running with dog
(Photo: 101 Degrees West)

Running Free with the Pack

My dogs love every run, with no goals, measurements or expectations. I need that right now.

running with dog
101 Degrees West

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Over the years that I’ve been a runner I’ve put in a lot of solitary miles, but for the past decade, I’ve had the privilege of running with a pack nearly every day. A pack of dogs, that is: three rescue pups with whom we’ve shared our rural home. 

They may be the luckiest dogs in the world, free to run leash-free with me over the trails and dirt roads of the high plains. When they’re not chasing rabbits or pheasants, they usually fall into a pattern: one out front scouting, one a bit behind herding, and one so close I can reach down and touch his head.

Jonathan Beverly running with three dogs by herd of cows
(Photo: 101 Degrees West)

I believe, however, that I’m even luckier. To start, I have a group of training partners who are eager to head out anytime, any day. They literally spin in circles when they see that I’m changed up to run. They never fail to remind me that running is a privilege and a joy—and without it, we all get a bit frazzled and crazy.

That’s just one of many lessons I’ve learned from this pack. Another is that speed and distance are largely irrelevant — what is important is getting out, moving, exploring, seeing, breathing. They have no training plans or logs. Granted, they don’t prepare for races, they don’t set and achieve goals, nor do they have the satisfaction of progress and mastery. Those are uniquely human pleasures, which I appreciate as key parts of running in my life.

dogs running
Photo: 101 Degrees West

But, it’s been instructive to watch how my dogs’ lack of extrinsic motivation doesn’t in any way dilute their pure, unfettered joy from being able to run. Each run is appreciated for its own sake. It is not a means to achieving another end—like weight loss, better health, or raising money for charity—nor work towards becoming a better runner. They don’t know their PRs. They need no larger story for motivation; they simply want to and love to run. 

They also bring no ego or expectations to the task. They’re happy running at whatever pace I am going, be that 5K tempo or taking a walking break, and seem equally thrilled whether we go 10 miles or two (although they do lobby to go farther every time I turn around to head home). 

dog running toward storm
Photo: 101 Degrees West

With a bum knee keeping me from going very far or very fast these days, I’m learning from them how to value the smell of moisture in the morning breeze, the colors of the wildflowers along the trail, and the majesty of the clouds billowing up in the east as much as what the numbers on my watch tell me about my fitness. Truthfully, the dogs don’t care much about the flowers or the clouds, but they smell and see and feel plenty along our runs—as if for the first time every day. And, as I too start to pay attention to the world outside of my head, I am finding that runs can be measured by far more than length and pace.

One thing I never expected to learn from them is how to train by feel. They’re particularly sensitive when dealing with heat. Any of them can outrun me any time they choose, but as soon as the temperatures go up, they slow down. They don’t wait until they’re in trouble and have to slow, they don’t try to keep up until they fall off the back. They simply set a new pace and trot along happily behind me, catching up with tails wagging when we stop for a drink and (for them) a swim at a pond or water tank.

dog running happy
Photo: 101 Degrees West

We humans seem to have lost this instinct. We fail to listen to the cues that tell us we’re working too hard to maintain our normal pace. Or we refuse to accept the messages and push on anyway, inevitably paying for it with a spectacular crash and burn. Fortunately, we have the ability to study the body even if we no longer listen to it, and scientists have learned how much people slow as the temps rise. Applying that research can help us pace appropriately and evaluate our runs more effectively.

Changing how we evaluate our runs on a larger scale might be the path toward learning to listen to our bodies and adapt our pace and distance. My training partners are free to adjust their pace because they never consider if they ran well or poorly, never ask if it was a good run or a bad run. They don’t worry what anyone else thinks of their pace, either, or how others might evaluate their run on Strava. For them, every run is a great run.

The only question they ask is, “Can we go again? Soon?”

And I—even if a bit old, a bit lame, and a lot slower than I used to be—am the lucky one who gets to grant that wish, and share that joy.

running with dogs winter
Photo: 101 Degrees West


From PodiumRunner Lead Photo: 101 Degrees West