I know that some of you think I have at best entered a harmless fantasy land, and at worst developed some sort of weird unsettling variant of Munchausen Syndrome whereby I make up increasingly unlikely stories in order to draw attention to myself, but honestly, it’s all true. I have got a place in the London Marathon, I am going to Cambodia and I have also got myself a time machine*. The latter has allowed me to whizz forward a year purely so I could check out the Inaugural TenTenTen K9 Trail Doggy Dash of 2017, and report my findings back to all of you. Well it surely isn’t just me that couldn’t wait to see how that grand plan was realised in action? If you’d rather wait for time take its course than so be it, but if you want to know what the future holds read on:-
What could possibly go wrong?
It all started innocently enough, with a post on the Sheffield TenTenTen Facebook page. Flushed with the post-event glow of their seventh successive Endcliffe park based 10k trail run in 2016, a new idea was mooted:
What do people think about the introduction of a K9 dog race for next year? With Doggy treats at the end …… owners would run with their dogs in full canicross gear or with a regular lead. The start would be quite a spectacle 🙂 …… it may have to involve a river crossing too.
Erm. With respect. Pretty dumb question huh? The idea was always clearly genius, right from its inception. It might have seemed like an impossible dream at the start, but we know don’t we, that you’ve gotta have a dream, cos if you don’t have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true? Never was this statement more pertinent than in the vivid imaginings that helped the Inaugural Doggy Dash/ Endcliffe Park K9 come to pass, for this we must all be grateful.
So a bit of background. As I understand it, the main driver for this event was to provide me personally with some bespoke entertainment. Motivation enough you would have thought for any new and welcome initiative. Canines can be inherently hilarious as I hope you will appreciate. Dogs being dogs are the cause of me laughing until I literally wet myself at a job interview once. It is the only time this has ever happened to me during a recruitment selection process, and yet I can’t regret a moment of it. Have you not heard that story? Oh digression alert… miss the next couple of paragraphs if you really don’t want to know, and who would blame you.
So, I’d been called to a group selection-day in Leamington Spa following my application to work as a trainer with Dogs for the Disabled (now dogs for good I think). This would involve both training assistance dogs, and working with their people who would be partnered with them. A bit like Guide Dogs for the Blind, only in the case of the DfD they train dogs based on the individual needs of their owner which are not necessarily anything to do with visual impairment. So that might be passing clothes, alerting to an oncoming fit, helping with domestic tasks like switching a light on, that kind of thing. The selection day was all quite interesting. We were interviewed; we had to experience both being in a wheelchair and assisting someone using one; we met with a service user; we observed experienced dogs working; we had to simulate teaching someone how to complete a practical task; we had to verbally explain how you tie shoelaces… so far so expected. However, there came the point in the day when they needed to observe how we would actually interact with dogs. Now, it takes a long time to train an assistance dog, so the selectors were not going to let us loose on any of their working canines. Instead, we were taken out to a large soggy (that bit’s important) field. After a few minutes of hanging around in the cold, two separate vans appeared from two different entrances. It looked really dodgy! In the back of each van was half a dozen pet dogs, borrowed from staff of the organisation and their various friends and relatives to use for this part of the day. These dogs weren’t necessarily particularly (at all) trained or obedient. Further more, they didn’t know each other, they didn’t know the experienced handlers who were supervising the day and they sure as hell didn’t know any of the candidates for the day. Still, they met the criteria of being dogs, so what was the worst that could happen?
You’ll never guess what happened next! The back of the vans were thrown open, all the dogs piled out of each and there was basically an almighty fight as every dog in each of the two packs tried to sort out relative dominance with one another. It was both terrifying and hilarious in equal measure. The interviewing panel wrestled with dogs to drag them apart from each other, and eventually, some sense of order having been restored, the bedraggled organising committee handed each one of us candidates a dog for the day. Up to this point in the proceedings I had remained largely continent and straight-faced – albeit giggle stiffling was really hard. Anyway, you need to know that one of the candidates on the day was a really annoying young woman, who was convinced she was not only god’s gift to the world, but also was very over-confident about her dog-handling skills. She was positive she’d be selected, because her dad was a police dog handler, and my didn’t we all get to hear about it. (Yawn). They handed her a large but innocuous looking Alsatian, and she handed out unsolicited and patronising advice to the rest of us about what we should be doing.
It was then dear reader, that her large-but-innocuous-looking dog espied something in the hedge at the far distant corner of the field. Suddenly, it was as if this was a wolf possessed by a demon, and it took off in pursuit of whatever it was it had seen. I cannot tell a lie, I did actually wet myself at the sight of this young woman being dragged face down across a wet field at high-speed. She was so determined not to let go she must have been taken a good couple of hundred yards. I not only wet myself, I also cried with laughter, another job interview first, and my stomach muscles ached with laughing for days afterwards. It was so worth it.** I think it was this happy memory that made me so desperately want the dream of a TenTenTen K9 Doggy Dash to be made a reality in 2017. If I could have that much fun so unexpectedly and in such an unlikely context, imagine the fun potential when the whole point would be (presumably) to unleash chaos and hilarity just for me? Bring it on!
Normal reading route resumes below:
Sooo, back to K9 Doggy Dash. I feel I have already presented a powerful self-evident argument in favour of laying on this event which would be more than enough to guarantee its establishment in the Sheffield running calendar alongside the TenTenTen and Round Sheffield Run. However, because the organisers are a conscientious team who like to pay attention to detail, they did nail it down a bit more than that prior to deciding to go ahead with the event.
The essential concept was always, I think it’s fair to say, to host an event that was as inclusive as possible, catering for a wide range of canine athletes. It should be open to all: canicross event tourers in their matching kits; celebrity parkrun dogs like Sheffield’s very own Lily-the-whippet from Graves; fell-running dogs like Skip from Frontrunner; have-a-go dogs of unknown origins as well as much-loved pets. All would be welcome in singles and pairs, and all should be free to participate in their own way. It was also part of the participation pledge in the race ‘terms and conditions’ that all participants should respect the right of other entrants to participate in their own way. I’m not sure about the collateral damage those greyhounds caused to that poor rabbit though. Don’t like that at all. It’s so hard to know how to police these events. What is unavoidable suffering and what might reasonably be avoided. Quite relieved it’s not my call to be honest.
Obviously, a straight-forward trail race would be rather dull, and make for an all too predictable outcome. To liven things up therefore, there’d be a mass start, and a variety of challenges to be negotiated on the way round. Originally, this was to be just a simple river crossing along the lines of The Trunce, but pleasingly, this idea was adapted over time. In the final iteration, new obstacles were incorporated and constructed in advance of the event in consultation with local Sheffield dogging*** groups. This resulted in the inclusion of both quick sand and bog sections. There was significant and ongoing community involvement in building these things, we have some talented dogs in our catchment areas. It’s worth remembering that these events don’t come from nowhere, it takes a dedicated team, a significant number of excel sheets/ Gantt charts, and in this case, kilos of doggy treats to get the course all set up in a safe and timely fashion. As it was, earth movers were operated, tree trunks dragged and the site supervised with the dedication that only those with a genuine passion for what they are trying to achieve can muster.
Although much attention was paid to obstacles and inclusivity, less attention was given to the rules and regs for participation. Which did lead to a few hiccups on the day, but nothing that didn’t add to the general
commotion sense of occasion on the day, so that was grand!
The Doggy Dash kicked off the race series, with a 5km lap ahead of the juniors’ 2.5km run. The
misguided logic was that this would allow runners for the 10k later on to participate in both events (having rested up during the children’s event), and also – theoretically at least – reduce the number of over-excited dogs leaping about in close proximity to small children at the start. This was true, but it also effectively trashed some of the trails that subsequently had to be negotiated by the more conventional running events that followed.
It was a lovely autumnal morning. When I headed down to be there at the start of the proceedings the sun was reaching through the trees in Endcliffe Park and I could hear the dulcit tones of carefully chosen music floating through the air towards me. The MC did well with doggy themed tracks. We had ‘Who let the Dogs Out?’ (a personal favourite), and the ever familiar ‘Ain’t nothing but a hound dog‘ (not performed live though, I understand Elvis was most recently seen in June 2016 in America, so not been in the uk for a while.)
I thought I was early, but I wasn’t the first down. This event is really unusual, maybe even unique, in that it is open not only to dedicated canicross competitors, but more delighted doggy dashers that are the canine equivalent of fun-runners. It was fun seeing all the dogs and their accompanying humans muster. Some were clearly rather more pampered pets than others – surely the accommodation options for a few of our canine friends suggested they were actually fully sponsored players. Nothing wrong with that, it was always intended that the event should welcome a wide spectrum of entries, but I was surprised by the calibre of canines who’d turned out. Check out the camping option for this pamapered pooch:
I’m afraid the photo options are a bit mixed. I didn’t think to take any photographers forward with me into the future because I assumed they’d be there again. In fact because the donations for ‘free’ photos were a bit disappointing last year, which is this year 2016, there was less incentive for organisers to prioritise getting photographers out in the field in 2017. A real shame. I think the 2016 TenTenTen snaps definitely merit a donation of some sort if people are using them. Maybe another way would be to add an optional couple of quid on to the entry fee to contribute automatically to the cause next time. I don’t honestly know if the Endcliffe Doggy Dash K9 2017 event is a fixed point in time, in which case it’s too late to change the future, or if we can still influence it. On the off-chance we can, how about making that donation that you really meant to make before right NOW. You’ll feel all the better for it:
(The TenTenTen2016 event organisers are) collecting donations for Weston Park Cancer Charity in return for free race photos on Facebook – any kind of donation massively appreciated! https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/TENTENTEN2016
Anyway, upshot is that in the absence of any official 2017 event photos, I’ve had to improvise myself with a few random snaps and topped up with google, that’s why some of the pictures are illustrative rather actual, but you’ll get the idea.
The event was run like any official race, but with more bottom sniffing, play fighting and yapping than is usual at registration say. How you feel about the random urinating up trees, benches and unattended luggage items depends on whether or not you have been fell racing. I’d say that on balance there was more of this than you might expect at a parkrun say, but less than at a real outdoorsy event or paris marathon say. Ask Regal Smiley about her behaviour at the Dovedale Dash if you require clarification.
The attempt at a collective warm up backfired somewhat, disintegrating into near catastrophic chaos pretty quickly, which was great as a spectator sport, not so great if you want your dog in tact and un-scarred for future showing purposes, or were particular about which dog mounted your bitch to produce an unexpected litter in a few months time. Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed random copulation between participants at any running events I’ve attended previously so that was new to me (though I understand some of the overseas Hash House Harrier lodges can be rather risqué on runs – choose family friendly ones if you are traveling to be on the safe side).
All too soon, the cry went up ‘unleash the dogs!’ And with a frenzied baying of hounds the canine lurched forwards, in hot pursuit of a rather nervous looking trail cyclist who’d got the short straw and was designated pathfinder. Never did see him/her again actually come to think about it? No worries, I’m sure s/he was fine. Or if not fine exactly, expendable. Probably expendable. The important thing is that no animals were hurt or injured in the running of this event.
A learning point for next year (2018), might be to use a different start call. This particular phrase resulted in the literal, rather than metaphorical unleashing of many dogs. It perhaps wasn’t made clear in the briefing (or couldn’t be heard over the ferocious barking) that ideally dogs should remain attached to humans for as much of the way round as possible. I acknowledge it is completely unrealistic to expect that many people to have any degree of control – let alone complete control – of their canine companion, but perhaps some might have made more of a show of trying just to reassure the spectators. Another possible area for improvement, is thought as to how many dogs per person would be appropriate. Some handlers were rather more ambitious than others, a few were showing off quite frankly, and some got their just deserts for doing so. (See reference to woman dragged across field by Alsatian above).
Even so, I’m aware I’m quibbling. As a spectator sport this event delivered in bucket loads and beyond. It certainly met the ambition of striving to achieve an inclusive field at the start line. Some dogs were more enthusiastic participants than others, but all shapes and sizes were represented on the day. I got emotional watching the fun run last year (2016), but it was way more of an emotional roller-coaster being at the sidelines of the doggy dash. Here are just a few action shots of some of the participants – it amuses me to see that even some dogs look terrible when photographed running, I’d always taken that as rather a uniquely human frailty. Not so!
For the record, I did both cry with laughter and wet myself through laughing whilst spectating at this event. However, no worries on either front. Why? Because I was prepared. It is occassions like this that Tena ladies were made for (there are male equivalents). Personally I think both options should be given out to participants on the day as they they register. After all, it wasn’t just spectators who lost control of their bladders. They may have done so through irrepressible laughter but I’d bet a fair few of the competitors wet themselves too, through raw fear at being dragged round that course at speed. The issue of distribution of such incontinence products would be straightforward. You could just ask people to specify their bladder control requirements male/female, number of drops, on a drop down menu alongside asking about T-shirt sizes. Simple. Also, good public service role, as urinary incontinence is surprisingly common and really shouldn’t be a taboo topic. I reckon the Doggy Dash would win an award from some sort of health promotion initiative if they did that – think of the publicity! Hell, why stop at that, go all out and get sponsorship from some suitable company. I bet they’d be thrilled. You could use the plastic bag packaging from the tena pads for poop picking as well, multi-functional, genius if I say so myself.
Sorry I digress, I expect you want to know how the obstacle bits went. Honestly, I think it depends if you were watching or having to negotiate them with a dog. As a spectator, completely hilarious. The photos speak for themselves. I’m not sure if the prone runner is deliberately lying in a star-shape to maximise the distribution of his body weight over the widest possible surface area to avoid sinking into the quick sand, or whether he has just given up and lain down to die. The results will probably say – if he’s a DNF on them it wont look good. Infuriatingly, one downside of time travel it seems is that I can’t link to a yet-to-be-created website, so you’ll have to go along and watch for yourself to find out the results in a few short months from now.
Watching at any of the bog/ quicksand points was a great option, but I also enjoyed gawping at the water crossing enormously. It was here you could really see which canine/human partnerships were strong and trusting and which were… well, frankly not. There wasn’t clarity in the rules about what was acceptable help for this river crossings, some of the techniques I witnessed did cause me to raise an eyebrow (well more accurately both of them, sadly I’ve never been able to raise just the one, a cause of unending disappointment to me alongside so many other of my life’s failings). Honestly, the really fast pairs went through without outside assistance, so I don’t suppose it mattered too much – it comes down to ‘respecting everyone’s right to participate in their own way’. They are only cheating themselves, as long as they don’t impede anyone else I suppose it’s fine.
The course was testing enough that it did allow the cream to rise to the proverbial top. Some dogs had a few navigational issues on the way round, at least one had rather more outside assistance getting round than was intended… I don’t like rules for their own sake, but perhaps this does need to be looked at.
Also marshaling is a problem. Dogs don’t seem to be able to read directional arrows all that well, and nor do they respond to pointing as obediently as you might hope. Perhaps a scent trail would work better. I think it depends on whether the dog or the person is in the lead position, not a given by any means. More importantly, it depends on who is ‘top dog’ in the partnership. Usually the dog, obviously.
So all in all, I’d say it was a massive success this event. If you are canny with where you stand you can rush between the obstacles and then line up at the finish funnel for the Sprint Finish of runners and their dogs across the green field of Endcliffe Park. I hope the organisers are really as responsive to feedback as they claim to be though, and consider putting in place either a viewing platform (think lifeguard stations) or alternatively have live outside broadcasting TV coverage relayed back on a large screen so you can watch all the drama unfold from the comfort of the Endcliffe Cafe. This would seem to me to be a fairly natural extension of the event village development anyway, it caters for most needs as it is. Here are some of the field in the final push to the line, exciting stuff eh?
At the finish, dogs and their dishevelled running humans being dragged along behind were awarded with the traditional TenTenTen medal for the humans, and a jaunty autumn themed bandana for the dogs. This last innovation being a result of taking on board one particularly insightful suggestion from an especially genius member of the public after first posing the idea of the event of Facebook. It just so happens that genius idea came from me, but I can’t take all the credit, at least the event organisers were wise enough to recognise a great idea when they heard it and to take it on board.
There were doggy bags too, though I didn’t get one myself so not sure what they contained.
To be honest, the K9 event was so much fun, the actual 10k afterwards was something of an anticlimax, so I can’t be bothered to write-up the account of the TenTenTen 2017 just yet, maybe I will later on.
In the meantime just take it from me that what started as a genius idea from the outset came to be realised at this Debut Doggy Dash K9 TenTenTen in all its glory WITH SPOTS ON! I feel confident this will become an established event in the Sheffield Running repertoire. Even if you don’t have a dog of your own, make a note in your diary to get down early for your own 10k run so you can soak up all the fun.
Thanks TenTenTen organisers, participants, spectators, marshals – all! You delivered splendidly, you can feel very smug indeed. Well done you!
Just one thing, do watch where you tread if you are among the front runners for the subsequent trail race. Most dog owners are of course responsible, but there will always be one I’m afraid. You have been warned. Those of us towards the back don’t need to worry, it will all have been magically removed by the time we get round, particularly if we get lapped.
So that’s it really. I do like recording what happens at inaugural events, hope you enjoyed it too. Til next year then. Happy running y’all, pracise keeping those hounds under control! Oh, and one further bit of late addition/ stop press/ hot off the press feedback. How about a Good For Age category for the dogs too? It’s been brought to my attention that in dog years some of the canine participants were octogenarians, that should be recognised surely. Also more fancy dress please. Humans and/or dogs, matching outfits for preference.
* Well, two out of three ain’t bad?
** Remarkably, I did get invited back for a further 4-day selection weekend, which, for various reasons I decided not to go for. What a different trajectory my life might had taken…
*** I know it’s really childish, but I’m deliberately including references to Sheffield dogging in this post, as I found out recently that this was one of the search terms that directed a (disappointed) user to my running blog. How, I have no idea, but be fair, it is hilarious! If you have found yourself infuriated at being back here reading this again ha ha, hope you see the funny side, good luck with your searches elsewhere 🙂 !