Dogged Pursuit

Forget dog walkers. A Richmond ultramarathoner launches a dog running business.

Sunshine filters through the tall trees 

that line the North Bank Trail in Richmond, Virginia. Welcome to ultrarunner Crystal Koch’s new workplace.

Koch recently took a leap of faith to start her own dog running business, which she’s named Dogspeed. For Koch, an accomplished long-distance trail runner who has four dogs of her own, a dog running business was a no-brainer. “There are so many people who do dog sitting and dog walking, but I wanted to be able to run, because I like to run ultramarathons,” says Koch. “So I figured, if I’m doing all this running, let’s see if I can get paid for it,”

Koch thought of Dogspeed after working a series of temp jobs, trying to find a permanent role. A dog running business was the perfect solution. “You don’t have to have money (to start it). You don’t have to have a place to work from,” she explained. “You just have to have a reliable car—one you don’t mind getting dirty.”

“The dogs are my kind of adventurers,” Koch says. “They love to do everything. They play. They don’t complain.”

Besides the emotional boost, there’s also a physical bonus. “I honestly believe most dogs would choose trail running if they could talk and tell us what they want,” Koch says. “I have watched them get the best smiles on the trail. I think dogs are happier in the woods in general.”

Just like humans, each dog has their own pace and way of running. “Often at the beginning of our time together, the dogs don’t know how to run like humans: that is, a steady pace without much stopping. It’s usually somewhere around the 5th run that it clicks, and the dogs truly start running and enjoying the process.”

She adds, “I’ve also noticed some dogs need to do more than run…some dogs need the adventure of rock hopping, chasing sticks, and climbing. And a lot of dogs need their brain exercised just as much as their body.”

Koch often uses a hands-free leash for more adventurous runs. “Often I have to be patient as I get jerked toward a squirrel. On windy days, smells swirl together, and I think some dogs like to chase down a smell.”

Sometimes nature calls, and the dogs need a running break.

“You do have to pick up a lot of poop. That’s just part of being a good trail steward.”

But for Koch, Dogspeed is a dream come true. She’s strengthened her own running with the miles she logs each day, and she always has a running partner.

As for daring to start her own business, Koch says, “I’m not a big fan of letting fear stop me from doing something.”

We asked Koch some common questions from readers about trail running with dogs:

Are some dogs better at running? 

I don’t think there is much of a restriction on type of breed or build that can become a trail dog. My personal dog is a large pit mutt who absolutely loves the dirt and can run 15 miles. Dixon is a 27-pound sheltie who loves to run far but does not like getting dirty. Seriously, he gives me some nasty looks when we are on the dirt for an extended period, so our runs are 95% asphalt. Ultra legend Catra Corbett runs with Truman, her dachshund, on the trails in California. The dirt trails mean there will be more smells and, just like for humans, it’s softer on their joints. I believe this is far more dependent on their personality than their breed. 

How do you deal with dog conflicts out on the trail? 

I have had to get vocal and sometimes confrontational with other humans, especially when their dog is off leash. My policy is the dogs I’m with do not get to meet other dogs. Mostly I step to the side and let the other human and dog pass while keeping the dog I’m with close to me. 

How do you feel about leash laws and poop-scoop regulations? 

For the most part, I’m 100% supportive of leash laws and poop scoop regulations. Most people do not bother to train their dog and always say, “But my dog is friendly.” Or their dog is far off trail chasing something which is dangerous for wildlife and the dog. A dog isn’t a natural predator in most situations, and we know better so we need to do better. 

As for picking up their poop, I used to have a more lackadaisical approach until I started doing some research and realized how bad dog poop is for the environment. Now I am never without poop bags or extra leashes. Plus, piles of dog poop littering a park is quite unsightly.

Any advice for aspiring trail runners and their dogs? 

Patience and a hands-free leash. Your dog will want to sniff everything and pee everywhere, but with time, patience and understanding, y’all will be knocking out those miles in no time. 

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