Ruff Dugger Race Report from the Small but Mighties!

Team Small but Mighty’s Race report from Ruff Dugger

Sat 30th August 2014

Approx 4.5km trail/obstacle canicross race at Craufurdland Estate, Fenwick, Ayrshire

Well , after a day of excited clock watching, Mighty Maisie and I finally arrived at Craufurdland Estate ready for the first ever Ruff Dugger event and our first ever canicross race. We were well prepared – my trail shoes were taped on to my feet, Maisie had her hot dogs packed for after, we’d been practicing our excited start line ‘aroooooooooo’ call for weeks. It was now or never.

I should take this opportunity to explain that Maisie is a very tiny spaniel cross, not your typical idea of a canicross dog but over the last year since we started at Cani-fit  she has become widely known as Mighty Maisie and together we are Team Small but Mighty. We have determination if nothing else! Maisie and I are not the fastest runners in the land, our normal 5k time is about 30 mins, but this was no normal 5k. The playing field was a little more level (well unlevel actually) this time. This time maybe, just maybe, we had a chance. 

After finding a spot to dump my gear, I caught up with everyone else who was getting ready, finding the important things like registration, the loo and the start line. Some brave folk were even having a coffee from the on site café. There were already loads of people there and a huge variety of dogs. There were malamutes and huskies, collies, labs, flat coat retrievers, jack russells, border terriers, all shapes and sizes of crossbreeds and even a wee Chihuahua (aptly named Thor). There was even one brave three legged soul who looked ready as anyone to take on the task that lay before us. One thing I have noticed about canicross so far is how inclusive it is. People and dogs of all abilities go to these events and it’s honestly one of the friendliest communities I have ever encountered. The atmosphere at Ruff Dugger was no different and you could sense the excitement and anticipation (or perhaps the sense of ‘what on earth are we doing’) in the air.

Registration was swift and easy – I was asked to sign a waiver (eek!) and given my number, being wisely told to pin it nice and high so it could still be seen after I had been through the deepest of the mud (double eek!).

I had had my start time emailed out to me two days previous so I felt pretty set and soon it was time for the briefing. Lindsay from Ruff Dugger explained how the course would be marked, reiterated the importance of our dog’s safety and that no rough handling of dogs would be accepted. The dogs welfare and fun in this was paramount. Which Maisie managed to demonstrate by locating and jumping in the only muddy puddle anywhere near the briefing area.

After a quick warm up (during which Maisie managed to find a muddy puddle large enough to actually swim in) I made my way down to the start as I knew I was off pretty early. I was 15th lady to go out of 28 and it went in quickly. As I stood waiting my turn to go, I could see spectators nudging each other and pointing at my daft wee dog who was putting such effort into her start line ‘arooooooooo’ that she was beginning to draw attention to herself. 

Lindsay counted us off, it was a staggered start and soon, Maisie and I were off. She went off like a bullet, making a noise that was something like the cartoon Tasmanian Devil. The first few hundred meters really set the scene for what the next couple of miles were going to be like, twisting and turning sharply, tree roots to dodge all over the place. Maisie flew as if she didn’t even notice them, nailing every single left/right command I was calling at her. I didn’t need to use ‘on by’ she was already away.  

We crossed out of the first wooded section, across the road manned by some fab marshalls (thank you!) and into the main part of the estate. Only to be met by our first mud pit. My plan had been to scoop Maisie up and carry her through these deepest mud ditches as they were way beyond her depth. Obviously no one had told her that though. Trying to stop her flinging herself in to this first one was a challenge but as I sat down and slid myself into the cold mud bath I scooped her up and we trudged through it together. There were already some poor souls struggling to make their way through with their dogs having elected to walk along the bank instead of swimming in the mud. One dog had slipped its harness and its owner was madly trying to get it back on before she could go any further. About 100 yards later I finally reached the end having passed the first photographer, grimacing nicely, and plopped Maisie down safely on the bank. As I was scrambling to drag my carcass up out of the ditch, she promptly turned round and flung herself back in! 

After hauling myself and her out of the mud like some prehistoric throwbacks, I staggered towards the trail, my feet now heavy with wet sticky mud and slippy with it. Maisie of course, was back into rocket mode, I think the mud actually made her faster.

We had to gather a bit of momentum again so dashed off, quite a lot of jostling for position now – the faster runners trying to gain a bit of time back. The trail soon resumed its technical trickiness but Mighty Maise guided me through them with expert precision, even leaping heartily off a very sharp little drop, forcing me to jump as far as I could (very glad I’ve been practicing long jump at metafit) which woke me up a bit! There were some fallen trees to tackle – Maisie springing over everything she could or sneeking under those she was too wee for. Those ones slowed us down slightly as it meant unclipping my harness but we made the time up. We then raced along a narrow path which had a bit of a steep slope down to one side so I was taking care not to go flying down that. Maisie was genuinely fearless and scooted quickly along the ridge without so much as a second thought.

The course carried on in this sort of vein for a bit longer, twisting and turning, steep drops and roots to tackle, muddy puddles to squelch through and even some planks to balance our way across some of the larger/muddier ravines. Maisie skipped expertly across these which made me have to run across them far faster than I normally might have. Caution had well and truly been flung to the wind by this point. The route was really well marked, there really was no room for error which was no mean feat considering how complicated and technical it was.

Then we came to ‘The Paddling Pool’. We had been warned about this at the start, that there was no alternative route so we would have to ‘just dae it’ which is the war cry of Team Cani-fit. I would probably have described it as a swamp more than a paddling pool. Paddling Pool sounds quite nice. This was swampy. It was a pool about 20 feet long which at first was only about ankle deep with mud but I quickly sank to almost waist level and had to scoop my wee buddy up much to her annoyance again. Quite a few people passed me here while I was getting Maisie sorted but I was able to get myself and her out of there quite sharpish, I literally had to claw myself out by my fingernails. Some poor soul was floundering around at the edge so I stopped give her a hand and then I was on my way again, again feet feeling really heavy with mud. 

I was able to get past a few of the people who had overtaken me in the swamp, over another narrow plank again overtaking a couple of folk but my speed was quickly thwarted by the steepest downhill section we had encountered and it was muddy! Maisie was down it before I even had a chance to think where I was putting my feet so I fell on my well padded butt here. Scrambled to my feet again well aware there were folk hot on my heels, trying to navigate the steep, root infested, mudslide once more. Fell again, this time in a rather graceful, swan like manner (not) but thankfully finally at the bottom. This had brought us to a fast flowing river which we were guided away from.

We were then faced with an extremely steep, extremely muddy incline. Almost as bad as the bit I’d just come down. I was officially feeling done in by now so this hill was a task. I half clambered, half staggered up it, my little mighty pal streaking ahead of me now. Nettles were rife and I was using my fingernails again to haul myself up. One of my Cani-fit team mates overtook me here, cheerfully enquiring if I was enjoying myself. A sweary word was all I could muster.

This time when I reached the summit, my feet really heavy with mud again, I was knackered. But thankfully there was some relief as the next section was relatively flat. It was narrow so was still tricky to manouver without going over on your ankle but the lovely flatness was all I cared about. Eventually we came out onto an old pathway, a stoney, almost cobbled (and therefore quite slippy) road which was long and straight and you could see your doom ahead of you. Even Maisie felt it at this point and slowed to a bit of a trot ahead of me – I was by now merely shuffling I think. We eventually saw a marshall up ahead who called out to us that we were doing great which gee’d us both up no end and spurred us on round the bend where we were quickly overtaken by the first man to have set off. A guy with a big malamute who Maisie tried her best to cut off (she has no concept of her minuteness, only her mightiness)but no luck, they were away without us very quickly. 

We had finally now ventured into what must have been the last kilometre. This next section has another nice mud pit, not as large or deep as the last two but thicker and sticker and with a big log right across the middle that you had to climb over. Maisie flung herself in head first without really thinking it through and was actually unable to jump the height of the log so I had to help her out. She scuttled over and we made our way back across the road again into the final section. We could actually hear people shouting at the finish line which spurred us on through the final trail. Hearing people shouting for you both when you come round into the last bend is the best sound ever, wee Maisie seemed to agree and decided only a sprint finish would do! I don’t know where she gets her energy from, she truly is Small but Mighty.

Our final time was 27:00 mins which I was delighted with – even more delighted when I realised this meant were were 6th in the female section.  Team Small but Mighty had triumphed at their first proper race and survived the Ruffest toughest canicross trail race ever to have happened.

Watching all the grinning faces charging/staggering towards the finish line it was clear that everyone had enjoyed it as much as Maisie and I. We stood and watched the teams come in and saw little Thor the super Chihuahua steam to the finish line.

Afterwards, a dip in the lake let us wash all the mud off. There was a far more civilised hose supplied but by then, civilisation had gone out the window and a dook in the pond seemed more appropriate somehow.

As the kids races kicked off (aptly names the ‘Mucky Pups’) all the adults laughed and compared muddiness, the dogs got their treats and zipped up into all manner of doggy pyjamas to keep them cosy and everyone gathered for the prizegiving where there were prizes for first in all the adult classes, first boy and first girl for the Mucky Pups and some spot prizes (most enthusiastic etc). All the kids who took part got a little gift too and all us big yins got a fab goody bag.

All in all I think we can safely say the first ever Ruff Dugger was a roaring success – afterwards everyone was asking when the next one would be. Mighty Maisie and I will be first in line!

By Amy McLaughlan