One of the most frequent questions I am asked is, ‘How do you fit it all in? How do you balance training/work/family/etc?’. My ‘easy’ answer is, “I get up really early”. And - I do. As such, I am very limited in training partners - especially for running. However, I have four who - no matter the hour, weather, distance, or duration, are ALWAYS ready before me, and ALWAYS excited to run. My dogs. (*disclaimer, two are ‘mine’ and the other two belong to other family members but are a little confused about that and live with, and run with, me - hence I will call them mine).
Let me share with you a little history. My husband (Jeff) and I received our first dog in 2006 as a gift from a girl at work - an early wedding present and our first ‘baby’ - a Border Collie we named Dixie (as in the Chicks). My parents long ago started naming our dogs after bands/musicians and we continued the tradition. Over the years our family has had: Ringo, Fiona, Alanis, Conway and Merle (both bloodhounds - and my father currently has a Loretta - one of the owner confused dogs who runs with me), and - of course - Elvis.
Later that year Jeff came home with a ‘Walmart Dog’ - you know, the kind someone is giving away from a cardboard box outside the supermarket. He was a lab/cocker spaniel mix - looked just like a little yellow lab. His brother came with him, as a gift to my brother (another of the dogs who currently runs with me). So - this little pup wailed like nobody’s business every night, for the longest time. No surprise, the perfect name for him was . . . Waylon. And his brother became - Willie. Well, not only did Waylon wail at night, when he started running with me and we would happen across a deer or rabbit in the early morning hours - he would take off after it - wailing and whimpering the entire way. Needless to say - none of the wildlife was ever in danger, and I had a lot of good laughs. The other thing Waylon had an affinity for were - skunks. At first, it was kinda funny. We thought maybe he was confused - Dixie had the same coloration and was about the same size at that time as a skunk - and we laughed that he was just after her and ended up with a skunk instead. But, he never did grow out of it. It would never fail, I would be about 1/2 mile into a 20 mile run, and that dog would get good and sprayed, then proceed to run right in front of me for the next three hours - and I mean directly in front of me. Of course, this was a lot more funny when it happened to my father on the occasion I was not running with him . . . .
So - my faithful running partners. My runs generally begin long before dawn - and often finish before that as well. We have shared springtime mornings anxiously awaiting the sound of the first spring peepers, and then whippoorwills (two of my FAVORITE sounds in the world), which give way to the muggy summertime sounds of bullfrogs and crickets, then cool crisp fall and winter as the mornings fall silent again except for the occasional yipping of coyotes in the distance (at least I hope). We have run through crazy thunderstorms with lightening racing across the sky, and under star-filled skies watching as the occasional shooting start darts across above us. The moon is generally our source of light - so the brightness of a full moon has always been one of my favorites. Together we have shared countless miles and witnessed numerous sunrises. From short recovery runs, to faster interval sessions, hill repeats, and long ‘Ironman / Marathon training’ runs - they are always there, always excited, always ready, and always happy.
As the years have passed, the dynamics of our little group has changed. My partners who once forged far ahead of me or ran countless extra miles through fields chasing whatever moved, now tend to lag behind. They know all my turn around spots, and often can be found waiting patiently for me to return - or are already heading home waiting for me to catch back up. They get really excited when we happen across my father running, and wave me off to run with him instead. All of them, that is, except Waylon. Waylon has always been my most loyal of partners. Any of the neighborhood dogs who dared step out in the road as we passed by were met with a stern look, but wagging tail (the most non-aggressive, aggressive dog ever) - warning them to stay put. No matter how slowly he was moving, nor how far or fast I was running, he never turned back until I circled back . . . only then would he turn to head home with me.
I know very well that time is passing. Dixie is moving more slowly every day - and though she still makes it down the driveway with me, there are days that is as far as she goes. In the week leading up to my race in New Orleans, I noticed that Waylon was noticeably slower as well. When I returned home from racing and went for my run on Tuesday - there was no Waylon. Jeff informed me he had disappeared over the weekend. I held out hope - we live in the country, maybe he was at my dad’s? or out back? or hanging with the chickens? But when he was not there Wednesday I knew. My Waylon will never run with me again.
For over ten years that dog was with me. How many training partners do you have that - no matter the time, the weather, or the distance, are never late, never make excuses, never complain, are always ready, waiting, and excited to run? It didn't matter if he stayed up too late the night before (i.e. barking), if he was sore, or stiff, or hadn't really planned on running, he was always at the door when I stepped out, tail wagging, enthusiastic, begging to go run.
In my heart of hearts I know, it was a good way for him to go. No suffering. No long, drawn out illness. No having to put him up to watch as I went off for a run without him. And, reflecting on it, it only serves to reinforce my convictions - that we never really know what tomorrow may bring. It is so, so, SO very important to make the most of every day we have. Hold your loved ones close, tell your friends what they mean to you, do random acts of kindness, turn your ‘one’-days, and ‘some’-days into TODAY, be the calm in the sea of torment and turmoil that our world can be and be the best you can possibly be. Dare to dream, chase your dreams, walk that line - whatever it may be. Live you life to it’s fullest. And - hug your training partners every chance you get. ;)
Running is usually my consolation - my therapy. I will not lie - this time it has been more difficult. You see, there is this empty space in the road beside me, and an ache in my heart. However, somewhere, I know, my Waylon is running - he is running young, and spry, and carefree - and above all, he is running happy. And…probably still getting sprayed by skunks.
Thanks for reading.