Monday, March 24, 2014

Running With My Best Friends

Those who know me well know that running is about solitude and meeting challenges on my own terms and by myself. It's about being able to look back over a boulder pile I just scrambled over or down a vista of a steep power-line cut or simply looking at my watch after a lunch hour 10k. Those are moments that are valuable to me and I don't typically share them with anyone. It's not that I'm selfish, it's about me being self conscious of my running. Running with someone else means they'll see how awkward a runner I am, they'll see that I don't even look like a runner and the worse thing ever, they'll hear my labored breathing(my worst fear). With others, I constantly feel like I'm running too slowly or I'm in the way or I'm running too fast or that the others will think it's a race. At races I avoid running in packs and if runners are carrying on a conversation, I'll avoid them by slowing or speeding up. At The Stone Mill 50 last November I simply stopped and let a couple of shirtless chatter-boxes pass me by. I ate a gel and gave them time to gain some ground on me before I proceeded. I love to run and that's the sole reason I do it, but I'm not very good at it and I need to concentrate on what I'm doing. You'll excuse me if I avoid your conversation about your wife and kids, the seltzer water machine you just got at Target, the car you're restoring, the fabulous Tri-bike you just bought or all your wonderful PR's. I've blabbered on about why I prefer to run alone, so why would I be writing about running with my best friends?

A year and a half ago Janice told me about a puppy she saw for adoption on Facebook. It was an adorable Black Lab and she wanted to go meet her at the rescue agency's event held at a nearby Pet Smart. We hadn't had a dog for seven years and I thought we would never be a dog household again.  I was quite surprised by the idea, but I loved it. Long story short, we went to the pet store and met Jezebel or Jessie as they were calling her and she of course was a sweetheart. Then we also met Mike, a scrawny little Border Collie mix who seemed to want nothing, but to be all over me. When he wasn't playing with me, he was wrestling with Jezebel. The two dogs played like they were puppies from the same litter.

The New Puppies - Mojo Is No Longer Scrawny & Little

She was six months and he was five months. A couple weeks later the nice lady from The Compassionate Hearts Animal Rescue was delivering our two new family members. We went to look at one and adopted two. They're now known as Mojo and Mollie and they love to run. Suddenly I have someone I enjoy running with.

We run on the nearby trails on Blue Mountain, usually looping into the network of trails at Boyd Big Tree Preserve. They've been to the WHP/WITF Tower Site, they've climbed and descended the power line, through mud, across rocks and blow downs and the snow and ice of winter. I keep them on leashes to keep them safe and it keeps us together. Mollie is a brute, she gets her harness and leash on and she wants to bolt. For the first mile it's all about keeping my feet as Mollie drags Mojo and I across the rough terrain. Falling is part of trail running, you catch a toe on something and you become one with the ground. Falling with the dogs is funny, no sooner do I  realize I've tumbled into a heap and the two of them are licking my face. It's like having two loving four legged medics checking on me and hoping I'll get up.  Mojo is quite methodical about running, pacing himself and even looking at me funny if I'm running up hill faster than he is. He's a wise dog. After Mollie settles down, she tucks in next to Mojo and then it's like running behind a team of horses. The two actually run shoulder to shoulder. Once when running down a steep hill, a hiker stepped aside to let us pass. As we skidded on our way down the hill, she yelled "do they always run side by side like that?"

Shoulder To Shoulder - Mojo On My Right & Mollie On My Left

Most times when I go for a run, I have a workout in mind. When I take the dogs, it's not about a workout, it's about having a blast in the forest with my dogs. I read an article about running with your dog that said to stay in charge and keep it known that this is your run and not their time to play, sniff and explore. That's not my approach at all, we're out there for fun together. Sure we mostly run, but we may walk and if Mojo wants to stop and sniff, and as long as it's ok with Mollie it's ok with me. Our runs are never steady. Like I said we start off with the Mollie-Sprint/Drag. Then there's Mojo, sometimes he'll decide he's just done and he'll sit down on the trail usually requiring I leap over him, often causing him to come out of his harness. After replacing his harness and a pep talk we get back to running. I've gotten good at leaping these two. They'll literally skid to a stop to pee and with only a six foot leash, that's not enough space for me to stop so up and over I go. The longest we've run together is nine miles. We typically start at the top of Blue Mountain Parkway, so that means we usually return to the ridge via a rocky climb I call the rocky steps. On that route when we reach the intersection with the main trail we pass between a set of cairns and turn left. The dogs recognize this point and know the Jeep is only a mile away and the pace hastens immediately. That's kind of neat and really not a problem unless we start at The Boyd Big Tree parking lot at the bottom of the mountain. Then when we pass through those same rock cairns we need to turn right to return to the Jeep. Mojo sees those rock piles and thinks the Jeep is only a mile away so he protests and insists we go left. After some strong convincing to continue we eventually get on our way. It's pretty cool just how well they know the routes. If we get to a trail intersection where we may have a choice, they'll both look over their shoulders for guidance. If we're approaching an intersection where we always go the same way, they don't even bother, it's heads down and they charge on down the trail. Seeing other people is kind of funny. The most common result is cowering hikers and Mollie and Mojo ignore them and just power on by. Wildlife however is another story. Last summer we descended into Unger's Gap and I saw Momma Bear and her two cubs. Luckily they saw us and scurried before the dogs saw them. I haven't been so lucky with Turkeys, Squirrels and last week a Possum (in daylight). If Mollie sees an animal she thinks she can catch and play with it's off to the races and of course Mojo and I are attached. One night we entered a trail off the power line cut and my headlamp picked up numerous sets of Deer eyes on both sides of the trail and the dogs saw them too. Their pace slowed briefly and I wondered what would happen. It seemed when they were happy these Deer were just like the ones in our backyard, we were back to running again without incident.

Mollie & Mojo After Our First Ever Trail Run (Ignoring The Water Bowl)

When we get back to the Jeep, oddly they never want to drink, they're done and just want to go home. Mojo leaps into the back seat and Mollie insists I pick her up and put her in. The Jeep interior is hardly fit for humans unless you're the driver, currently it's covered in muddy paw prints and slobber(theirs). I wouldn't have it any other way. I love to run, but I care so little about being a "runner"; heck I can't even spell PR and guess what, neither can Mojo or Mollie.


  1. Awesome story about your bond! I love working with the rescue dogs, and homes like yours are the reason why!

    1. Thanks Joe! We couldn't have asked for a better set of pups to become our best friends!

  2. Another great story Perry! Love how you love Mollie and Mojo... unconditional love and the best running partners you could ever ask for.

    1. Thanks Myrna! Mollie & Mojo say "thanks" too! :-)