I started running again when I was 44 and my border collie was 8. Her hips were already too stiff for her to enjoy it. So I ran alone. I loved my old lady so much, but I knew eventually I would get a dog to run with me on dark mornings. I had this clear image of a woman and her dog running the trails of southern Norway. It’d be great. Like Old Yeller, or Where the Red Fern Grows, or Island of the Dolphins… (Anyone else dating themselves?) The grown-up, real-life, non-tragic version.
My old lady died at 18. And after a brief- and very unhealthy – relationship with a gorgeous shepherd bitch that left me bankrupt and bruised, Leonard came into my life. Full name, Leonard Edgar: in his prime, a former hunter turned pacifist who needed a home. I never really knew the literalness of the term “dog pile” until Leonard.
He’s not like the shepherd pup the vet said would be 30 kilo, but who grew into a nearly 50 kilo monster that dragged me down the trail on my knees or belly after every dog that passed us, while people said nasty things under (and over) their breath.
(She lives on a farm now – not a proverbial farm – a real farm, with a pack of unruly, but happy dogs.)
Leonard pees a lot on runs. And poops twice. (Is that TMI when we are talking about a dog?) And last summer he spent a lot of time lounging on the beach mid-runs. Though, when the weather finally cooled, he did manage 5K stretches without a nap.
Still, somewhere along the trail this past fall I lost my joy of running. It has been disconcerting how much it’s disrupted my self of identity. I have felt the “need to run” but never felt the release I used to have.
The long, lovely 30 minute exhalation over a stretch of trail near the water, blackbirds darting into the bushes as I approach…
Not feeling it.
I’ve been sad about it. I used to pass people running (or they would pass me) and I’d be envious of their run – and relish the thought of my next one. Lately I’ve been envious of their joy. Period.
Last week Leonard Edgar (full name with pet name: Leonard Edgar Puppy Dog) grabbed a soup bone off the kitchen counter. Six days of tummy trouble meant I ran alone. And on the second day, somewhere around 3K without a potty breaks (and the subsequent scoops and totes), I felt the rush. It was such a relief I teared up.
It was never about the running. It’s the rhythm of running. The point where the body recognizes the pattern and takes over to drive itself forward, the mind un-clenches, and life is simply momentum for a while.
Leonard Edgar refuses to be put into service. No hunting foxes. No running trails.
But there’s no puppy dog better at dog pile. You know he’s there. Present. Gazing into your eyes. Knocking the phone out of your hands: be mindful, says Mr. Leonard Cohen’s namesake Chill-pup.
Yoga dog. I probably knew it all along, and thought I could change him.
By the way. I did pet a dolphin once. It was kind of icky. And I won’t even tell you what those dolphins can get up to when they’re over-excited. You won’t find that shit in the children’s section of the book store.