Run Your Mutt Off
Over the years I’ve photographed A LOT of 5k’s. But I’d never been into running. Hiking, yes; yoga, definitely; horse-back riding, hell yeah; but running? Not s’much. But two years ago when we moved to Denver we gave up our big back yard for an apartment that backs up to Bear Creek Trail. The dogs got bored, and destructive, and I took up jogging for the first time in my life.
Then last Friday night Yukon and I donned our best Red Riding Hood & Big Bad Wolf costumes and headed out for the Scream Scram 5K to benefit Boys & Girls Club of Metro Denver. When we arrived at Wash Park the sun was just about to set and there were hundreds of costumed runners of all ages milling about. We saw Jedi’s and superheros, dogs dressed as butterflies, and kids dressed as dragons. I was nervous and excited and keeping a close eye on Yukon every step of the way. I wasn’t sure how’d he’d react to all the costumes or other dogs. But I knew he’d be OK when he casually walked by the 10 ft tall inflatable Grease Monkey mascot, and was un-phased by getting his leash tangled up with a very sweet, very big Doberman as they circled and sniffed each other. The start of the race brought a rush & crush of costumes, dogs, and strollers. I tried hard to stick to my plan of keeping a comfortable pace but with all the excitement I couldn’t help but push faster. And Yukon, who usually stays right at my side when we run, seemed to feel the same rush as he pulled ahead of me. We found our zone and I didn’t even notice when the sun went down. There was an amazing moment around mile 2 where the pack had spread out and we were jogging by ourselves. I looked over to Yukon and just beyond him the sliver moon reflected in the black lake. It was so surreal and peaceful, and for a moment all I could hear was the sound of Yukon’s toes as he jogged along beside me, tongue lolling. We took a few breaks for water and slowed to a walk a couple times. And ultimately finished in the middle of the pack. After the race we wandered through vendor booths and watched the award ceremony. When Yukon flopped down in the cool grass I couldn’t help but wrap my arms around him and tell him how proud I was of him. And I thought about everything that lead up to that moment.
Shortly after moving to Denver I realized the dogs needed more exercise than just long walks by the creek and weekend hikes to keep them content in our new apartment. I bounded out and bought a pair of running shoes and some hands-free leashes. I’d love to pretend that what followed was a training montage out of some action flick. But it was more a comedy of errors and injuries. Teaching the dogs to run with me instead of zig-zaging and tangling leashes proved to be a challenge. I found that clipping their leashes around my waist allowed me a more natural stride. And keeping one dog on each side of me helped avoid their need to compete with each other and made it easier to keep them in a heal position. Which is much, much safer than running with your dog in front of you. When I started rewarding their good behavior with sprints, Swota would charge ahead and then make unexpected right turns in front of me to tackle Yukon. I can imagine how entertaining it must have been to on-lookers. Over the winter I learned that jogging in the snow was incredibly peaceful. The whole world is quiet and few people venture out on the popular trail when it’s covered in powder. Running in the Spring rain is also awesomely refreshing. My friends and family aren’t into running so while they were ever-supportive they weren’t much help. So when the newness wore off and my motivation dwindled I found an online group lead by a self-proclaimed “OverLoved Shiba Inu”- Cody and his personal trainer. Joining the group helped me problem-solve, inspired me to keep trying, and helped me feel like I wasn’t the only person struggling to reach goal with my pups.
Yeah, yeah we all know exercise is great but why do an organised road race? Most experts agree that having a specific deadline will help with overall fitness goals. Training for a specific race will motivate you to get moving better than an abstract idea of wanting to be more fit. And finishing the race is a great way to celebrate reaching a milestone even if you’re not at your final goal. Doing it with your furry friend will make it even more rewarding. Yukon has reached an age where every experience is precious, and to reach this milestone with him was an experience I will always treasure. I was intimidated at first, since you could describe my running speed as “slower than a herd of turtles stampeding through peanut butter”. But there were people of all ages and fitness levels. Some elite runners finished in just 17 minutes, but almost half the pack finished behind us. There were kiddos in strollers and pugs in wagons. And somewhere along the way we were passed by a grey-faced Golden Retriever. All the activity and excitement had Yukon energized and bounding like a puppy and looking up at me for guidance. And most importantly everyone was having fun.
Some quick tips:
– Pick a race that’s far enough out you have time to train, but close enough that you feel some urgency.
– Pick up a hands-free leash so you can run freely without hanging onto your pup. Some trainers have seen higher rates of injury and shoulder pain in people who try to jog with a leash in hand. Plus if you trip and fall you won’t lose your pup.
-Keep your pet’s limits in mind. Most dogs will go and go and go even if it’s not in their best interest, so talk to your vet about learning your dog’s limits and how to recognize when he’s in distress.
-Not every dog at the race will be friendly. We had a great experience up until the end of the night when Yukon stuck his nose into a little red wagon and got bit by a Chihuahua that I didn’t even realize was there. Watch out for signs of aggression or dominance to avoid a problem.
-Check the race rules. Dogs are not welcome at all races.
Running with your pup will help you both reach your fitness goals and find an even closer bond. And committing to an organized run will motivate you to stay on track. As an added bonus most road races are organized as fund-raisers. Proceeds from the Scream Scram go to benefit the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Denver. So if you’ve ever considered joining a 5K, stop thinking about it and go for it. You’ll be glad you did!