Cani-Adventures Blog 3 Thetford Forest Trail Race: Nutrition and Welfare of the Dog
December 15th dawned and Hogan and I were up bright and early to take on race day nutrition in preparation for the Thetford Trail 10km canicross in Suffolk. At around an hour and 20 minute drive away I was hoping this event would be worth the effort and since the area is beautiful with some amazing forestry, I was confident this would be the case.
While the event would take us much less than an hour to run and therefore added nutrition shouldn’t be much of a concern, we would both be working hard and given my inability to hold on to energy it's important I prep well. Plus a certain black labrador would have to be considered.
Dog’s welfare… Dogs are anatomically different to humans in that the position of their stomach is at the base of the rib cage in the hollow area just below the diaphragm and it hangs down unsupported by other structures (See picture below courtesy of msdvetmanual.com.)
When the stomach is empty it sits here nicely sandwiched between the major organs. However, once full the stomach drops further downwards, displacing the other organs and is then free to move within the extra space.
As the dog moves, a pendulum effect is created and the stomach is able to swing from side to side in time with the dogs gait. Increased effort and movement may result in the stomach twisting on its axis whereby the blood supply is lost and a condition known as bloat or Gastric Dilation Volvulus (GDV) - to be technical - occurs. Since the spleen is attached to the stomach this organ is also involved and will lose its blood supply quickly.
This is a life-threatening situation and not one I ever want to experience. Dog owners should be mindful that the larger the breed and the more deep chested they are, the higher the risk, although all dogs are susceptible.
To reduce the risk, feeding times need careful consideration. It takes approximately 1.5 -2 hours for a dogs stomach to empty after a meal and so I usually follow the pattern of feeding at least 1.5 hours prior to moderate exercise and 2-3 hours for hard exercise and always a minimum of one hour feeding post exercise. Hogan is fed raw food from a slow feeder bowl to ensure maximum digestion.
Prior to any run I always give Hogan a quick once over to check he is sound. Dogs are great at masking pain and there is no way I would easily spot a subtle problem once he has seen the canicross gear come out and effectively taken himself into orbit! Adrenalin and cortisol production, both expected and inevitable when Hogan clocks my running kit, will block pain receptors and therefore mask discomfort, so my checks are done from afar and prior to a clothing change!
Here is my list of observations prior to any run…
- I watch his first movement as he comes to greet me, how does he get up and is there any sign of stiffness
- I send him out to the toilet and observe to ensure he does his normal routine
- I feed him in the same way every day with a structured feeding regime, dogs will always follow your lead and habits unless they are feeling unwell, being present to watch how your dog eats and whether they take breaks or sit down should be noted. Ensure you know what’s normal for your dog
- We do a lead street walk with some short free running – mostly to try and make sure we can reduce our poo stops on the run!
- Finally, I do some simple obedience commands like heel, look, wait and down to check he is happy to work and ready to go.
This is all done around my normal morning activities so should just fit with your lifestyle. In simple terms it's just about being in tune with your dog. So I’m sure most of you do this stuff already.
On to nutrition for the human… My years in sport have taught me well and I have made several mistakes with nutrition along the way. Some with some pretty unpleasant results!
It’s never ideal to find yourself struggling to find a toilet after one too many fancy gels during a race or heavy training session, while I’m not too proud to say I’ve been caught out needing a quick ‘alfresco wee’ en-route, I have never had that dreaded Paula Radcliffe moment thank goodness!
On top of that the fear of the infamous sporting event portaloo is enough to constipate you for life! I've always wondered what happens to the self-respect and self-control for that matter of an individual when they enter one of those plastic cabins and shut the door. Err… hello we all know it was you in there that forgot to flush, wipe and clean up, we have been standing in this queue for the last half an hour, waiting for you to finish! Anyway, you live and learn and for me it is very much about keeping it simple.
A bowl of porridge and a banana and a caffeine push of some description, plus lots of water and some form of hydration fluid!
I have recently trialled some products from Isagenix called Amped Hydrate:
and Amped Nitro:
The hydrate ticks the electrolyte box and the nitro ticks the safe, slow release caffeine support I need. I can honestly say they have made a massive difference to my ability to sustain energy and I’m running faster, which is essential when you are travelling behind a bolting 32kg excitable Labrador.
I take the amped nitro around 20-30 minutes before the event and have the hydrate on board anywhere around 1-2 hours before and then afterwards. I generally just stick to water during the event as I need to carry it for Hogan but I’ll have to consider a different plan for my longer events later in the year.
Back to Race Day… Nutrition on board, a clear journey to the forest and we found ourselves prepped and ready to go in the holding area 20 mins or so prior to kick off and boy it was noisy!
Much like our last ‘hounds of the baskervilles’ experience Hogan was initially overwhelmed and little bit fidgety, so we just sat down and watched the drama unfold.
I was sure most of these dogs would be burnt out before they even started, and it got me thinking what a mental but amazing sport canicross is. I'm all about keeping the dog calm and below threshold in my usual dog owner and professional roles, but in this case the buzz of excitement was out of control and it was clear all of the dogs just wanted to run. While I still maintain calmness in Hogan I couldn’t help but smile at the behaviour of some of the dogs. Even those who were muzzled were so focused on the job in hand they were just ignoring what would normally have triggered their aggression and absolutely loving what lay ahead.
The start of this race was so well organised, instead of the mass and anxiety fuelled start of my last event, this was chip timed and very controlled. We were set off one at a time at 10 second intervals. It made no difference to the pace Hogan set as the horn went off and I was catapulted round a right-hand bend at high speed as he tried and succeeded in catching a succession of dogs in front of us. Never have the words ‘passing on your left’ been so difficult to say and I think I resorted to just ‘left’ after the second person as I barely had enough air to keep me upright!
We settled into a nice pace around 2 km from the start and I can honestly say the next 35 minutes were just the best. The scenery is second to none, the terrain tricky but entertaining and the long winding trails exciting and wide enough to run with others. We could have done with a couple more water stops as Hogan overheats really quickly but with the help of a few puddles we got by and finished in 46 minutes, 6th/47 ladies and 12th overall. Round 2 of this event is on the 16th of February and I can’t wait.
Professional Thoughts… Cani-cross is most definitely a tool in my box for treating reactive dogs – it meets their physical needs, improves the bond and control between dog and owner, ensures they never run in to trouble as they are always under lead control and most importantly it allows them to dispense with unwanted nervous energy through repetitive exercise.
An added bonus is also that its a brilliant way to get my clients active with their dogs too and I have sent many off to download the couch to 5k app and get exercising with their dog. It is such an inclusive sport in that you can have any dog or owner of any size (I'm referring to the dog here!) or ability.
I was excited to see our pro-triathlete, Lucy Charles-Barclay, her little dog and my star pupil ‘lola – the mini-jack’ – running together on a 5k santa run this Christmas. Even with the shortest legs in the world she still nailed a 5k – I’m referring to Lola of course! I’ll look forward to seeing her join Lucy on her next Ironman event! You can follow Lola's journey here - its a busy one: https://www.instagram.com/lola_the_minijack/
That's you up to date. Hogan and I have increased our training and we are regularly running 10-12km together now. He is stronger, fitter and faster than he has ever been. I'm just hoping I can keep up!
For info on how I trained such a great dog, don't forget to check out my book https://www.puppycoach.com/store/U5wDCBzT and you can view some of the supporting films for free to give you a taste of the format for the education course: https://www.puppycoach.com/