September 19 2018
Park City’s Red Bull 400 is a true uphill battle to the finish.
Sure, you love training with your four-legged running buddy, but did you know you could race with woman’s best friend at more than 1,830 events nationwide? Health psychologist, runner and dog lover Bethany D. Merillat, M.S., M.Ed., built The Dog Race Database for RunRepeat, which includes a Dog Race Finder to help leash-loving runners uncover fur-friendly events.
“As a health researcher, I am always looking for ways to help people lead healthier lives,” Merillat says. “I hope that the database will help connect people with local events, and that the dog-friendly nature of the walks/runs will be the motivation people need to get out of the house and start a new path to wellness.”
Merillat’s Australian shepherd, Boston (named after the Boston Marathon, of course), inspired the project after her husband found a flyer for a dog-friendly race. “I was surprised,” Merillat says. “I didn’t know that you could do such a thing. The problem was the race was far away. I tried looking online, but none of the major race databases track which events are dog friendly, and there was no easy way to search.”
So she put one together herself, and was surprised to find a rapid increase in dog-friendly runs over the last decade. “Adding dogs to races is growing exponentially,” Merillat says. “People are contacting me with new races, or old races that now allow dogs, all the time.”
It’s no wonder. Running with Rover is not only good for your health, but it’s great for Rover, too. “Running conditions a dog’s heart and muscles, similar to us,” says Jessica Waldman, D.V.M., a veterinarian, canine rehabilitation therapist and medical director at California Animal Rehabilitation. “It also encourages good, active range of motion and mobility in their joints.” Many Arthritis Foundation events welcome dogs for exactly that reason, noting that dogs get arthritis, too.
“The other real health benefit is mental stimulation,” Waldman says. “Dogs have so much excitement. They want a job and they want to work. If you take them on a run, they feel more satisfied.”
But before you register Fluffy for any race, Waldman has two key reminders. “Your dog needs to warm up and cool down just like you do,” she says. “I recommend a five-minute slow walk, followed by a five-minute trot as both a warm-up and a cool-down.”
It’s also important to be mindful of your dog’s fitness level and health condition. “If your dog is reluctant to go or is slowing down, then don’t encourage your dog to do it,” Waldman says. “There’s probably a good reason why they don’t want to continue to run.”
For dogs that love putting paws to pavement, racing together can be a healthy bonding experience. In fact, two of the oldest dog runs in the U.S. were started at veterinary schools. The Dr. Skip Jackson Dog Jog has been organized by the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine in West Lafayette, Ind. since 1972, and the Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine has held the Great Rover Road Run in Baton Rouge, La. for 25 years.
Want to get in the action? From 1 to 100 miles and every distance in between, here’s a sampling of noteworthy events where your pooch can pant beside you.
California leads the nation with 116 dog-friendly races. Most famous among them is The State Street Mile in Santa Barbara, which hosts the “unofficial” World Championship Dog Mile. In 2016, runner Bryan Duff and Weimaraner Kaydom clocked the fastest documented human-canine team time of 4:13. It’s no wonder: The course is a point-to-point downhill straightway that drops 100 feet in elevation.
Everything is bigger in Texas, a state with 72 annual dog-friendly races. The Cap10K in Austin is the largest event Merillat found, with 18,751 finishers in 2018. Corrals A and B are for humans only, but leashed litters are welcome in corrals C and beyond.
If color runs are more your speed, head to Sevierville, Tenn. Color Me Mutt features 5K and 1-mile distances for people and pups, alongside a pet parade with awards for best groomed, best personality and more. Participants get a T-shirt, packet of non-toxic color, a pet item and an unlimited ride wristband to NASCAR SpeedPark.
Have an agility dog? Anniston, Ala. is the spot for Spot at the U.S. Canine Biathlon, a 3.5- to 4-mile competition with 40 obstacles over terrain like forest, sand and water. Dogs and their handlers can compete in a range of categories including civilian, police, military, veteran, youth and more.
If your pal is an endurance hound, she can join you for some or all of the Salt Flat Endurance Run in Utah and Nevada, with 100-mile, 50-mile and 50K distances. Run informally with Lassie or register her so she can also earn a finisher’s medal or buckle, race shirt, bandana and bib.
These globe-trotting “mindful triathlons”—where participants flow through a 5K, yoga session and guided meditation—welcome dogs at most of the 30 events taking place in public parks around the world, including the Twin Cities, Denver, Portland, Boston, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Cincinnati, Detroit, Tampa, Austin, Calgary and Toronto. The Wanderlust Journal even claims, “the dog-watching at Wanderlust festivals is as good as the people-watching.”
With more than 95 events in 40 states, the Arthritis Foundation’s Jingle Bell Run series has not only embraced the holiday spirit, but the animal spirit, too. Merillat notes that most of their races welcome tail-waggers, with USATF-certified 5K courses, 1-mile walks and kids runs at many events.
The Dog Leg presented by Ruffwear allows pups and their people to complete the Columbia Gorge Half Marathon in Hood River, Ore. as a run, walk or relay. Dogs receive their own timing chips and random prizes as they cross the finish line, plus a raffle just for Dog Leg participants at the award ceremony.
Possibly the best-named race for Fluffy, the Fast and the Furry races in St. Paul, Minn. feature competitive 8K and 5K distances for canines and humans. Small, medium and large dogs compete in their own categories with prizes for the top three furry 5K finishers.
These free weekly runs held in 16 public parks throughout each of New York City’s five boroughs welcome dogs on leash. Put together by the organizers of the TCS New York City Marathon, runs range from 2.5 miles to 5Ks and take place on weekday evenings or weekend mornings.*
At the Iowa Dog Jog, pups participating in the 4K or 2K courses get their own bib, medal, bandana and waste bag. The post-race party promises paw-print painting, a doggy whipped cream-eating contest, pop-up dog park and more.
Come for the custom-printed dog tag and bandana, stay for the tail wagging contest, dog and human look-alike contest and free kids dashes at this 5K in Seattle, Wash.
Organized by the Humane Society of Huron Valley, the Walk and Wag and Run in Ann Arbor, Mich. celebrated 39 years in 2018 with a 5K and 1-mile walk, plus dog diving and dog trick competitions.
Want to stretch Fido’s legs? Sign up for the Azle Lake Run in Azle, Texas, where dogs are welcome with their humans. The race offers half-marathon, 9.9K and 5K distances. Pooches that finish the half marathon receive their own medals.
Strutt With Your Mutt in Kansas City, Mo. offers 5K and 3K distances for two-legged and four-legged runners, plus a 100-meter Kids Dash. The race festival is a “flealess” market featuring 50 vendors, live entertainment, doggie treats and a canine costume contest.
To find a dog-friendly race near you, browse the Dog Race Database.
Editor’s note: Karla Bruning is a NYRR employee as a race announcer but does not work the NYRR Open Runs.