A good few years ago I supported a friend of mine that ran the London Marathon. I can honestly say that as I stood cheering her on I thought to myself – Never in a million years would you catch me doing this – especially as I hated running.
Fast forward to 2021 and I achieved what I thought was impossible for me, but can honestly say that my dog Coco was the reason behind me completing the challenge of that prestigious event. We raised over £2.5k for Guide Dogs along the way and I even wore dog ears all the way round.
I am sure you are thinking, how does your dog help you go from complete non-runner to London Marathoner then?
Our story began with failed Gun Dog classes. I loved spending time outside with my dog and we were taking regular classes but I just knew that Coco (German Shorthaired Pointer) was not enjoying it. It just wasn’t for us.
I’d heard of a sport where you could cycle with your dog (Bikejor), and as I was a cyclist I thought this might be nice to try. However, after researching further thought that Canicross would be a good starting point whilst we got used to the kit.
This was a number of years ago and at the time the sport was still quite unknown. It took lots of research to find kit and also find someone to help Coco and I learn what to do. I eventually linked up with Gail Walker (my DogFit Co-Founder), and we met so that she could help me check that Coco was comfortable in the kit.
I never intended to start running straight away as I felt I needed to learn how to run. However, once Gail had helped with our kit, we went for a short jog and absolutely loved it. It wasn’t like running on your own, you were doing something with your dog and the feeling is incredible with a definite bond between the two of you. Coco didn’t seem to mind that I was incredibly slow either – she was just happy to be out doing something together.
From there we began our running journey and gradually built up to being able to run up to 5ks together. I was absolutely amazed as it wasn’t like I felt I was actually running, we were actively moving together and just having a great time. I was so busy watching Coco and seeing her enjoying it, that I didn’t think about me.
We went on to discover the huge social side to the sport. Canicrossing in groups is very supportive and encouraging. Your first priority is always your dog, so you never really think about yourself and the fact there is some exertion involved. It is hugely rewarding for both of you. In the following years we took part in many Canicross trail events from 5ks to Half Marathons. I would never run without Coco and always had in the back of my mind that I couldn’t run without dog power.
Fast forward to 2021 and I decided to challenge myself and applied to Guide Dogs for one of their charity places. (Had to keep it dog orientated of course!) I was also determined to do as much of the training as possible with Coco.
How Coco helped me with my Marathon training
I followed a structured training programme which built up over 6 months, running 4/5 times a week. Coco was with me on all of the runs apart from the long pavement sessions and here’s how she helped me achieve my London Marathon goal.
We Canicrossed twice a week on the trails for distances of between 8-15K each time. For the speedwork and hill reps training, we were on the trails and she was free-running with me. When your dog is free-running alongside you, it is an excellent opportunity to practise your verbal Canicross commands too.
For the long training runs building up every week, I had to do these by myself as they are on the pavements. Missing my canine running partner, but this is an important part of training for a road marathon.
Thank you Coco for being….
My Personal Trainer
Always enthusiastic and ready to encourage me with every step. There’s nothing like that moment when you are a little tired and feel like stopping and you feel that pull on the Canicross line and your dog encouraging you to try a little more. Works every time and helps build an amazing bond with your dog.
My All-Weather Moral Support
Whatever the weather Coco would not hesitate to go out with me. There’s no time for dithering around before you go out, just because it’s raining. Once those trainers are on Coco was at the front door and hot to trot.
My Speedwork Coach
This is an important part of Marathon training, as well as the endurance side. It’s helpful when your running partner is sooo much faster than you. For these sessions I would focus on trying to catch up with her. I also used the opportunity to practise the same verbal commands that we use Canicrossing. I use the phrase “On-On” so she understood that for these sections the speed needed to go up.
My Hill Reps Companion
As we are in the Surrey Hills we are never short of them on the trails! There’s nothing like running up and down, up and down and your dog thinking you’ve gone completely bonkers. It definitely brought a smile as she looked at me as if to say “again, are you joking?” However another opportunity to use Canicross commands, even though she was free running. For the descent back down, I used the verbal cue “With me” to get her to trot by my side each time.
My Running Champion
We Canicrossed throughout the 6-month training schedule, consistently adding to the training miles building up each week. With me every step of the way, Coco is my running champion and helped me achieve my goal of running the London Marathon this year.
If you’ve been inspired and want to start running with your dog, please do get in touch for those first steps. At DogFit we champion every runner to encourage them to get out and have fun and get fitter along with their dogs. We have great Canicross kit to ensure you are both comfortable and run classes throughout the UK from 0-5k and beyond.