"The perfect running partner" can take various forms depending on the runner. Some of us prefer running in groups with conversations to distract us, others of us may have that one person we see every other day at 6AM for accountability and support, and a few of us cherish our miles when they go by in solitude. Personally, I've typically favored that last one. I say "typically" because that has been the case up until I met these guys.
Meet Roux and Inka & Bandit—my loveable, excitable, indefatigable running buddies. They aren't my dogs, but I've got some awesome friends who are under the impression that me running their dogs is some kind of favor to them… but let's be honest, I'm clearly the one getting the good end of the deal.
As I was out running with Roux the other day and contemplating whether there was any greater joy in life than running trails with this guy (there isn't), I considered what exactly it was for me that made running with my canine pals unfailingly fun. That's when I stumbled upon a short list: things our dogs do on trail runs that would be extremely weird if humans did them.
1. Mark territory: The number of times a dog can pee in the span of a 5-mile run is nothing short of impressive. Roux always sets up a perimeter the moment he gets out of the car while I tie my shoes: "Hold up, I need to make sure everyone knows this area is mine." Fifty yards down the trail: "Hey, this is also mine." Another 100 yards: "Mine." Backtrack to the first tree: "I think I already peed here, but I'm going to go ahead and pee again just to make sure. Wait, is that a bush over there? Ya, that's mine too."
When a dog does it, I can't help but chuckle as they proudly claim their land. It's kind of endearing. Not so much with a human running partner. If that happened, I wouldn't know whether to call the police or recommend seeing a urinary specialist.
2. An inclination toward woodland critters: Or in the case of Inka & Bandit, we'll call it a very strong passion for the tradition of hunting. Squirrels and chipmunks are among the top "distraction" (in Inka's mind, known collectively as "the enemy"). But say you're running trails with your human friend—we'll call him Steve—and you're talking about something kind of serious, maybe about work or family or something, and all of a sudden Steve's just gone. And you're calling his name and you know he hears you but Steve just keeps running full tilt through the brush, until he gets to a tree and sits at the base of it, yelling threats up at the squirrel. And you spend 5 minutes coaxing Steve back to the trail with some food and finally you get back to your conversation until another squirrel runs across the trail and there goes Steve again. C'mon, Steve.
3. Run circles around you: The seemingly boundless energy of a dog never ceases to amaze me…. How they can turn a 5-mile run into 10 by zig-zagging on and off trail and be ready for more is beyond me, but it is truly a hoot to watch. They'll sprint past at full clip and then make a sharp turn-off to sniff something (or, more likely, pee on something). I keep on my leisurely pace and run past, and then aparently I'll get too far ahead (hardly ever more than fifty yards) because they break into a full gallop after me, over logs and bushes and rocks, squeezing by on the trail until getting too far ahead again and then sprinting back.
I don't think anything depicts pure joy better than a dog at full sprint on a trail: ears back, tongue out, eyes wide, and paws kicking up dirt. It leaves me with a permagrin while I run. But for some reason, our friend Steve running circles around me, jumping up and down, is less "I love life and this is so much fun" and more "Look how easy this is for me… can't you go any faster?"
I'd be annoyed out of my mind… and probably thinking of some very unkind things to call Steve.
4. Disappear off-trail for a few minutes: And return, undoubtedly doing so with a big smile on his face. The kind of smile that evokes one question: what small animal carcass did you just find and proceed to roll in? A quick dip in the creek and a bath after the run and I'm back to snuggling the pups. Not sure if I'd ever look at Steve the same way after an incident like that.
5. Socializing: I don't think our friend Steve would be received well in the running community if he sniffed every butt that ran by. Just sayin'.
For me, nothing quite beats following a wagging tail down the trail. I've logged a fair number of miles with Roux and Inka & Bandit, and they've pushed me through some running ruts. Their exuberance is contagious, and a run with them will always leave me smiling.