Some of us have that one running buddy. That one someone who is up with you at 4 a.m. for the long run, who is there even if it’s sprinkling outside. Cold doesn’t bother them, and they’re ready to roll at a moment’s notice. Just get out of bed, just so much as look at your running shoes, and they are at the door, butt wiggling, ready for the day’s adventure.
That’s right–the world’s most perfect trail buddy is a dog. Want to add a couple of miles? No worries. That long run turned into an out and back? They won’t judge you. They’re perfectly content to spend whatever miles, in most any weather, and on any terrain, just to get out and run with you–their best friend!
My running buddy is Isis. Adopted in December of 2010, she has been with me from the very beginning of my own running career, helping me train for my first 5K back in early 2012. At first I started trying to run with my border collie, Bullet, since he seemed to always want to be where I was, but he was more interested in peeing on everything and what was coming up in front of us or what was going on behind,. My other two girls were not good running dogs as they had quirks with people, kids and certain social situations.
So I turned to Isis.
At close to three years old, she was young enough to have plenty of energy and the ability to learn new things, but not too puppy to be all crazy on our runs. She was also a registered therapy dog, so was used to new environments and different groups of people. As it turns out, she was a natural! On our first run, she fell right in step, not pulling (too much). She ran her first race with me in September of that year. Not sure what the start line was all about, she was very anxious. Even after the race had started she was jumpy and scared. I’m sure she was thinking, why were all these people chasing us?! I almost bailed early in that race, but I thought of all our training runs and persevered. Not a half mile in, she realized we weren’t stopping, no one was going to hurt her, and a few miles later we happily crossed our first finish line together!
As the summer went on, Isis and I continued to log many miles together. In February of 2013, I committed to my first half marathon, and I threw myself into training. All summer long, Isis and I had 5 a.m. wake up calls, and man, if I wanted to sleep in, her wet nose was in my face and she was jumping on the bed to wake me up. I can say for certain that if not for her stubbornness and wanting to run, I may not even be where I am today.
Since that first run with her in 2012, Isis has run 23 other races with me, several of those where she was the only dog running. I have heard the gamut of comments at all those races– everything from, “How great to run with your dog,” “What a pretty dog,” “Well, aren’t they having fun,” to “Get that dog out of my way” and “Please don’t tell me they allow dogs on this course.” Most times I hear, “Wow! I could never run with my dog, they would be all over the place and are not good runners.” It is one thing to want to run with your dog, but you need to know if your dog wants to run, too!
There is certainly a time and a place for running a race with your dog. The biggest race, participant-wise, I have run with Isis was the Asheville Thanksgiving 5K, which draws crowds in the thousands. This is a fun, family-friendly run, with most people out for a good time and not a PR. I think part of Isis’ mind thinks it is her job to run, so when she gets to run with a big crowd or in a race, she is on her best behavior, and knows how to act. She is also a big dog, so she doesn’t get lost in the crowd. Folks can see her!
I also am in tune with her. Is she anxious or nervous, maybe because of loud music? Has she done her business? Is there anything here that is uncomfortable for her or other people? Running with your dog can be fun, but you are out there for your race, and you want to make sure you, and those around you, are having a good experience as well. I also hear the phrase, “she is so well-behaved”often. My response is always the same: “If she wasn’t, she wouldn’t be here.”
Over time I have learned about Isis’ race day behavior, and I keep all this in mind at the start line. I know that when the race starts, when people start moving, she lunges forward–hard! I have to keep her on a very short leash and for the first quarter mile or so, my focus is letting her settle in. Once the crowd begins to break up a little, I slowly release her leash. By the half mile mark she is on her full six foot leash. She runs right in front of me and is the best pacer. I believe that because of our running history together, she can sense my heart rate and breathing, and will speed up or slow down for me. I have hit every PR (minus my road-half) with Isis.
Our trail race experience is starting to stack up as well. Isis and I have run several trail races together, her longest race being a 30K. As opposed to a road race which may give us some more room to work with, I always start at the back of the pack for a trail race. There is no sense in putting anyone’s safety in jeopardy, and you don’t want to look like a jerk. Also, I’m not so fast, so heading out in the front is not important.
After a few miles, I am usually confident enough to let Isis off her leash, and again, she just settles right in next to me. I holler out to runners that we are about to pass, “There’s a dog coming up!” and she’ll step in behind me as we pass. Only one time a runner would not let us pass, and we were tight on her heels. She finally stopped so we could pass, saying “that dog is not going to ruin my Kona for me,” despite the fact Isis was on her leash, under control, and we asked several times to pass this woman. It is important to keep in mind that not everyone is a dog person, and your behavior, and your dog’s, can inhibit the RD from allowing dogs in the future. So remember the old adage, don’t ruin it for the next person!
Do you have a dog that you think you might want to run with? Thinking about adopting your next running buddy? Look for more tips and stories from the trails with me and Isis. I would love to hear about other four legged trail runners out there!
Dirtbag Runner Ambassador, Asheville, North Carolina, USA