How to prepare for a bikejoring competition
If you enjoy biking with your dog and want a greater challenge, you can sign up for a bikejoring competition. There’s a lot to get into, and a lot you have to remember before such a competition, so we have gathered the best tips from our bikejoring athletes.
Where can I find competitions in my area?
Mushing organizations in every country usually have a schedule of bikejoring competitions. You can also find official and unofficial competitions on social media.
If you need help finding competitions in your area, you can contact the local club.
Before competing, you have to learn which rules that apply.
Practice the distance
The distances in competitive bikejoring range between the minimum distance of 2 kilometers, to the maximum of 8 kilometers (1,2-5 miles).
To make this a pleasant experience for you and your dog, it is important that you prepare your dog for the distance he/she will be running. If your dog is only accustomed to running three kilometers, he/she will run at max capacity for the first three kilometers, and then burn out. Your dog depends on you to be sufficiently prepared for what lies in store in the competition. Preferably your dog should want to run even further when you cross the finish line.
You should also practice being calm in the starting area, overtaking other dogs in the trail and crossing the finish line.
According to Veronika Navrátilová and Václav Vančura, you should diversify your training. Between them, the couple have a series of medals from international and European championships. They started doing sled dog sports to increase the stamina of their rescue dogs, and to stimulate their dogs’ need for physical activity.
- In the spring and summer, we train endurance without a harness. We go for walks, run, and swim together. The dogs love this time of year! In the late summer we add short sessions of harness training, often in the form of power walking, pulling chains. Our dogs train for two days, and then one day off. This builds up their energy reserves. They always have the day off before a race, they say.
When pulling practice has fully started, they often train at low speed with high resistance, using weight or their brakes.
- We also have some speed sessions with ATV.
Checklist for bikejoring
- Pulling harness
- Bungee leash
- Bike antenna
- Vaccination card
- Bike shoes
- Repair kit for your bike
- First aid kit for you and your dog
- A long leash that can be used for warm-up and walking the dog
- Dog bags
- Dog jacket for your dog to wear before and after the race
- Food and water bowls
- Water, and possibly restitution powder
- Dog food and treats as required
- Food and drinks for yourself
- Warm jacket for you
- Warm, dry shoes
- Clean, dry clothes to wear after the competition
Make sure all your gear is in good condition before the competition. Don’t use brand new and unused gear when competing.
Plan with time to spare
Prepare as much as possible the night before the competition to avoid stress for you and your dog. Dogs are easily affected by our mood and energy. Plan your drive with time to spare, and consider local traffic conditions such as road work or traffic jams.
You should arrive at least one hour before registration, warm-up, and other preparations. Sometimes there might be a meeting for the competitors or team leaders before the competition starts. Check your invitation for more information or ask the organizers if in doubt.
Walk your dog before arriving at the arena
Before you arrive at the arena, Lena Boysen Hillestad, recommends walking your dog. She has 25 World Championship gold medals in Nordic style, sled, and dryland, and has plenty of experience in setting her dogs up for optimal performances.
- Preferably walk your dog some place it can run loose, without stress, she says.
Some dogs poop once, others twice.
- You have to find out what’s normal for your dog. Our dogs usually poop once in the morning, and once before the start of the race, says Lena.
In order to perform, it’s important to be well rested.
When arriving at the competition you should be aware of where you are parking. Even though it’s practical to park near the starting area, it’s a very intense place, which might be stressful for your dog.
- We prefer to park further away, so the dogs get a calm environment. If we’re at a race that lasts several days, we park at the same place every day. This decreases the risk of diseases, says Lena.
Do what you can to make your dog comfortable, both when traveling and at the arena.
- We pay close attention to the temperature in the dogs’ cages, making sure they have a good surface to sleep on, and access to water. Before traveling to competitions your dog should be accustomed to traveling. For us, it’s no problem, because our dogs join us in everything that happens each day, says Veronica and Václav.
Proper rest and a calm atmosphere is important to both them and their dogs.
We don’t have any very specific routines. We compete because it’s fun, so we lower our shoulders and enjoy ourselves with our family, our dogs, and our competitors.
Check the trail
When competing in bikejoring, it is good to get familiar with the trail. Study trail maps in advance. You can also walk through the route to examine the surface and identify turns and potential hazards.
Some competitors prefer to bring their dog when going through the route, others don’t. If the trail inspection is the same day as the competition, it might be a good idea to let your dog rest. Be aware that not all competitions allow dogs in the trails.
Food and hydration
Carlien Harms has won several top spots in national and international championships in both bikejoring and canicross. She also works as a nutritionist for Olympic athletes in several sports. She is well aware of how important food and hydration is for a good performance. Both people and dogs need to eat and drink well before a competition.
- I eat my last meal three hours before important races. In the meantime, I drink sports drinks, eat some energy bars, and take pills or gum with caffeine.
Carliens dogs get 50 grams of dry food mixed with plenty of water and hydrational powder before races. To avoid stomach torsion, there should be at least a couple of hours between feeding and racing.
- Both you and your dogs should be properly hydrated before every training session and race. Always bring water for your dogs, and sports drinks for yourself.
Your dog can get water straight after training to cool their bodies from within. The water shouldn’t be cold. After an intense training session, you can add powder consisting of protein and carbs for optimal restitution. Even though water usually is available in the finishing area, you should bring your own bowls for food and water to decrease risk of diseases.
- You should also get 20 grams of protein directly after a hard session (20g/20min). Within 45 minutes after the training session or competition, it’s recommended that you eat something containing carbohydrates, and get 20 grams of proteins 5-6 times during the day.
To perform well, and avoid injuries, a thorough warm-up is important.
- We always warm-up with our dogs, rather than letting someone else warm-up with them It’s important to get in sync with them before the race. We are a team, says Veronika og Václav.
Before bikejoring competitions, the participants usually warm up for between 30 and 60 minutes. The warm-up usually takes place away from the starting area.
- There’s a lot going on there, and the dogs might get stressed. That costs a lot of energy, so we always go the start area as late as possible, says Lena.
Remember to warm up with a smile! Don’t let nerves or negative thoughts get the best of you. Remember that you’re at the competition to have fun with your four-legged teammate!
Having a calm and focused dog is also advantageous in the starting area. Practice good start and line out routines before your first competition. Make a plan for how you want your start to be, and lay the foundation for the years to come by being consistent from the very first moment.
Bikejoring is a high-paced sport, and in competitions there are many distractions throughout the trail. You should practice overtaking other dogs, and finishing the task even though exciting things are happening on the side line before attending your first race.
Listen to your dog
It is important to be aware of your dog’s wellbeing during the race, and to not push him/her to overperform. According to the rules for bikejoring, you should always be behind your dog.
- A good and steady average speed is more important than a high top speed, says multiple world champion Viktor Sinding-Larsen.
Praise when done
The first thing you should do after you finish is praising your dog and making sure he/she is well taken care of.
- That should always be your priority! Even though people want to congratulate you or talk, the dog should be your focus after finishing. He or she is the hero of the day, says Carlien.
Cool down and give your dog water before he/she rests. If it’s cold and/or wet you should dry your dog with a towel and put on a jacket if he/she gets cold easily.
Clean your equipment
Dryland competitions often leaves your gear dirty. Before traveling home, make sure to clean your equipment such as your dog harness and bike. Proper maintenance makes sure your gear works better and lasts longer.