In his latest #Fast10 blog Zak Hanna talks about the best training partner any runner can have. 

The ‘trail dog’-a trusty mutt with a waggy tail who is always there to accompany you on a run whether you are venturing into the mountains, onto the forest trails or for a short trot on the roads.

Unlike your human mates, the trail dog will never complain about going for a run when it’s raining, moan about going up big hills, or give off about wearing the wrong shoes on a run.

All that the trail dog is thinking about is the opportunity to spend quality time running alongside you in the great outdoors. The simple things!

A runner’s best friend

With social distancing being enforced in the last month a lot of people are running on their own, which some people may find hard to with the lack of company, whereas others like their own company and are happy to run solo.

I am the latter; living way out in the Northern Ireland countryside certainly is something I am grateful for, and to have a Trail Dog to share it with is just brilliant. Allow me to introduce seventeen month old Collie/Whippet cross, Corragh.

Mountain by name, mountain by nature

I bought her as a running partner and a pet, and it seemed fitting that a mountain dog needed a mountain name, so Slieve Corragh in the Mournes became the source of inspiration for her naming.

Luckily for me she has caught the mountain bug and loves running free on the local mountains, bouncing over rocks and diving into the bogs with a big smile on her face. She’s a character and often sits at the back door of the house when she sees me putting on my shoes so that I don’t leave for a run without her.

Having the mix of a collie and a whippet in her breeding has certainly proven to be a great mix, with the intelligence of a Collie making her easy to train (when she’s calm enough to listen!) and the speed/stamina of a Whippet allowing her to run for ages, her longest runs to date with me has been on several Sunday long runs in the forest where she ran 16 miles with no problems at all.

She runs everyday with with me, covering between 20-40 miles a week (well, you cover 20-40 on those runs Zak, Corragh must do a few extra reps on the hills – Editor)

Learning works both ways

Training Corragh and teaching her the way of the trail dog has been great fun, but recently with spending more time running with her due to being off work with the current pandemic, I thought about what Corragh has taught me since she arrived in the Dromara hills.

Here’s what I came up with:

1. Play every day

Dogs love to play, which usually involves lots of movement, whether it’s running, chasing or jumping. For me this is a good reminder to enjoy every run and to stop getting caught up in counting miles, watching heart rate and watching your pace.

This opens up your mind and spirit to all kinds of new ideas and creativity that can help improve your running, having a trail dog can inspire you to try out new routes and to take the time to look at your surroundings when you are out.

It’s a needed break from the constant 24/7 rat race modern society has placed us in.

2. Always go for a run, even if it’s raining

Dogs don’t care what the weather is outside, as long as they are at your side that’s all that matters.

In the midst of the winter months waking up at 5:30am to hear the wind and rain rattling against the bedroom window is enough to send anyone back under the duvet, but when you know that there is a dog waiting on you to take them out, you just put on your rain jacket alongside your headtorch and head out into the darkness.

Your skin’s waterproof at the end of the day, and you will have to race in less than ideal conditions at some stage so you may as well get used to it, it builds character and you feel better after a soaking, or is that just me?

3. Live in the moment

Corragh is very good at remembering where the treats are kept, which road we need to take to get home on a run, or which direction we need to take when coming off the summit of a mountain, basically using stored information for when they need it-in the moment.

Dogs live each moment to their fullest. They don’t think about yesterday or about tomorrow. They listen to their main needs in the moment. Whether it is to play ball, sleep or eat, they enjoy what’s happening in the moment and make it count. You and I have lots to learn about living this way.

So let go a little, enjoy the moment and don’t worry about having a bad run, whether it is in a race or during a training session.

4. Dogs really are Man’s Best Friend

I have had dogs as family pets all my life, but actually having a dog that is your own and one that knows that you are it’s best friend is a bond that is unbreakable. Waking up every morning and seeing the excitement on Corragh’s face is a wonderful feeling, the same when I arrive home from work after being out all day.

When I was spent two weeks in Argentina last November for the World Championships, it wasn’t too long before I was starting to miss going for a run everyday with her. Even though we had lots of dogs around our accomodation that enjoyed our company, it wasn’t quite the same as the company of your very own dog.

5. Enjoy the journey

Since Corragh was a puppy it has been fun and exciting to see her grow into a fantastic dog. She was a small, shy pup for the first couple of weeks before showing the first signs that she was going to be a lively and cheeky dog.

I remember when she was old enough to start training her to walk without a lead; I took her into our field beside home and after 20 odd minutes of work with her she was soon jogging beside me for short distances, learning new commands and preparing her for what was ahead.

Fast forward to now, I no longer take a lead with me now as I trust her enough to run beside me on the road and just in front of me on the trails and open mountain, and as she builds more confidence our bond together gets stronger and stronger.

Trusting the process with both your dog and your running is key!Just like running, it’s important to look back to where you started to appreciate where you are now, and doing that every now and again can be helpful if you are struggling to find motivation to head out for a run, walk or even a cycle.

A trail dog is a big commitment

Any dog owners reading this will hopefully appreciate the goodness that that a dog can bring to your life, and if you currently don’t own a dog this might be a big step towards getting one!

Just remember that getting a dog is a huge responsibility; it will depend on you and you need to commit to the time and effort to look after them and give the love and attention they deserve.

You need to be patient; a puppy or younger dog won’t be physically mature enough to accompany you on runs whilst an older dog may prefer to stay at home on the sofa: the trail running years don’t start on day one, nor last forever!

Be like the trail dog; love life, spend as much time outside as you can (easier said than done at the minute) and always be happy.

‘A trail dog is for life, not just for Christmas’

Keep on running, Zak & Corragh

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