There’s nothing more fun to me than getting to ‘play’ running. And who better to do it with than my man (husband, Ben), and “Man’s Best Friend” (our pup, Ellie). I signed us all up on a whim for the Fast and the Furry 5K, mainly because I thought it would be funny to see how our 1.5-year old shepherd mix Ellie reacts to running in a giant pack of dogs, but also because the entry fee supported some great local pet rescue organizations.
Ellie’s ‘training’ for this event started just before her first birthday. We had heard it wise to wait until a dog was about a year old to start running, but given her rambunctious energy levels, we just couldn’t wait. We started out with about a mile at a time, and worked our way up to picking Ellie up at the end of our runs for her “usual” – a 2.5 mile route that goes along West Mississippi River Parkway. The grassy boulevard is simply known as “Squirrel Highway” to Ellie, whose ears perk up and her gait softens as she goes into ‘hunt mode’, ready to sprint at the sight of a bushy tail. We used to try to stop Ellie from chasing squirrels entirely, now it’s a fun Fartlek when you run attached to her on the Stunt Puppy leash (as long as you always, ALWAYS, run on the same side of the tree as Ellie- you get strung around a tree once and you never forget!).
So the day of the race arrives, and I couldn’t stop smiling. There were nearly 300 dogs there to participate of all shapes, sizes, and adorable-ness. Ellie politely sniffed butts and noses with her competition as Ben and I made all sorts of jokes about how she would either be distracted to the point of dysfunction, or her competitive instincts would kick in and she’d go for the win.
We chose a spot near the front at the start, thinking she’d be less distracted if she wasn’t in the thick of the pack. As the race began, Ellie displayed a hilarious 50-50 mix of our two predictions, running side-to-side to look around at all the other dogs, but not wanting to let a single dog get away from her- she split her first mile in 6:08, her fastest ever no doubt, and I was fairly certain we’d be carrying her by the end of the race. And yet, she found her rhythm, passing her primary female competition just after the first mile when the other pup decided “when you gotta go, you gotta go”, and popped a squat in the middle of the race course!
There were two male/dog teams a little way ahead of us, and Ellie just kept them in sight, surprising Ben and I both with her focus. Just after mile 2 in 6:34, Ellie’s tongue was hanging halfway to the ground so we stopped at a water station (it had little troughs of water set up on the ground for the pups, so cute!). The water reinvigorated her and even with the stop her 3rd mile was 6:35. She nearly took a wrong turn near the finish when she saw “grandma and grandpa” (yes, Ben’s super-supportive parents even came out to watch Ellie’s first race!!), but we crossed the line as the first female/dog team, and third overall in 20:05!
For her award, Ellie came away with an awesome pink metal “Top Dog” trophy that is now prominently displayed with Ben’s metal moose trophies from his trail marathon wins. No matter the result, the experience itself was so fun and refreshing in the middle of my competitive racing season, combining two of my favorite things, running and dogs. I’d highly recommend it to anyone who has fast and furry companion in their family!