Checkendon Challenge

Advertised as “The best trail in the UK and loved by all”, this was an event that interested me. I had seen a few videos from this event, and it looks stunning (And scary if you have never done bikejor). I was in 2 minds about entering, as it’s a good couple of hours drive, and 100 miles away, but I was finally convinced by Amanda to enter….. So here I am, writing about my experience of only my second ever canicross “race”.

The travel was putting me off. 2 hours in a car, to run a 5k event, but me being me held off booking, despite being a popular event with entries limited to 100 competitors. I was reminded “Best trail in the UK”. I went online to enter, to be greeted by the message: NEXT RACE EVENT 26/27 OCTOBER 2019 – CLOSED. This didn’t concern me as I hadn’t lost out on anything, but made me want to enter even more. I sent a message to the race organiser to see if they could squeeze my entry in, to be told that all the paperwork had been finalised, and numbers allocated. Next time maybe. So I had a feeling that I was now missing out. Despite my reservations about the distance to travel, I now wanted to enter this race, no. I HAD to enter this race!!!

About an hour later, I received a message back saying if I entered that evening, I could get a place. Form filled out, and entry paid, I WAS IN!!! And I couldn’t wait to experience Checkendon for the first time. Checkendon is a race over 2 days, with the combined times of both days eligible for podium prizes. Competitors over both days camp at the venue, but you can also enter a single day.

Pre race chatter on Facebook was full of excitement, as the date got nearer. Mainly due to the weather in the week leading up to the event. It had been raining everyday in the run up to Saturday. The organisers had warned about the condition of the field to drive on, but with careful driving, everyone had made it onto the field and parked. Upon arrival, I headed over to registration, which was very simple. (A Land Rover with a folder in. Find the number by the side of your name, and take your number) Easiest registration ever!

This race was labelled as “Checkendon Halloween”, so there were people (and dogs) dressed as all sorts, which actually made me relax more, as not that many seemed to be taking it too seriously. In fact, the whole place had a relaxed and friendly atmosphere.

We watched some of the bikejor head off into the woods at impressive speed, before I was called to the canicross briefing. It was a laid back brief (from what I could hear over the excited dogs barking) but it was explained to us during the briefing that the course had been shortened by roughly half a mile, due to 91% humidity that morning. The wind was quite stiff, and the temperature comfortable, however it didn’t feel that humid until well into the run. After important safety announcements were made, the field lined up in runner number order. This is what I really liked. When you enter the race, you give your expected 5k time, and you are then allocated a number based on how fast you are. So number 1 speeds off into the distance, whilst number 60 will go off last, as their predicted pace will be slowest. So I was proudly wearing my race number 60! (As a last minute entry, I was given a number after all the others had been allocated). As I lined up after several people had gone off, (15 second intervals between runners), It was noticed that I may have been a little out of place at the back of the field. One of the starters called out to me to remind me of trail etiquette and to call out which side I would be passing. This I agreed with 100%, as everyone was running their own race.

So I lined up at the start line, Fred ready and wanting to go out on the trails, I was thanked by the starter for a comment I made on their Facebook page. They could not have been friendlier, and more welcoming. Then came the countdown…..
3…….2……..1……. GO GO GO

We head out on the course. Running flat out into the woods. We quickly encountered the person who started in front of us. I went to call out to pass, but before I took a breath, she had already pulled over to allow us past. All I had in mind was doing Fred proud, and to run to his comfortable pace, so we continued into the woods. There were Halloween decorations and spider webs hanging from the trees which added to the occasion. The twisty nature of the course meant that you could see people on the trail, but you had no idea if they were 5 minutes ahead, or just round the corner. We followed the course tape around the trees, over fallen branches, and hairpin turns. Left, right, left, left turns made for an interesting route. No part of the woods felt the same. You could see by the trails, what an excellent course for bikejor it is, but I kept thinking that the trees were too close together to get handlebars though, but I had seen the bikes finish, it must have been possible. Fred was amazing following the trails. his focus on following the path and listening to my commands, made the travelling worth it. We came across more runners, and I was happy to follow behind to get my breath back as Fred hadn’t exactly paced himself. Once again, they pulled over for us to pass, without me even asking. So now, we have people behind encouraging their dogs to catch us up. We have to run! The trails are very fast and flowing, and even the turns are quick, if you want them to be.

I find the point where the course had been shortened. A field that we would ordinarily run around, but we just ran the side of it, and back to more trails. I had no idea how far we had run, and how far was left as the GPS watch couldn’t measure a course like that remotely accurately.
I passed through a gate and back into the finish area, where people who had already finished were cheering people across the line. and that is what we did, in 17:13. I had done Fred proud. He loved the course, as did I. I wasn’t sure how he would deal with the twisty stuff, but he followed it well. Once he had a drink, we were back into the field, where people were talking about their experiences.

It was at this point I was kicking myself for not entering both days. Those trails cannot be replicated anywhere, and it is truly a one off event. We caught up with people I had spoken to before the event, and they were so supportive. I didn’t hear a single bad word about this event the whole time we were there. There was also a shop selling canicross equipment, and Furbaby casting (who take an imprint of your dogs paw and cast in plaster) which we may have had done too (Thanks Belle x

The whole experience was amazing, and as we started the drive home, I was already thinking about next time. Their website states: “Checkendon Challenge brings you an exciting, fun and relaxed venue on a stunning, private venue. Though challenging, the trail is good for novice runners or riders.” I could not put it any better myself.

The results from day 1 had been posted by the time we got home, and I found out we had come 6th fastest male (Joint 13th overall) however, this was nothing to do with times. I wanted Fred to enjoy himself, and for him to have a good run out. Checkendon is geared toward all competitors, not just quick runners, these trails are for everyone.

If you are wondering about entering it, just do it, you will not regret it.

Tony Dickenson and Team Fred-Venture