Dog owners ready to race in Canicross

Karen Conal with Jura, Finn and Tiree.  Picture Ian Rutherford
Karen Conal with Jura, Finn and Tiree. Picture Ian Rutherford
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They are the super athletes of the canine world, able to endure Arctic conditions while running at full speed, pulling more than their own weight.

Bounding over the frozen wastes, huskies travel vast ­distances through snow and ice to shouts of “mush”.

But this month, pets who have never even seen a sled will be dragging a different kind of cargo – their owners.

Canicross, a barking-mad craze which has hit the Lothians, sees people race along a track on foot, pulled by their canine pals.

The dog wears a ­harness which is attached to the ­owner’s belt by a bungee cord or elastic line. The sport, which has been compared to 
windsurfing, has become popular across Europe, ­particularly in the UK.

Responding to the surge in interest, Cani-Sports Edinburgh has organised its first race at Foxlake near Dunbar on Sunday, November 16, and expects about 100 entrants.

CSE chairman Alison Wyllie said the race marked a “special milestone” as it will be their first race as Scotland’s first ­official canicross club.

She said: “The sport has grown massively over the past two years and we know this will show in the atmosphere on race day.”

Among the participants will be Anneka Fraser, from Bruntsfield, accompanied by Rocky, a three-year-old Staffordshire bull terrier cross rescue dog. Ms Fraser, 29, enjoyed her first experience of the sport so much that she gave up hockey to devote more time to it.

She said: “The first time I did it, I couldn’t stop smiling. It’s like you are on a skateboard and your friend is pulling you along.

“If your dog is strong, you just have to go with it. It is a bit like windsurfing. It makes running a lot easier with the dogs hauling us around and they love it. It is amazing how fast you can go. We treat the dogs like pacemakers.”

The race and fun day –which looks set to become an annual fixture in the sporting calendar – includes several categories for children and adults.

The day starts at 8.30am, with the first race due to get under way at 10am and the prize-giving at around 12.30pm. Most entrants will be running with one just one dog, although there is scope to run with two in some categories.

Distances include the usual 5km, but there is also a shorter course of 2.5km for children and beginners.

The animals are trained to respond to commands such as “go”, “right”, “left” and “faster”.

Meanwhile, some runners opt to use mushing terms such as “gee” (turn right), 
“haw” (turn left) and “whoa” (stop).

A powerful dog can help a runner shave up to three ­minutes off a 5km time, Ms Wyllie said. She added: “You would never pit a canicrosser against a runner – the dog would ­create an unfair advantage.

“It’s laugh-out-loud fun, and it’s like skiing when you get pulled around a corner.”

Ruff guide for beginners

Canicross originated in Europe as off-season training for the mushing community.

Originally, canicross dogs were of sledding types such as the husky or malamute, but now all sorts of breeds are taking part, from Rottweilers to poodles.Distances vary, with events held from a

mile up to 28 miles or more.

It was 2000 that the first canicross event was held in the UK, while one took place at Crufts in 2008.