My newest running partner is afraid of heights. This might not be that big of a deal except that it looks like I’m going to have to carry him over this next steep, rocky and exposed section of Lake Peak. There are a couple of runners quickly coming up behind us so I try to coax and cajole him to move forward. This is our first big run together so we are still feeling each other out. I want this partnership to work so I try not to terrify him and scar his psyche permanently.
When the runners catch us I apologize for clogging the way. This bit of “trail” has no easy way around so I relent and pick up my 30 pound border collie, murmuring soothing words and carefully traverse the narrow rock ledge and make way for the bottleneck (2 other runners in the mountains constitutes a bottle neck for me) to decongest. My other more experienced mountain dog looks on with interest and is tempted to go with the faster runners as they pass, but she stays with us as we pick our way through the rocky outcrops.
I like to run with people but when I can’t run with my favorite people I run with my dogs. I almost wrote alone but I never feel alone when I run with Ajaa (eye-ah, it’s a Finnish word I have mangled which means run) and now Sten the “border rocket”. We are out for 10 or so miles in the mountains above Santa Fe. The weather is perfect, partly sunny and a little cool at 12,000 plus feet. I am sweaty from the 2000 feet in elevation gain over the last few miles and from nerves as I wrangle 30 pounds of writhing and frightened dog through this last bit of trickiness.
I am surprised that Sten, or any dog, would be so fearful of looking over the edge of an exposed ridge but I know the feeling. Heights do cause some personal clenching. I come this way often because I love the rugged ridgeline, I love trying to push quickly over the tricky terrain and to habitualize myself to the flip flopping in my stomach. Today we are moving slowly for Sten which is ok by me.
Running with my red Siberian Husky and now the black and white border rocket (collie) has taught me much about how to enjoy moving through the forest under my own power for its own sake. I used to obsess about pace and splits and about keeping my heart rate in the proper zone. I used to feel guilty if I didn’t go out to train. I have been training for running more or less seriously since the late 70’s and high school cross country. Now I run. I don’t wear a watch. I don’t “train” on my long runs on weekends. If the view is nice we pause and take it in. If there is a lingering snowbank in June the dogs lounge on and in it. If we feel like it we can push past the trail intersections where we often stop to refuel. I have no quantifying to accomplish, just a lake to reach or a mountain to get over.
I sometimes do tempo runs or speed work during my lunchtime run weekdays but my pace is guided by the joy or agony of movement not the sweep of a second hand and occasionally by a runner in front of me. I’m still competitive. I still run races short and long. But they are not my only goal for running. I get no finisher metal from running rim to rim to rim in the Grand Canyon but I do get the memories and an attraction that calls me back to the canyon every 6 months. This is worth more to me than the performance material t-shirt from the last race. I still like them, t-shirts, don’t get me wrong, after all what would I wear when running 40 miles across the mountainous Pecos Wilderness with one of my favorite people and one of my favorite dogs? That’s right, race shirts are cool, especially if you “accidentally” put it on inside out, a sure sign of your coolness to all the people at the trail head or picnicking at the top of the mountain.
The dogs can be dead asleep in the other room but as soon as I grab my running shoes they know something is about to get excellent. They are up, alert and crazy with excitement to go. That’s how I feel now when I think about running. It’s not training. Not something I can tick off on a training log. It is happiness to be on the move, running over mountains with dog slobber splashing on my calves from two great big dog smiles.