Imagine lacing up your running shoes, grabbing a dog water bottle for the road and going on a brisk trot along a dirt trail with your pup. Now imagine doing so while attached to your pooch by a bungee cord. It's a style of running known as Canicross, and it might just become your favorite way to exercise with Fido.
What is Canicross
“Canicross is the sport of cross country running with dogs,” said Dawn Richards, owner of CaniX, a British-based Canicross events company. What makes it unique is that your dog gallops in front of you while attached to your waist with a bungee line, a bit like dog sledding but without the snow. Or the sled.
“Canicross started as a dry-land means of exercising sled dogs when no snow is available,” said Dawn. “In the UK, this is pretty often! It started in sled dog communities, but why limit this fantastic sport to traditional sled dog breeds?”
British Canicross runners Ben Robinson and his dog, Blake, won a 5K in November 2017 with a time of 12:24. The speedy pair finished 13 seconds faster than the official world record for the men’s 5K. Ben and Blake’s time is generally accepted as the fastest-ever time for a Canicross 5K. Hitting dizzying speeds that lone runners can only dream of is part of the reason the sport is growing in popularity among thrill seekers and running enthusiasts.
Harness the Power
Before you hit the trails with Fido, make sure you’re equipped to get out there. Canicross requires a little more preparation than going out for a quick jog. You and your dog will need a Canicross harness before you take to the grassy slopes and muddy tracks.
“The special harnesses the dogs wear are designed to allow them to pull with their chest, powering into the harness and physically moving the runner through the air. These differ from many off-the-shelf harnesses which are designed to stop the dog from pulling on a lead, or which might restrict the dog’s rib expansion and therefore breathing,” said Dawn.
Healthy and Happy
The benefits of taking part in Canicross can extend far beyond the regular health perks of being active together.
“It strengthens the bond between human and dog,” said Dawn. “Many of our competitors have lost weight and got fitter (both human and canine). I know when I visit our vet with my dogs, she always says she loves to see our dogs as they are so fit! We also have a strong social side to the events and meet up for post-race social activities and fun events. People have made friends with whom they now do other activities, outside of CaniX.”
The most common dog breed in elite Canicross is the Grayster, which is a pointer and greyhound mix. These dogs are bred to get places fast, but not all Canicross runners have to reach warp speed.
“We love the fact that we have all breeds running with their owners who compete for fun, alongside the more elite athletes who hold international titles,” said Dawn.
“Any dog that is fit and healthy can take part at our events. Most are family pets,” she explained.
The World’s Grrreatest
Serious racers will put their skills to the test at the IFSS Dryland World Championships in Nybro, Sweden. The competition is held by the International Federation of Sleddog Sports from October 23-27, 2019, and includes Canicross elite categories for men, women and juniors.
Although Canicross originated in the colder regions of Europe, Americans have adopted this unique sport, too. Kenosha Running Company based in Kenosha, WI, hosts eight Canicross events per year and is the largest series of its kind in the US. Canicross USA is the place to go to find out about other upcoming races and meetups across the country.
Practice is the only pathway to the top of the Canicross mountain. This means getting your heads down, hitting the trails and working hard together to reach your goal. Whether you’re counting down the weeks until your first-ever race or trying to place a paw on that podium, you can start your journey on one of these trails.
Runyon Canyon, LA
This 160-acre park is full of winding trails to explore with your dog. Run together in Runyon Canyon Park’s 2.7-mile pathway which is perfect practice for budding Canicross champions. If your dog behaves well on the trail, reward her by playing fetch at the 90-acre off-leash dog park on the premises. Dog owners are reminded to go slow around other park users.
Dismal Swamp State Park, NC
Don't let the name fool you! Dismal Swamp State Park in South Mills, NC is home to more than 16 miles of former logging roads for Canicross through scenic and peaceful wetlands. The Bull Boulevard trail is 2.25 miles each way and offers a quiet, grassy path deep into the swamp.
Tahoe Rim Trail, NV
The Rim Trail (as locals call it) is a multi-use trail that spans 165 miles. Depending on where you join it, you’ll enjoy weaving through forests and meadows, past alpine lakes and alongside granite boulders. Not every trail user is comfortable with dogs, and it’s best to yield to others while you’re running it.
Located at the base of Mont Blanc, the highest summit in the French Alps, Chamonix lures snowboarders and skiers from around the world to experience its powdery slopes. The mountain range is also home to some of the most incredible trails in Europe. Give your Frenchie a workout on the Glacier des Bossons trail and, after working up a healthy appetite, tuck into lunch at the pet-friendly Chalet du Glacier des Bossons.
Mid Mountain Trail, UT
Park City, UT is a perennial playground for outdoor enthusiasts. Here you’ll find The Mid Mountain Trail, one of the prettiest running trails in America. The 20 miles of pristine, moderate, single-track pathways cut across the Wasatch Mountain Range between Deer Valley and The Canyons.
Fairfield Horseshoe, UK
England is home to some of the world’s best Canicross events, thanks in part to its many outstanding trails. The Lake District is one of the most picturesque, undeveloped areas in the country, and the Fairfield Horseshoe Trail offers an exhilarating way to enjoy its beauty. This moderate, 11-mile trek is popular among fell runners (also known as hill runners). Strap your dog up and climb the steep incline at the start of the trail before enjoying a manageable ridge run at the top.
Wildwood Trail, OR
Oregon's rugged coastline and verdant woodlands are tailor-made for this sport. Try the Wildwood Trail, Forest Park, a moderate run that's ideal for Canicross because of the well-trodden terrain and shade provided by heavily forested sections.
West Highland Way, UK
The Highlands in Scotland are popular among ramblers who enjoy strolling along pathways and taking in the dramatic surroundings. The West Highland Way is also perfect for dogs and their owners who want to practice Canicross. The entire trail stretches 96 miles from Milngavie, north of Glasgow, to Fort William in the Scottish Highlands. Stop off for a pint in the appropriately named pet-friendly pub, The Tailrace Inn, as a reward for keeping pace with your pooch.
Mesa Trail, CO
Boulder’s Mesa Trail is a moderate option that runs just over 7 miles from one end to the other. The varied terrain, which includes wider pathways at times, makes it a great practice trail for Canicross.