I run, I love running and it's become a big part of my life over the last 9 years. For the last couple of years as family and work life took over, my runs have become short, infrequent and quite honestly, sometimes not so enjoyable. It almost became another chore to get done. This was not the running I knew and loved.
I couldn't be further from those days now. Since we adopted our lovely girl from Spain last year, my running has become regular, enjoyable and much more frequent. I knew I wanted a dog once we'd built our forever home (ticked that box in September 2017) and had been actively looking for a rescue for the previous 6 months. I found our perfect match very quickly. She was a GSP and was the perfect age for me to run with (ideally 12 months and over for most breeds) so we made the leap of faith and she arrived in a van after having an arduous journey through the Channel Tunnel, from Northern Spain to the bright lights of the South West of England!
As Tilly had only ever known a compound within a kill shelter and had no experience of being exercised or trained, I tentatively took her out for a run within the first couple of weeks she was with us. She seemed to instantly know what to do! She was happy to be put in the harness and eagerly ran out front, it really was a pleasure to start seeing this beautiful, intelligent girl start using her mental and physical capabilities. She had next to no muscle on her body when she arrived and quickly build those up, I wish I could tone up as quickly as she did!!
As I was using a hand-held leash and a walking harness at the time, I started to research a more effective way of running with her. She's a strong dog so my arms were tiring from the natural pull up front that she so quickly adopted. The harness sat a little too close to her front legs for my liking and I had heard of this sport "canicross" and was interested to find out more. As I was a trail runner already I knew that there was a more comfortable way to navigate the coast paths and trails we were heading over.
This is when DogFit came onto my radar. The website was extremely informative and really answered many of my initial worries about what kit to get and whether this was the right thing to be doing with her. The fact that they also work with rescue dogs struck a cord with me and I started to look for a trainer near us.
Meanwhile, Tilly and I had started clocking up the miles together, over countryside and coast, she was happy to manoeuvre us through stiles and over obstacles, through any weather and at any time of the day that suited me. She managed to throw in a few speed sessions for me whilst we ran the towpath of the canal (that was a wake-up call!).
I could tell that the bond we were forming was growing daily, her recall as a gundog was nowhere to be seen when she arrived, so I knew I couldn't just let her free run with me as her prey drive was bonkers! Yet whilst in the run harness and focused on the run job in hand, she seemed to tame down that frenzied reaction. Her need to try to climb a tree for that squirrel or burying deep into the downs for that rabbit, came secondary. Quite clearly she felt she had a job to do and she did it diligently.
I was truly, madly and deeply falling in love with running again and had fallen hook, line and sinker for this adorable girl from Spain! We really have an amazing time together. Yes, there were moments when she did try to run up that tree again and yes, there were days when the weather was hideous and I really didn't want to go out, but there lies the beauty of this relationship. She became my personal trainer, the one that makes no excuses for you, the one who drags you out to your session regardless of your incessant whinging about why you can't do it today. I needed to walk her, so why not just run her instead.
I think the turning point for me was that fact that we completed RED January together, where we committed to running every day throughout January for the charity MIND. We clocked up 117 miles together that month and I knew how good I was feeling after having achieved this amazing target and really wanted to share my passion for running with dogs with more than just my friends.
I could see how much this sport was suitable for many different breeds of dogs as well as anyone willing to get past that mindset of "oh I'm not a runner" and just enjoy exercising with their dogs. It also seemed like a no-brainer for me. The time it takes to walk the dog, then hit the gym or run alone, was combined and I was able to keep family and work commitments juggled whilst exercising the two of us.
I'd already seen that there were no DogFit instructors within my area of the South West and thought I would ask the question regarding training to be a DogFit Certified Trainer for our area. Gail was quick to respond and as I had already got my Leadership in Running Fitness qualification, I was booked on to the course in the New Year.
I now lead groups ranging from 1-2-1 taster sessions, group canicross sessions and Couch to 5K programmes. I am also hoping to get an intermediates session up and running soon and start entering events. Through my certification with DogFit I have access to some amazing kit and can hire this out during taster sessions so those wishing to try it can do so at a minimum cost.
The cost of the entire kit comes in at just under the cost of a pair of trainers, which in my mind is a great investment. Not only do I run Tilly with the kit but I can also walk her hands-free with it for longer hikes.
Don't just take my word for it about the benefits of running with your dog though. A study cited in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, found that owners who exercise their dogs are 34% more likely to have a higher level of fitness. This group experienced higher overall levels of both moderate and vigorous activity, thus proving that owning and exercising a dog is good for you!
There are a growing number of certified trainers joining the DogFit team who can introduce you to this rewarding, fun and social sport.
So what are you waiting for, Let’s Go Canicross!