From the Experts: "Why I Trail Run with my Dog"

From the Experts: "Why I Trail Run with my Dog"

Posted by Maggie Marton, founder of ohmydogblog.com on 12th May 2020

A few years ago, I started running with my dog, Cooper. We began slowly, following a training app, and I set my sights on completing a 5k. After a few months, we sailed through our first 5k. Inspired, I upped the ante. Cooper and I would train for a 10k.

By the time we crossed the 10k finish line, I was bored of running. I wanted to raise the bar again so we could stay challenged and motivated, but I wasn’t feeling it. I talked to a few running friends and had an “ah-ha moment”! Coop and I already loved to hike, so why not merge running with hiking and start trail running? We got started, and we both fell in love!

Turns out, we’re not the only ones who love hitting the trails together!

Hannah Zulueta, who shares life with her two dogs on Instagram @maggielovesorbit, feels inspired by being out in nature—sharing it with her dogs is an added bonus. She says she uses the time on the trails to decompress from our very connected world.

I don’t even listen to music when I hike. I love to hear the birds, or even just the crunch of my hiking boots on the ground. For the dogs, sniffing is soothing. Allowing them to experience the world nose-first is their favorite thing to do. And it gives me immense pleasure to set this time aside to hike together. The dogs love all the smells and for us it’s a reboot for our souls.

Jessica Rhae Williams, founder of PetTalk Media and the Instagrammer behind @youdidwhatwithyourwiener, hikes and runs with her two Dachshunds. 

Before I had dogs, I did a little trail running. When I hike with my dogs, I often push myself as fast as I can go without actually running. I call it speed hiking. My Dachshunds are in really good shape and, honestly, they can and would go as fast on the trail as I would let them. To change up our routine, and to improve fitness for both of us, I have recently started to dabble in trail running again. I only run with my younger Dachshund Summit (my older one is 10 and I don't want to push her), and only do it once or twice a week, but she loves it.

When she started, Jessica used her running background to develop a manageable plan to add miles without straining her dogs. Her plan works for anyone who wants to start a trail running practice! She explains:

We walk briskly to warm up for 15 minutes, then we alternate periods of running and walking for 6-10 minute intervals, and then we walk moderately for at least 10 minutes to cool down. For our first run, the intervals were 15 seconds of running with 1 minute and 45 seconds of walking. We repeated that cycle 6 times at first and worked up to 10 intervals. We then decreased the number of intervals and increased our time running (while decreasing our time walking). We built that same effort to 10 intervals and then repeated the cycle again—fewer intervals, more running, less walking. We are now up to running 45 seconds, with 45 second walking periods, for 8 intervals.

Roxanne Hawn, blogger at the award-winning site ChampionOfMyHeart.com, hits the trail for her three dogs’ happiness and wellbeing.

Dogs require enrichment, including new places, smells, and experiences, so I like getting my crew out for relaxing, decompression walks where there aren’t a bunch of rules or requirements. We do hike on leash — both for safety (us and wildlife), and because trails near our home in the Colorado Rocky Mountains require it. But, I try not to ask much as we trek along. This is their time. Getting out makes them so happy. That’s motivation enough.

Jen Sotolongo of @longhaultrekkers started running in high school and kept it up—now, 20 years later, she’s training for ultras! 

I've been trail running long before I had dogs, but always knew that one day I wanted a dog to join me on these runs. When I first met Sora, I took her for a trail run the next day. I had to make up for all that lost time. At this point, running is an essential part of my life and I can't imagine who I would be without it. Seeking new trails and going on fun adventures keeps me going back out day after day. There are so many places to explore and being out in the mountains with just my dog is an incredibly powerful feeling. We just have each other to rely on and need to put a lot of trust in one another sometimes. Trail running has been a wonderful bonding experience with my dogs.

For anyone just starting out, Jen suggests joining up with a buddy and taking it slow. She shares her expert advice:

I'd say to just get out there and go! If you're new, find a friend to take you on some favorite trails to start so you get used to what it's like and glean some trail wisdom from them. Start slowly and build endurance and strength over time, increasing distance no more than 10% per week.

All the experts agree: Just get out there! Once you and your dog start running trails together, you’ll probably find, like the rest of us did, that it becomes a treasured, valuable practice for you and your dog to do together. As Roxanne put it, “I joke that I'm a much better version of myself when I get enough exercise outdoors. I believe the same is true for our dogs.”