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Recap of the GoPro Mountain Games and Tips for Running with Dogs

We asked Backcountry K-9 Brand Ambassador Devin Scannell to give us a recap of her successful run in the GoPro Mountain Games and tips for running with dogs. Enjoy!

After successfully finishing the Colorado Marathon on May 3rd this spring, I drastically altered my training to get ready for the Vail GoPro Mountain Games, Rocky Dog 5k Trail Race.  After running a 26.2 mile marathon, a 3.1 mile 5k seems like a sprint.  However, for the first time in years, I challenged myself to train for speed and strength rather than endurance alone.

Bella, Pat, and I traded multi-hour flat road runs for shorter, more intense trail runs and fast mile intervals at altitude.  You would think that after a marathon, a short run would be a piece of cake.  Really, it was very challenging at first.  As I quickly adjusted to the training, it was refreshing, enjoyable, and FUN to be back on Colorado’s beautiful mountain trails!  Bella didn’t complain either (although she never does).   We had an unusual wet weather spell that lasted about the entire month of May, and we encountered our fair share of ankle-deep mud.  While others stayed inside, we loved having the trails to ourselves.

We packed up for the Vail Games on June 6th, and convoyed over the continental divide with several visiting family members and friends.  Bella had her own bag packed with her running gear, food, travel bowls and travel bed.  The Vail Games truly is a haven for outdoor and dog enthusiasts alike!  I’d never seen so many adventurous dogs in one place.  Puppies, elderly dogs, tiny dogs, horse-sized dogs, long-haired dogs, packs of dogs, dogs wearing GoPros, dogs wearing every kind of dog gear you can imagine.  In addition to the Rocky Dog Trail Run, the GoPro hosts a three-day long dock dog competition, so there were many canine athletes around for Bella to network with.  We also stopped by Ruffwear’s tent and enjoyed meeting their team there.

We checked in for the race, and Bella got her very own K-9 competitor badge.  I started to get a bit nervous, as I had actually trained for this 5k, and was hoping to place.  A total of 80 people had signed up, and looking around, there seemed to be some serious competitors.  Pat was one of the only runners without a dog, and decided that he would run with Bella and I.

We had brought along Bella’s Ruffwear Flat Out Leash and Ruffwear Roamer Stretch Leash.  From what we could see of the trail conditions, there wouldn’t be a lot of technical work, such as jumping up and down large boulders. Although we had done much of our training at altitude with the Roamer (see our blog on training with the Roamer here), we opted for the Flat Out leash as it was shorter and we felt it wouldn’t interfere with other runners and dogs quite as much.

At the start, there were hound dogs howling, malamutes crying, smaller dogs yipping.  There was even an older dog with hip dysplasia who had his own off-road doggy wheel chair (he was happy to only walk the first mile of the race). Everyone was excited to go! There was no gun, so as to not alarm the dogs.  When the dog-human duos were finally released from the start, Bella shot forward like American Pharoah out of the gate, surging forward for the Triple Crown win! In training, she typically trots along next to us, but in races she is lit up by her competitive spark. She was having the time of her life, and it her happiness helped me run a little faster.

I was glad I had done so much training in the mountains, as this course was a killer.  I am tempted to say uphill both ways (although the start and finish was in the same place, so maybe that’s an exaggeration.)  Bella looked like a sled dog pulling me up the hill in her harness.  I forgot to start my watch at the start, so I wasn’t sure of my pace.  There weren’t even mile markers on the trail, so it wouldn’t have mattered anyway!  So, we just went as fast as we could, Pat just barely ahead, encouraging us on.  The intense Colorado sun was out, and it was heating up.

For a race that short, I prefer not to drink water, but I’ve learned that sometimes you have to stop and slow down to meet the needs of your canine companion. Doggie dishes were set up at several aid stations, but Bella was too excited to drink. Pat splashed a little water on her head and back to cool her down.  Normally, Bella melts in the heat, but she kept her pace the entire way.

Before we knew it, the finish line was in sight. All three of us crossed the line together, and I couldn’t believe my time.  I ran the course in 22:25, which was the best time I had achieved in a 5k since high school.   Combined with the elevation gain, altitude, and terrain, it may have been my most successful pace of all time.  I knew I was fairly close to the front of the pack and had only seen two women finish in front of me.  We had to wait two hours for the results, at which point I was thrilled to see that I was the third woman overall!  This was my first time ever placing as an overall female finisher.  We didn’t even think to look at Pat’s time since he was our pacer and hadn’t challenged himself, but we were surprised to learn that he had finished first in his age group!  We were ecstatic to both have a chance to stand on the podium with Bella and ultimately take home two medals.

There’s nothing like the feeling of achieving a goal, especially when you have your two best friends by your side.  I credit much of my success to Bella motivating me to get out and run, and for both Bella and Pat encouraging me to challenge myself more than I have in a long time!

Tips for Running with Your Dog

  • You will both have good days and off days.  Some days, your dog will be pulling you every which way after rabbits, or maybe dragging behind in heat. Some days, you will both feel great and be on top of your game. Be patient, be willing to compromise.
  • Invest in a harness, so you don’t strain your dog’s neck.  We use Ruffwear’s Front Range harness.
  • Decide what kind of leash you will need. Having a leash that goes around your waist is great for hands-free, on-leash running. A little elastic is nice to absorb some shock. (Tip:  If you see another dog, rabbit, or anything your dog may chase, grab the leash firmly with your hands to avoid jarring to your midsection!).  In an area that allows dogs off-leash?  Invest in a small, lightweight leash you can clip around your waist, just in case.
  • Think about hydration for your dog. Is there clean water where you plan to run? Streams? Water fountains? Anything dry and over 3 miles, I bring extra water for Bella and a small Rad Dog Pocket Bowl in my own hand-held water bottle. Ruffwear’s low profile Singletrack hydration pack is invaluable for longer runs and comes with water bladders.
  • If you plan to run a lot, it is nice to invest in running shorts that have small pockets meant for energy gels and whatnot. I frequently stash Bella’s Rad Dog Pocket Bowl and poop bags in my shorts with pockets. If not, tie a few bags around your dog’s leash before you head out.
  • Avoid feeding your dog a large meal right before or after running.  Bring a few small and easily-digestible treats for long runs. Treats with glucosamine are good for joint health.
  • If your dog isn’t used to running with you and is a little out of shape, slowly build miles and intensity.  This will also help paws toughen up if they aren’t used to rocks or running long distances.  Check for paw abrasions regularly. We use Musher’s Secret for small irritations and cracks, both in the summer and winter.  This product is also a great preventative barrier for salt, snow, sand, and whatnot when running.
  • Don’t feel like running today?  Most likely, your dog does!  Use her needs and wants as inspiration and motivation to get out when you are dragging.

Tips for Running with other Humans

Bella is easy, but it has taken me some time to adjust to running with a human partner on a regular basis, especially since my running companion is also my significant other. I’m the slower runner, and I used to have low-confidence running with Pat.  Plus, I enjoy having some me time.  Here is what I have learned:

  • Communicate what works and what doesn’t.  Pat does usually run up a bit, and will occasionally run back down the trail to meet me, then back up again.  Sometimes, he sprints ahead and back several times while I’m huffing along.  I don’t mind this, but I had to tell him that I hate it when he walks up ahead to wait for me, because sometimes I still can’t catch up at a run. It’s discouraging to me, so he doesn’t do that anymore.
  • Make sure you have a clear understanding of your running route before you split up.  Or, make sure the faster person waits at major trail junctures. We once went opposite directions in the mountains accidentally, and the sun was setting. It caused a lot of panic as we didn’t have our phones.
  • If you need a run to yourself once in a while, it is ok.  Just communicate that to the other person rather than avoiding them.
  • Be open to running with a partner.  They can challenge you to achieve what you thought you couldn’t possibly do before.  They can offer encouragement and also see areas where you are improving that you didn’t notice.

Tips for Running with Yourself

  • Running is largely a mental game
  • Set goals for yourself.  Make them meaningful to you and where you are on your journey!  Try not to set time or place goals right away.  Everyone is different. Maybe you need a race or fun run to be motivated.  Maybe, you need to change up where you run. Maybe, you want to run an entire mile in your neighborhood without walking.
  • Like anything, it takes practice.  If you can consistently keep up with whatever type of training you are doing several times a week, you will start to see results, and it will get easier!
  • Try not to compare yourself to where others are. Focus on your own goals.
  • Have a mantra or something or someone great you think about when your thoughts turn negative on a run.
  • Try to have fun!  I ran around the same mile and a quarter loop several times every day for about four years until Pat and Bella came along.  Running in new places and mixing up the types of training I do has put the fun back in running for me.
  • Don’t forget, your dog will love you for taking her out for a jog!  She doesn’t care what your speed is, or how long you can run for.  She just wants to spend time with you.
My next personal goal?  Running 13,000’ Mount Audubon with Bella by the end of the summer. We’ll keep you posted.

Happy Running!

–Devin, Pat, and Bella