If you want to see unconfined joy in movement, you need look no further than running with a dog. When I run with my dog, Anuk, he doesn’t know how far we’re going; he doesn’t know where his next chance to drink will come from; he just looks up with big brown, trusting eyes and follows my lead. It is uncomplicated.
It can take me 30 minutes of running to fully leave behind my day-to-day thoughts. For Anuk, the jangle of the wrist-strap on my GPS watch is enough to get his mind on the trails before we have even stepped outside. Knowing the joy it will bring him has often been enough to get me out the door when tiredness or laziness could have won the day.
On a run without Anuk, a gentle downhill through a meadow might be a chance to rest and ease off the pace. With Anuk, he waits for me to close the gate, and then he is off. Earlier, he might have been trotting with his tail up, now it’s long strides and his tail flowing behind him. I can’t resist the call, and quicken my pace to match him. We fly down the hill, his tongue flapping and my arms waving to balance my two legs. I might think I’m doing OK keeping up with him, unless he sees a rabbit. If that happens, I soon find out how much speed he was holding back.
On the singletrack coastal trails of the South West Coast Path, I have to be careful. Rough ground and narrow trails along the cliffs mean that I have to watch my feet. And that can lead to me running right past the outstanding views. Except that when Anuk is in front, and he sees a good view, or he smells a good smell, he just stops. I often pile into the back of him. While I’m briefly annoyed, I’m soon glad to be reminded of where we are and how to appreciate it.
We are very much in it together on the long runs. One long Exmoor run in the summer started out by following The Barle. I knew it was hot, so I’d planned to stay close to rivers, allowing Anuk opportunities to cool off. The first section was all fine, bounding over the rocks and shady trails. We cooled our heels at Tarr Steps, then crossed over to The Exe. Climbing over the moor was incredibly hot, but we were rewarded with another river and more shade. Then, things started to get difficult. My planned route back over the moor to our start point at Withypool made use of some less well defined tracks. Tracks that turned out not to be there, and resulted in us slogging up stepped fields in the hot sun. Swatting horse flies, and sharing the last of my water with Anuk, I had to get the map out and find us a guaranteed way back home. Doubt was nipping at me as much as the flies, but eventually we reached the lane I was looking for and had our guarantee. We trotted at Anuk’s pace – so gentle now that I wasn’t even sweating in the heat (if you’ve ever run with me, you’ll barely believe such a pace exists) – gradually eating up a mile of tarmac.
The watch said it wasn’t, but if felt like a long time down into Withypool. I could feel the effects of dehydration on myself, and I could read Anuk’s ears to see that he would be very glad to see the river again. Once we were down there, though, and bathing together in front of bemused tourists, the world changed colour. We were cool, refreshed, and Anuk seemed ready for another lap. I was not.
There really is no feeling like running through the woods, with the smell of loam in your nostrils and a large dog running by your side. At its best, running can feel bring on an incredible connection to the land you’re moving through. With my canine companion, it is all the more intense.
I just wish I didn’t have to carry out his poo.