I am presently typing this report while sat at the computer wearing nothing but a pair of shorts, alternating the soles of my feet between a blocks of ice, a ribbed roller, and a stretch band; and whilst glowing with moisture having returned from one of the gruelling track sessions. The pong emanating from my body has even driven away Rosie and Tess, my ever loyal Border Terriers, who prefer to sniff each other’s back sides rather than associate themselves with me at this time.
I sometimes wonder why we do this running and training lark, and so do the dogs. All that effort, managing the pain, followed by some gain. Whilst I enter a fair number of races I’m never going to be a star runner, nor likely to finish in the top 10, or win a trophy or get a mention in dispatches other than a few sympathetic ‘well dones’ and ‘good efforts’ from fellow competitors. However, I have a real competitive urge, and so having given this much thought I decided to review my race strategy and see how I could improve on my performance to secure a higher race finishing position. I needed to find a race that best suited my talents.
Then last week my wife Heather found the ideal answer to my needs, the inaugural TRAILDOG running event at Chopwell Woods, to be run on Father’s Day.
The idea of this race is that a runner and his or her race dog run around either a 5 mile or 5k course along the woodland forest trails, against fellow runners and their dogs. This was ideal for me, as our Tess, a young Border Terrier is built for speed, especially when called for her breakfast, tea, or a treat, and I was sure that if we trained properly, then we might be able to secure that podium finish I’ve been after all this time.
The first bit was to test if it was possible for Tess and I to run the distance together without getting in a tangled mess between her, the dog lead and me. So on the week before the race we did two training runs over the full course distance. To be fair, I was the one out of breath, and we ran really well together, with Tess seemingly to have boundless energy. The only problems I found that may have an impact on race day, was her tendency to bark loudly at other dogs, and her need to complete full doggy ablutions a part of the way around the route.
These were issues I would have to deal with on the day, but never before have I done a race with 3 emergency doggy poo bags in the back pocket of my shorts.
On arrival at Chopwell Woods, it was clear that Tess was excited and raring to go, by the height of her leap from the tailgate of our car. We made our way down to registration and confirmed our participation as bona fide Elvet Striders, as I was wearing my club T-Shirt. I was classed in the usual way as MV55, whilst Tess was FTU2 (Female Terrier Under 2 years). I think we were in a class of our own.
The next thing I needed to sort out as a matter of urgency was for Tess to have her second full ablution. If we were to be competitive and do well in this completion, which I was determined to be, then we had to make sure that there would be no time delays on the route. We simply could not drop a second, so we nipped off in to the woods for Tess to clear her system fully.
On our return I got chatting to other competitors in the usual form of human greeting and general chitchat. Nothing controversial was said and it was all very pleasant, For example, I met up with fellow Strider Katie Davison who was running with her dog Fenton, so a strong Strider contingent was committed to the race.
However, on the doggy front, not everything was totally civilised as the dogs tended to take one of two postures with their fellow competitors: –
a) Friendly approach – shown by the dogs wagging their tails and then sniffing each other’s bits
b) Unfriendly approach – shown by a general round of barking, yapping, snarling, accompanied by owners shouting ‘Gerrrrroffff”, ‘Get down’ and a generally pulling of leads to split up the fight
I have only previously witnessed such appalling behaviour from competitors at Harrier League races.
I then took Tess to one side to give her a pep talk. For the race she would be on a harness, attached to a lead, and would run alongside me. I told her to ignore other dogs, don’t get involved in any argy bargy, and to concentrate on her run.
In addition, we went around to suss out the opposition. On the human front, there were some clear competitive sorts in club running vests, with top-notch harnesses linking man to beast. They were clearly pretty decent runners who looked the part and experienced to this sort of race. They tended to have the sort of dogs with them that suggested speed and agility. Border Collies and Spaniels were clearly favoured running dogs.
On the other hand, along with the experts there were families running, along with runners in general with a wide variety of dogs.
Tess identified to me that she should have the measure of the Beagle and the Labradors, along with some other lumbering types.
What was clear to the both of us, was that we could do alright in this race, if everything went our way
Effectively there were three races to this event. Firstly the family friendly general walk, then followed by a mass start for the 5-mile and 5K races.
We had elected to do the 5k race, based on the fact that on the previous day I had completed The Haydon 100 Cycle Sportive, covering 65 miles from Haydon Bridge down to Alston and Nent Head. This was a somewhat hilly course, and my legs were empty, therefore the 5-mile route was a non-starter for me. The good thing was that Tess’s legs were full, and she was raring to go, so hope fully she would pull me along.
We made our way to the star line, and after a briefing of sorts we were formally sent on our way. The 5 milers set off straight on to the course, whilst the 5K group performed 400m lap and then back through the starting gate. We were off and running.
We quickly moved to the front of the 5k group as Tess was quickly in to her stride. The two training runs we had done meant that she knew what was expected and got in to her rhythm. There is some research that suggests that dogs love this pack type activity and that it helps them bond better with their owners, and that was clear from her response.
The first kilometre was downhill, and we took advantage of this knowing that my legs were tired from the previous day, and that we needed to get ahead of the pack for when we returned up hill.
We passed some of the 5 milers on the down slope. As we overtook, Tess took a wide berth and basically ignored them, which was great.
After about 1.5k we passed the first ‘doggy slurp station’, but Tess declined any water. Whilst I (sorry, that should be ‘we’) were determined to do well, it was important to make sure Tess was happy and comfortable, therefore she had every opportunity to get a slurp.
We then moved on to a long slow uphill section, which to be honest was no good for my dead legs. We were overtaken by two long legged pointer types and their handlers on the 5-mile route who we had passed previously on the downhill section. Tess only has little legs, and mine were non-functional, but to her credit, she ran ahead and virtually pulled me a long.
We got going again and at the second slurp station she took a quick drink and we were off and running along at a good pace to the final slurp station and then towards the finishing line.
By this stage I knew that we were ahead of the rest, and despite my heavy legs we were determined not to let go of our lead, even if it meant that I would have to pick Tess up and sprint with her in my arms over the line. So we pushed on hard and with growing confidence, and thankfully for me Tess was hardly out of breath.
We came in towards the finish line and to the sound of blaring music crossed the line, much to my and of courses Tess’s delight.
One of the organisers came running up to us shouting’ You’ve won, let me put your medal on’. and then ceremoniously placed a medal over my head. It was like being at the Olympics. I was also handed a joint ‘doggy bag’ of gifts and prizes for both Tess and I. Rather than getting a trophy, we got a play ball to go on the mantlepiece, a bag of dog treats, a chocolate bar and a can of posh water.
We now waited for the other competitors to come in. The first home in the 5-mile group came charging in at a rate of knots. He was with his Border Collie and was a clear veteran of these events as he had all the gear. I heard him saying that they had to stop for a poo half way around the course. I asked him innocently if he was referring to him or the dog, but the question went unanswered as he was still in the competitive zone. However, it turned out that he travelled all over the north of England competing in these type of events, and made some good recommendations on future events and best fit leads and harnesses if we wanted to repeat our efforts another time. I had achieved my ambition and won a running race as an Elvet Strider. Admittedly, Tess was there and played an integral part in the achievement, but I can now honestly say that I have found my niche where I can compete on equal terms with others.
Pleased as punch we made our way home, imagining the headlines in the sporting pages of the Northern Echo or the congratulations from our peers at our outstanding achievement.
So, on arrival home, much to her delight, Tess’s Mum put our victory photos on various pages of Facebook. The response was outstanding, and to be honest fairly predictable.
450 likes alone came from the Border Terriers Owners Club Facebook Page, accompanied by loads of comments along the line of ‘Arrrrhhhhh – How cute’, ‘Well Done Tess’, ‘Absolutely Brilliant Tess’, How wonderful Tess’, ‘Tess this’, ‘Tess that’ etc. etc.
Little was said about our joint achievement. In fact, I might as well not have been there. In reality, what chance did I have of getting the kudos? Me, a sweaty middle-aged runner with no hair, Tess a cute one-year-old little waggy tail dog!
Honestly, this was a great event and much fun. It can be both a simple family dog walking exercise in the countryside, or it can be as competitive as you wish as the event caters for all types of runners, dog walkers and dog types.
Tess and I will certainly be having a go again!