28 Jan

Barking Mad?

Running with a dogrunABC's Neil Turner writes about his first experience of running with his dog…

It was late one Friday night when I made the fateful decision to run with my dog. I was in the midst of Marcothon and only had a couple of hours left to complete my 5k for the day.

Most of my runs that month had been in the dark − working full-time in winter leaves you little option but to do so. The darkness didn’t faze me but, as it was Friday night, I had the sudden worry I might encounter a group of alcohol-fuelled ruffians on my route. What if they took a fancy to my new Garmin? “Say, that’s a nice watch. Be a shame if anything were to happen to it,” I pictured them saying. Worse still, what if I was unable to outrun them? I’m not sure I could I cope with the indignity of it all.

Then it dawned on me, why not bring my dog along! Canicross enthusiast friends of mine were always insisting I do so and besides, he could use the exercise. I have two dogs, as it happens: Marty, a stocky five-year-old crossbreed, and Molly, a lively two-year-old collie-lab mix. Fearing I wouldn't come back with all my limbs intact if I took Molly, I opted for the older and more importantly the slower of the two.

The experience proved to be surprisingly enjoyable. Despite my mutt's penchant for barking at four-legged passers-by during walks, when running he remained far too focused to bother with such pleasantries. The only incident that broke his concentration was the appearance of a fox. Hopefully that can be avoided in future by investing in a set of blinkers.

Going running didn’t just temper Marty’s barking; his overall behaviour was greatly improved. Instead of his usual tugging on the lead, he was able to pace himself to run alongside me. Though admittedly, given my sluggish performance, it was more of a brisk walk for him than a run.

I assumed taking your dog out would add a few seconds to your running time but found the opposite to be true. I was actually faster with Marty! When you’re starting to tire, there’s nothing that lifts your spirits quite like seeing your pet happily sprinting alongside you.

Mercifully, I was spared one of the less savoury aspects of running with a dog. An instance of which Inverness parkrunner, Howard Swindell, bore witness to recently.

Howard recalls: "One guy turned up with two dogs. He tied up one of the dogs and ran lap one with the other. On the way round the dog 'performed' as dogs do. The owner responsibly scooped up the poop in a baggie and completed the lap with the item dangling from the hand not holding the lead.

"At the end of the lap he tied up the first dog and took the second dog round on the lead. The second dog performed equally well and its owner scooped and ran on to the finish. Unfortunately he still beat me."

I’d prefer to be scooping first place at races than the contents of my dog’s bowels but unfortunately the latter is an inevitable drawback of having a canine companion. It is, however, a small price to pay for the benefits of the experience. Previously, I thought it took a special 'type' of runner to pound pavements with a pooch. Now that I've tried it for myself, I've found that's not the case. Forget about any preconceptions you may have. When it comes to running with a dog, you don't have to be barking mad.