Death of a Trail Runner



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By Anthony Corriveau

(Editor’s note: This beautifully written blog post first ran on March 4, 2016 in Anthony Corriveau’s blog Running Down, Anthony and his wife, Shannon Johnstone graciously allowed me to publish it here)

We had to put down our dog Dudley Dooright today. He was 11 years old. Dudley was my running partner.

You may have assumed that my running partner was my wife Shannon, the exceptional runner that she is. But Shannon and I are never in sync. I love mornings but she hates them. She has her best runs at night around the time I cannot keep my eyes open, let alone run. She might lag behind on a technical trail, but when she does 20 mile runs in Umstead I’m struggling to finish two miles on aching knees.

In fact, I have never been a social runner. The reason I started running originally was to get away from people. I discovered that running on trails alone was my happy place, the only thing that helped with frequent bouts of depression. But it wasn’t simply the endorphins produced from running.

Running on roads is just rote exercise. A procedure defined by simple equations of stride length and cadence, of VO2 Max and glycogen consumption. But running a single track trail as fast as you can is something else entirely: Intense focus on every root and rock, trying to maintain momentum around the next switchback, through the stretch of ankle deep mud, down and up a gully and then lifting your shoulder just in time to barely miss that tree. There are no thoughts of mortgages or dentist appointments or what the hell you are going to do with your life. Only thoughts of how many steps to take before you jump that log.

I got Dudley as a puppy in 2005. He was obviously a Golden Retriever, though I often refused to acknowledge this. This is because he was a reject from a breeder who dumped him in a parking lot, leaving him to die with a congenital defect. Dog breeders and the demand for “purebred” dogs is one of the main reasons the shelters are overflowing with animals who will never find a home. But I digress.

Shannon and I eventually had a pack of 4 dogs, and we would often take three of them running on the single track trail around the lake near our house (The 4th dog Lula was more into sunbathing than running). We are those obnoxious people who let their dogs run off leash, but we almost never ran into anyone else out there, and the unlikely event someone might be bothered seemed a small price to pay for the sheer happiness of three dogs.

Jorge and Jefferey seemed to mostly enjoy finding disgusting things out in the woods to eat, or roll in, or both. We would often have to call those two away from whatever distraction they found to keep them moving. But Dudley was different. He loved the trail like I did, and just wanted to run. It was a roller coaster ride that he didn’t want to stop. He would run up and down hills or around in circles through the trees while the rest of the pack dilly-dallied. He didn’t really care where we were going, as long is he was moving.

Around 2008, I started to invest more of my time and attention to running. When I figured out how to run more than 15 miles a week without hurting my knees, I ran as much as I could, with my favorite route an 8 miler around the lake. Since the other dogs lacked the stamina and interest, I would only take Dooright with me.
We had a special connection that I cannot explain. Almost always he was there ten feet in front of me, setting the pace. When I couldn’t keep up, sometimes he would stop and look back at me, “What are you waiting for? Come on!”. Or he would run a wide arc through the trees to allow me to catch up.

Dudley knew the trails better than I did, and had a perfect map in his head. Often he would jump off the trail into a swamp or make a hard left and disappear over a hill. Stupidly, I would stop and call for him. But it never failed that he would reappear on the trail in front of me and give the that look, “What? Let’s go!”. On hot days, he would get tired on the way back, and struggle to keep up. So he would cheat and take short cuts to stay in front of me.
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His desire to always be in front made him great at racing 5Ks. His laser like focus gave him an edge over other dogs. Of the 12 dog friendly races we entered, Dooright came out top dog in 9 of them.

Around 2012 both Dudley and I slowed down. My knees started to bother me again, and his hips got weak. When we woke in the morning, we would both hesitate before going down the stairs, knowing it was going to hurt. We still tried to hit the trail together, but he couldn’t go as far, and would be stiff and sore afterward. But it was always worth it.

A few weeks ago, Dudley momentarily collapsed while chasing a ball. After many trips to the vet, he was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer. The tumors in his organs would grow and burst, causing him to bleed internally. They robbed him of all his energy and he could no longer run. Even walking was a struggle.

There was no treatment available that provided any hope. So we just tried to give him as many good days as we could. On Thursday we drove Dudley and the other 2 dogs out to a local trail for a walk. Dudley jumped out of the van and trotted to the trailhead, as fast as we had seen him move in several days.

It was mid-afternoon and we had the woods to ourselves. He managed to walk a half mile, trudging slowly forward with all of his effort. But that was all he had in him, and he just stopped on the trail. We let him rest a while, and then leisurely headed back. He would walk for a hundred feet and then stop and rest. The cancer was tearing his insides up. His stomach was bloated, and is spine and hips protruded from withering muscle.

Seeing him struggle like this was terrible, and Shannon and I decided that it was finally time to let him go. As we neared the car, Dudley stopped and dug a shallow hole and laid down in the middle of the trail, in the shade of large tree.

His nose twitched left and right, detecting distant scents in the breeze blowing in his face. Occasionally his ears perked up when he saw a bird or squirrel or runner going by in the distance.

“Come on Dudley, let’s go home.” I tried encouraging him to follow us to the car. But maybe for the first time ever, he didn’t seem inclined to follow me. He just looked back peacefully. I imagined him saying “I think I’ll stay here on the trail. This time, go on without me.”

I sat on a log next to him. A barrier broke inside me and the sadness of losing him poured into and mixed with the happiness of all those long afternoons of running the trails with him. I started crying, deeply. Haven’t really stopped yet as of this writing. It took us a couple days to summon the courage, but we let him go this morning.

I suppose a eulogy for a dog could be considered banal, or you might call this one maudlin. I would accept that.

After all, it’s just a dog. It’s just trails in the woods. It’s just a guy and his dog running as fast as they can to nowhere in particular. It’s just exactly that and nothing else. Pure joy.

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This Little Piggy Went to Market; This Little Piggy Stayed Home; This Little Piggy had Swine Flu; This Little Piggy Had None

Swine Flu has arrived and we are scared out of our wits.  We tracked its slow march through Mexico and into Texas.  All over the country, we are officially on Swine Flu watch and it’s turning us into a nation of hypochondriacs who are afraid to eat barbecue.

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It’s a full scale “aporkalypse.”

We’re significantly terrified, running around like a snowstorm’s coming – buying handsanitizer by the barrel. Boiling our underwear. Do face masks really help?

 Do we even know what Swine Flu is? It must be something really bad that has something to do with pigs.  I ate pork tenderloin last night.  Am I feeling a little headachy and sweaty?  Is my throat scratchy?  I think I have it OMG!

 One news outlet reported that federal quarantine laws may be put in place, these are laws that forbid people from leaving their homes in US Code 42,264: Regulations to Control Communicable Disease allows the surgeon general to quarantine individuals reasonably believed to be infected with a communicable disease.  Anyone violating a quarantine order can be fined up to $25,000 and “quarantined” in prison for up to one year.

 A quarantine from work may not be such a bad thing.  I for one could use a little vacation.

My knee’s been giving me some trouble the past few weeks… I think that’s one of the symptoms of swine flu, and if I don’t stay home from work, I may be fined $25,000.

 I was partying last night, and woke up feeling terrible. Dry mouth, headache, upset stomach.  I think I’m coming down with Swine Flu and need to be quarantined for a few days.

 Ever since I had that swine flu, I can tell when it’s about to rain.  My lymph nodes start acting up and I run a fever.  It must be swine flu aftershocks, so I need to be quarantined from work when it rains.

 Gee officer.  I don’t know why I ran that ran red light. My breath smells like alcohol?  I heard that’s one of the symptoms of swine flu.

 My cat’s been sneezing lately.  Can kitties get swine flu?  I’d better quarantine myself for a few days just in case.

 This little piggy heard that he could get Swine Flu by walking barefoot in a muddy pig pen.

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Swine Flu was engineered by a bunch of pigs who got together and hired a lobbyist and a PR agency and campaigned to have this specific strain flu named after their species.   They got the idea from the cows, who engineered Mad Cow Disease, which was effective.  People stopped eating beef for months.  So far, the idea is really working for the pigs too.  I understand  Swine Flu is now on Twitter, and Barbecue Restaurants are reporting significant dips in business.

Wait!  Not so fast little piggies; there’s a new counter campaign to change the name of the flu for a variety of reasons.

The government wants to give your flu a government-sounding name in an attempt to save the barbecue industry, calling the flu strain Type A/H1N1

There are complaints from abroad too. Israeli officials suggest renaming our flu Mexican flu, saying the reference to pigs is offensive to Muslim and Jewish sensitivities over pork (the pig lobby has gone international).

 By now, though a change is probably too late.  “Swine Flu” has been burned into our brains and even official health-advice web addresses use it: www.cdc.gov/swineflu

 Plus, we are so frightened of getting sick, a name change would probably cause an already panicky public to fear yet another outbreak of another type of flu.

 Nevertheless, the Department of Agriculture continues to push for change, stating that there are no known sick U.S. pigs.

 Not unless the Pig lobby has something to say about it.

Mercury Rising Makes Bella a Pleased Poodle Puppy

Last winter, Bella, a dainty poodle who lives in Cary was clearly not happy about taking a walk on a frosty winter morning, even though she was quite the fashion plate in her layered look: A soft pink lined jacket over a fuschia sweater, all of which matched the cute pink ribbon in her hair and her lovely pink leash.  She was hardly in the mood to walk the red carpet, however.

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 No, I am not pleased, thank you very much.  I know I look terribly chic in my sweater and coat with matching hair ribbon and leash, but REALLY!  It’s 37 degrees out here and I would rather be in bed eating doggy bon bons.  I am cold and want to go home.

Now it is spring, and it feels like summer, perfect poodle weather, and Bella is more than pleased and happy on her walk.

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Ahhh…I feel sooooo much better. The temperature is 80 now, much more civilized for taking a morning stroll.  Don’t get me wrong. I love my trendy outfit, but being naked on a warm day is much nicer.