Bloody toenails and blisters are a well-known phenomenon among canicross athletes. Running with dogs, especially big and powerful ones, can be hard on the body. Johannes Spatzierer (26) from Vienna, Austria, however, does not suffer from these injuries. He runs canicross with his Saluki, Rocket, without wearing shoes. That might sound like a crazy idea, but Johannes has experienced several benefits from running barefoot.
- I love to run but started to feel disconnected from nature as running shoes get more and more cushioned and have all kinds of foot and leg supports. I used to run with regular cushioned shoes, but they masked the symptoms of injuries at the beginning stage until it was too late and I needed to take a break from running. I felt that my feet were trapped and limited in the shoes. I wanted to find a way to use all of the capabilities of my feet to run as they are. Naturally, feet are built for running and they don't need anything more. I wanted to challenge myself and my physical abilities by running barefoot.
The first time Johannes tried barefoot running, he was amazed by what his feet could do if he gave them all the space and motion they needed.
- Without shoes or in minimalist shoes, you immediately feel if you do something wrong while running. Running barefoot helped me find out what the problem was; to change my running technique and to learn to listen to my body. The most significant benefit I got from starting barefoot running was improving my running technique a lot.
A better understanding of his dog
When running barefoot, you get a better understanding of how different surfaces feel for your dog's paws.
- Barefoot running helped me understand how Rocket feels while running and why he gets slower and feels uncomfortable on certain tracks. Therefore, I always avoid paths with big stones and sharp edges when running with him now. I also walk my dog barefoot, and I can feel when the asphalt would be too hot for his paws.
Johannes and Rocket love running together.
- Thanks to canicross, I created a special bond with him as we work as a team. His breeder told us we would never be able to run with him because Salukis tend to be independent thinkers - but here we are. Since dogs are gifted runners, I've decided to learn from the best teacher; my own dog. I try to adjust my cadence and speed to him. I believe this makes us even stronger as a team.
Johannes and Rocket like to hit the trails as often and for as long as possible. They regularly run distances ranging from 10 kilometers all the way up to the marathon distance.
- I've always enjoyed running, and I wanted a partner to accompany me during my long runs. When we ran together for the first times, I realized how much he loves to pull and I thought about a productive way to use his motivation to run in front. That's when my girlfriend introduced me to her friend who showed me the world of canicross, and I've never looked back. Canicross means spending quality time with my dog in nature, and at the same time improve my running performance.
How to start with barefoot canicross
Making a complete transition to barefoot running may not be possible or even desirable for everyone. However, if you would like to experiment with barefoot running and possibly include it in your training, Johannes has some tips to get started.
- My advice is to start slow. Walk around barefoot first, then run without a dog on a hard surface. Don't be afraid of going on hard surfaces, as you feel more directly if you do something wrong.
It takes time for your feet and muscles to adapt to barefoot running. That’s why runners should proceed gradually.
- Listen to your body and be patient. It's a good option to start the transition by switching to minimalist shoes with zero heel-to-toe drop, no cushioning, and no additional support, says Johannes.
When starting out, don't pay attention to your pace or how people stare at you for not wearing shoes. Just do your thing at your own pace.
Finding good trails without gravel and without too many roots and branches can be a challenge, but is far from impossible, according to Johannes.
He loves barefoot running and challenges you to try it too!
Do you want to improve your running technique and strengthen your body for canicross? Check out our training program for canicross athletes!