By Ginetta George, DogFit UK
Image Credit: DogFit UK
A while back, I cheered on a friend of mine who was running London Marathon. As I stood in the crowds cheering, I found myself thinking, Never in a million years would you catch me doing this –especially as I most certainly was not a runner myself.
Moving on to 2021 and I found myself standing at the starting line, ready to take on the exact same challenge myself. I can honestly say that my dog Coco was the main reason that I was able to manage such a prestigious event. We raised more than £2.5k for Guide Dogs and I made it the whole way round – wearing dog ears for the entire 26 miles!
So, the big question has to be, how can a dog help someone transform from a complete non-runner into a London Marathon finisher?
We started our journey with failed Gun Dog classes. I was really enjoying spending time with Coco (German Shorthaired Pointer), taking regular classes in the great outdoors together. However, I quickly realised that she wasn’t sharing my enthusiasm. It wasn’t for us.
I looked into Bikejor – a sport that allows you to cycle with your dog. I enjoyed cycling, so thought this might be nice to try. However, after some more research, I decided to start with Canicrossing first to help us get used to the kit.
This was a number of years ago. At the time, Canicross was still fairly unknown. It wasn’t easy to find the right kit and to teach me and Coco what to do. Eventually, I met Gail Walker (my DogFit Co-Founder) and she was a huge help in getting us set up and helping me to check Coco was comfortable in the kit.
My initial plan was to start off learning how to run by myself. However, once Gail had sorted out our kit, she took us on a short jog. We loved it! It didn’t feel like I was running alone. I was in a team with my dog and this really strengthened our bond. The feeling was incredible and Coco didn’t seem to mind that I was much slower than her. She was just happy to be outside, spending time with each other.
From there, our running journey began in earnest. We worked up to running 5K together. It didn’t feel like I was having to put loads of effort in. We were just moving together and having a great time. I was so busy watching Coco and enjoying her taking pleasure in what we were doing that that I didn’t think about myself and my own levels of exertion very often at all.
Canicross is a hugely sociable sport, which I found very encouraging. Your first priority has to be your dog, so running with people who have the same mind set is hugely rewarding. Over the next few years, Coco and I ran in many Canicross trail events from 5Ks to half Marathons. I always ran with Coco and felt that my success in beating goals was primarily down to dog power.
In 2021, I decided to challenge myself further. I was lucky enough to gain a charity place to run the London Marathon for Guide Dogs (had to keep it dog orientated, of course!) I was determined to do as much training as possible with Coco.
How Coco became my Marathon trainer
I started a structured training programme which built up over 6 months and had me running four or five times per week. Coco came with me on all of my runs except for the longer pavement sessions. Here’s how she helped me get the best out of my training…
We Canicrossed twice a week, choosing trails spanning distances of between 8-15K. We stuck to the same trails for speedwork and hill reps training, but I had Coco free-running alongside me. This gave me the perfect opportunity to practise my verbal Canicross commands with her.
I had to complete the longer training runs that built up every week by myself since they took me along pavements. I really missed my canine running partner, but they were a key part of my road marathon training.
Thank you, Coco, for being my..
My Personal Trainer
Coco remained steadfastly enthusiastic and encouraging with every step. There’s nothing like thinking how tired you are and how much you want to stop before suddenly feeling that pull on the Canicross line and sensing your dog encouraging you to keep going for a bit longer. Works every time and helps you to establish a really strong bond with your dog.
My All-Weather Moral Support
Coco would never hesitate to go out with me, whatever the weather. There’s no time for checking the rain clouds before you go out when your dog is pawing at the front door, ready to roll. Get those trainers on!
My Speedwork Coach
Speedwork is just as important as endurance when it comes to Marathon training. So, when your running partner is sooo much faster than you, you have a huge advantage. For my speedwork sessions, I concentrated on simply trying to catch up with her. I also took the chance opportunity to practise some more Canicross verbal commands. For example, I used the phrase “On-On” to help Coco understand that, for these sections, she needed to up her speed.
My Hill Reps Companion
I train in the Surrey Hills, where we are never short of hills and valleys on the running trails. It’s quite amusing to think about running up and down, up and down with your dog thinking you’ve gone completely crazy. It brought me many a smile when Coco used to look at me as if to say “are we really going up and down again?” Yet again, this part of my training gave me a chance to use my Canicross commands, even though Coco was free-running. Whenever we ran downhill, I used the verbal cue “With me” to get her to move closer to my side.
My Running Champion
We Canicrossed throughout our six-month training schedule, consistently building up our distances each week. Coco stayed by my side every step of the way. She was and will always be my running champion. I couldn’t have achieved my goal of running the London Marathon this year without her.
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.