In 2017 Ben Robinson and his dog Blake beat the longstanding world record for running five kilometers by 13 seconds with a time of 12 minutes and 24 seconds. He also ran 1 kilometer in 2:04 with his dog Zuma in 2020.
In our podcast "Unleashed," the multiple world champion in canicross is sharing how he and his dog are training to run at these speeds.
On an average week, Ben would run most days, but not always with Blake in his pulling harness.
- For Blake, in season, we have three or four harness-specific sessions a week, which would mostly be scooter with just the occasional bike session for speed. Maybe the occasional canicross, to get my legs used to it.
Most canicross races are at about five kilometers. When training, Ben and Blake always run a little bit longer.
- As with my own prep, I don't like the five kilometers to be the maximum. I think it leaves a little bit of a weakness toward the end of the trail, particularly if it is a challenging trail. Blake would certainly be prepped with some sessions up to six kilometers or just beyond.
With his other dogs, Ben can also run for longer distances with a harness, but with Blake, he sticks to the same distance.
- I'm quite happy that that 6k+ preparation keeps him in a good place for the 5k racing that we'll do. He's all or nothing. He's all out.
Freerunning and resistance training
Blake also gets to run free with the rest of Ben's dogs a couple of days each week.
- They run hard together. I will also have a couple of days where he'll walk with the half harness. I always let him pull on the walk, so that's like a high resistance session for him.
Read more: How resistance training can benefit your dog
Ben's dogs always get at least one rest day during the week. Sometimes two if he feels they need it.
- Rest means a full rest day where they are only at home, only in the garden. No walk, no run. Recovery is also important.
Ben also gives his dogs longer breaks from structured training.
- I always try and find a couple of stages across a calendar year where we have a few weeks of no structured training. We do what we feel like, just enjoy time together with freerunning and walking, but nothing else.
The importance of a strong bond
Many athletes are strong runners, but they don't necessarily have a strong bond with their dog. This connection is essential to Ben.
- Blake is always with us. He is a part of the family. I think the reason why we have done so well is a combination of my athletic ability, his incredible ability as a sport sled dog, and then still keeping that bond.
Running without the dog
On an average week, Ben would run most days.
- Maybe the odd rest day, and probably two interval sessions for myself. One hills-based session and then one long run. The rest of the run is made up of a little bit of recovery work.
Ben has always been a firm believer that core stability work is hugely important for canicross athletes.
- The dogs are always pulling us away from that ideal core setup and the position we would normally be in. I do a lot of core work to be able to hold good running form, and a lot of running-based drills in training, in the warm-up and for main sessions.
Ben has been running since he was a teenager. He put a lot of emphasis on running technique to be able to run well, and then a good core stability preparation to stay in that form when the dog starts to pull you.
- For core stability exercises, I recommend doing limb to torso-based exercises like leg raises, rollouts, planks and other static core stability where you hold the position. I try to to avoid common exercises like sit-ups and crunches. There's a lot of spinal flexion there, which is something that we want to avoid.
Prepare for competitions
Before a competition, both Ben and Blake will run less.
- A couple of days before a major competition, Blake will do very little. I will literally keep him quiet, keep him calm. He will be with me so that he's happy in the environment, but short walks only. For myself, always just a little bit of a jog the day before with a few fast strides, just to get the legs moving.
In the morning, his main focus is to remain calm and stick to his normal routines. Hydration and nutrition is also essential.
- I will eat a good meal the night before and a big breakfast.
In the morning of the competition, Ben likes to take a walk with his dog.
The more intense warm-up starts about half an hour before the race with jogging, faster run and some drills.
- The warm-up is massively important. Even more so for canicross than running in general, because it is a max effort sport. The dogs don't know pacing! They go flat-out from the start, and they're going to force you to do the same. Both from an injury risk perspective and also from a performance perspective, to not warm up would feel horrendous. You probably wouldn't hit the same pace at all that we do, and there'd be a huge injury risk to both myself and the dog.
Blake in competition shape is only about 28 kilos - a rather small dog compared to many other teams. This gives Ben some advantages.
- I've been able to see the differences running him versus my other dog, Nero, at 34 kilos. I can make a lot of time with Blake in corners and downhills because I'm able to run flat-out. I don't attempt to slow him on the downhill, and I can still make the downhills quite well. But it certainly feels like a sprint when we get to those technical sections.
After a run, cooling down is essential.
- I am with Blake for 10-15 minutes afterward, making sure Blake is okay. I keep him moving so he does not stiffen up and make sure he gets water and is happy. After that, he will rest and I will get my own cooldown done, which would be a couple of kilometers jogging, just very easy, and trying to stop the legs being too sore for the next day. Especially when there are 2-day competitions.
At weekends with two competitions in a row, Ben prefers to do a light jog in between the races.
If you want to learn more, listen to the full episode of "Unleashed"!