Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Dirty Dog 15K

The Dirty Dog 15K: Where dogs get to race
Off the Leash
Jorge loves to get dirty
Running on a trail with our dogs is nothing but pure, guaranteed happiness; for us and for them.
When we grab the leashes off the wall, they somehow know when we are going to the trail instead of just a walk around the block. They moan and wail and cannot contain themselves.

Even Jorge, who will often refuse to get out of bed for a walk, will pull the leash sprinting at a 6 min pace down the half mile of greenway to the trailhead.

We will often wait until it is raining, so we know we will have the trail all to ourselves. Then we let them run free, as nature intended (animals running free in the woods! Criminal!). They swim in the lake and sprint like crazy ahead of us down the muddy trail.

But it's about more than just freedom. There is a special bond that forms with a dog when you run them off leash. You become a pack. Instead of a collar restricting their impulses, they become more in tune and focused on you for guidance. A natural communication develops; for example, "OK, let's go home", I say, and Dudley will immediately turn around start heading back.

Running with a dog on a trail seems to tap into some shared primal instinct: chasing an imaginary quarry or maybe fleeing a predator. It's about nothing but the pure joy running itself.

Practicing our photo finish

A Perfect Race
A few months ago I discovered The Dirty Dog 15K, a trail race in WV that not only lets you run with your dog, but off leash. This was THE race for us and our pack!

We signed up and started training.

Our Misfit Mutts:
Jorge Francisco - is a pure bred Canadian Beverage Retriever. Which is a misshapen corgi-like dog with a long, tubby body, short little legs, and one crooked paw turned sideways. Found as a puppy in a cardboard box on the side of I-85. He is 9 years old, and will often bark at people on the street without leaving our bed.

Dudley Dooright - A golden retriever reject, born with a congenital defect that left him unable to urinate. A breeder left him to die behind a vet clinic. He is now 8 years old, 10 pounds overweight, with bad hips.
But he is my racing dog. He has placed top dog in 3 races, and won one 5K outright (see post here) .

Jeffery (left) and Jorge training

Jefferey J. Jeffery - A spastic, always hungry black lab mix who lost a back leg when he was young. His previous owner was abusive and abandoned him. Age unknown, but at least 7 or 8 now. Physically he is a great runner despite only having 3 legs, but he is easily distracted.

Lula - The 12 year old hound, who doesn't like running. At least not with us, anyway. She decided to stay home and not run The Dirty Dog.

Carbo loading the day before

Shannon and I took Jorge, Dooright, and Jeffery on many training runs out our 8 mile trail route.

Dooright and I ran over 150 miles in training for the Dirty Dog. I took him on every run I did (except for a few races). Some weeks he ran more than I did, because Shannon would take him for a few miles as well.

On one warm humid day, Dooright and I did the 8 mile single track route at a 7:30 pace, with him slowing only a little at the end. It gave me confidence that he was in good enough shape to race the whole 15K.

Unfortunately our training route was not a good simulation for the Dirty Dog 15K.

The Race Summary
Our pack of 5 camped the night before and walked to the starting line in the morning.
We were trained. We were ready.
How did it go? Well, about mid-way through the race, this was the situation:
  • Dudley Dooright was sprawled out in a mud puddle, unable to even stand up.
  • Jorge Francisco was missing. 
  • Jeffery Jeffery was have a good ol time.
  • Shannon was running a half mile back towards the start
  • I was standing on the side of a forest road, clutching my throbbing knee and swatting at flies.
But let me give you the full race report...
At the start of the Dirty Dog
Dudley loves racing!

There were almost 300 people and over 100 dogs lined up.

Dooright and I started near the front, because he is competitive and loves to go out fast.
Shannon started a little further back. In one hand she the leashes for Jorge and Jefferey, and in the other her camera to take photos along the way.

It was Jorge's first race and he was nervous and drooling. Some guys standing next to Jorge were talking smack with each other. "Hey don't let chihuahua beat you", they laughed.

At the count of three we were off and there was a bit of chaos. I saw loose dogs running back the wrong way. Some guys tripped over leashes. But Dooright weaved his way through the crowd, pulling me towards the front and up the first big climb.

The first hill.
Pace Yourself!
I thought that Dudley and I had perfected our pacing in training.
He would run in front about a 7:30/mile pace. If he got too far ahead, he would stop and wait for me or find some water to cool off. I had not anticipated how competitive he can be; he loves passing people.

One rule of the race is you must keep your dog on a leash for the first mile, which I did.
After I let him off he surged ahead passing guys left and right.
"Dudley! Hey! Hold on. Dooright!!", I could not keep up.

Eventually he stopped and I put him back on the leash for a bit. But the trail got too technical so I had to let him back off, and he raced ahead again. We were running with a pack of about 4 guys, about 8th place overall. There we at least 2 fast dogs way ahead of us, and it seemed Dooright was trying to catch them.

A few times he took the wrong path, not understanding that the yellow tape meant "do not cross".
But he would recover and rush to the front of our group again.

Splits for Dudley and I.
Note Lap 5.
Even on the steep, treacherous descent, I couldn't keep up.
Part of that was due to my aching knee. In 3 consecutive weeks, I ran a hard Medoc trail race, bonked badly at the Big Sur marathon, and then pummeled what was left of my legs at the Philosophers Way 15K.

My right knee was wrecked from all that, and jumping down the slick rocks was causing a sharp jabbing pain. But this was a once-in-lifetime race for old Dooright. He had put the training in, so I had to grit my teeth and push through it for him.

When we got to the bottom of the hill, there were many stream crossings. Dudley would splash through and get a gulp of water without breaking stride.

It was warm, maybe 70 degrees, and humid, which was pushing his limits in terms of temperature.
I tried to get him to lay down in the water to cool off, but he refused. He was having way too much fun chasing the runners ahead of him.

At mile 4 we hit a huge climb. It was very narrow single track, and steep as stairs. There was a line of about 5 of us trudging up single file, grabbing trees to hoist ourselves up. Dooright would weave his way up ahead until he was out of sight, wait until I caught up, and then go ahead again.

Dudley was hitting his maximum pant-rate, it sounded like 180 pants-per-minute; he was absolutely redlining. He would be right on the heels of the guy in front him, blowing his hot breath on the poor guys legs. I tried keeping him behind me with my hands, but he would squirm past again.

This poor guy was laying in the mud not far from Dudley.

Boiled Over
Eventually we reached the top and came out onto a gravel forest road. Around mile 4.5, we came to small mud puddle, and I got Dudley to lay down in it. His whole body was heaving like bellows with his tongue flopped out of his mouth. He tried to stand up, but his legs were too weak and collapsed underneath him.

When dogs get too hot they can pant so fast that their lungs can't absorb any oxygen. I have seen this happen to Dooright before, and his back legs simply will not work until he cools off.
"That's OK. Stay down."

He had literally run himself into the ground. Clutching my throbbing knee, and feeling my achilles tighten up, I couldn't help but laugh at how similar we were. Our love of racing far exceeds what our aging bodies are capable of.

We sat there for 10 minutes, as all the runners and dogs streamed by. One dog got into the puddle and tried to hump poor Dudley as he laid there. Oh, the humiliation.
After a while he could stand up, but I made him lay back down. "Let's wait for the rest of the pack."
We waited another 10 minutes.

I started to get worried. Where were they? Even Jorge wouldn't be that slow. The runners started to thin out. Something must have happened... 

Jorge Francisco has pre-race nerves

Jorge Takes Break
At the start, Shannon, Jorge and Jeffrey also surged ahead were not far behind us the first mile.

"Hey! That chihuahua just passed us!", Shannon heard someone say. At mile 1, she took the dogs off leash.
She ran another half mile before noticing Jorge was not behind her.

She stopped at an aid station and waited, asking runners if they had seen a little dog.
Then she and Jeffrey started running back to find him.
"Yeah, we saw a little dog laying under a bush way back there."

Apparently, as soon as Jorge had been let of leash he had decided to just lay down.

He often does this when he does not want to go home and get a bath. But we don't know why he did it here.
Shannon found him just as the last place runner was hitting the first mile.

Off and running

Catching Up
So Shannon started again from mile 1, in absolute last place.
She made it back to the first aid station at mile 1.5, just making the course cutoff at 30 minutes.

Jorge was ready to run now, and the three of them managed a decent pace, passing over 50 runners in the narrow trail. Finally they caught up to Dooright and I, and our pack of 5 continued on together.

Plummeting down to the finnish
Finishing Strong
Dudley had recovered and could run again, although no longer pushed the pace.
Jorge looked happy that we all together, and Jeffery was doing still doing great on his 3 legs despite running the extra mile. I had to shorten up my stride to give my knee a break, but was able to grit out the last 4 miles.

With all five of us reunited, we seemed to draw strength from it, and felt the instinct to run together. We took turns leading, but it was Shannon who was pushing the pack along, trying to make up for lost time
"Passing on your left! Two people and three dogs coming through!"

Dooright and Jorge cross the finish line
We passed another 50 people or so, and cruised down the last long descent to finish in 1:55, about mid pack of the 273 finishers.

A man poses with the 3-legged dog who beat him
The real winner of the day was Jefferey, who proved he was the best runner of the our three, despite only having three legs.
He stayed with Shannon the whole time, ran an extra mile, and didn't need a break. It's really amazing he could push himself up those big climbs with only one back leg.

The Dirty Dog hospitality team serving homemade dog treats!
Our New Favorite Race
This was an all around great race.
The course was well marked, the trail was hard but fun, and the volunteers plentiful and awesome.
Finish line food was was wonderful, especially the watermelon. And the homemade treats were a hit

But most of all it lets us combine two of our favorite things.
We can not only run a trail race, but do it with our dogs. It makes our running experience complete.

So we will be back next year with our pack.
Hopefully better trained, and maybe a little wiser too.

The rest of Shannon's photos are here on Facebook

"What the hell? That black dog ate my treat"
Not everyone was a fan of Jeffrey.