Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Week Three!

In my goal to run the Victoria half-marthon, I have nearly completed my preliminary training goal of running the flat, 2.5-mile park loop by my house 3 times a week for 3 weeks. In the spirit of "a journey of 10,000 miles begins with a single step," that seemed like a good start. I've started taking Toby with me.

Even back when Toby first came to live with us, we noticed that he has this really goofy-looking gait. It's as if his front end and back end each have their own agenda, his back end moving slightly faster and giving him a most silly and uncoordinated look.

When we'd had him six months, having gone through all the major obedience work including the all-important "Come!", we let him off leash for the first time at an expansive, open beach on the Oregon coast. Once he understood that he really was free to go, he took off like a shot, a blurr of golden fur. "Well," said Enrico, finally breaking our stunned silence, "I guess he's just a 78 RPM dog living in a 33 RPM world."

Indeed, it turned out Toby was not at all uncoordinated. Quite the opposite, his comical gait comes not from lack of athleticism but from being forced to spend most of his time moving at what is, for him, an unnaturally slow speed. He hits a natural stride only at high velocity. As our friend Daniel said admiringly, seeing Toby let loose in the woods for the first time, "It's like his front legs exist only to keep his chin from hitting the ground!" - so powerfully do those back legs dig forward and push off, like a racing greyhound. And he's not just fast, he's athletic. Watching him hurdle fallen logs and forrest creeks like a thundering steeplechase horse, or descend mountain switchbacks with the powerful speed and precise athleticism of an Olympic skier - he is truly poetry in motion.

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As a result, Toby and I have never really been running partners. He could never find a comfortable pace with me, and as a lifelong runner I empathized, knowing the awkward and out-of-synch feeling of not being able to fall into stride with a running partner. But now, with the dogs slowing down, it appears Toby and I may at last get the pleasure of running together. I'm still a little slow for him, but he's not tripping over himself any more, and as my fitness improves I think the gap between us will narrow.

He does great, except at the part of the park inhabited by the rabbits set free by people who no longer want them as pets. There's quite a little Watership Down community going at Seward Park, and every time Toby sees it, you can see the little primal part of his brain going, Oh, man, I don't know what that furry thing is, but we WANTS it, Precious, we wants to CHASE IT UNTIL IT DROPS FROM EXHAUSTION AND THEN WE SNAPS ITS JUICY NECK.

So the first time I took him out in this new running partnership, I went without any of the leash accessories designed to prevent his 70-pound body from dragging my 120-pound body like a tin can on the back of a "just married" car. And when we got to the Rabbit District, he went beserk, lunging and whining and then howling at the one little black bunny. As I desperately tried to redirect him, I saw a woman several yards behind me, stopped with her dog, as if waiting for me and my crazed animal to move ahead to a safe distance. And I thought, just you wait, lady; the primal little part of your dog's brain isn't going to react any better when it sees the precious bunny. That was before I realized her dog was a Norwegian Elkhound, and the primal part of its brain wasn't going to get worked up over anything less than, well, an elk. So I hauled my baying dog onward as best I could.

But now I know to be prepared for the Bunny District, so I think Toby and I will do just fine together in this new endeavor.

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