PAULA RADCLIFFE is a
name you associate with running marathons. Nicky Hutchison and marathons are
not three words I ever thought would be uttered within a sane sentence.
had once presented medals at a marathon and many of the runners had
collapsed and vomited all over me at the finish and it had been a lifelong
pledge never to put myself through such rigors.
However, well-meaning but
muddle-headed running friends brought the subject up of canicrossing 26
miles across Salisbury Plain and due to some sort of supernatural possession
or the drink I agreed to enter the Avebury to Stonehenge marathon for the
Wiltshire Wildlife Trust.
Although I am a big fan of wildlife and green
spaces the sensible half of me was already planning a sickie for that day.
(It was a toss-up between a migraine and a dodgy curry the night before).
There had been the possibility of running a lily-livered half marathon but
with eight huskies, it is plain to see that half measures are not part of my
Once signed up, I
decided to take the whole training thing quite seriously. I believe I jogged
down to the newsagents for a copy of Runners World, scanning the front page
for the magic title: Marathons Made Easy. I consulted my memory banks for
possible role models.
My husband is a marathon canoeist and actually
completed the Arctic Canoe Race but I seemed to recall that his preparations
were a timely dip in the River Wye a couple of weeks before and setting off
for Finland with a self-built boat whose paint was still wet. He did acquit
himself well but was not the one on this occasion.
The important thing,
though, was the dogs. No matter that I would cough and splutter my way round
26 miles, it would not do for them. As always with canicross the dogs come
We usually covered 5 to10km on an average run and even my maths told me
this wasn’t quite the right preparation as we were hoping that each dog
would cover about a half-marathon distance given the training time I had
I eyed up my team for suitable volunteers. Couch potato Ruby, on
hearing the words canicross and marathon, did three turns on the armchair
and phlumped down with her back to me. She is one of the few dogs who can
express the sentence ‘Are we nearly there yet?’ with a look over her
shoulder, but I expect the reaction might have been different had I
mentioned ‘Finders Keepers Sheep Stampede’.
Pixie, all round alpha bitch,
liked a trip out but under-performed in poor weather conditions because the
mud spoilt her coat and would have immediately and forcefully proclaimed
ownership of Salisbury Plain to any other dog who thought they had right of
As there were many runners and walkers planned I chose the other six to
help the three of us across what I was told was an easy, undulating trail. (I
do not have GCSE geography or truthful friends.)
Enlisting the help of
Sarah who had run the London marathon previously and Fizz the border collie,
I asked her for some coaching. We began with an 11-miler round the local
woods with Sarah on her bike shouting encouragement and cracking a large
whip. It was brilliant, I was ready! Surely the following 15 miles would be
I could even walk without crutches on the following day. I am ashamed
to say that I never did manage to increase 11 miles though the dogs enjoyed
the enhanced training sessions and before you can say ‘call an ambulance’ I
was driving to Avebury for the start of the marathon.
Although I would have
preferred to stay with the hippy caravan encampment at Avebury listening to
the Donovan back catalogue, my first canicross dog was in a state of high
Frazey is a dog confident of her own charms and would not
imagine anything other than a warm welcome. Had she been human she would
regularly have attended music festivals and stadium gigs so the buzz at the
start was just the ticket. There were tons of ramblers and lots of
dogs lining up to get their start times. Many had back packs stuffed to the
Kendal mint cake. I had bought an expensive bum bag but was told
to throw it away as my friend’s partner would carry all our supplies.
in the army and he was fit. (Unbeknownst to him and us, he was also
suffering from glandular fever so the man deserves a medal.) We also had a
support team who would meet us at several points for brow-mopping, muscle
massage and food supplies. We were, however, well-catered for on the
refreshment front. Well done Wiltshire Wildlife Trust on preparing so many
drink stops, little oases in the desert of Salisbury Plain.
The first half went
well. Despite having to beat up loads of walkers who accused us of cheating
by having dogs pull us, the going was good: nice springy turf, a few hills
for interest (what happened to the suggestion that we walk up the hills and
run the flat I wonder) and
magnificent Wiltshire countryside.
We passed through a couple of pretty
villages with local shops selling bacon butties and held up everyone
man-handling our dogs over stiles. We crossed main roads as well so there
were a variety of terrains to negotiate which kept us on our knees (sorry,
toes). The haul up to the halfway point was depressing. The road was narrow
and there were many cars containing the wimpy half-marathoners up to the
start. How we jeered!
Our magnificent support
team were there at the top with doorstop sandwiches and soft drinks and a
fresh change of dogs. The first three dogs were actually quite miffed to be
taken out of the running. The new dogs were, unfortunately for us, rather
keen and the extra turbo charge of fresh dogs played havoc with all muscle
The view, a long and winding chalk path that went on forever, ceased
to be quite so magnificent and at times I thought I might be hallucinating
when yet another long stretch appeared over the brow of the hill.
had run ultra marathons and were still fresh, as were the dogs. I, however,
had started to struggle. Half-marathon runners in shorts and vests looking
shiny and fresh whizzed past. How they must have jeered! It was painful to
run and it was painful to walk so I adopted an action-packed-looking joggle
which seemed to work. I asked the others how they coped with the pain and
they said, rather curtly I thought, ‘We talk of other things’.
And then, suddenly,
Stonehenge hove into view and there were only 5 countable, comfortable miles
to go. The dogs were oblivious to the tottering wreck they were dragging
They were having a breeze. Not only were they being admired by
complete strangers but there was plenty of wildlife to keep them busy and they
amused themselves on quiet stretches by diving into hedgerows for small
unsuspecting mice (shh, don‘t tell WWT).
Although I had managed a passable
joggle, I felt that this innovatory action would not do for an impressive,
professional finish. I could see hundreds of people in the distance, I could
hear loudspeakers proclaiming victory. I could see my husband with Ruby
(head down sniffiing as dogs do when pretending that what is going on is not
important to them and that they do not wish to be involved).
It was vital
that the family name was upheld. I saw my dog ahead of me, tail up and
glorious. I could not let her down so off we zoomed as fresh as when we had
started. And that is how I finished my first canicross marathon. ‘Here come
the huskies’ the loudspeaker proclaimed, and we even got applauded.
After collecting my
finish time and attractive pendant (which I wear everywhere now) I collapsed
by the dog watering hole. Sadly, I had to be helped up to get to our van but
I don’t think anyone noticed. I lost two toenails but gained a fab
introduction to canicross marathoning. Thank you Wiltshire Wildlife Trust.
I understand that
Canicross UK will be running an event as part of the Marathon. It is well
worth checking out but watch out for the arduous chalk paths!