Saturday, January 06, 2007

Advent of a Runner

"You got five miles in you today?"

And he stops his playful panting as he looks at me while I sit at my desk, chair turned towards him, and he pauses mid-breath, tongue still sticking out of his goofy face, head cocked. I repeat myself, "You got five miles in you today?" Then a challenge: "Cuz I do."

And he loses his mind like he's done 3 other times this week and bounds up the stairs before me, prancing just in front of my footfalls, big goofy horse of a dog, almost seven years old, suddenly an excited puppy. And he's impatient, but not annoyingly so, as I get dressed in layers, gather miscellaneous gadgetry, put on my shoes. On cue the Fedex guy shows up just as I'm reaching into the closet for Jack's leash and delivers a gift fit for an Irondog; it's a special runner's leash, with a waist belt for me that attaches to his leash so I can run hands free. He sits on my command then, but trembles in that perfectly-incapable-of-hiding-emotion way that dogs have. I put his leash on him, we get ourselves organized, and we head out the door.

And here's what's happened to my dog Jack lately: He has become a runner. He's run just as much as I have so far this week- 16 miles. Over Christmas, back in the open roads of North Dakota, he ran along with me on lonely roads without a leash - but instead of bounding everywhere and zig-zagging from one side to another, he found a focus, right by my side. He no longer goes out too fast; he finds a pace, keeping my knee in his peripheral vision, and keeps it. He's not out there to chase leaves and squirrels and whatever else. Once in awhile he'll creep ahead, as if challenging me to race, but he never pulls on his leash. Sometimes he'll lag a step behind, catching a breather. But like any true running buddy, he mostly stays just by my side. He slows only a little at dogs barking behind fences, or strangers approaching on the sidewalk. He's not stopping at corners to share his business card. As soon as we leave the house his goofy bounciness stops and he becomes all business. He still looks back at me every 20 yards or so with just the biggest grin you've ever seen, but he's not out here to play now. Somewhere in the last month he's figured something out in himself. He's found a new kind of joy - maybe just the kind that comes with natural maturity, I don't know - in disciplining himself.

And here's what's happened to me lately: I don't enjoy it as much when he's not running with me. For now I'm keeping him to no more than 5 miles in one run, and if the weather is seriously nasty or the roads such that I have to run on busy roads, he stays at home. And I was thinking today as we were running, as Sherrie told us we had one mile left and I said, "Let's go Jack, almost home," that man this is good stuff. Man I love this dog. Running today, at a not-particularly-fast pace and during a not-particularly-great run, I had one of those moments where you realize, then and there, that there is nothing else in the universe you'd rather be doing than this, right here, right now.

So five miles ticked by, and I slowed to a walk and Jack looked back to make sure all was well, and I told him he was a good dog, good dog Jackie you're a good dog, and he looked ahead again, content that the run was over, we could cool-down and walk to the house. At home he gets a big drink of water and a shot of recovery food, like real runners do. And while I showered he climbed up on the guest bed, which overlooks the hallway where the bathroom is situated, and is one of his favorite places because it's comfy and he can keep an eye on things. When I came out of the shower he was crashed, hard, in the beginnings of a great nap. The kind of nap you have after lots of fresh air and a good, solid run. Like a real runner.

I'm proud of him. He's getting into shape. He's going to run a lot with me this year. And time was, even last fall, those runs were mostly just fun outings for me - there was no serious training going on, because Jack was such a goofball out there. I only took him when the training called for easy 3 miles - no pace work, no speed work. Now, he's my running buddy. My never-late, never-not-interested, never too-tired, no-excuses running buddy.

Man. Good stuff.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

I've gotten to the point where any non-dog run or walk = yuck. I hear ya!

Kylie said...

best training buddy ever! Congrats on the new runner convert :)

Pharmie said...

My first marathon training buddy was my parents' dog. She went on a 15 miler with me once! I love the pic. He's adorable.

abby said...

He's SEVEN?! Cripes...

Anonymous said...

your dog is awsome! i'm reading your post to mine.. when she wakes up.

dogs are great training partners, may the 2 of you come back with some great stories.

Sara F. said...

Ditto what Abby said. It seems like just yesterday he was tormenting 2 dog sitters by eating a freakin' baseball. Forcing me to call the emergency vet for advice on how to make Jack throw up. Good Gosh, what a great friend!

Anonymous said...

That's so fun, Chris. Good job Jackie Dog.- Erin

Anonymous said...

Yet another reason to get a dog... he sounds like a great partner!