Graeme Miller and his dog Chester competing in the Maverick Hampshire 'Middle' distance race

Graeme Miller brought his dog Chester into the fray as they competed in the Maverick Hampshire ‘Middle’ distance race

They say a dog is a man’s best friend. But can they be also be a best running companion? There’s certainly been an upturn in the trend of people running with dogs at parkruns and the demand for trail event organisers to include canicross specific races has been very evident.

One of the main plus points of canicross or dog friendly running events is that it allows athletes like Graeme Miller to combine two of their biggest passions into one. Even though injuries have restricted him a lot over recent years, Graeme’s love for running as always been there. As has his love for taking his dogs out into the open air, on nice walks and adventures in all sorts of different locations up and down the British Isles.

Graeme never thought he would do canicross racing. He’d ran with his previous dogs, which were boxers but he nicknamed them the anchor as they pretty slow. His current dog, Chester, on the other hand, is built for speed and endurance. He realised about six months ago that the only thing that would be slowing Chester down was him. Hence he’s been working hard to try and get fit again.

Chester is still very young and he is super focused when he has a target in front of him to catch. Not too dissimilar to his owner in fact. The only downside is that one he gets out in front he loses the drive a bit when there’s nothing to aim for to chase down.

One good feature of the Maverick Hampshire event which was held at the South Downs National Park in Winchester was that you could enter with a dog, making it the perfect opportunity for Graeme to line up with Chester and see what they could do.

There were three different distances to choose from. A 24km ‘Long’ race, a 16km ‘Middle’ distance and a 9km ‘Short’ race. Graeme opted for the ‘Middle‘ distance route.

The trails took them through the quaint villages of Tichbourne and Cheriton, over undulating terrain with some testing inclines providing panoramic views across the National Park. The winding paths then head past the River Itchen and through some woodland before heading back to Cheesefoot Head.

Out of the blocks quickly, Graeme was going at around 5:50 pace for his first three miles, regardless of the undulations. He was focused and determined to give it his all – and so was Chester.

Graeme and Chester heading along the trails in the Maverick Hampshire 'Middle' distance race

Graeme and Chester head along the trails of the South Downs

The next mile contained a tricky little incline but Graeme got through it in 6:12 before getting back down to 5:56 pace for his fifth mile. It was a terrific first half of the race for Graeme and Chester and having another runner just in front of them really helped them maintain focus.

Lifting Chester of the styles took a bit of time though and Graeme lost sight of the person ahead. That made it a bit more of a battle over the second half of the race. Getting through the sixth mile at 6:20, real inclines then started to come into play.

Graeme and Chester lead the way in the 16km race

Graeme and Chester were motoring in the early stages of the race

Posting a 7:29 for his next mile, it was then uphill for a lot of the eighth mile. Graeme stayed strong though and kept pushing hard, getting through it in 6:40. With three miles left to go though, he had a nasty fall, tripping on a tree root.

Face planting at sub six pace was a bit of a shock to the system but Graeme picked himself up and got going again. It left him with a bloody nose and a sore hand but Graeme wasn’t about the throw the towel in. He was actually leading the ‘Middle’ distance race and had his eyes on the prize.

Graeme Miller blasts his way round the Maverick Hampshire 'Middle' distance race with Chester

Graeme was looking to hold onto his lead in more ways the one

The ninth mile was uphill for the first two thirds then down for the rest of it. Getting through that in 6:28, it was then a case of battling through some more undulations for the tenth mile, which Graeme managed in 6:57. That left him with just three quarters of a mile left to go.

Powering through that at 6:14 pace, it had been a remarkable performance from Graeme and Chester and they had completed the course in a time of 1:08:44. That was enough to seal a superb victory in the ‘Middle’ distance race, with a 44 second margin over Tim Parker who was 2nd in 1:09:28.

Wracking up 850ft of elevation over the course of the 10.75 mile route, Graeme came out of with a very impressive average pace of 6:21 and he even bagged himself three Strava segment records in the process.

Graeme and Chester were going well and looking strong throughout

It was a fine performance from Graeme and Chester and they enjoyed a well deserved victory

In the ‘Short’ race, it was Luke De-Benedictis who came out on top, completing the 9km route in 34:13 which put him around a minute and a half ahead of his nearest rival Matt Wood.

In the ‘Long’ race it was a win for Lloyd Kempson. He negotiated the 24km course in 1:38:34 putting him 3 minutes and 25 seconds ahead of his closest challenger Harry Sampson.

Chester takes his place on top of the podium after a brilliant win for him and Graeme

Chester takes his place on top of the podium with Graeme looking extremely proud of his boy

With a couple more races lined up, Graeme and Chester would next be turning their attentions to the Dog Friendly 10 Mile race at the Spring Larmer 2023. Then after that he had a 10k Canicross race in the New Forest. They would provide a couple more opportunities for them to build on the success they achieved at the Maverick Hampshire.

After the race, Chester slept for the rest of the afternoon, clearly taking his recoveries very seriously. No doubt he was eager to get out again the next day though. Probably more eager than Graeme was anyway.