With zillions of marathons and ultras under my belt and PRs long behind me, there are days—especially when the weather is less than perfect and I’m overwhelmed with work, feeling unmotivated and just plain blah—that lying around reading a mystery novel is more appealing than dragging my lazy butt out for a trot.
However, the prospect of disappointing Helen, my four-legged running partner, keeps me lacing up my shoes. She always wants to go and her excitement can be contagious. She reminds me of what matters when it comes to running—that it’s the most basic and elemental of activities, satisfying our animal natures. She’s a natural runner, and in many ways I wish I were more like her. For example:
1. My dog embraces speed work.
Instead of plodding along, Helen knows how to vary her pace. On nearly every run she throws in some intervals to exercise her fast-twitch muscles (SQUIRREL! DEER! The neighbor’s cat!). And then she allows herself adequate recovery, stopping to pee, poop, sniff butts, and roll in things dead and stinky.
2. Though she is super-fast, my dog can accommodate a variety of partners.
When Helen is with someone slower, she’ll log extra miles by running ahead and coming back. She can cover twice the distance of a given route while never completely deserting her partner or making her feel bad.
3. Cross-training is important to my dog.
On trails along the river or near a lake, she’ll dip in and do some laps. Helen is eager to participate in sports like baseball and soccer and will occasionally play Frisbee, even though it’s not her favorite.
4. My dog doesn’t make excuses, complain about injuries, and is never disappointed with her results.
Helen doesn’t care about PRs or placing in her age group. When she came in fourth in the canine division in her first half marathon, she never felt the need to post that news to Facebook.
5. My dog stretches before and after runs.
Upward facing dog, downward facing dog, toe wiggles—she makes sure her muscles are supple and loose during the day.
6. She’s not a ‘gear head.’
Dozens of worn out running shoes don’t clog her closet. Helen doesn’t spend hours discussing the merits of various GPS devices and she doesn’t pile up dirty shorts and T-shirts (and sometimes wear them again before they make it into the wash). No one ever has to wait for her to get ready.
7. Her attitude and habits are winning.
My dog always wants to go; she doesn’t whine about being tired, sore, hungry, cold, hungover, or burned out. She never worries about her weight, eats healthy food, and gets plenty of sleep. For her, running is joyous and celebratory.
And, of course, Helen discovered barefoot running long before Chris McDougall made it a thing.
RELATED: A Guide to Running With Your Dog
About The Author:
Rachel Toor teaches creative writing at Eastern Washington University in Spokane, Wash., and is the author of four books of nonfiction, including “Personal Record: A Love Affair with Running” (2010, Bison Books), and a young adult novel, “On the Road to Find Out” (2014, Square Fish). She is owned by a dog named—you guessed it—Helen.