mile and a half into the run and we all had to practically crawl up it. That was hardest bit of the day 4 trails and not something I’d like to do again in a hurry!

Once we were yet again back up on the hill, we travelled across some fields to the ancient Belas Knap Long Barrow, which was swarming with people because of the beautiful day. We had a little rest in the shade of the Long Barrow and let a large group of kids ahead of us over the style, before catching them up and overtaking further down the hill.

Belas Knap Long Barrow, busy with people because of the beautiful weather

Belas Knap Long Barrow, busy with people because of the beautiful weather

The next few miles brought us down the hill through some fields with grazing sheep and into the town of Winchcombe, where we ended the day on a total of 20 miles. We passed by the entrance to Sudeley castle and then down the main street to our waiting crew and vans, happy to have completed another day successfully, if a little slower than we would perhaps have intended.

Tegan enjoying her little trot through Winchombe

Tegan enjoying her little trot through Winchombe

Tegan eyeing up the sheep in the field on the way down into Winchcombe

Tegan eyeing up the sheep in the field on the way down into Winchcombe