Archie is now a half marathoner! I’m so proud of my little guy. He ran his longest ever distance on Saturday, raced his little heart out, and aced it.
We’ve previously done lots of 5km runs together, but I wasn’t sure how he’d get on with longer routes. Like human runners, it’s important to build up our four-legged friend’s training and experience. I’ve been increasing his distances racing over the past few months, racing the 10km, 13km and 16km trail routes with Foxtrail, and running an 11 mile adventure in the Pentlands a couple of weeks ago, to see how he got on. Happily, he’s full of boundless energy and youthful enthusiasm, and just loves to run! He runs best when he’s chasing the pack of fellow canicrossers and humans, and particularly loves narrow little forest tracks where he can weave between trees and skip over roots and stones (I have to keep my wits about me to make sure I stay upright on those, but they do make me feel like a real trail runner).
I was feeling a little daunted about the distance and terrain myself. I hadn’t run such a long trail route since Kristen and I blithely entered a trailblazer half marathon almost by accident back in 2015. After running the previous races in the Foxtrail series this winter I knew it would be a beautiful course, but a tough run. With predictions of snow and icy conditions, a long energy-sapping beach section and knee-deep river crossing I definitely expected a challenging run. It definitely lived up to my expectations.
I got up super early at 6am to get Archie and myself ready, expecting to spend ages scraping ice and snow from the car but there was only the lightest dusting of snow in Edinburgh, and warmer weather (a whole 0 degrees) than it had been all week. After making sure I had extra dry clothes, socks and trainers to change into post-run, and extra water and a blanket for Archie, we picked up Laura and headed off to Harvest Moon Holidays, between Dunbar and North Berwick. After an 8.45 race briefing at the Harvest Moon Treehouses, we started just after 9am, behind the main runners (canicrossers always start a few minutes behind the main pack). I love the atmosphere at the start of these races – the canicrossers are all super friendly and chatty, and the same faces turn up at a lot of the races. There were quite a few runners from my club Canisports Edinburgh, including the wonderful Lan who wasn’t racing, but did a great job cheering and taking pictures.
Archie and I started at the back of the canicross group, five minutes behind the human-only runners, so we were soon dead last, which was a bit dispiriting. I found the first few miles quite hard going, but resisted the urge to speed off (holding Archie back), and kept us to a steady tortoise-style race strategy, letting the hares race off. It paid off, and soon we were catching up with and overtaking other runners.
The weather turned out perfectly, gorgeous winter sunshine, blue skies and hard frozen ground which was much easier to run on that soft mud would have been. The air was very dry though, and I was glad I’d brought water for Archie. He kept trying, confused, to drink out of frozen puddles so we stopped after four miles for a water break, and again at eight miles. He made a weird gasping noise at the eight mile point which was briefly worrying, but I think maybe he’d just swallowed some grass as after a quick drink he was back to normal. When I offered him water at the ten mile water station he wasn’t interested, so he seemed to get enough.
The race covered all sorts of different terrain. There was a bit of road running and long stretches of stoney farm tracks which were a bit uncomfortable under foot and none of the dogs were a bit fan of. Archie loved the forest tracks and the rutted fields though, as well as the dunes and the beach.
Although the course was beautiful, it did two loops back through the starting gantry, which was hard-going psychologically. I can see that it would be very easy to choose to pull-out and DNF if you were struggling, when if you’d been miles out on a distant route you might have just kept going. But on the other hand I imagine if you were injured or in difficulty the start/finish line must have been a very welcome sight. Not my favourite though.
My favourite sections were through the forest, and along the coastal clifftops, where the views were spectacular.
The final 3km along the Tyninghame beach was stunning, but brutal. Everyone I spoke to afterwards agreed about how the tough the beach section was, running on soft sand with tired legs, and with two crossings the Peffer Burn to get your feet soaked in the icy water. That goodness it was only a few inches high, so my mental images of wading through deep water didn’t come to pass (I think we were just lucky this year that the tide was out).
The final mile was back along the dunes and then the road back to the Treehouses. As with much of the course, the 200 runners were pretty spread out so you often felt you were running along. I was so in the zone that I ran right past a large yellow arrow pointing left; I’m very grateful to my good samaritan who yelled out ‘wrong way!’ and got me back on track!
A final push uphill and we were at the end. There were free biscuits and hot drinks at the end; that hot cup of tea always tastes *amazing*. I love our wooden medal – it feels like we both really earned it.
I went out for dinner with my my canicross club later and felt like I was going to fall asleep at the restaurant table!
Looking forward to the last race of the series in March.
I’m running the London Marathon in April 2019 for Guide Dogs. If you’re impressed by Archie’s efforts now would be a great time to donate, which you can do here.