by Elaine Doll-Dunn

I have a new training partner. Not by choice, by chance... For the 26 years I've been running, it's mostly been a solo activity and I like it that way. But two summers ago I'd spent too much time at a rodeo watching my grandchildren compete, and finally succumbed to the charms of a fluffy little white puppy being led around the arena. (It doesn't take too many loops past a grandstand full of tepid coke soaked, torrid sunburned, powdery dust filmed spectators to break down resistance.) I ignored the intelligent brown eyes, the perfect pointy pink/white ears (actually too big for his little head, sort of like a teenager's feet), and the plume of a tail announcing his attitude. But I lost all reserve when the young man who had him in tow said, "He's my dog, but I gotta sell him. I need the money for school." I'm and educator, what was I to do?

That was two years ago, now that pretty little puppy is a BIG beautiful dazzlingly white German shepherd. He is still as loveable, his ears are still pink and pointy, but in size and strength he's grown into both them and his tattling tail.

And he runs with me. In the early morning hours we launch our day on the bike path by the creek, his easy lope erasing the miles - me at the end of the leash getting anaerobic. I have to admit he's increased my stride length and leg speed, the motivation being to stay on my feet and maintain a modicum of dignity while at breakneck speed.

He also protects me from marauding deer, attack squirrels, and rabid rabbits. I couldn't be safer. We run early in the morning, late at night, anywhere, anytime. He isn't an animal you'd ignore; looks like a spirit dog, almost glowing in the dark. No one would know that the only danger they are in is of being licked to death.

He has reconfigured fartlek-we run hard to the first road-kill/fire-hydrant/strange-dog, I breathe while he investigates, then it's a dash to the next diversion. (Lest it sound as though I'm not in control, it's almost always my choice when to stop and when to go…)

So I train with a Baron. Baron Von Teppig I. The most beautiful stark white German Shepherd in Spearfish, South Dakota. (Well… and yes, the only one.) He does get attention! As he moves his sleek body with the economy and grace of a lean wolf, I simply hang on and garner the kudos. We pranced down the bike path one balmy summer evening, and happened upon a man with whom I had taught for 20 years. His face lit up as we approached; turning to his wife he smiled broadly and said, "Hey, look Honey, there's Baron and uh, what's-her-name!"

Oh well, when your age begins with six, vicarious is about as good as it gets. So the only real down side to this running relationship is in having one arm longer than the other and suffering a loss of identity. Not a bad trade for better finish times, a perfect bodyguard, and unconditional positive regard.

(A word of warning: fur-covered alarm clocks don't come equipped with snooze buttons, and do not espouse the hard day/easy day philosophy. Training is twenty-four/seven come rain, shine, injury or attitude.)

Elaine's book on her 26.2 Marathons in 2000 is available!
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"I noticed her at seventeen miles. Running strong, powering up the hill from the fire station, cute little body shapely in black running tights and top... Soft silver hair haloed her head as she ran smoothly through the chill Boston air. I pulled up beside her and settled into her pace, "Hi, you're running well..." "Thanks, I feel good." "I'm doing research on women who began marathoning after the age of forty, do you mind if I ask how old you are when you started running?" "Not at all, I was sixty-eight when I started running and began marathoning soon after that." I did a quick double-take, thought for a moment then looked sideways at her. We had crested the hill and were moving at a comfortable talk/run pace. She grinned back at me impishly and said, "I'm seventy-five now, and... I'm a Catholic nun!""
- taken from Chapter 9 of Gotta Run... by Elaine Doll-Dunn.

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