What’s one of the simplest, most mundane things you’ve never done? An unremarkable life experience so workaday that some people don’t give the activity a second thought? Raked leaves? Eaten cold pizza for breakfast? Changed a dirty diaper? Watched Forrest Gump?
For the record, I’ve never actually seen Forrest Gump. (At least, not all of it.) And yet, even so, if one more person heckles me with “Run, Forrest, run!” so help me, I’ll…
But this post isn’t about Forrest Gump. It’s about Nicco the Dog. Because guess who, despite running thousands of miles in all kinds of conditions and with all sorts of companions, has never gone on a run with a dog?
This girl, that’s who.
That’s right. I’ve never run with a canine companion. Not a single mile. It’s not that I don’t like dogs. I love dogs. We had two when I was growing up: Tucker, a buff white cocker spaniel, and Mister Alex (affectionately known as “Miffy Spritz,” due to his sudden bouts of incontinence when meeting new humans), a cotton ball of a cockapoo with Karl Marx hair and the occasional possession by the devil.
But neither Tucker nor Mister Alex were particularly big runners. Tucker had a habit of digging his haunches into the ground the moment our walk extended past the limits of our driveway, and Mister Alex was more concerned about breaking vertical distance records than he was covering actual distance. That dog could jump. Considering how tiny he was, he probably had more vertical gain per pound than Michael Jordan.
“Hey, guys! Wanna go for a run?” I’d say, leash in hand.
“Talk to the paw,” they’d say back. (At least, that’s what I imagined them saying.) And then Tucker would turn around and settle back onto his fluffy pillow bed, and Mister Alex would spritz a little and trot away.
But Nicco the Dog is different. He isn’t just a runner. He is a neighborhood legend. Nicco the Dog is a two-year-old German shepherd with Tarahumara kicks, a superathlete canine that would impress even Christopher McDougall. Rumor has it that Nicco the Dog once logged thirty-two miles in a single day, in two separate runs with his owners.
Last week, I had the momentous responsibility of dogsitting Nicco the Dog.
Technically, our first run together was a fabric swatch of a run—a trial of sorts. It took place at 11:03 p.m., on a treadmill. Usually, if I haven’t gotten my run in by the time eleven o’clock swings around, I’ll abandon the cause until the next day. But on this night, I was feeling spry, so I turned on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and started whirling away the miles.
Until Nicco the Dog dangled his owner’s running shoe in front of me, daring me to hop off the treadmill to retrieve it, which I did.
“Nicco! Nicco!” I yelled sternly. “Drop it! No! Drop it! No! Drop—oh! GAH!”
I ran to the giant bag of Beggin’ Strips secreted in a mahogany armoire.
Nicco the Dog dropped the shoe, snagged the treat, and trotted away with gloating triumph.
The treadmill was still whirling. I hopped back on, suspending my body over the belt before lowering my feet at the correct pace. Jimmy Fallon cracked a joke. I laughed.
And then Nicco the Dog dangled his owner’s other running shoe in front of me.
“Gah! No! Nicco!”
The same scenario ensued, beginning with several commands to “Drop it!” and ending with a Beggin’ Strip bribe.
A mile later, I looked up to discover Nicco the Dog flourishing a sandal in his mouth.
That’s when it occurred to me that I was training him to eat his owner’s shoes.
My first official outdoor run with a dog happened the next day in a torrential downpour. Let me say this: the only thing that can make you feel tougher and more hardcore than running in a torrential downpour is running in a torrential downpour with a giant German shepherd by your side.
Despite Nicco the Dog’s mythological status, I figured I wouldn’t test the boundaries while his owners were out of town. Thus, I decided an easy nine miles would be safe. And it was. For Nicco the Dog.
One of my many discoveries during the run was that Nicco the Dog likes to chase cars. More specifically, he liked to chase the cars that came from behind us. He didn’t care about the ones he saw approaching. But those that were heading in the same direction as us? Those he bounded after. Relentlessly. Every single car.
“You’re killing me, smalls!” I said after he dislocated my right shoulder for the twentieth time. “You cannot keep doing this!”
Nicco the Dog looked back at me (yes, he ran two steps ahead of me most of the way) and smiled.
“Oh, can’t I?” he seemed to say.
In addition to automobiles, Nicco the Dog likes to chase Great Blue Herons, which we had the opportunity to do as we ran two loops around a bucolic lake. Granted, we had to run the perimeter of the lake while the heron skimmed across the surface, but it was a fun chase nevertheless. Plus, by this time, I was quite adept at popping my right shoulder back into its socket.
But despite the occasional jolt across the road, running with Nicco the Dog was one of the most serene, peaceful experiences I—until that point—had never had. Nicco the Dog was so present. This run was the highlight of his day, and he soaked in every sight, scent, and step. He had so much joy, even in his breathing. I swear he was smiling the entire time we ran. Occasionally, he’d throw his head back to look at me.
“Isn’t this the greatest?” I could hear him say.
“Yeah, it is pretty great.”
“No, seriously! Look at this grass! And that grass! And that rock! And that tree! And those birds and that puddle and that stick and that… CAR!”
“Gah! Wait! No!”
And then he’d drag me across the street in bounding ecstasy.
I learned a lot from Nicco the Dog that day. He reminded me that a run is a highlight of my day, not just another item to check off my list. He reminded me to be present. He reminded me to find wonder in the familiar. He reminded me that you can run by yourself without running alone. He reminded me that running isn’t just about pace and mileage goals—or even the finish line. He reminded me that sometimes running is just about running.
Amy L. Marxkors is the author of The Lola Papers: Marathons, Misadventures, and How I Became a Serious Runner and Powered By Hope: The Teri Griege Story. Click here to receive Amy's weekly article via email.