The Neolithic Half Marathon, organised by Wiltshire Wildlife Trust in conjunction with CaniX (for the canicross entries in the race) was held over the bank holiday weekend on the 5th May at the site of Stonehenge. We’d entered the short race before, which is the 4 miles distance, but the half marathon had not been something I had wanted to do. The reason I decided to enter the longer distance this year was to raise money for the Animal Health Trust in memory of my friends’ dog Ronnie who died from canine epilepsy earlier in the spring.
We arrived early to register, collect our time chipped numbers and to catch the coach up to Charlton Clumps, where the 13 mile linear route starts. The dogs are surprisingly good on the coaches that take competitors to their start points and very rarely cause any problems. This bus journey was a bit longer than the ones we had previously taken but the dogs behaved just as well.
On arriving at Charlton Clumps there was a tent to leave any bags to be labelled and taken back to the start and a couple of portaloos, as we had about an hour to wait before our start time in an open field. There were 4 of us who were ‘Running for Ronnie’ and we all had different targets for the run. Mine was to finish in under 2 and a half hours for my first half marathon and I had a feeling we were going to have to take it steady as the temperature was creeping up steadily.
Just as we were about to start, the cloud cover disappeared and the sun came beaming through, just what I didn’t want for the dogs! The route for the half marathon is a hard packed trail with lots of loose stones, particularly on the first half. The track also undulates with some fairly steep uphill and downhill sections for the first half, after which it levels out and becomes less stony. I had been pre-warned about the stones and so I had Judo in a full set of Pawz boots and Donnie with just front feet protected (Tegan doesn’t need boots for regular running).
We set off at a steady pace but with the heat of the sun and with the ‘race’ situation, it became clear quite quickly that Judo was beginning to get too hot. We slowed down and at every water stop covered him and the other dogs lightly in water to help with the cooling process. Dogs tend to lose heat through panting and to a lesser extent their paws, so it was important to keep checking the boots weren’t going to cause any overheating. After about 3 miles we made the decision just to walk until Judo realised we weren’t racing and calmed down.
I’ve experienced Judo verging on getting too hot a few times, always in situations where he sets off with a big group of dogs and is very excited. Through this I have learned how to manage it so he never gets uncomfortable and thankfully it wasn’t long before he was calm and cool again and we could pick up the pace. We had probably walked about a mile and a half at this point but we made up some time and it wasn’t long until we reached the half way point.
From this point on the run seemed to go really quickly and in spite of it being warm, the dogs dutifully pulled all the way. It did help that the ground had evened out both in terms of stones and hills so it became easier for us all. With 4 miles to go, I recognised where the shorter race is started from and realised it wasn’t far to go. We were running along at an average of about 9 and a half minutes per mile so I was hopeful of completing within my time frame in spite of the walking we had done.
With about 2 miles to the finish I started to feel strange and realised I had goose bumps which was not normal considering the heat and that fact I was running! I asked one of my running companions why that might be and he asked if I had been drinking. I had been so busy making sure the dogs were kept cool and hydrated that I had forgotten to drink myself! I had to slow to a walk again and take some water and electrolytes to make sure I replaced all the water and salt I would have sweated out.
After a short break from running I was able to pick up the pace again for the last mile and we had a strong finish completing the half marathon in 2 hours, 19 minutes and 3 seconds. I was thrilled we had managed to complete within my goal and that was even with a couple of miles of walking and many, many water stops.
I would highly recommend this half marathon to anyone thinking of training up to this mileage or anyone who is already running this type of distance with their dog. The support along the way was incredible, from other runners and bikers (this a big event not just for canicrossers) and from CaniX who were at regular points along the course with water and a hose for the dogs (and people). At any point it would have been simple to withdraw your dog and the dogs’ welfare was paramount at all times. I think this event is unique because of the support CaniX provides and so I am grateful to them for putting this event in the race calender for us to challenge ourselves.
I would like to thank all those who has already sponsored us and if you would like to sponsor us for completing this challenge the link to my justgiving page is here: http://www.justgiving.com/Emily-Thomas-Animal-Health-Trust