Introducing canicross – my top tips on running with your dog

Canicross race at Brutal, Bordon 2014

I wanted to do a write-up for anyone considering taking up canicross with their dog(s).

If you’ve been to any of the Brutal, Human Race, CTS or other canicross friendly off-road events you may have noticed a group of people taking part with their dogs – and if you haven’t seen us, you’ll most definitely have heard us!

Canicrossers at the start of the Brutal 10km run, Bagshot 26th April 2014

Brutal 10k, Bagshot 2014 

Well, this is a sport that’s really taking off in the UK. It’s called canicross and it’s a fantastic way to combine your love of running with exercising your dog.

Canicross is basically cross country running with your dog. It developed from the origins of skijoring, where people ski with their dog pulling out in front of them. The owner wears a waist belt, the dog wears a harness and the two of you are attached to each other via a bungee line. It’s that simple and, I promise you, it’s lots of fun.

So here are my top 10 tips for getting started…

1. Select your weapon 😉                                                                                                        

I would recommend starting off with one dog (two’s fine if they are easily manageable….or even three if you own schnauzers like my friend Jenni) – it just means you can concentrate on your dog and on getting used to running with the canicross kit. You don’t need to run with a specific breed or size of dog (anything goes!) – so long as both of you are willing participants and you always put the needs of your dog first then you are good to go.

running with dogs, schnauzers

Jenni & her three gorgeous Schnauzers

Canicross Brutal Minley 2014

My boy Sidney loves canicross!

2. Go out for a trial run
Join some other canicrossers to get some practice in.  Try enquiring via the Canicross Trailrunners facebook page and someone will put you in touch with your nearest group. There are many across the country and it’s growing all the time!

The good thing about running with other canicrossers is that your dog will pick up the sport much more quickly and it’s much more fun in the process.

Running with other canicrossers for the first time can be daunting. Dogfit offers classes in parts of the country, including Introduction to Canicross sessions catering specially for beginners.

The North Downs Canicross Team at Brutal10 Bagshot 26th April 2014

Northdowns Canicrossers

3. Try before you buy!
All you need to get going are three items; a waist belt for you, a harness for your dog(s) and a bungee line. There are a few brands and styles out there that all do a great job, so the best thing to do is get hold of some and try them out for yourself. Other canicrossers will be more than happy to loan out some of their kit.

4. Buy your own kit
Once you’ve decided on the kit you need, where do you get hold of it? Well there are a few companies that sell canicross gear. Dogfit sell a range of good quality products that are personally recommended by the owners who are experienced canicrossers. It’s important to get the right fit so, if you are in any doubt about sizes or which product to choose, just give them a call.

5. Follow the instructions!
It goes without saying but always put the needs of your dog first. It’s basic common sense really; don’t run them immediately after food, don’t push them if they are lethargic or struggle with the warmer temperatures and make sure they are hydrated (it’s worth carrying water especially over the summer months and longer distances). It’s even worth investing in a fleece/coat for your dog for when you hang around after runs in the winter time.

A lot depends on your dog’s age, fitness and general health – if ever in any doubt, you should get them checked over by your vet. Even when you get more competitive and start to enter races, your dog’s welfare should always come first!

These lovely dog fleeces are great for post canicross runs!

An essential piece of kit for post canicross runs!

6. Throw in a few commands
Once you and your dog are comfortable running with the kit, why not introduce some basic commands, such as left, right, with me/heel etc? I’ve found this invaluable when I’ve run some of the more technical courses out there, plus it’s a good bonding exercise for you and your best pal. Check out these top tips for commands!

7. Enter a race
More and more events are accepting canicross entries which is fantastic. You have to experience it yourself to really appreciate the atmosphere at the start of a canicross race, but trust me, it’s electric and you and your dog will love it!

Check out the Canicross Events page on Facebook for details of canicross friendly races.

Canicross runners at Brual Minley

Plenty of events welcome canicrossers

Canicross finishers at Brutal Bordon 2014

Dogs still pulling…and smiling…at the end of a tough 10km!

8. Try out night running
A great thing about canicross is that it isn’t just a daytime sport (in fact, my dogs run better at night time) – the only additional accessory you need is a head torch, though it’s well worth investing in a decent one. Just pick some good routes you already know and that aren’t too bad underfoot.

9. Organise your own social runs
Depending on how active canicross is in your area there’s no reason why you can’t organise your own runs – perhaps get some friends involved and start your own facebook page?

Canicross running in Surrey

The best runs are social runs with friends!

Social canicross run, river wey, Guildford

10. But most importantly….Have fun!
Canicross is really simple to pick up and it’s a very sociable sport. My dogs love it and I have made so many wonderful friends as a result. Races are great but it’s the experiences that matter and that’s what makes this a truly amazing sport!

Canicross running off-road

Our friends Tanja, Paul & their boy Hank who we met at the very beginning of our canicross adventures 🙂

Canicross running

 *thanks to Anthony Evenden, Tanja Russell, Olivia Ommaney and Jenni Kenyon for use of some of the photos 
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Race Report : Brutal Long Valley 10km, 15th Nov 2014

Now I know why these races are called Brutal.

But I loved every minute of it!

I believe this Brutal is regarded as the wettest of the courses (there are far worse though from a mud ‘n bog perspective coming up next year…but let’s not talk about Bordon just yet!).

Most of the water sections were in the first half of the race and they were frequent, expansive (including a 3/4 min wade through a lake), deep (about waist level) and a tad on the cold side! With names like Alligator Swamp, Swan Lake and Duck Pond it’s no surprise really.

Ideally your dog needs to be comfortable swimming to do the race, but it is possible to avoid these sections if you really need to, but be prepared to take a very wide detour.

The single lap course was undulating most of the way round with some very hilly sections so be prepared to work those glutes….and every other muscle that’s going!

But that also made for a really scenic course, with the main highlight being Caesar’s Camp where we were spoilt with magnificent views….if you could spare the time and energy to look around that is, as the route was also pretty technical. The demanding terrain was very rutted in places and required some weaving, so you were constantly watching your footing. In fact, at least a couple of canicrossers had a nasty fall, my husband being one of them.

The start of the canicross race (which is 10 minutes before the mass start as usual) was as crazy as ever, with the familiar scene of owners (unsuccessfully) trying to keep their over excited dogs calm. Such was the highly charged atmosphere, when we all set off at least two people fell over in the struggle to get a clear path. But that’s often par for the course with canicross racing!

Start of Brutal10 canicross race

Release the Hounds! *

Whilst the start is often the most fun part of a canicross race, I do think the area could have been wider to accommodate us all better and this may have made the start less chaotic. I also think we are called to the start far too early, with 10 minutes to wait. This also affects the dogs’ behaviour. That said, my advice if you do have an easily excitable dog is to wait to join the start line as late as possible and also keep to one side so you are not in the thick if it.

Paul & Hank at Brutal 10km Long Valley 2104

Nothing like a muddy hole to add to the whole Brutal experience! *

* Thanks to Tanja Russell for the excellent photos.

The whole race was great fun and I personally enjoyed the challenging terrain and tough conditions. This is what makes these races exciting after all and a great talking point afterwards.

Thanks to the Brutal volunteers and organisers as ever for a brilliant event.

Canicrossers at Brutal Long Valley 10km 15th Nov 2014

Vicky & Barnaby all war painted up & ready to go 🙂









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Race Report : Brutal 10km, Woolmer 18th October 2014

With names like Grunge Alley, Dead Man’s Bog, Muddy Corner & The Bird Bath, you’d have to be from planet Zog not to expect to be in the need of a good shower (or two!) after this race!

Yes, Brutal Woolmer is nothing like Brutal Minley, the delightfully dry 10km that I raced back in Aug. But, secretly I’m rather pleased it wasn’t. It wouldn’t have been half as much fun.

This time around I ran the single lap course with some friends from north downs canicrossers and, I must admit, running it as part of a group certainly made the whole experience more fun and I embraced those boggy, stinky, waist level ditches like they were my long lost brother!

So, how was the whole course, apart from wet ‘n muddy?

Well first off, don’t expect to break any world records. This is the slowest of the Brutal races with only a few fast sections on the course.

The first few kilometres are pretty kind in that it’s mostly dry underfoot, aside from the odd ankle deep section, and pretty technical in places as you run through a wooded section and uneven terrain.

Then after that the real fun begins! We hit a big dark ‘plunge pool’ section which looks innocuous at first until you realise just how deep it is…check out the photo below. If you had somehow managed to stay clean up until this stage then I applaud you, but this is the point when you were grateful for wearing light weight & dark coloured clothing! It was great fun though scrambling back out of the water and up the muddy ledge, and the dogs made it look easy of course!

The first deep wet section on the Brutal Woolmer course

A refreshing dip in the plunge pool.

After this, there is an ankle to mid calf deep section to run through before hitting the first major water feature, Grunge Alley. This is a circa 30-40m waist high trench and meant that the dogs had to do their first bit of swimming.

Luckily the water wasn’t cold and the air temperature was around 18˚C so it could have been much worse – at least I could still feel my toes!

Grunge Valley section of Brutal Woolmer 10km

Grunge Valley!

The next seriously wet section after Grunge Alley was Dead Man’s Bog, a long waist level deep section that again required some swimming from the dogs (although dogs could run along the ‘boggy’ edge). As you come out of the water, you hit a boggy section which actually isn’t as bad as it sounds as it was more waterlogged than being really thick mud, but it just made that particular section slow going.

Dead Man's Bog, Brutal10 Woolmer

Dead Man’s Bog – we’re all starting to smell a bit now.

The final major section was the lake (presumably this was the ‘Bird Bath’), another long wade in waist high water and another mini swimathon for the dogs. This was fine underfoot and you just have the odd bit of reed to fight.

It’s worth noting, especially for canicrossers, that there are few obstacles along the way but nothing too arduous, e.g. a couple of gaps in gates to squeeze dogs through, a make-shift style comprising two chairs & a bit of low raised barb wire to climb over. At least you could see these obstacles; it’s the stuff underfoot you just have to be extra careful of, e.g. logs, branches etc so just take it easy on those sections – if you wish!

Brutal10, Woolmer

Frieda the GSP made her mum proud when she swam for the first time.

Once again this was a really well organised Brutal event and canicrossers were made to feel really welcome. Parking and registration was straightforward, with no long queues. The route itself was well marked and we were offered water at the halfway point – including a dog bowl for the dogs (although they had plenty of natural water on the way round!).

At the finish there was a good selection of refreshments for the runners – though I still think it would be nice if the dogs all had a little something, even a biscuit.

The only downside about this race is that it’s not overly spectator friendly in that it’s awkward and time consuming to get out onto the main course to take photographs and cheer people on. I don’t know if there’s any way around this (given the nature of the terrain) but it might be worth stating this on the website so people have prior notice.

All in all, this was a fantastic course. A big thank you to the organisers and helpers who took time out of their busy lives to help make this yet another thoroughly enjoyable event.

North Downs Canicrossers

North Downs Massive!



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Race Report : Hard As Snails, 6th Sep 2014

The Hard As Snails 10km has to be one of my favourite canicross events in the racing calendar; partly because it is local and set in gorgeous scenery but largely because it was my first ever canicross race when I took part in it last year (in fact it was only my second actual canicross run!) and so holds special memories for me. The 12 months since then have been an amazing experience and I’ve met some equally amazing people and dogs during that time.

The Hard As Snails is also a popular race for canicrossers, with around 40 taking part this year, making it even more enjoyable. It was lovely to see the different club strips bring represented, such as North Downs (the group I run with), Sussex and Kent.

Canicrossers getting ready for start of Hard As Snails 2014

Around 40 canicrossers took part including those from Sussex, Kent & North Downs groups

Parking and registration for the event was at Shalford Park, just a short walk away from the start. All runners were given a timing chip (velcro wristband) but, unlike last year, no race number bib. I can only assume this was because there was no official photographer, which was a real shame (and a missed opportunity for the organisers).

The race started from The Chantries car park (off the Pilgrims Way) in Shalford, with canicrossers setting off at 8:45am (though the website did say 8:30am). This was 15 minutes before the mass start, which is the best way in my opinion as it gives the dogs a chance to spread out and settle into a good running pace without getting under other runners’ feet. The start area, however, was fairly narrow for the amount of dogs there – it may have been better if we had started slightly further up as the path widened.

Start of Canicross Hard As Snails race 2014

The usual gentle start to a canicross race! 😉

The course itself was beautiful and had a bit of everything to make the 10km loop anything but dull. There was compacted trail, sand, forest trails and three challenging hills thrown in for good measure!

After about 1km (which was itself a long gradual incline from the start) we hit the first main hill which took us up to St Martha’s church (also the halfway/turning point for those doing the 5km course). This is a beautiful spot with amazing views – though it probably wasn’t appreciated at the time!

Oh yes, I mentioned the sand! This is one of the hazards of running in the north downs and this course had a few sections, mostly around St Martha’s, where you had to dig deep!

After climbing the first hill, the course took us back down and on towards Newlands Corner, where we hit, what many people find, the hardest of the hills….but no sand *silver lining* 😉 This is particularly tough as it kicks up again half way up and then when you think it’s ended (when you reach a gateway to a footpath) it continues another 80 metres or so…so be warned, best to pace this hill and not go out too fast!

After this section, the course looped back round towards St Martha’s, which only meant one thing – another climb back up to the church! I personally found this the toughest hill of the lot as by now you are about 6km in, have already tackled two tough hills, so the legs are starting to get tired, and this particular hill is very sandy and long. That said, it’s an amazing feeling once you get to the top knowing that you only have 2.5 km to go and the worst of the hills are over with.

After this, it’s an undulating run back to the finish! Easy Peasy :/

The course had clear markers and was very well marshalled; a big thank you to all involved 🙂

Canicrossers at finish line of Hard As Snails 2014

The brilliant Tanja and Hank at the finish and who we’ve had the privilege to know for over a year now, thanks to this amazing sport!

In terms of the refreshments, there was a manned water station just after the halfway mark. Disappointingly, however, there were no water bowls for the dogs which really surprised me given the number of canicrossers taking part. Instead we all had to improvise using the small plastic cups of water. It wasn’t helped by the fact that it was very humid that day. In fact, an extra water stop for the dogs would have been a real help as this course is very dry. Unfortunately, there were no water bowls for them at the end of the race either and I think this did dampen the overall experience for canicrossers. That said, I do hope the organisers take this feedback on board and sort it for next year, as I will definitely be running it again!

I can’t fault the other refreshment goodies at the end of the race though; there were flapjacks, brownies and bananas!

Overall, this was a fantastic race with beautiful scenery and I would recommend this for canicrossers and dogless runners alike!

north downs canicrossers at start of Hard As Snails 2014

Ginetta & Alexia from the north downs canicrossers group with their gorgeous girls!


Boston Terrier at Hard As Snails 2014 race

Even Boston Terriers can canicross with the best of ’em! Juliet and Nero, the cutest (and most determined) dog ever.




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Race Report : Brutal 10km, Minley 16th August 2014

Yesterday I took part in my second Brutal10 trail race; this time at Minley Training land, Blackwater Valley. I ran it with my staffy Sidney and he was a little star, as always!

Brutal 10km Run Minley, August 2014

Me & My Boy! (thanks to

This is best described as a technical, off-road course with a few short, sharp energy sapping hills thrown in for good measure! But that isn’t unusual for a Brutal race. What was unusual was the distinct lack of mud and water…and by water I mean waist high trenches or streams! Brutal Minley is definitely the driest race of the series.

To be honest, given the challenge of negotiating a technical course and some tough hill sections, I personally wasn’t missing the water, apart from the having the opportunity to cool down!

Canicross Brutal

Canicross start of Brutal, Minley 2014

Before I go into detail on the course itself, I have to commend the registration process and logistics that goes into these races.

Registration couldn’t be simpler; you enter and pay online and then when you turn up on the day of the race, you go to the registration tent, give your name & number (which you find on a board) and collect your timing chip & bib. The timing chip is attached to a velcro band that you wear round your wrist.

It cost me only £16 to enter online (slightly more if you enter on the day) and understandably, for that price you don’t get a t-shirt or medal, which frankly I’m not bothered about.

Most importantly, this race had a great atmosphere; before, during and post race. The marshals and event helpers were all so friendly and there were supporters dotted about the course – though mostly at the toughest sections (mmm funny that!), such as the bridge where we had to run up a very steep, grassy slope to get to the top!! My legs did scream out in pain a few times on this race I have to say!

In terms of refreshments, there was a water stop just after the halfway mark (including water bowls for the dogs) and water, orange drink and bananas at the end. Nothing elaborate but fine for what we needed.

The most standout observation for me is that canicrossers were made to feel so welcome; by both the organisers and the dogless runners. Whilst canicrossers set off 10 minutes before the main race (at 09:50), inevitably the faster dogless runners do tend to catch up with many canicrossers and there is a lot of mutual respect between both parties, making it really good fun to be a part of.

It was great to see so many canicrossers at this event – this just shows how popular the Brutal races are.

Canicross Brutal10 Minley Aug 2014

Juliet with Frieda aka Chewaboot 🙂

Canicrosser at Brutal10 Minley August 2014

Debbie & Millie – war paint not obligatory 😉

The course itself was challenging but really enjoyable. It consisted mostly of forest trails, where you could get into a good groove pace wise, along with a few sections in the woodland that incorporated some sharp zig zags and meandering narrow paths. This did mean you had to concentrate on following the signs and markers (no time for snoozing!) which isn’t always easy to do when you are racing and trying to negotiate your dog round the tight turns. Some people did lose their way but I don’t think that was necessarily for the lack of markers (there was plenty of red and white tape and arrow markers along the route) but more because it was a little confusing trying to follow the exact path when it was switching around so much.

That’s not to say this is a negative in any way; many people will love the technical aspect of the course. I actually enjoyed the fact that it was a bit different from many other races I’ve done. That said, when you are trying to follow a tricky section it can slow you down and there’s nothing more frustrating than missing a turning.

All in all, I thought it was a fantastic race – as we have all come to expect from a Brutal! The organisers are very enthusiastic and meticulous and it is evident that a lot of work goes into making this a race that people (and dogs!) will enjoy.

Bring on the next one! 🙂


Canicross Brutal Minley 2014

A happy Sidney at the end of the race 🙂





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8 Tips For Starting Out In Canicross

If you’re thinking of trying out canicross with your furry friend(s), then here’s all you need to know to get started…

1. Do some research

It’s worth doing a little bit of reading before you embark on the sport – just so you know what’s involved, whether your dog is suitable and how to get started!

There is information on the internet if you know where to look. Check out this useful blog for the full low down on everything you need to know about canicross.

2. Get kitted out

Ok, so you’ve decided to take the plunge (yay!!!!). The good news is that you don’t really need to buy much gear to get started and any investment will be well worth it as it will last you a very long time.

As for the waist belt, there are different types depending on your preferences and the power of your dog. I personally like the lightweight belts that sit on your bottom/below your waist as these are kinder on your back, especially if you have a strong pulling dog.

With the running line, you can buy a single or double/split line depending on whether you plan to run with one or two dogs (or you can get a set up for more than two dogs if you are on a death wish!). Again, it’s best to get recommendations from other canicrossers if in doubt.

Check out Dogfit for essential kit!

Aside from that, you’re ready to go 🙂

Non Stop canicross harness

Honey modelling the Non Stop Freemotion harness

Canicross Kit

You only need to buy three pieces of kit to get started in Canicross!

In the winter time we have found that a fleece/jumper for the dogs is an essential item after a run, especially if you are hanging around for a while afterwards (as we invariably do). Here’s a lovely pic of our two with their pal Hank. Red & Hank are modelling the Weatherbeeta fleeces (good quality and price though worth also checking on Ebay as a few pop up on there occasionally) and Sid is wearing an Equafleece, which is a gorgeous lightweight fleece coat.

These lovely dog fleeces are great for post canicross runs!

These lovely dog fleeces are great for post canicross runs.

3. Make contact

Find a local canicross group or individuals that already take part in the sport in your area. I would recommend that you initially search for a dedicated local group via Facebook. That’s how I found my nearest group Northdowns Canicrossers (which covers the Guildford and surrounding areas). Failing that, put a post on the Canicross Trailrunners page.

If there aren’t any organised groups in your area then why not set up your own Facebook group? You’d be surprised how many people will be keen to join when you start spreading the word!

If you are a complete beginner when it comes to running, you may want to join a structured and organised group led by a qualified and trained instructor. DogFit have a number of Trainers who offer one off Taster sessions through to Couch to 5K.

4. Do some social runs

The best thing about canicross is that it is very sociable. If you can find fellow canicrossers in your area why not get together and do some social runs? It’s great fun and the dogs love it!

Canicross social run

‘North Downs Canicrossers’ on a social run

5. Get tips from other canicrossers

A great thing about knowing other canicrossers is the free advice you can get; whether it’s about nutritional tips for your dogs or the best running kit to use, it’s a great source of information when you are new to this wonderful sport (and beyond!).

6. Your dog always comes first

Always put your dog’s health and well-being first. If you and your dog are new to running then I would suggest doing short/slow runs (or a run/walk) initially and building up from there. If it’s warm or your dog suffers from the heat, then use common sense; either go out early or late to avoid the peak temperatures or ease back completely…and always carry water for them. Some people also use ‘cooling coats’ on their dogs after a warm run to help them recover. A lot depends on your dog’s age, fitness and general health and if you are ever in any doubt you should get them checked over by your vet.

7. Enter a local race

If you are new to canicross but already a keen runner, why not enter a race? There are plenty of events across the country that welcome canicrossers. Check out this Canicross Events page as a starter for ten.

Canicross racing, Brutal10 Bagshot

Canicrossers at the start line for the Brutal 10km at Bagshot

8. Have fun!

Above all else canicross is brilliant fun, both for you and your dog(s). As well as keeping fit, you get to make some great friends and discover new places. So what’s not to like 🙂

Canicross running with dogs

Canicross is a great way to keep fit with your dog!

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Race Report : Neolithic Half Marathon, 4th May 2014

If I were to sum up this event in one sentence, I would say it was a mixed bag in terms of the organisation, pretty flat in terms of the course but very hard underfoot (too hard) and not the best marshalled.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it and I am really pleased with my time but as a canicrosser I’m afraid I wouldn’t recommend this race, purely because of the surface we ran on which was largely compacted trail and tarmac (with a few areas of grass and mud providing a welcome relief!) which is not ideal for dogs. I’m very surprised by this given that canicrossers were encouraged to enter (we had to enter this race through the CaniX website).

The event itself was run by Wiltshire Wildlife Trust with the route, incorporating the Salisbury Plain landscape, starting at Avebury and finishing at Stonehenge. I’m not a fan of laps so the fact that this was an ‘A to B’ race was fine.

The race organisers laid on a coach to take us to the start – we left our cars at the finish area where we also registered, so it was very easy and straightforward. This was all very well organised. The only issue I had was that the coach left around 8:30am which meant that we got to the start area with nearly an hour and a half to spare before the official start at 10:30am. This, in my mind, was far too long to wait given that we had already registered and we had dogs eager to get going. Luckily it wasn’t raining as the area was very exposed.

I’m also relieved that it wasn’t too hot as the entire route was in the open so there was no respite from the sun for the dogs. It was warm enough though (around 15 degrees but very sunny). Given that early May can be very hot in the UK, it strikes me as odd that the organisers didn’t plan to start the canicross runners off earlier!

As I mentioned the route was very compacted and therefore hard underfoot. This isn’t great for dogs or even for some of us humans! My knees certainly took a pummeling. The surrounding scenery was very beautiful but the track itself, which was long, winding and very similar for much of the race, wasn’t the most exciting.

The organisers provided ample water stops, including water bowls for the dogs. However, I’ve no idea what was going on with the mile/km markers (or rather lack of!) along the route, and when I asked people who were manning the water stops for an idea as to how far we had left to run, they were clueless! The marshals on the route were very non-communicative and there was a point in the race where we had to take a sharp left turn that we nearly missed that had no-body spotting. We spoke to a couple of people at the end of the race who said that they went wrong by half a mile at some point due to poor signs/marshalling.

At the finish of the race I couldn’t fault the organisers at all. The dogs were welcomed with a big bath of cold water and the ladies even poured water over their backs to cool them down some more. The dogs also received a medal and treats, and my husband and I were given a drink and small bag of goodies to eat. It was a lovely area to finish with a good atmosphere.

So, overall I’m pleased I ran this race but I’m afraid I wouldn’t run it again as there are plenty of other races out there with terrain that’s a little kinder under-paw!

Dogs enjoying a cold bath at the end of the neolithic half marathon May 2014

Sidney enjoying a nice cool down after the race!







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