Running With My Dog… Attached to Me

Staff Writer, Lo Zemanek

Like many runners in the Pittsburgh area, I have been training to run for the city’s (now virtual) half marathon this May. Unlike many runners, however, most of my training runs have involved the use of a 30-foot rope tied around my waist – with my dog attached at the other end.

Meet Garner!

Hiking in West Virginia

Garner is a two-year-old border collie that we rescued from Animal Protectors. When we first found out we would be the lucky new parents of this rescue pup, I started having visions of spending all my future training runs with my dog at my side: just logging in miles on forested trails with my dog off-leash, scurrying to occasionally chase a squirrel, but then returning faithfully to my side. This, however, has certainly not been the reality.

He knows how to “sit pretty”, stand on his hind legs, play dead, and even close doors. He is a great cuddler and gives tons of puppy kisses. He loves all dogs and people of all ages. He also has high anxiety, is terrified of cats, and is a flight risk – in a little over the year that we’ve had him, he has run away five times. Do you know how busy 40th Street in Lawrenceville is during rush hour? Now imagine there is a dog that is scared of fast-moving cars zooming through these streets during that time. It’s terrifying. And getting my miles in as a run-away dog chaser is not exactly what I had hoped for while planning this year’s training runs.

Learning how to “stand”

So… we had to create a new plan for my half marathon training that helps both me and my anxiety-ridden pup get in our exercise, spend time outside, and still have fun.

About four times a week since I started training in February, Garner and I jog to an open green space not far from our home. When we get to the green space, I attach him to a simple 30-foot rope that is connected to a belt around my waist and I toss a ball or frisbee (depending on his mood) to him and run alongside him as he chases and catches it. We do this until we reach 3-5 miles. I don’t get bored of this running around in traveling circles with only a 30-foot radius – his excitement over catching the toy never seems to stop, so the fun can continue on for up to an hour. Other neighborhood dog parents who bring their dog to this green space and enjoy the luxury of having their dog off-leash look at me with a sideways glance – but Garner doesn’t seem to mind either way.

On my long run days, this is a fun way to break up the run: Garner and I will run for about 4-5 miles using this long-leash method, then  I drop him back off at the house and I am out the door to finish out another 6-8 miles on my own (so I can actually spend my own personal time in the Allegheny Cemetery, where dogs aren’t allowed).

And even when you might think running 4-5 miles chasing a frisbee with a human attached to him would tire him out for the rest of the day, he still longingly looks out the window to get back outside a mere half-hour after we return to the house (yes, to our dismay, you can see that our countertop is one of his favorite sentry posts in our home).

His favorite look-out spot

Although the in-person Pittsburgh Half-Marathon has been canceled this year, I still plan on running 13.1 miles virtually on my own in a few weeks. And I know I will be able to attribute much of my success on my runs to Garner who spends so much time (literally) attached to me. He has been a continual reminder to both my husband and I that all good things take hard work. Garner has only been with us for a year and he has come a long way. I do have hope that maybe, in a few more years, we will be able to ditch the leash forever and run free in the woods together for miles on end. In the meantime, you can catch us running around Lawrenceville attached to each other with the help of a 30-foot rope.

To see what a typical training run with my dog looks like, watch the video below.

Training run with my dog

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