Marathon Corgi
Part II - Part I
By Andrew Bushnell, Switzerland

The Glacier Excursion
Sierre is the sunniest and driest place in Switzerland, so that one gets used to disregarding pessimistic weather forecasts. Thus, one Saturday morning I and my Corgi - Bryn - set off with two mountaineering enthusiasts, Malcolm and Lorena. They had planned a training walk to a mountain cabin called Moiry, overlooking a glacier and a large reservoir of the same name. Lorena drove us in her car to the reservoir at the foot of the Moiry glacier, but as soon as we set off on foot it began to pour with rain.

Lake and glacier Moiry

Crossing the pastures, Bryn gladly cleared the path of cows for us; then we followed a moraine, which is a jumbled heap of earth and rocks pushed up by the glacier. The path was like the ridge of a roof, with a cliff on one side overlooking the Moiry glacier. As there is no room to overtake on the single-file track, Bryn had to follow us, where no-one could trip over him. Leaving the moraine, we crossed the remains of a small avalanche. Bryn didn't miss the chance to nibble at the snow and to roll in it.

Just as the path began to climb a sloping rock wall, the ledges were rather far apart for Corgi steps, and Bryn - now ahead - paused to look back at me. Below was an unpleasant slide of several metres down on to hard snow. To avoid any accident, I fitted Bryn with a harness in order to support him on the lead if necessary. Then he jumped across quite happily.

Bryn showed his confidence unexpectedly at the same point on the way back from the cabin. It was still pouring with rain, and Malcolm carried Bryn over the gap to save time. As soon as Bryn was set down, he looked back to see me still on the other side, and promptly bounded back across the rock slope by himself to fetch me!

It stopped raining, and by the time we arrived back at the car, Bryn seemed less wet through then the rest of us: a Corgi's fur really is an all-weather coat.

If we encounter any unforeseen obstacle that Bryn cannot manage, I carry him in a large rucksack. He co-operates because he is used to it since puppyhood for excursions. Strangers are most surprised and amused to see him looking calmly back at them from a rucksack which seems not big enough to hold a dog with such a large head and ears.

Three starts for a Swiss Mountain Marathon
During a couple of months before the Sierre-Zinal race, I train frequently with Bryn on the first 600m (2000 ft) of the climb, consisting of ancient mule tracks that wind up the forested mountainside. We also practice over the boulders and other obstacles on the rest of the course.

First Start: Tourists
It is five o'clock in the morning. In the glare of floodlights and in the reek of the camphorated ointment that hundreds of runners apply to their legs, the local Fife and Drum Band gives a rousing send-off to some 2000 "tourists". They are the more relaxed, unclassified runners, and are allowed up to the standard hiker's time of 12 hours; but half of them will finish within six hours, as I expect to do with Bryn.

Stumbling with torches up a stony track with a 1-in-4 gradient, they have time to appreciate the irony as they pass the fourteen small shrines showing Jesus' Way of the Cross, before they reach a stone-built chapel 400m higher.

Dawn gradually reveals snowcapped peaks on all sides, then a panorama stretching down to the river Rhone, which seems to be immediately below.

Second Start: Elite

It is 8.30 a.m. The fifes and drums are joined by the whirring of helicopters for the TV film crew and the mountain rescue service. The 1500 "Elite" runners move off like a human tide. I used to be in the midst of them, finishing in 4h 15 min., but now I take my time since qualifying as a veteran at 40.

The favourites sprint ahead while there is still room to pass. From the helicopter hovering alongside, the TV crew films them crossing a seemingly sheer rock wall. Will anyone beat the record time of 2h 35m? The tourists will be waiting to cheer them as they arrive at Zinal after climbing 2000m and crossing 31 km on mountain tracks. Then everyone will meet again for a meal in a marquee, with entertainment in the atmosphere of a village fete.

Third Start: The organiser's race
It would not be safe to take a dog on a race with 3500 runners along narrow tracks on a steep mountainside. For many kilometres overtaking is difficult, and Swiss Army recruits watch the cliffs to report any accident. In awkward places, I never let Bryn run in front of me, because he is inclined to stop suddenly to investigate any interesting smell. It would be very dangerous if he did this in front of a runner crossing a cliff or careering downhill.

But the organisers and voluntary helpers, who are busy with operating the race, hold a race for themselves a month later and Bryn and I will join this extra edition of the race, without crowds or the fife and drum band, but with a team of friends to provide timing, refreshments and first aid on the way.

A Corgi races over the Alps
Dozens of volunteers had operated various services during the main race, and so missed the chance to compete. Today, a month later, other friends will provide timekeeping, refreshments and first aid posts for them. This is also a chance for Bryn to join in the race safely, without 3500 runners to trip over him.

It is not quite dawn as some sixty participants wait for the start. I arrive with Bryn just as the starting pistol sounds; hurridly passing my rucksack to a shadowy figure to put on a lorry, I join the tail of the crowd vanishing into the gloom.

Bryn is visible only by his broad collar of fluorescent pink and yellow material, sold as a headband for joggers. He will have to wear it all day today, because this is the hunting season, and a Corgi might otherwise be shot by mistake for a fox.

After half an hour of plodding uphill, dawn reveals several companions in single file behind me, each with a competitor's number pinned on his shirt. I had forgotten to collect mine. Dense trees hide the horizon, so that my legs feel a gradient that I cannot see. Having not quite recovered from a foot injury, I am wearing walking boots, and already have blisters.

Two hours later we reach the top limit of the forests: the hardest part of the climb is behind us, and we have a magnificent view with glaciers and ranges of mountains. At the next checkpoint a woman greets me, holding out my competitor's number, and helpers provide refreshments and first-aid.

They also give refreshments to Bryn: weak tea - which he sniffs with distaste, but finally accepts - and dried meat in thin slices, a local product which is a treat for him. For the rest of the way there are plenty of streams for him to drink from.

After passing the highest point at 2450m (8000 ft) we must cross two kilometres where the path is strewn with boulders. But we have already practiced this in training, and Bryn jumps these obstacles with skill.

We finish with a sprint in 7h 15m, of which less than 6 hours was walking and running, for I had made long stops for first aid, refreshment and chats at the checkpoints. Having led me nearly all of the way as usual, Bryn appears not at all tired or sore. He could certainly run the race much faster; but I will never force Bryn to run beyond what he enjoys, even if I could.

Click to enlarge
As is usual in these races, the organisers issue a certificate to every participant who finishes. So Bryn now has a rather unusual certificate in his pedigree name, Cardwyn Gwylon, to set beside the dog show certificates.

Swiss & Int. Ch. Cardwyn Gwylon, alias Bryn

At one Corgi show the judge praised Bryn's well-kept paws, with short black nails peeping through the neatly clipped, white fur. I did not tell her that his paws just wear that way.

From CWCA Newsletter February 1991
Reproduced with the kind permission of the author.

Further reading: Ordeal By Water - Bryn in the irrigation pipe.