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 – E is for Environment

The environment we are running our dogs in for canicross is very important, from the surfaces you are running on, to the weather you are running in, you need to be aware of all aspects of this when canicrossing. I always advise people it is better to choose trails which are all off road and if this is not possible then try to limit running on tarmac, as it can be damaging for joints in both you and your dog. I also try and pick routes with natural water sources on them, so that if it is warmer than I expected, then I have somewhere to safely water and cool off the dogs on our route. I’m not going to go into too much detail about temperature, as I could write pages on that itself, but be sensible about how warm it is when you run your dog, paying particular attention to the humidity, which can be very harmful for dogs. Included in environment is making sure you are being respectful of the surroundings you are canicrossing in too. Try not to spook other trail users, dogs and horses not used to seeing dogs attached to people can be quite nervous, and not everyone likes dogs so be mindful of not allowing your dog to invade someone else’s space while out and about. Any livestock you might encounter might also be scared by your dog running at them, even if they can’t chase them, so keep your dog under close control in fields. Finally, make sure you clear up after your dog and follow the countryside code, shutting gates behind you and ensuring you leave areas as you found them for others to enjoy. With so many things to consider about your environment when canicrossing, it was the obvious choice for the letter ‘E’ in the K9 Trail Time A-Z of canicross.

Be aware of everything in the environment you are canicrossing your dog in, from the surfaces and weather to the livestock and people you might meet

Be aware of everything in the environment you are canicrossing your dog in, from the surfaces and weather, to the livestock and people you might meet

Canicrossing the Cotswold Way – Day 1

Day 1 of our adventure started in Bath by the Abbey where there is a special circle with an acorn on it to mark the beginning of the long distance route. The route then takes you (very clearly if you follow the acorns) through some of the streets and parks in Bath until you start winding your way up and out of Bath city towards Lansdown.

The start of the Cotswold Way in front of Bath Abbey

The start of the Cotswold Way in front of Bath Abbey

I had chosen Judo to accompany me on this first leg of the route which totalled 10 miles, or would have if I had not dropped my phone taking pictures at the top of a hill and added an extra 3/4 of a mile! The weather although lovely and sunny was a jump up in temperature to recent days and so I found the heat, even at 9am, quite hard work with all the hill work.

We passed by the site of the battle of Lansdown with lots of brightly designed, metal flags and a couple of monuments but we didn’t really stop to read the information boards, as the dogs might have been bored!

The route once we were out of Bath took us along some lovely grassy trails

The route once we were out of Bath took us along some lovely grassy trails

The hills were relentless, we just seemed to go up and up and up and then up some more, with just a few downhill sections for a bit of relief. We stopped regularly to give the dogs water if they needed it but to be honest they are all fitter than we are and weren’t bothered by the higher temperatures, although because of the inclines we were walking large sections of the route anyway to save our legs.

The views from the top of the escarpment above Bath were amazing

The views from the top of the escarpment above Bath were amazing

After the first 10 miles we made our way up another hill into Cold Aston for a dog swap and a re-fuel for us.

There was yet another hill up into Cold Aston

There was yet another hill up into Cold Aston – Photo courtesy of Colin Roberts Photography

A quick pit stop and we were on our way again with different dogs, this time the girls, so I had Tegan with me. We had a couple of major road crossings to deal with in this short section but there was little traffic due to it being mid morning on a Thursday, so this was not an issue.

In the middle of our 5 mile route we came across a herd of very inquisitive and quite frankly scary, cows! They managed to distract us enough to mean we missed a route marker and found ourselves crawling under and over a gate to get out of the way of the herd who were following us.

The herd of cows we found who sent us very briefly off course

The herd of cows we found who sent us very briefly off course

The last couple of miles were again mainly uphill and through fields to a lay-by near Tormarton where we ended our first day of canicrossing the Cotswold Way.

Thanks once again to all our sponsors Arctic Wolf, Meat Love, Big Bobble Hats, K9 Trail Time and Pupmalup, we had a great first day and spent the rest of the day at home resting up for Day 2.