So you wanna try a race, but you’re not sure what to expect, or how to prepare? We’ve been racing for over eight years at various levels and hopefully in this short blog we can fill you in on a few things and help you understand what to expect…
Before racing many people ask ‘how fast should I be?’ and the truth of the matter is, as fast as you are…For many, the whole purpose of racing is to win, but there are those who have just as much fun by running their dogs in different challenging situations and overcoming these obstacles together.
For us, it started as a challenge, something different and slowly as we developed our skills, we realised that we have great potential to do well at times. Now whenever we race, we do so in order to put our best selves to the test and do our upmost to put in a good effort. I don’t mind being beaten by anyone, but I do like to know that we have done our best on the day. That is the most important thing every time we race.
SO HOW DO YOU FIND A CANICROSS RACE?
There are numerous places to find races, however for us, we looked at our local clubs and then the race calendars on sites such as The British Sleddog Sports Federation and Canicross Trailrunners. There are some human races which will allow you to run with your dog, however remember that these are directed at humans and don’t always involve the best terrain for your dog’s feet. Also if it isn’t a canicross or cani-sport specific race then you are likely to find other runners wearing earphones etc and they may not be aware of your dogs as you are moving around the course.
BEFORE YOU ARRIVE…
Before you head off to a race, ensure you have the full kit. Your harness for the dog, waist belt, poo bags, running line and a spare just in case. It is also important to remember your normal lead for walking around and water and bowls. If you are participating in your first race and it is cold, then definitely bring towels for the dog and a fleece or jumper so they don’t get too cold following the race.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU TURN UP?
When you arrive at a race, you will go to a registration point and collect your race number and your timing chip. At this point you will find out what time you are due to run. It is worth ensuring that you have got some spare safety pins for numbers. Pin your number high on your chest so that if your dog jumps at you then they won’t catch a pin with their legs.
JUST BEFORE YOU RACE…
As the time draws near for your race start, make sure you are ready early and all set to go to the start point. Familiarise yourself with where the start is located and have an idea of how long it takes to get from the car to the start. Allow a few more minutes so that you are not late and don’t miss your start time.
AT THE START
The start can be a pretty hectic place for the uninitiated, so it is important that you look out for the start marshal and stand where you can see them. If you are starting in number order, then try to find the person in front of you and keep them in site. As you are called to the start it gets pretty quick as your turn draws near, excitement levels grow and dogs get louder and desperate to run…Give your dog space, likewise ensure that you give other peoples’ dogs space as well. You don’t know how other dogs react and that last thing you want is your dog jumping right in another dog’s face and problems occurring. You will hear a countdown, 5,4,3,2,1 – go! At this point you head off with your dog. Do not cross the start line with your dog until you have been released, but you can also pause just a moment before you go if you are chip timed, as your time will start when you cross the line.
Trail etiquette is really important when running, but so is good sportsmanship. As you run, if you find yourself catching the team in front, ensure that you sit back enough behind them that you are not breathing down their necks…if you want to pass, shout out loudly and clearly ‘trail’ either left or right. Pass as far over as you can and get past and then move on. There is nothing worse than running and having someone overtake you who then sits right in front of you because they have blown out and have no more speed to give. If your dog is a bit unpredictable when passing and likes to kiss or nudge other dogs, then only pass when you can do so cleanly and without interference. If you are running and someone catches you, then it is just as easy to let them past. Don’t try to block the trail, they have already caught you so effectively they have beaten you at this point. You might be able to overtake again later on, but until that time, enjoy the tow and run clean. The golden rule on the trail is don’t let your dog interfere with another runner or dog.
AT THE FINISH…WHAT’S NEXT?
At the finish you will no doubt sprint the last few hundred metres and then you will be done for that run. After you cross the finish line, you need to let your dog recover and get their breathing and heart rate back down. Don’t stand around chatting, look after your dog first then catch up with others afterwards.
When you finish a race, you then have a bit of time to wait to find out what time your second day starts. So if you are not camping or stopping on site, then you can head round the stalls for a little retail therapy, or you can head home and let your dog relax in preparation for the next day.
If this was a one day race, then you can check your times and see if you place, or you can head home and check later.
Day two follows a similar format from day one, except most events will start you in speed order. So for this reason overtakes can be lessened, but not unheard of. It gives you a good chase for the team in front and if you catch and can overtake then go for it. Once day two is finished then you will have a combined race time from day one and two. This combined time gives you an overall race time and final placing. Once again, don’t forget that you need to take care of your dog first at the end of your run.
WHAT IF IT IS HOT?
Some races will still run if temps rise. This does not mean you SHOULD race. Ultimately you need to know what is best for your dog, so if it is hot, don’t feel bad for not racing. It is not the race organiser’s job to tell you that it is too hot for your dog. If you have only trained in 4 degrees and then your race is at 17 degrees, you have a choice to make, run and know your dog will get hot or choose not to run your dog and know their welfare has been your focus.
LEAGUES AND CHAMPIONSHIPS
Several organisations run leagues and championship series, which rely on you racing over several weekends throughout the year, so if you like racing and don’t mind the travel commitments then racing could well give you some focus throughout the winter season.
If you do not have a campervan, or suitable winter tent / caravan then you need to consider costing for a race. The following are things to consider when going for a race weekend:
Travel – how will you get there – if you have multiple dogs will you take them all or can someone else look after them for you?
Accommodation – Where will you stay? If you do not have a van or tent facilities then you need to look at where you might stay. A local hotel may only allow one dog, or you may find that you need to Air BnB your accommodation. This is an extra cost for two days racing.
Food – food for you and the dog is a consideration. If your dog is raw fed and you are camping, how will you keep the food?
Insurance – most races will require you to have insurance specific to canicross or canisport and will ask to see proof of this. This can be from around £20 per year but is a definite plus for training and racing.
Work – can you take time off work to travel or race? If you are limited to holidays then consider your race calendar and either be selective with your events, or be aware that you might need to forgo a few days in the summer.
Partners – For those who are not racing, it can be cold and muddy on the side-lines. A race site can be noisy overnight with dogs up as early as 0600 every morning and noise going on all day until around 5pm. Noise usually continues until around 10pm. For a partner who is not racing it can be a pretty boring weekend, so you need to consider them and how involved you need or want them to be.
Overall a weekend can cost anything from around £120 upwards if you are able to stay in a van or tent and camp. Allowing £50 + for fuel, camping at around £20 and then race entry and sundries….
IS IT WORTH IT?
Heck yeah! A race can give you feelings of pride, euphoria and elation. It is a wonderful feeling achieving something amazing with your dog and knowing that you did this together!
Over the last eight years, I have spent between £200 and £450 on a UK race weekend, whereas the European events such as the World Championships have set me back upwards of £1200…I can’t say exactly how much as hubby sees this!
SO WHAT’S NEXT?
If you think you’d like to try a race, then start off with a small club event and see how you go.