– Tell us a little about yourself …
My name is Philippaerts Tessa, I’m 24 years old, born on the 12th of march 1992. I finished my studies as a biomedical labtechnician and I am currently working as a chemical lab technician for Borealis. I currently live in Alken (Belgium) where I grew up since I was little. My plans are to move to Norway in 2-3 years from now.
– What are your sporting achievements till to day?
I used to do track and field when I was younger where I belonged to the top 5 in Belgium in hurdles and longjump. Once I started with canicross at around age of 14 years old we became several times Belgian Champion (I lost track of the exact numbers) in this category, but also several times in bikejoring. My biggest achievements are 2 times Vice-European Champion and 3 times World Champion in canicross (from which 1 in junior, 2 in elite category).
– Tell us a bit about your dogs …
I have 5 dogs in total, 2 are from my parents … Angel and Gucci. They are 2 whippets and they were my and my fathers first race dogs. They are both retired from the sport and are 11 and 12 years old. Then there are my 3 race dogs. The oldest but my biggest champion so far is Yukon, he comes from France (breeder Terry lo Casio). He is almost 7 years old but is still racing at high level. He is an amazing European Sleddog with a big part of Alaskan Husky. My second dog is called Unix, her breeder lives in Austria (Tamara Mulehner) she is a 3 years old Alaskan Husky of only 20 kg. She has amazing stamina and she is my perfect training buddy, but never let size deceive you, she has quite some medals around her neck also 😉 . Last but not least is Lychee. She comes from Patrick and Barbara Wirz in Switzerland and he will become 2 years old. She is a typical hound and will be the future of our team and she has won many races in her first season already.
– What is your favorite place to train?
My favorite place to train is called “de teut“, it’s a widespread area around 25 min drive from where I live. I like to call it paradise,…. it’s a relatively flat area with many small short hills, the trails are all on sandy ground which is perfect for the dogs. You can do all single-track if you want but you can also take wide roads.
– How is your regular workout?
My weekly training looks a bit like this: it has an average of 3 trainings a week and it is different in winter/summer. It depends on my work and weather conditions if I train more or less. In winter I will do endurance training 2 times a week + 1 time intervals. I also add some core stability training/power-training if I have the time. In summer I train 1 time endurance, 1 time interval, 1 time sprint. Mostly the dogs are training separately, before or after my own training, mostly scooter training or free-running and from time to time I train canicross intervals with them.
– What’s your best memory of a race?
The nicest memory I have it will always be my first World Championship participation ever with Yukon, where we unexpectedly brought home the gold medal. It was held in Borken (Germany) in 2011. I can still remember the tears of joy when I was standing on the podium. We have never ran as fast as we did those 2 days and we ran as fast as the seniors. A nice thing to add was that I bought Yukon when he was 11 months old and was only living with us for 4 months by then. He is an amazing dog, and he will always be my once in a lifetime dog.
– Do you have any advice or other suggestions for people who want to get into this sport?
Some advice: if you want to choose a dog, take a breed that you like and fits your daily life (not only for racing). When you pick a puppy, pick the one who chooses you! I never look too much at how the dog is build or if it’s the nicest looking dog in the world … if you get a dog that doesn’t connect with you and doesn’t want to work for you, then you can have the most badass looking dog in the world, but it will not get you far in this sport if it doesn’t want to run. What’s in the head and heart is the most important 😉 . Some other advice, if you are looking for good equipment (non-stop dogwear is the best anyway 😉 ) ask a person who knows how to fit a harness on the dog, and actually try the equipment on first, don’t shop on-line without any knowledge. Your dog will be grateful for that. I see many people running dogs with inappropriate harnesses mostly with too big size and this is dangerous for shoulder injuries, etc. Some last advice, if you start canicross, bikejoring, scootering, skijoring, whatever discipline, never start training the dogs hard physically when they are not fullgrown. Don’t let it pull for a 5 or 10 km run at his first try. Try to start shorter distances, maybe even 1 km, keep them motivated, reward them (very important) make it looks like it’s the most fun thing in life. Then start building up the distance. A person who hasn’t run for a long time or a small kid will not start to go out on a 10 km run either. It’s not cause they possibly can run the distance that they have to do it straight away, it’s really easy to break a dog,… just don’t forget canicross is a team sport, your dog is just as important as yourself. If you are a good team you will do great.
– What sports do you practice “outside” your discipline or that you practiced before?
I started out with gymnastics when I was little, but they told me I had too much energy and I would maybe like track and field more. So after gymnastics I started track and field (heptathlon) but I was specialized in hurdles and longjump in the end of my career. I also did some badminton and went surfing for a couple of years. Mountainbiking is still something I do a lot now combined with running.
– What was your debut in the race?
My debut was also a nice story. My father bought me my whippet Angel to accompany me on my long and boring endurance training runs for the track and field club. She was mostly running loose or I was holding a leash attached to her walking harness. One day my father found something on the internet called canicross: “Hey! That’s something for you” he said. I’m not sure but I think the place of the race was called “Poeke”. They had a stand with some canicross equipment so I bought that day a whole set. I was so happy and eager to start with my Angel, we had so much fun ! According to the results list we ended up,…. last place! But hey, I didn’t care! I was canicrossing with my dog, how cool was that! After that day we were seen at pretty much every race there was and we went up to the top pretty fast, Angel was the best canicrossing whippet I know off 12 kg of power. We grew with the sport that was pretty young by that time. From 30-50 participants 10 years ago till 150-300 participants nowadays is a big difference.
– Why did you choose this sport?
Well as I said above we kind of rolled into it 😉 and grew further with it during the years.
– How do you feel when you’re “in-action” with your dogs?
I love to see progress, how small it may be, so when we are in action I try to enjoy the moment as much as possible. It is great to see after a while how you connect together, 2 minds become one. Once you get in the “zone” you will learn to trust your dog and your dog will trust you. You can almost know how your dog will react on the trail. You will create an unbreakable bond. It’s the best feeling in the world to work together with someone who trusts you without speaking a word.
– What do you think it is the greatest benefit of this sport?
The greatest benefit is that your dog will stimulate you to go out, get out of the daily routine, enjoy nature. Your dog will keep you fit and motivated to do something. Be aware cause it will take you on adventures, and it’s very addictive 😉
– Do you think your dogs like this sport?
I’m sure most dogs like this sport because they like to move, like to do something with their owner. They got tons of energy! My dogs get as crazy about running as they do when playing with a ball. They only need to see me putting on running shoes and the serenade starts. And their wagging tails when I tell them how good dogs they have been right after training tells me enough.
– How important is the “harmony” between you and your dog?
The harmony is the most important part, if you don’t connect with the dog you will never reach full potential. That’s why borrowing a dog is so tricky, you will feel unsure at the start, the dog will feel it and then many things may happen. I have borrowed dogs before, with many good results and outcomes. But nothing beats the bond you have with your own dog. Trust is very important, cause a dog can feel it.
– What is your state of mind before a race?
Before a normal race I am pretty relaxed, normal races are like training runs for me. I only get super focused on championships and then we go “the extra mile” 😉 . On a normal race i try to listen to my body, on a Championship I will run till I drop.
– What are your strengths and weaknesses?
My strength is my speed, I’m very fast myself untill 1,5 km. I always have been a sprint runner. I can have a sprint start and finish without burning myself. If the trail is flat and/or technical that’s our thing ! And the shorter the track, the better we run. My weakness is long distance and uphill, since we don’t have many mountains in Belgium most tracks are flat, most training areas are flat. So if I encounter a long steep hill, I just try to survive.
– What has been your greatest joy and your worst disappointments?
My greatest joy is mostly to see the progression we make together and to find different ways to work with each dog. My biggest disappointments are when I make stupid mistakes or get frustrated and mess a training run up. I learned not to train the dogs attached when I feel frustrated, that’s when it all goes wrong. I’m never disappointed about the dogs, they always do the best they can.
– I know both are important but if you have to choose between “aptitude” and “motivation” to running race, what would you prefer in your dog?
Motivation ! Motivation is the key to success, aptitude is nothing without motivation.
– What do you need to practice your sport? I mean equipment but also attitudes, abilities, skills 😉
You need for running: a good pair of running shoes with enough cushioning and grip. A proper running belt that saves your back from getting shocks when the dog is pulling, a running line with shock absorbing ability to spare not only your back but also the dogs back. And as last a proper tightly (but not too tight) fitting harness. You need to prepare yourself properly before a race or a certain personal goal. Don’t go to a 5 km race if you didn’t train yourself for it or if your dog is not ready for it. Keep yourself and your dog motivated. Be responsible for and respect your 4 legged friend. He will do everything what you ask of him, don’t abuse it, don’t make him cross his limits every time.
– Is it possible to practice your discipline even with small dogs?
There are all kinds of people and dogs coming to our races. Even chihuauas,…. everybody should know it’s own limits and respect the capabilities of their dog and it’s breed. If you respect that, then everybody and every dog can have fun running canicross. So yes every breed can run but maybe not as fast or as long as some other breeds.
– Your sport must be considered “individual” or “team” sport?
It’s a team-sport,… starting from 2 members it’s a team 😉 you are working together, trusting each other.
– How long have you been practicing this sport?
I started around 10-11 years ago with my whippet Angel.
– What sparked your initial interest?
The fact that it was something I could do together with my dog. And the fact that we both liked running 😉
– Why should people play this sport?
It’s a nice way to get fit, stay fit, or just stay mobile. Your dog will be much calmer in the house and it helps with many behaviour problems that mostly start because of a dog that is being bored. You will go on adventures, see places, other countries, meet new people, …
– Do you remember your first time “attached behind” a running dog?
Yes! It was at my first race in Poeke with Angel 😉
– What breed are the dogs you run with?
Yukon is an European Sleddog with around 50% Alaskan Husky 25% GSP, 23% English Pointer and 2% Greyhoumd. Unix is an European Sleddog with around 75% Alaskan Husky. Lychee is what we call a typical “hound”.
– What physical characteristics do you look for in your dogs?
My dogs need to be nice in the house, have nice social behaviour since they have to live in a group. They can be a little crazy outside and in the harness, but they are not allowed to disturb any other dogs when running. They have to be both house and racedog.