Whether you are new to Canicross and looking to take on something a bit more challenging, or a seasoned runner wanting to compete at a more serious level, taking part in a Canicross event is something you may wish to consider.
You don’t need to be super competitive if that’s not your thing. You can choose to take part in a Canicross race with your friends or just use it as an opportunity to run somewhere new. Of course, if you do want to take it more seriously, you may find yourself achieving a personal best time or even winning a prize!
A typical Canicross-only event is 5km in distance and they use a staggered start with a short gap between each runner. This isn’t for everyone or every dog but they are a good alternative to mass start races which can be overwhelming for some dogs, and people. It is, however, better suited to dogs that naturally pull since they won’t have the encouragement of other dogs immediately around them.
There are also Canicross-friendly events which are typically entered by dogless runners but they welcome Canicrossers. In these events, the Canicrossers more often than not set off a few minutes before or after the main group. These events can range from 5km up to marathon distance, so if you do prefer an endurance race this would be a good option.
If you are new to Canicross, you may prefer to ease yourself in gently and enter a local Canicross-friendly event initially. Many Parkruns, for instance, welcome Canicrossers, though do check with them first and read our guidelines.
There is of course the option to enter one of our popular virtual challenges, running it either by yourself or with some friends. It’s a great way to challenge yourself without the added pressure of a serious event, whilst raising money for a dog charity in the process!
With regards to the distance you choose to race, that really depends on the event, your general fitness and also that of your dog. But whatever the distance you decide to race, I have highlighted some fundamental points worth taking note of so you are as prepared as possible.
1. Do your prep
Find out as much about the Canicross event in advance as possible.
As well as the distance, check out the terrain so you can plan your footwear, the likely number of participants (you may prefer a smaller race if your dog gets overwhelmed by too many people and dogs), the route, and water stations (you may need to carry your own hydration pack).
If you are entering a Parkrun do also follow our guidelines.
2. Train for the distance – don’t just wing it!
Whichever distance you choose to race, you should build up gradually. This is to help avoid injury, get used to pacing and to ensure you don’t burn out after the first mile. It’s important to ease your dog in too.
If you are thinking about running a half or full marathon with your dog you should both already have a good base level of running (normally 20-25 miles a week) under your belt. There is no reason why you can’t take on the distance as long as you build up gradually and follow a proper schedule. The long runs especially are key as it’s about getting used to the time on your feet.
The same goes for your dog. I get asked a lot if dogs can run long distances and as long as they build up slowly (just like you!) and they are healthy enough then yes, in theory, they can. There may be some breeds or situations when this is not advisable so if in any doubt whatsoever do consult your vet.
A typical marathon schedule is 16/17 weeks. Whilst the programme will be challenging it shouldn’t be torturous or feel unachievable. There are plans out there for all levels of ability, from beginners to intermediates. So take your time to pick the one that works best for you and your dog.
3. Plan your ETA
Arrive at the Canicross event with enough time to do a recce of the area, to warm up and to give your dog a chance to go to the toilet.
Not rushing around will also help keep your dog calm before the race starts.
However, don’t arrive at the event too early if you have a highly energised/excitable dog as too much hanging around may get them all agitated. Every dog is different of course – just be mindful of the environment that your dog is comfortable being in and don’t put them under any unnecessary stress.
4. Consider the start line
Dedicated Canicross events tend to follow a staggered start where runners go off individually at intervals.
However, Canicross-friendly races, i.e. dogless events that welcome Canicrossers, vary in how they manage the start for the Canicrossers.
Some ask Canicrossers to set off en masse with the dogless runners, some start the Canicrossers a few minutes either before or after the mass start. Either way consult your race organiser in advance so that you can prepare in the best way for your dog.
Whichever approach they take it’s worth thinking about how your dog will react. For some dogs it can be very stressful joining a mass start, especially when they are waiting at the start line and excitement levels are heightened – so you may want to consider keeping your dog to one side or at the very back until the race starts…or perhaps not doing it at all.
5. Use Canicross commands
Practising and perfecting some handy commands will make a big difference to your overall race experience, whilst also building a great bond with your dog.
Favourites such as ‘left’ and ‘right’ for technical courses and ‘with me/behind’ for those challenging downhill sections will help you race much more efficiently.
6. Be considerate to other runners
When you overtake other runners, especially dogless runners, be mindful that they may not be aware that there is a dog coming up behind them or they may not be too keen on dogs.
Communication and a friendly approach is key here. Just call out that a dog is coming past on their left or right, keep a good distance as you overtake (ideally keeping the line short while you do) and thank them when they move to one side for you.
Politeness and consideration goes a long way and ensures Canicrossers are welcomed at future events.
7. Keep it clean
Always carry poo bags and be prepared to stop during a race if your dog does feel the need to poop!
Hopefully if you’ve arrived at the event in plenty of time that has already been taken care of before the race itself has started.
8. Carry provisions
If you are doing a particularly long race, e.g. half/full marathon, then it’s worth thinking about hydration and nutrition and also running with a small rucksack with emergency supplies, such as water, collapsible drinking bowl, food, spare clothing and basic first aid kit.
Some events will insist on this anyway so do check their rules.
9. Bear in mind the weather
Do give consideration to the time of year and start time of the Canicross event and whether your dog will be comfortable, e.g. is it potentially too hot to trot!? Follow this useful advice if in any doubt.
10. Think about post-race provisions
After the race it’s worth having a few provisions back in the car depending on the conditions.
For example, a handheld portable shower for your dog is useful if it’s been particularly cold and muddy (if you fill it with hot water in the morning it should still be warm for when you need it), a coat for your dog, water, treats etc
11. Make sure you warm down
At the end of the race give yourself and your dog time to bring your heart rates down before jumping in the car and heading home, especially if it’s been a warm day or you have a long journey ahead of you.
12. Give careful consideration as to whether this is the right race for you and your dog
Not every Canicross event is for everyone and every dog. Some dogs thrive on a big mass Canicross start, others fair better on staggered starts or less competitive races. Always put the needs of your dog first and be honest about whether they will enjoy it as much as you.
13. Any doubts or questions, contact the organisers
Do contact the event organisers if you have any general questions – they are all happy to help. And if you find a local race that isn’t inviting Canicrossers to enter that doesn’t necessarily mean that they won’t entertain the idea – it may be that they haven’t come across Canicross before or simply want to keep it to low numbers. So do drop them a line and ask the question…and be sure to explain the merits of Canicross!
Whichever event you and your dog enter this year, best of luck and happy Canicrossing.