The real way to get quicker!
As I write this latest blog, I do so having noticed that many of my well visited sites feature that all too often repeated question…’how do I get faster?’ as well as ‘my dog only pulls for the first half mile then runs beside me, how can I get them to stay in front and keep pulling?’ and my personal favourite ‘I run 5k in.( insert time here), is this fast or average for my age?’ the truth is that the first two are both intrinsically linked and they affect the third question. So again, not from an expert’s position; I hope to shed some light for those people who are just joining the sport and want to improve. This knowledge comes from my own experience and having asked the same questions myself three years ago.
So what makes me in any way knowledgeable?
The story behind my running is as such. In February 2014 I started canicross. I was 35 and other than having done sport as a kid then the London Marathon at 25 with two half marathons, I had never really been a runner. I guess it came from always being picked last at sports day as I was known as an endurance and distance runner. I could never get anywhere fast.( The others in my class used to pick me to be on for a giggle!) So my first experience of canicross involved running my girl ( very slowly) for just under 2 miles. Having realised that my dogs enjoyed this and I enjoyed being with them, I decided to start running a bit more so that I could cover the distance of 5k.
In March 2014 I began to run twice a week with my dogs. I had a short straight near my home which was approximately o.6 mile long ( or 1km – if you prefer metric) I could not for the first month; run the whole distance along this road without stopping or walking.
Since then and with plenty of research, trial and error, I have now gone from being unable to run 1k to having completed an ultra, multiple 10k runs, obstacle races and competently being able to race 5k distances over a 2 day race weekend. When I attempted my first 5k with my dog, it took me 32 minutes! Now I can cover the same distance in under 20. What’s the secret I hear you ask?
Well that’s simple: TIME AND EFFORT.
So let’s get down to it then, how do you get from 32 minutes to sub 20?
I began by running at least twice a week religiously. I had my set distance I would run which was set at 5k. (to find this, I walked my dogs a nice route and then remembered this for running) I would run two evenings a week as I work full time and also was very new to running. The first few runs were to try and cover the distance of 5k. I didn’t mind how slowly I went as long as I covered the lot. This often meant adding little walk breaks to help me recover. About two months later I then went to PARKRUN and got a proper timed lap and managed to get 30 minutes and 32 seconds. Apparently running the distance and doing so regularly helped. Go figure!
STEP 2 – INCREASING SPEED
There really is no easy way to do this and what I mean by that is that there is no quick fix – it basically means you have to work and push yourself. After all, even if canicross is meant to be your dog pulling you, it hardly seems fair to get them to do all the work and besides which, if they don’t feel you are putting the effort in then they won’t do it all either. I introduced some fartlek training to my own running. (I know I giggled to when I wrote fartlek!) Fartlek training involves speed work. Basically as you run the 5k distance, you might select a lamppost and decide to run faster from one lamppost to the next. Then have a break of jogging. During my runs, I would do this about three times and as my fitness improved, I would do it more. Eventually I was able to run a 5k run with all my 1k segments at 6 minutes or less. ( that’s going from an 11 minute mile to under 10 minute miles) that might not be a lot, but bear in mind, I couldn’t run one mile to start with. I didn’t even have proper running shoes – I was doing all this in £15.00 Sports Direct specials! ( other shops are available)
The next thing I did to increase speed was to set myself little challenges – I desperately wanted to try and get under 5 minutes for a kilometre. So my next challenge was to warm up, then run my first kilometre as fast as I could and try to get under 5 minutes. This took a few more weeks, because after I had run that, I couldn’t do any more. Bit pointless when you have a full 5k to do! Eventually I could go faster for the first one kilometre and still finish the next four.
OK – SO YOU CAN COVER 5K AND WITHOUT STOPPING FOR A REST. NOW TO BE ABLE TO DO IT IN A RACE.
Step 3 – GET OUT AND RUN
The truth is that no matter what you do in training, there is really nothing like trying a race for yourself. It gives you a great idea of how far you have come and how much you have improved. I did my first race with my local club Canicross Midlands, who were very supportive and are very welcoming to new runners and dogs alike. I turned up in the cold ( why I didn’t pick a summer sport I don’t know) and got my number ready. After the briefings and equipment check, it was time to go.
My first race was with both of my dogs together and over some very hilly ground. We weren’t last, but I had managed to get round in a reasonable time. I think I had got to 27 minutes at this point. I found it was easier as a) there were some downhills ( they really helped) and b) with the atmosphere and people cheering you on, I felt I had to try harder so as to not let them or my dogs down! ( Boy did I ache the next day) As I sat with my rosette for taking part, I knew I had to keep improving for my dogs’ sake, but also because some sick sadistic part of me really enjoyed pushing myself. Not only that, my two dogs were so happy and I was so proud that it really has helped us to bond even more.
Step 4 – continuing the journey…BREAKING THOSE THRESHOLD TIMES
Since my first race, I have been super proud to break the 25 minute time, as well as each 20 seconds since. In the last few years, I have gone from a complete non runner, to someone who can average under 23 minutes for a 3 mile race. I’m now just about to turn 38 and have decided to take my training to the next level. ( I’m due to go to the next class in two season’s time and there are some pretty fast ladies there I can tell you!)
To keep breaking threshold times, you have to keep training. I have since decided that twice per week I will run dogless. My dogs will run with my bike once per week and we will run together twice per week. This means that for me I am improving and therefore helping my dogs.
I also joined my local running club. Now the main thing that used to put me off this was worrying that I wouldn’t be fast enough for it, but they welcomed me with open arms and have been incredibly supportive. In running club, I have continued to improve. I push myself and deliberately join the faster group, because if I don’t push myself, then I’m expecting my little 15kg dog to drag my ass round the course and that’s not very fair. If I work harder, he continues to run harder and we both achieve more. I now run 5k distance with running club regularly and the complete either a 10k run or hill efforts on the other training night.
Ultimately there is no quick fix to getting faster. It takes time and to be honest if you want to continue to do well in canicross, you have to put the effort in. Your dog will thank you for it in the long run, because linking back to the start of this article and the question;
‘my dog only pulls for the first half mile then runs beside me, how can I get them to stay in front and keep pulling?’
Your dog will naturally try to go as fast as they can to start with.
Now imagine you are about to head off on a sprint. You are all excited, got the gear and you are with your best buddy. Suddenly you hear the countdown ‘ 3…….2…….1…….GO! And you’re off, you leap off the start line, get a little way down the track and feel like you are slowly dragging your sofa behind you. Now this sofa felt alright at the start – you got over the inertia and the sofa moved quite well. Then the sofa became quite heavy and stopped moving as easily. It was still moving, but not as easily or as quickly and you are starting to feel quite tired.. so what do you do? you slow to the pace of the sofa…..
Now swap sofa for human and you become your pooch….now can you see why some of them may not pull you all the way round? It’s like you dragging something which weighs twice as much as you….of course you are going to slow down. So when people ask the inevitable, ‘how can I get my dog to go faster and keep pulling?’ the answer is, they will go faster for longer when you are faster and can run faster for longer! Sorry if this is not the answer you were looking for… and of course, there are some dogs who are actually happier to plod along and enjoy the run. At the end of the day, you canicross WITH your dog, it’s not about you, it’s not about the dog. It is about you AND your dog. You are a team and the team is only as good as its weakest member.
If you want to work on your fitness and get faster, feel free to get in touch with Coaching HQ who can offer you support, or remote coaching. Anne-Marie is running fitness trained and licensed, Fell, hill, mountain and trail leader licensed and is completing her full England Athletics Run Coach qualification. During this phase, all training plans are discussed with senior coaches to ensure you are receiving the best programme for you.