We must have looked like a traveling circus barreling down the road. My three and one-year-old daughters giggled and clapped while singing at the top of their lungs from the double jogging stroller, flanked on either side by a 65-pound Weimaraner dog gracefully trotting with a long tongue falling out the side of their smile. I jogged behind it all, literally running the show. It took all of my concentration to keep everyone in line and moving as a unit, curving around parked cars, dodging the occasional oncoming traffic, barreling down hills, and chugging ever-so-slowly back up them.
It took a while to build up to that level of running management. Years, actually. When I met my husband in my early twenties, I mostly ran alone. I was naive and rarely thought of anything going wrong. Except for that one time I slipped on an oil spill in a parking lot, fell backward and smacked my head, then had to run/walk home with it bleeding. I ended up with four staples in my head later that day. Or that other time I was running alone in the dark and a car followed me, so I hid in a bush for 20 minutes until it drove away. After sharing these experiences with my husband, we decided together I needed a running partner – for safety if nothing else.
A few weeks later, we brought our first dog home, as a four-month-old puppy from a local pound. Right from the beginning, whenever he wasn’t sleeping or eating, he was running. While I was warned to start him off slow, and I swear I tried, he would literally cry if I put on my running shoes and didn’t take him with me. We began with a combination of running and walking until, after a few months, he was running a mile straight and still pulling for more. By the time he was 1, he was running 3-5 miles with me most days of the week.
Then one day, as a belated birthday gift to our first pup, I brought home an 8-week-old sister who immediately loved him. She snuggled right up to his butt while he was resting, and although he growled jealously, he allowed her to stay. Everything he did, she wanted to do also – including running. We waited a few more months before beginning her running training, as she didn’t catch on as quickly. She was younger to begin with and had a much boxier build – it just took her longer to grow into her giant paws. Her mileage build-up was slower, but once her age, fitness, and experience finally came together, she proved herself to be a phenomenal distance runner. She didn’t seem to love the act of running so much as she loved the companionship it brought her with her big brother and her humans.
The adjustment to running with two dogs took a while. While I had easily adjusted to running with just one arm swinging while the other was held by a taut rope, the adjustment to both arms having a limited swing due to tightly drawn leashes was harder. I couldn’t hold them both with the same hand, or I’d be running sideways, as they were so powerful and excited to be propelling forward together. Nothing I tried worked to curb their pulling other than putting in enough miles to finally tire them and relax their pace. As frustrating as it could be at times, I always forgave them because I empathized – I hate it when people try to slow me down too.
Then came the first baby. I had researched the hell out of jogging strollers, wanting one that could hold its own on trails as much as pavement. I moved it into the house as soon as the baby was born, so the dogs could smell it and get used to it. The first time I put my newborn into that stroller, bundled and strapped to high heaven, with a dog on each side, she smiled and squeaked with delight like a tiny princess flanked by her furry bodyguards. The dogs adjusted quickly, just delighted to be outside and moving again after those few months of end-of-pregnancy and new-motherhood quarantining. I got looks, smiles, and often a, “You sure have your hands full there!” comments every time I’d take the crew out for a jog. I was proud to be able to do it, even though my entire body often ached with exhaustion from being up all night, breastfeeding, and a whole lot of babywearing. My arms didn’t swing at all now while we ran, for I kept both hands firmly clasped to the stroller’s handle. Around each wrist was a dog leash, wound at least once around for additional security. It wasn’t uncommon to find rope burns on my wrists. Although I’m sure I looked like hell, I was happy as could be. I was sharing my passion with all three of my “kids.”
Not quite two years later, the second baby came. The stroller was upgraded to a double jogging stroller, and I thanked my lucky stars that that was even a thing. Thank goodness there are plenty of other adventure moms who refuse to let motherhood trap them indoors. That brings us back to where this article began, two kids, two dogs, and one mom barreling down a neighborhood street on their morning wild ride. In those days, we received looks from every pair of eyes we passed. The comments shortened to simply, “Woah!” or, with a chuckle, “Good job, Mama!” It empowered me greatly and I flashed my biggest smile of gratitude, unable to lift a hand to wave.
Eleven years after we brought our first pup home, the strollers are gone and the kids no longer accompany me on runs (unless they opt to ride their bike alongside me). The dogs, however, still come along. As soon as they see me slip on my running shoes, they still both start whining with excitement, run to the door, and stretch in their downward dog poses. They know. They’re still eager.
The routes they come on are shorter now. The lumps on their bodies that came with age don’t seem to have stunted their excitement, but the eager pulling to push the pace lessens after just a mile. We stop at every puddle to lap up the extra hydration, and the potty stops are plentiful. At the end of every run, I unwind them from their harnesses and cover them with kisses, while they lap up the sweat on my neck in a return of affection. This has been our routine for so long, through the largest transitions of my life, and I can’t imagine ending a run any better way.
I don’t know when our last run together will be, but in the back of my mind sits the understanding that we’re inching closer. Until then, I will appreciate every run I get with them and will remain humbled that while I simply made the effort to bring them along, they returned the gesture tenfold by bringing me comfort, companionship, and the most dependable running partners I’ve ever had.