If you have a dog and you like to run, you probably know the joy of running like a dog. I rarely run with anyone other than my dog, Mack. When I am getting dressed to run he doesn’t wait by the door. He sticks with me as I brush my teeth, pull on a jacket, get a drink of water, up the stairs and back down, until he is out the door, assured of going with me. He bursts to the edge of the porch and surveys the situation in the driveway and yard, alert to the smells in the air, looking for deer, bunnies, and quail that may need to be chased.
Even as a puppy he wanted to sprint alongside us on our bikes, squeaking with anticipation before we started rolling. Mack likes to be at the front of the pack, running ahead to have time to take in the smells of the bushes and flowers, and paw at the dirt finding things worth eating. When he ventures off-trail he navigates bushes and trees with agility and speed, floating over them with the grace of a cat. There have been some incidents — torn toenails, puncture wounds, gashes — but his joy is undiminished. Speed is addictive.
Mack is big, 95 pounds, and I have tried to be sensitive to his shoulders and joints by restricting the number of miles that he runs. He is 8 years old now and starting to slow down. He needs more rest days, and I never run “just a little farther” if he is with me. He doesn’t get to go on bike rides anymore, probably his biggest heartbreak.
There is a rhythm to our morning runs. While we lack fluidity, we strive to stay in touch with what is happening in the forest. If he stops to check out some fresh coyote poo, I’ll stop to appreciate the view. If I stop to investigate a new wildflower or say good morning to a raven, he waits ahead on the trail. Instead of calling for him to catch up when he stops to chew on a deer leg, I run on. He will find me sooner (and eat fewer bones) if he doesn’t know quite where I am. When I hear thundering footsteps, I move to one side and he’ll charge ahead, kicking up a cloud of dust and pebbles. Certain sections of trail trigger memories of a stash of bones or other bounties once found there, always worth another look. I stop to admire every bluebird and he eats fescue. When a ground squirrel crosses the trail he hops like Tigger, circling bushes in small bounces. I might run fast between a certain span of ponderosas.
Emma — now on her twenty-something life and approaching 100 (human) years old, recently recovered from another bout with pneumonia, a chronic producer of epic boogers, a dementia-induced wanderer into closets and spare rooms, her rear leg developing a noticeable gimp — has taken up sprinting to express her delight at being alive. The other day, she overtook me on the trail, hip-checked Mack, and took off like a red-jacketed hobby horse. Emma has always done as she pleases, and made her annoyance clear when prevented from doing so. I figure she is old enough to make the choice to flame out or not, and I’ll just share in her joy as she runs free.
It is hard to run with people, especially those who have goals for speed and mileage. I have been happily corrupted by my dogs. I often run in spurts. I leave the trail to collect stray balloons or check out a rock pile where I left a cat skull once. The goal is to be outside, to be present with a subtle and changing environment. My dog and I — we pause to see and listen, and sometimes we run fast for no reason.