Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Six Feet Deep in the Mud

Running is not really a team sport. A pretty blunt statement, I know and I'm saying that even as a runner who has received great support from team members who were critical to any success I've ever experienced as a runner. But it wasn't until I ran my first cani-cross race that I felt part of an active, flowing team again as I ran 5 kilometers leashed to my ten month old husky pup Wild.
I don't want to get too much into what is really a "team" discussion, certainly as I don't want to sound unappreciative of those who have supported me. I guess the big difference to feeling part of a team again is that when I looked up 'our' time on-line and saw only my name listed in the results, I felt disappointed that he really didn't get any credit for his efforts. That's kind of like saying Michael Jordan won six NBA championships, and not the Chicago Bulls. In this race I felt more like Scottie Pippen and Wild was Air Jordan. Or as those who saw the conditions at the Pineland Trail Running Festival, Mud Jordan.
My greatest worry about the race was that every Memorial Day Weekend for the past seven years it is always extremely hot and humid, even when it is not sunny. I was concerned under the same conditions that my husky puppy would feel the effects and over heat his system. Instead we had a cold and soggy week that ended with every last drop of moisture being squeezed out of the clouds just about the time of our race.
A few days before the race I found a skijoring harness I had used with our first dog, Quasi. It fit Wild well and we did go on a small run to check everything.
About a half hour to kill before the race and managed to get totally soaked and then told we had to wait another ten minutes to give the 10 K racers a little more space before the dogs were let loose. Wild finally took care of biological needs, which I properly disposed of. We were just walking into the starting gate when the commands to start the race were given.
Wild had been curious about some of the dogs and still wanted to say hello to a few as we started. Then after he rounded his first corner he seemed to know this was a race. I felt like we were moving faster than a hungry lion smelling a steakhouse. Wild had no interest in other dogs in front of him other than to be in front of the next one. He didn't care that we were sprinting through ankle deep mud. He didn't notice that the rain was falling heavy even through the tall pine forest. He only wanted to run, and run fast.
I decided not to crush his spirit and slow him down, not yet, as it was really just so fun. As we approached a few sharp, downhill turns I did hold him back a little so I wouldn't end up on my ass while I'm sure Wild would just keep going dragging me along. I managed to keep my balance and Wild made up time by charging back up the hills.
After the road crossing we caught a few 10 k runners but with less dogs ahead of us, I slowed us down to make sure he had enough energy for the finish. This is where I felt like we were running as a team, and not that this was my race, and not entirely Wild's race either. I also was breathing heavier than expected and wanted to save some energy for my own race of 25 kilometers on these same muddy trails the next day.
Somehow I had messed up my watch at the start so I didn't  know our pace, but it was only a 5K, so just tough it out and find out the results at the end. I wasn't real sure how serious others were taking this race. Then as we were at the bottom of the Campus Loop I could look to the trail above us and saw a couple guys really moving along with their dogs. And now this is where the race would get tougher as we had to run mostly uphill and I wasn't too sure how much Wild had left in the tank.
He still attacked a couple short hills and we were still passing other teams but I knew the long hills and he seemed to sense my pace so we didn't burn out before reaching certain plateaus.
It was fun to see all the different dogs running as there was not a dominant breed. We passed only one other husky who was bigger than Wild, who I think has topped out at just under fifty pounds. There were all different types of harnesses/leashes, of which the most uncomfortable looked like the most serious as it was worn like a jock strap by the human and thus revealing one runners exotic choice of underwear. My leash could be adjusted to fit around my waist and hooked to the back of his harness and I tucked a couple poop bags in to my shorts and carried some Beggin' Strips in my hand and shorts. I can't believe I hadn't forgotten his normal treats at home and had to make an emergency stop at a convenience store in Pownal for treats. Some teammate I am!
As we approached the top of the last hill, we passed two more teams with no one else really in sight. I kept us on a pace so as not to be caught and as we made our last turn I encouraged him to show some speed to the finish line. Nicely we, well I spotted my wife and kids near the finish braving out the conditions to see our puppy in his moment of glory. I knew dogs had finished ahead of us but what a thrill it was to cross the finish line and see our time of about twenty three minutes which far exceeded my expectations.
Wild still wanted to greet other dogs and people at the finish, but now with a little less gusto while I began to empty my pocket of treats.
As a family we hung in for awhile cheering on other teams and by the time 10K runners began coming in and passing the dog teams, I began to quickly cool off. All dogs were nicely given collapsible bowls and the humans water bottles, although Wild drank from nearby puddles, of which there were plenty. And he did actually have a couple drinks during the race, no need for aid stations when there are puddles.
Back at hone that afternoon I fixed our fence once again, as Wild had found a new way to escape the afternoon before. And so now he could run free through the backyard untethered and unsupervised. And the next morning, Wild did what all great runners do the day after a race, he went for a run, but since I still my 25K race, this time he ran with his Mom. After all she and the kids are part of the team, that I am proud to say is my family.
Final result 23:07, 12th place of 119
Postscript, since the time of writing this report dogs names have been added to the on-line results.