Stacey Margaret Jones: Running with the Dogs

As my Facebook feed fills with back-to-school photos, I know that my running training season is now upon me. I’m going “back to school” in my way, and this year, I’m schooling another member of our family.

Because of my Yankee inability to adapt to Arkansas summers, I usually lighten up on the running from May to September, switching to cycling and focusing on fitness in the Jazzercise studio to beat the heat. But as August comes to a close, and the school year begins – and hopefully bringing with it cooler temperatures and a humane level of humidity – I must prepare for the fall and spring races I have planned.

This year I’m also preparing for miles and miles beyond this year’s races; I’m preparing our Borzoi puppy to be my running buddy for years to come.

Our 7 1/2 –year-old collie, Atticus, used to run with me in our neighborhood and on the River Trail in Little Rock and North Little Rock. When the weather was cool enough for him, he could run up to 8 miles, and we had some wonderful hours together, covering ground, enjoying the fresh air, and noticing the deer, the birds and the blue herons together.

Atticus is a big boy, about 120 pounds, and he cut quite a figure as a running buddy. We worked a lot with him in puppy obedience and with a Halti harness so he would stay right by me without making problems for other runners and for cyclists.

Though he couldn’t talk to me, our communication and togetherness made those miles richer for me, more meaningful, and special. They were my time with my “Little Guy,” and I looked forward to my outings with him all week.

Several years ago, over the summer, which he also took off due to the heat, we noticed he was really stiff and sore, and had trouble getting up the porch steps and jumping on the bed. The vet’s diagnosis was arthritis in his spine. This meant he was officially retired as my running buddy.

But I had been spoiled by him, and I wanted another dog by my side for many of the miles I knew were ahead of me. When it was time to integrate a new puppy into our lives last year, we knew we wanted a dog who could be a running companion, and a Borzoi would fit the bill.

Gwenhyfar (a Welsh spelling of Guinevere, of King Arthur fame) came home with us from New Mexico in December, and I eagerly asked her breeder when she could start to run with me. Barb told me I had to be patient because her bone plates wouldn’t be fully enough developed for that kind of exertion until she was at least 16 months old. But she did say Gwenny could start coming on short run-walks with me a few months ago, and now, the puppy is ready for short runs of 1 to 2 miles (1 is better than 2, in this case), no more than a couple times a week.

So this year, when I started back to my training programs, Gwenhyfar started with me. Our first day, we went 1.3 miles together outside in our neighborhood. At her breeder’s suggestion, I encouraged her to run on the grass rather than the concrete, but she wanted to be right there with me on the sidewalk or the road. When her distance was over, I finished my run on the treadmill, while she jumped around on the futon and skittered around the house, wound up by her outing.

In that short run with Gwenny, I remembered why I want a dog at my side. Of course, a Borzoi is a beautiful animal to watch in motion: She seems to float above the road and acts as if she merely deigns to touch the ground. She could run much faster (Borzoi can run up to 37 miles per hour!), so she executes her slow jog almost balletically. Her motion is effortlessly graceful, and, of course, unselfconscious and joyous. Because she’s a sight hound, she sees wildlife before I do and helps me notice and appreciate so much more of what’s around me as the sun rises and the day comes to life.

But more than that, I loved the run with her because I got to share something I love with someone I love and see that she loved it, too. That’s a lot of love, but if you know dogs, you know that’s how they roll, and how they run.

running with the dogs

Tags: ,