Derry and I ran our first Endurance Life event yesterday, the Sussex half marathon. Part of the Coastal Trail Series (CTS), this course started at Birling Gap and incorporated the South Downs Way, Seven Sisters Country Park and Beachy Head. Whilst some of the course is inland, the majority took in this beautiful and dramatic coastline.
The CTS is very popular with canicrossers and I could see why. Not only do they incorporate beautiful locations (check out their website for the full list of places they cover) but they cater very well for everyone; from allowing dogs on their transport (we had to take a short bus journey from the car park to the start area) to providing troughs of water for the dogs at the refreshment stations.
Please approach this article with caution… 😉
Now, I’ve painted a very idyllic picture of this event. Please don’t be fooled! Yes it was very beautiful and the atmosphere was amazing (helped by the fact that the anticipated rain didn’t transpire) but it was tough. Maybe not as tough as some of the other CTS events, but still tough nonetheless. This course was rated as a ‘3-strenuous’ (some events are rated as a 5-extreme!) which was probably accurate. There were a lot of ups and a lot of downs so it was unrelenting. This is the area of the infamous Seven Sisters after all 😉
In terms of atmosphere, everyone was in good spirits and it was great to see a good turn out of canicrossers. We ran the first 8 miles with a guy running his first ever canicross event with his beautiful Doberman/Dalamation cross called Cola and they were loving every minute if it. And we really enjoyed running the last leg with Clarke and his gorgeous boy Pirate!
This is the beauty of canicross. I’ve run a lot of solus races in the past and whilst I enjoyed the competitiveness and pushing myself for a PB it’s so nice to do a sport that, whilst still offering a challenge, isn’t so serious because ultimately it’s really all about the dogs and having a shared experience with them. Of course it’s still nice to push oneself and strive to do a good time but it’s different. For example, we talked to people on the route, took the occasional photo and ensured the dogs had plenty of water at the refreshment stations. And I’m afraid there’s not a lot you can do when your dog decides to have an unscheduled poo stop!
We completed the race in 2 hours 12 mins so we were very happy with that as a time. But really I would say the best part of competing in canicross events are the other canicrossers! We’ve met so many lovely people and their furry friends since we’ve discovered this wonderful sport. At races everyone will talk to one another, the dogs are all excited and it’s just a happy, positive atmosphere. At the end of the race it’s especially fun as everyone is in great spirits, having finished the (gruelling!) race, and the dogs enjoy plenty of congratulatory cuddles!
In terms of the overall organisation of the CTS event, I would say it was very good but not exceptional. The parking was easy, with transport for those of us in the overflow car park, the course was well marked (just keep an eye out for the chevrons and don’t take the turn for the full marathon by mistake which I heard happened to some poor lady in one of their other events!) and we received plenty of refreshments before and during the event. We also received a technical t-shirt which is so much better than the cotton t-shirts you often get from some other events (although they tend to be cheaper to enter) and the dogs even got a medal at the end!
I would say, however, that there could have been more refreshments at the end of the race. It wasn’t obvious to me where we could get water for us or the dogs. Perhaps I missed it but it wasn’t immediate after we crossed the line which is normally the case with races. But the biggest area for improvement for me was the whole start process. There were a few of us that missed the main start – we started in a second wave. On the website it said that the start was at 10:40am so we were all waiting for this and then heard that some other canicrossers had started approx 20 mins before us. Also, there was no specific information for canicrossers on the Endurance Life event page. It would have been helpful to have some FAQs or details pertaining to start times, refreshments for the dogs, and registration details. With the latter point, we had to queue in a packed marquee with our dogs to get our race numbers etc. Red is a bit nervous and although she was really good on the day (I’m so pleased about that) it was an extra thing for us to worry about.
That said, in my mind these points are easily rectifiable and regardless of this we really loved taking part and would definitely do a CTS event again. Before then we have a small matter of our first Brutal canicross event to contend with…!