The CaniX races held in Pembrey Country Park near Llanelli in Wales are the highlight of the season in my opinion. The races have been held over the Easter Bank Holiday weekend for the last 3 years with a night race on Good Friday evening and a beach race on Easter Monday at a time when the tides permit the race to happen. The best part about the racing at Pembrey is the venue, the races are set in a huge country park about a mile away from the nearest road (although there are access roads into and around the park). The miles and miles of unspoilt beach is about a 20 minute walk from the start and finish area, through the woods that surround the main camping area.
Arriving early on the Friday is highly recommended and even the Thursday if you can, as the race start times for both the night canicross race and the beach race can be a bit vague as they rely on the weather and the tides. As a rule the night race is usually preceded by a briefing around 6pm and you really do need to attend, as it’s amazing how running in the dark can alter your perception and if you’re like me, you need a good head torch and to use all your senses to get your round safely, as everyone ran past me and left me behind!
The runners are all required to wear high-viz and head torches, the dogs wearing lights is optional and all the starts at Pembrey are mass starts, arranged in waves, so you need to know which wave you are in ready for the off. The night race mass start is by far the most exhilarating race start in the CaniX calender and you really need to experience it to know what I mean, thankfully they haven’t allowed the bikes and scooters to take part yet!
The course is well marshalled and marked with glow sticks with red, meaning a turn coming up on that side and yellow, meaning you’ve gone the right way. In spite of this there were some who did get lost this year but they were rounded up by the quad in the end and no-one gets left out on the course for long. The night race course was (as normal) a very short course of about 1.5 miles, all flat and as even ground as is possible when running cross country. My dogs loved it and I think most who took part felt the same way.
The Saturday and Sunday races are run in the same format as a normal race weekend, so the same 5km course is run over the two days and a prize giving is held for the two days racing alone, in addition to the ‘Yellow Collar’ prize given to the fastest time in all 4 races for each category over the weekend, awarded on the Monday afternoon.
As I mentioned, all the starts are mass starts (except the bikes and scooters on the Saturday & Sunday) and take you down the long grassy chute to a very narrow bend into the tracks in the woods. The tracks twist and turn gently through the woods until you are brought out onto a wide forestry track and turn left. This year as the track rises, there was the addition of a hill in the course which caught a lot of dogs out as they were used to the old route and didn’t want to turn right up the hill. The trail became very tight and twisty at this point until it brought you out at the top of a steep, sandy downhill.
Now this downhill was not a problem on foot, for those taking part in the canicross race, however on a bike or the scooter, any hint of using your brakes made the wheeled vehicle slide around, as I discovered when I tried to brake on the bike when checking out the course. It was a case of hang on and hope for the best for me with the scooter on the Saturday and the bike on the Sunday.
Following on from the downhill, the course took you through some gently undulating dunes in the woods, a left, then a right and another left onto the dunes right near the beach itself. You can’t actually see the beach but you are aware of it. Forestry works in the woods have widened the trails this year and made it both easier and more difficult. It was easier to pass people but there were a lot more exposed roots to trip over or catch the wheels on.
Near the end of the dunes a left turn slightly uphill away from the beach took you down and then left to join one of the main tracks near the lake and then a sharp right and the lake appears right in front of you. I marshalled at that point a couple of years ago when I was injured and had great fun watching everyone’s dogs drag then in for a drink or a swim.
The course then winds you back, mainly on wide open tracks to the finish area back at the start. I had a good race both days but opted for the bikejor on the Sunday as I was keen to give the hill a go on the bike in a race situation and have to say I loved every minute of it.
Easter Monday brought the beach race, which is the only race we do on the bike and scooter with a mass start too. We had to wait until about 12pm for the tide to be right for us to race but the weather was gloomy on the beach and so plenty cool enough for the dogs. There is nothing quite like the mass start on the beach and was the highlight of my weekend. The race itself is only 2 miles, straight down the beach up to a large mound of rocks, around them if canicrossing, around a stick just before them if bikejoring or scootering and straight back down to the finish.
The dogs love it because they can chase the whole race, as they can see the other dogs and competitors the whole time. The only issue some had was when the dogs who were heading home passed the dogs still on the outward section, as the dogs still on the outward section can get confused and want to turn early to follow the others. We had a great run however, and I only had to scoot hard at the end when I was fighting to be the first female scooterer home. I managed it but only by the nose of my lead dog Judo.
In all we had yet another fantastic weekend of racing here and I am so glad this is to be the venue for the CaniX Worlds in October – for more information on this click here: http://canix.co.uk/cwc2013_home.shtml
I will always recommend the Pembrey races as they are suitable for novice and experienced canicrossers, bikjorers and scooterers alike and there is something here for everyone with the miles of fields, woods and beach to keep you and your dogs happy between racing.
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It looks/sounds like so much fun! I hope these races become more common in the U.S. soon.