When we first brought our Labrador Retriever home, he was a seven-week old ball of energy and curiosity. It took some time to name him, as the family had the hardest time agreeing. It was so challenging, in fact, that we almost went to therapy over it.
In any event, our pup was eventually given the name “Eli” and he quickly became a most lovable member of our little family.
Eli arrived right before I took up running again. He may have even been an catalyst for my decision; albeit an unconscious one. After all, I hadn’t run for close to 15 years, and just nine months after Eli’s arrival, I was lacing up and hitting the roads in local 5ks.
Labradors have A LOT of energy, and so do I, so maybe we both needed to run.
Running with Eli was sporadic at first, but it became the norm after a vet’s visit where we both left deflated after the vet said that Eli needed to lose weight. I could tell that Eli was devastated with the news and fearful that his already small amount of food would be rationed even more. It was then that I promised Eli I’d not take any food away from him. Instead, I would help him to run it off. A slow build-up of miles, a year later and 15 pounds lighter, Eli left the vet as the first Labrador ever to be told to gain weight!
As years progressed, I became fitter and so did Eli, sporting his now signature barrel chest and lean, muscular legs. We both came to look forward to our runs together, awakening before the rest of the household to head out and hit the pavement and the trails. As time went on, running with Eli became less about training and more about ritual. I stopped wearing my Garmin and began to relish the journey and all of the stops along the way.
Instead of focusing on my pace and time, I began to notice the river and trees. The wind became an embracing and welcoming companion and the birds provided a soulful music, nature-made, just for us. Stopping with Eli, while he relieved himself, had once been an annoyance especially because he is a boy who made many stops and also because he is a big (my mother always warned, “Big dog. Big Poop!”), but now it was a pleasure. Fresh black berries never tasted so good and the deer and raccoons had never appeared so curious… if I’d even noticed their appearances at all.
Post-run, there is often an elation, a feel-good, endorphin-filled brain and body; and that’s what keeps us runners running. But Eli has added an even deeper dimension to that.
He reminds me of the bigger picture. He keeps me present within and without. He re-connects me with nature, the earth, the river, the wind and the trees. My runs with Eli even help me to connect with myself because he models well what it means to be in the moment and to experience his body and mind as a fully present being.
On an especially lovely day, Eli and I will stop to take a swim, and when we have a moment to breathe, we will quickly catch each other’s eyes, deeply knowing that we are in full solidarity. We are inter-connected, soulful and present. And as we go back to the trail to hit yet another mile, Eli will look up, grab my hand in his mouth and lope ahead as if he were smiling.
And I smile back because I know that, despite what may have taken my attention before our run, at this very moment, all is well in my world.
Do you experience run zen with your dog?