Last month, I attended my first-ever canicross training event in Colorado Springs, Colorado to learn about this emerging sport of trail running with dogs. The experience left me wanting to learn more about the sport and what canicross racing and training opportunities exist across the United States.
To get answers to my questions, I interviewed Kenosha Running Company (Kenosha, Wisconsin) owner Brian Thomas who operates this specialty running store and canicross boutique. Brian organizes over a half dozen canicross events throughout the year, including new virtual events to provide racing opportunities during the coronavirus pandemic.
[TAYTE] For those who are unfamiliar, what is canicross?
[BRIAN] In the simplest of terms, canicross is running with your dog in a connected way. Generally, those who start running with their dog have no idea what canicross is or the gear that would be best suited for the activity. The experience of running with your dog can be enhanced when your dog has a properly fitted harness, the runner has a properly fitted belt/harness (similar to a rock climbing belt) and both harnesses are attached with a two-meter bungee lead. The best harnesses for runners allow the runner to run hands free and actually be pulled by the dog.
[TAYTE] How did you first become involved with the sport of canicross?
[BRIAN] In 2014, I started hosting trail running/walking events. Our events were dog friendly and most participants walked with their dogs. In 2016, I was approached by Rich Kisseloff of Windy City Dog Mushers. He raced internationally with his dogs in canicross and he introduced me to the sport. In December 2016, we hosted our first canicross event in conjunction with a trail race. The canicross had a separate start/race, but with our current events we now give the canicross runners a ten minute head start. We had 22 entries for our first canicross event and have since added seven additional canicross events to our 2017 schedule and have never looked back.
[TAYTE] What kinds of canicross products do you sell in your store?
[BRIAN] Before we opened our store in September 2018 we would bring canicross gear to our events in order to properly fit dogs and runners. We focus on the canicross harnesses, bungee leads and hiking belts for runners. We have other related accessories, but our focus is on hands free running and walking with your dog(s). Howling Dog Alaska and Non Stop Dogwear are the two brands we stock and they have proven to be great products.
We encourage runners to bring their dogs into the store so we can properly fit everyone. You’re then welcome to run around on our two-plus acres of trail surrounding the store to test out the products. We have had people drive crazy distances over the years just to get their dog fitted. Most recently we had a couple drive two dogs 7 hours from Columbus, Ohio to get fitted.
[TAYTE] Tell us about the canicross events you organize and why trail runners should consider attending.
[BRIAN] We host smaller events, typically 90 to 120 runners, walkers, and dogs. Dogs are friendly and break the ice for so many to start conversations that would have never happened without them. Runners without dogs love to see them and the start of the canicross races are completely insane when they are getting ready to start.
I generally cannot yell loud enough over the barking to be heard by the runners. I like to think they are talking trash to each other, yelling at me to get started and just plain excited! Once the race starts it is completely silent. We typically have 25 to 40 canicross runners at our events depending on time of year and weather. We host canicross races September through April and dogs seem to like the colder months best.
We have also had many of our runners adopt a rescue dog for a running partner as a result of attending one of our events. I think women like running with a dog for perhaps a little extra security when they are on their own.
[TAYTE] What are your tips for first time canicross participants and how can they get started in the sport?
[BRIAN] Get comfortable letting your dog lead and not run beside or behind you. Dogs by nature want to lead. Get the right gear for you and the dog. Your dog will run as far as you with the correct training. Your dog does not sweat, bring water on your runs and if there is water they can get into during/post run let them dive in and cool off. Run on soft surfaces, dirt or grass if possible as concrete and paved surfaces can wear at the pads of their paws. The pads will toughen up over time, so give them time!
[TAYTE] Where can people find canicross races or training events?
[BRIAN] We host the nation’s largest series of canicross events with seven in our 2020 series and plan to grow to eight events in 2021. We also started the CanicrossUSA Facebook Group which has chapters across the country. This is a great place for trail runners and race directors interested in canicross to connect. Finally, we recommend the American Trail Running Association’s event calendar which highlights canicross races.
[TAYTE] How can trail runners get canicross events started near where they live?
[BRIAN] The best way to grow canicross in your area is to reach out to trail race directors and encourage them to include canicross races. I am more than happy to talk to any interested race directors and help them understand what has worked for us. At the Kenosha Running Company we’re always assist new canicross runners in selecting gear and helping them better understand the sport.
Kenosha Running Company Contact Information:
Years in business: 3
Owner: Brian Thomas
Address: 1706 – 22nd Avenue, Kenosha, WI 53140
Phone number: 262-925-0300
Tayte Pollmann’s articles are supported by American Trail Running Association corporate member Nike Trail Running. You can follow Tayte’s adventures on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. If you liked this article, read even more of Tayte’s articles on our website.