Running is going to the dogs… for proof, look no further than the “Cani-RAID FouBraque” canicross event where dogs haul their people through the breathtaking countryside of the Canadian Appalachians. Welcome to another tale from the GripWorld series of “Crazy Runs” (and this one even wags).
When someone says "I’m just goin‘ out with the dog,“ on the east coast of North America, there may be more to it than you think. Because here, against the stunning backdrop of the Canadian Appalachian mountains, people and their pooches compete in what has to be one of the most unusual runs on earth. This is the Cani-RAID, where human and hound form a six-legged team, tackling a cross-country run through the Appalachians – a forested mountain range. The Appalachian forests have provided the setting for more than a few Hollywood movies, the most recent example being the science-fiction epic “The Tribute of Panem”. But since 2011, the lead role in this neck of the woods – every September, that is – has been regularly played by the heroes and heroines of the K9 tribe, as the name "Cani-RAID FouBraque" might lead you to suspect. It’s not far from “Cani” to the Latin “canis”, which as you may have learned at school means “dog”. The sport itself goes by the name of canicross and it’s all about dogs having their day, taking their human companions for a walk on the wild side.
No matter if it’s a flyweight Chihuahua, a welterweight Dalmatian, a heavyweight Danish Mastiff or a St. Bernard tipping the scales at more than 80 kilos, every breed is welcome at the Cani-RAID. It’s a two-day event. On arrival, dog and master or mistress share dinner with all the other contestants on the banks of the Daaquam River. As darkness descends and the campfires flare up, the two- and four-legged players prepare for Act 1 of their shared adventure. This is the “Canicross Nocturne” or night run along a six-kilometer trail through the Appalachians, not far from Quebec Province. Shuttle buses transport small groups of men, women and their canine counterparts deep into the Appalachian Regional Park, giving humans and hounds a chance to get to know one another along the way.
With only a headlamp to aid their vision, the human competitors have to rely on their dogs to help them follow the trail in the dark. While dogs may not be able to tell colors apart as clearly as humans, their eyes can distinguish far more precisely between shades of gray. So particularly around dusk, dogs have a clear edge over people in terms of vision. To make sure no one loses their best friend, the dogs wear collars that glow in the dark. Along the way, dog and owner look out for one another, respect each other’s needs and work together when the going gets tough. Indeed, these joint cross-country runs can also be a training opportunity. Take Joanie Bourassa, for example: 2017 was her third time on the Cani-RAID run and in the previous two events her dog, Elly, had proven to be afraid of the dark. “I knew Elly didn’t like being out at night, so I decided to set her a challenge. I wanted to listen to her and empathize with her, so I could calm her down if she showed signs of panicking,” says Joanie.
At canicross events, dog and owner are linked by an elastic lead worn around the owner’s waist and attached to the dog’s harness. The dog runs ahead and virtually pulls its partner along. If the dog is strong enough, the force exerted on the lead will make it easier for the person at the other end to run faster. This tandem-style traction forges the two into a kind of unit and for the top canicross teams can lead to an average speed approaching 25 km/h over the course. With the night-time run behind them, the six-legged couples have little time to relax, because the next morning brings the second part of the weekend event, the "Dèfi Chien Sale" or Dirty Dog Challenge. Together, dog and owner set off across the Regional Park on a trail through the Canadian forest. One highlight of the 8.5-kilometer run is wading across the Saint John River together, not far from the border with the USA.
The popularity of Canicross events has long since spread far and wide. In Europe too, this challenging form of competition has a fast-growing community of fans who love heading out across country with their four-legged friends. Another Canadian event, meanwhile, also staged in Quebec Province, is the Canicross Sirius Bromont. Here, depending on the age of the dog, teams cover a distance of 2.5, 5 or 10 kilometers together. The Canicross Sirius Bromont is run on one of the sport’s most picturesque routes and just like the Cani-RAID FouBraque it brings together a whole host of different breeds of dog and people of all ages. As the saying goes, the dog is man’s best friend – and canicross offers a great opportunity to get to know your best friend even better.