So, How Many Hats Do You Wear?

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Pensacola, Florida, United States
Husband. *Dog Dad.* Instructional Systems Specialist. Runner. (Swim-challenged) Triathlete (on hiatus). USATF LDR Surveyor. USAT (Elite Rules) CRO/2, NTO/1. RRCA Rep., FL (North). Observer Of The Human Condition.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Dog - Best Friend, Best Training Partner

My workday routine - once I get into the office - includes two activities which my co-workers and supervisor have seen fit not to infringe upon or drastically modify. First of all, I make certain the coffee is brewed - since my supervisor and several co-workers also drink coffee that's probably the reason I'm not hindered.

The second habit includes reading my favorite comic strips. One strip I enjoy a great deal is "Frazz," drawn by Jef Mallett. The main character, Edwin "Frazz" Frazier, looks like a grown-up version of "Calvin" from Bill Watterston's "Calvin and Hobbes" strip. Frazz loves a teacher, works at a school, runs, bicycles, swims, writes songs... It's a fairly neat parallel of (my) life and Mallet's art.

Not long after I started to follow the strip, Mallet had a week of strips which involved Frazz's girlfriend's dog, "Mario," a rescue greyhound. (And to think the comic strip couldn't get any better...) The most memorable conversation that week had to do with the speed of greyhounds versus human beings. A youngster from the school asked if humans were faster than greyhounds. Frazz replies greyhounds are faster than humans, but humans can run a marathon faster than a greyhound. The child says, "so greyhounds are also smarter than humans." "One would consider the baggie a clue," laments Frazz.

I've occasionally laud my greyhound, Rubin, in blog posts for teaching me the benefits of rest and habit. But, as time has progressed, I cannot help but consider the dog - in the vast majority of cases - to be not only man's best friend, but potentially, man's best training partner.

Several coaches have rhapsodized about training "accountability groups" containing at least three members. The natural reason for having three persons in a training group, naturally, is so the individual athlete need never train alone, except for those rare occasions. Think about it - the odds of having one training partner fall ill, or their family member fall ill, or be on travel, sudden change of work schedule, and so forth - is usually pretty good. But, the chances of having EVERY other training partner in the group suffer from such obstacles grows more unlikely. There is at least one day a week where I feel a little beat up, or I need to be in at work a little more early, etc. So I might try to talk myself out of 25-and-50 workout opportunities a year, which means a one-in-seven or a two-in-seven chance of leaving a partner in a lurch. Then, what are the chances of both other people ill, beat-up, constrained? It's probably right around two-in-one-hundred.

You statisticians or mathematicians out there, please feel free to jump in.

Dogs, on the other hand, don't HAVE to worry about work. To Rubin, every day is Saturday. He's ALWAYS up for a walk, even if the weather is stormy. He might not want to go outside (to do his business) in the pouring rain, but he'll go if I pull on my rain gear.

So, if you've got a dog who likes to run and a route which is amenable to running together, the odds are very high you've got a willing training partner.

Not every breed, however, is built to deal with long-distance running. My mother's German Shorthaired Pointer, Bogie, taught me this lesson almost two decades ago. I had driven down to her home in Jupiter Farms, FL, for a visit. One afternoon, I told her I was going out for a run. She suggested taking Bogie along as company, not suspecting:

First, I didn't know the neighborhood as well as we initially thought.
Second, how far I was capable of running before realizing point number one, and...
Third, how lost I could get myself because of points number one and number two.

Some 90 minutes and nine miles later (as I learned while driving the next day) Bogie and I returned home to a very worried mother-slash-"dog mama." Bogie immediately shoved his face into a bowl of cool water, I grabbed a very large glass of iced tea. He lay down on his bedding in the corner of the living room; I put my legs up in the recliner while enduring the maternal inquisition. The next day, the question, 'Bogie? Want to go for a walk?' was met by a tucked-tail slink out of the kitchen back to the living room.

Greyhounds, I learned, are pretty well good to go where walks and warm/cool-down efforts are concerned. Otherwise they prefer to play the "I'm retired" card for distances longer than a quarter-mile. There's also a terrier or two I've encountered who, if you could control their lateral direction, would probably keep most distance runners on their toes for an extended period of time. I've met herding and working breeds who absolutely love to run and seem to go forever. My friend, Charley, has a couple of Australian Shepherd-types who think nothing in life is greater than to go out running on trail with the local hash kennel. The only problem, naturally, is once the run is over...especially this particular kennel. It's not a proper trail without a water crossing. "The wet dog is the lovingest," was the final line of a poem by Ogden Nash.

Truer words were never inscribed on paper.

When it comes to race day, however, that's where the lines are not only drawn, but the ugliest darned fault lines develop. The race director, especially for a Road Runners Club of America-affiliated club, is constrained by the insurance guidelines which keep Fido from pawing the starting line next to their owner. Then, you have the "keep your dog leashed" crowd, the "my dog is well-behaved" crowd, and the "how dare you risk hurting your dog by making them run in this heat" crowd. Nobody wins; everybody goes home grumpy.

Last spring, a young lady asked if her dog could participate in one of the area's major run events. She said the dog had been her training partner to that point in time, and she figured it would be fun for them both to participate in her first race. I knew the RRCA insurance constraints and the risks which could happen in the pack. However, being "only" a guy who knew a few things about a few things, I suggested she contact the race director so she could get the (bad) news from him directly. I didn't hear any follow-up, but she did thank me for my gracious response.

While not every runner appreciates the presence of a canine on their morning (or afternoon) run, it can be said that nearly every canine appreciates the chance to be in the presence of a runner. And having that always-joyful, never-complaining, almost-always-available running partner can even help us get that first step out the door on the days when we really don't feel like it.

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