Back in the saddle

Running, how I’ve missed thee. Well, “missed” might be a generous word. I missed the feeling of doing something healthy. I missed feeling sore for a good reason. I missed the good fatigue. I missed feeling energetic and motivated. The running part is just what I do to get there.

Sunday morning I left for an early morning run with my husband and the 3 under 3. We both pushed a jogging stroller, me with the twins and my husband with our preschooler. It felt great. I may have packed a few ice cream pounds during our holiday in Cow’s country but the constant babywearing has kept my legs and core in good working order.

That’s when I saw her. She was sitting on a patch of grass in the shadow of a large green electrical box. Even at 8:00 am the sun was hitting hard at the tail-end of a dry heat wave. In suburbia, the saplings don’t provide shade, the utilities do. She was sitting in the shade of an electrical box next to a public transit stop, waiting for a bus. A little old Asian lady, with a face like a dried apple. What was she doing at a bus stop at 08:00 am on a Sunday morning? She wasn’t dressed to go to Church. Was she going to work? Was she at the end of a night shift? Maybe as a nighttime home caregiver? Was she going to babysit a grandchild? She looked tired, seeking shade and rest in this sea of asphalt and concrete. There’s nowhere to sit in suburbia. You are either coming or leaving. You’ll sit when you get home.

She watched us run by and I suddenly felt self-conscious, burdened by the sadness and futility of our lifestyles. “How crazy is that?” I asked my husband. Here we are, on a Sunday morning, running nowhere. We’re not running because we’re being chased or because we’re chasing something. We’re running because we are an affluent couple with such sedentary lives that we need to get special shoes and special strollers to make our bodies do what they’re supposed to do to stay healthy, keep illness at bay and avoid decrepitude.

Our bodies were not made for grocery stores with just-on-time delivery and beverages with enough calories to cover two meals. They weren’t made for cheap, easy, fat, sugar and salt. Our bodies were not made for online shopping, Facebook and desk jobs. In the absence of anything to chase, haul, till or hack we are left to devise contraptions like the treadmill and the weight machine to trick our bodies in the belief that our lifestyle is healthy and active.

I ran past the little lady sitting in the shade of the electrical box on a Sunday morning thinking the world was upside down. Sunday used to be a day of rest. My husband and I can rest on Sunday but we shouldn’t. This little lady should rest on Sunday but she can’t.

This Sunday morning reflection lead me down the path of our recent to move into a rental house and our decision to start saving to build our not-so-big passive house in the country. I yearn for an active lifestyle that keeps me fit in itself. And as much as I enjoy working out and breaking a good sweat, I will not look back when I stop running nowhere.


My street team, also known as my
Greatest Handicap.

Running + Dog

Running gives me the opportunity to walk my dog. I also appreciate the safety factor: I don't count on my dog to protect me but she provies a dissuasion factor.

Why do I run? I don’t enjoy it all that much. But running is a sport that requires minimal equipment, that I can do on my schedule, right out my front door. Providing the right jogging stroller, I can even do it with my children.

Another motivating factor is the opportunity to walk my dog. Over here, in big family land, it’s multitask or die. My dog needs exercise, I need exercise, let’s kill two birds with one stone. However, if you have ever tried to run with a dog, you probably know that it’s not always as simple as strapping a leash on the animal. I mean, sure, you can strap a leash on the animal and start running. But it probably won’t be very pleasant. The dog needs training just as much as you do. Here is a sampling of issues the dog may need training to handle:

– pacing and conditioning, for instance getting their pads used to running on asphalt

– not pulling on lead (because that’s not only annoying, it may also be unsafe for the human)

– passing by distractions (squirrels, cats, other dogs)

– not peeing on every rock, tree, fire hydrant…

– not smelling every patch of grass

– handling close proximity with vehicular traffic (whether not to fear or not to chase)

In other words, you can strap a leash on the dog and deal with pulling, marking, sniffing and chasing while you are trying to run in a straight line but it’s much easier to invest a bit of time at the onset to train the dog to run at your speed and in the same direction.

Whatever your issue — mine is pulling on leash — you probably got there by letting your dog train you. As a result, the first order of business is usually to undo some bad habits that we have allowed our dog to develop. How do our dogs train us? This You Tube video by dog training expert Ian Dunbar explains how we unwittingly reward the wrong behaviours:

At the beginning, you will spend more time training your dog than yourself. If you are training for speed of if you are trying to reach a set distance for a race, you may want to leave dog at home and plan your dog training for after the race.

Because I am also running with a double running stroller, my first dog training goal is to teach my dog to run beside the stroller without pulling. My desired end-state is to have the dog’s leash tied to a belt around my waist. The advantages of the belt is that your hands are not only free to handle the stroller but there is less chance that a sudden jerk from the dog will move the stroller. Your waist is also a stronger point to withstand your dog’s harebrained ideas than your hands. While I’m training my dog not to pull however I will need both hands to correct her unwanted behaviour with the leash.

When I started training my dog to run on a loose leash, I didn’t do it with the jogging stroller. Baby positive steps, this is a dog after all. I first trained my dog using this simple method in the street in front of my house. Once you read how it works, you will understand that you do not go very far at the beginning. My dog is a quick study so we soon graduated to walking on a loose leash with the jogging stroller in front of my house, then walking with the stroller in a foreign environment, then running with the stroller. The next step will be running with the leash around my waist but my dog still needs the occasional correction.

Most dogs love to run, whether large or small. Like us they need to increase their distance gradually and since they don’t wear shoes they also need to gradually condition their pads. I am neither a vet, a dog trainer or a dog expert and you should speak to one to find out what an appropriate increase in distance is for your dog.

Are certain breeds better suited to running? I suspect that breeds with very short legs can be challenged and very large breeds don’t have much endurance. But anything in between will love the exercise. I have a German Shepherd.  As a woman runner in a harsh world, I appreciate a dog with a certain “back-off” quality to it but I don’t recommend German Shepherds for inexperienced dog owners. For dissuasive purposes, any black pooch of a certain size will do: black dogs tend to scare people, as any Humane Society employee can probably confirm.

Oh, one last bit of logistics that could also be filed under TMI… Running has the same effect on a dog’s bowels as yours… I recommend running a loop around your block to let your dog, ah, relieve itself. Because running with a full poop bag is, ahem, not pleasant. And picking-up after your dog is not an option.

Training your dog to be a reliable and pleasant running companion may seem like a lot of work but it’s worth it. Rain or shine, once your dog is used to accompany you on your runs she will harrass you out the door.We all need a kick sometimes and dogs are only too eager to provide it!

We started skijoring with her this winter and it's been a resounding success. Here she is seen with her skijoring harness (essentially a dog sledding harness).