Monthly Archives: March 2016

Fitness and agility

When runners plan for a major race, the goal is to reach “peak fitness” for the race. I spent January and February working toward being really fit–and then completely squandered that fitness in three consecutive weekends of agility. Three days of AKC agility, two-and-a-half days of CPE agility, then two more days of CPE agility. Those last two days? I was the trial chair, which is exhausting in the best of circumstances, but when it’s cold, wet, windy, and muddy, it’s especially challenging. All credit due to the handlers who came: I didn’t hear anyone whine about the weather, the wind, or the mud. The weather was it was, they accepted it, they kept putting on more clothes and finding dry socks, and they just kept running their dogs.

Saturday afternoon, I slipped, tripped over my own feet, somehow managed to stay upright by running my feet up under my body–and ended up feeling like I’d twisted and yanked on all the muscles in both legs. A massage helped, two Advil let me sleep, and somehow I made it through the day Sunday. Monday morning I woke up with hangnails on all ten fingers; for me, hangnails are the first sign that I’ve been overdoing it and I need to back off a bit. I usually get one, maybe two, then I spend the day resting. I was so sore I could barely walk. I took the day off from life. I took Tuesday off, too, except for a short swim and a long soak in the hot tub at the community pool. I took Wednesday off. This morning, finally, I was down to just one hangnail, and all the sore muscles felt mostly okay, so I did a short run with Rush. That felt pretty much fine but this afternoon I’m sore again.

That all said, when I think back a few years, I could not have done those three weekends. I wouldn’t have tried. It was somewhat over the top for me, but it’s only taken me four days to recover. Pretty cool. Now to build again, with the goal of the next peak being higher than the one I just passed.

By the way, I got two Snooker Qs last weekend at “my” trial. On Saturday, I got 51 points (the maximum) for the first time ever. On Sunday… another 51 points. Pretty cool.

Going hungry

We all remember the scene in Gone With The Wind where Scarlett swears that she will never go hungry again (as she digs up yams in the dirt of her palatial estate that has been ravaged by the Yankees). If you haven’t seen it, here you go. I sat through a Weight Watchers meeting a few days ago, as woman after woman said they hated being hungry and tried to avoid being hungry, and honestly, I couldn’t help thinking that we all worry way too much about being hungry, when (really) none of us–at least none of us at a Weight Watchers meeting–are in any danger at all of starvation.

I try to think of hunger as a good thing. It means I am running a calorie deficit. A calorie deficit is required if you want to lose weight. It’s okay to be hungry. It’s more than okay, it’s inevitable. I so wanted to stand up and say “yes, you’re going to be hungry, learn to live with hunger, learn to decide how much you want to eat and then eat that much, instead of eating too much, and yes, I know you’re eating too much. How do I know that? Because you weigh more than is healthy.”

I may have to stop going to Weight Watchers meetings. They bring out my nastiest inner curmudgeon.

Havin’ some fun tonight!

This post is part of the Dog Agility Bloggers Network series on FUN. After you’ve read this article, go to this link to read more articles.

A few years back, my daughter Stacia introduced me to the idea that there are three types of fun. In Type 1 Fun, you have a good time, but it’s kind of an ordinary good time. For example, Type 1 Fun might include a nice dinner with friends with a chocolate brownie for dessert. It’s fun, but it’s readily accessible fun and requires no special effort. Type 2 Fun includes some element of challenge and difficulty. Perhaps you make the dinner as a group and you try a complicated recipe or two, something like Chicken Kiev with a molten chocolate Lava Cake for dessert. Type 3 Fun? Well, Type 3 Fun involves some danger, it might not be all fun during the actual event, and part of the fun is the story you tell afterwards. To continue with the dinner-with-friends analogy (which just might be getting a little strained, but oh well, we can all deal with it), the three of you get mugged while coming home from the store after buying the ingredients for dinner, one of you ends up in the emergency room and meets the love-of-her-life while waiting for treatment, and then you have a late dinner at the best restaurant in the area and the chef hears the story and makes you a special flaming dessert, which sets the tablecloth on fire, so you don’t actually get to eat it. That would qualify as Type 3 Fun: great story, some pretty awful bits during the actual event.

Personally, I try to avoid Type 3 Fun.

Incidentally, this is a photo of some Type 2 Fun I had with my daughter last summer. Anything that involves wading through icy water is automatically Type 2 Fun. At least, that’s my opinion. I did like the effect of the ice water on my knees, though. Alleviated the soreness a bit–it was quite the hike. (However, the story is not epic, no one was hurt, so not Type 3 Fun. Now, if I’d slipped and floated downstream a bit, maybe then.)

Photo by Stacia Torborg

Photo by Stacia Torborg

I have been competing in dog agility since sometime in 2005, when my Elly–my Novice A dog, who barely finished her Open titles–was two. She was indeed a challenge to run, between her sense of humor (several judges burst out laughing at her antics during her agility career) and her health (she had multiple health issues and died at not-quite-nine as a result (three years ago) and I still miss her). I have good stories to tell about Elly–she stopped in the middle of a run to play bow to the audience, she thought contacts were electrified, she left the arena to go ask the hot dog vendor for a snack (and that’s just the beginning)–and it was never dull. I learned, with Elly, that a sense of humor is key to enjoying agility.

Photo by Joe Camp

Photo by Joe Camp

My second poodle, Dancer, is very serious about agility. She wants very much to please me. For her, the fun of agility isn’t about the course or the challenges or the jumps: it’s about me. She wants to run with me, hang out with me, be my companion. I had to learn how to make agility fun for her, and it was a challenge for me. A good challenge, though, as she taught me a lot about dog training. Dancer will do anything I ask her to do… if it doesn’t scare her. For a long time, the teeter scared her so much that she just couldn’t do it. Not no way, not no how, not even for rotisserie chicken, her personal favorite. It took me three years, and I wrote an article for Clean Run about how I did it, and that? That was rewarding because it was challenging and it took a lot of thinking and because I learned so much from her.

And long-term difficult challenges that you meet and beat? Those are fun.

Photo by Joe Camp

Dancer expresses her opinion about the teeter: photo by Joe Camp

My Rush, my big boy dog, the one I chose as a puppy even though I swore I wanted a small girl from the litter right up until the moment Rush stole my heart? His proper poodle name is Alchmys Absolut Pleasure. Alchmy is the breeder; Absolut is a tribute to his father, a white poodle from Russia; and the Pleasure? That’s all mine. I’m superstitious enough that I believe that dog names can be self-fulfilling prophecies. I’d never name a dog Chaos, as just one example. So I was hoping, with Rush, that I’d get that excitement, that surge, that incredible feeling you get when you give it what you’ve got… and it works.

From the first day with Rush, when I insisted that he wait for his dinner, just like the big poodles, I knew where I was going.

puppy Rush waits for a treat with big poodles

What I didn’t know, when I started with Rush, was that he would enjoy agility every bit as much as I do. I didn’t know that he would be fast and long-strided. I didn’t know that he would change my life completely. I had to learn how to handle, how to run, how to give it all I’ve got every single run. I didn’t know how thoroughly he would live up to his name. He has truly been an absolute pleasure to have in my life. Type 2 Fun all the way: it’s not easy, it’s not simple, it’s challenging, and it’s exciting.

Rush? Here’s how Rush approaches agility (article continues below photos).

Photo by Zoe Zimmer

Photo by Zoe Zimmer

Photo by Joe Camp

Photo by Joe Camp

After finishing the first draft of this and letting it sit for a few days, I found myself thinking: “from the dog’s perspective, is agility Type 1 or Type 2?” My first thought was: “of course, for a dog, it’s Type 1, because all fun is Type 1 if you’re a dog.” But as I thought more about it, I realized that many dogs bring problem-solving skills and anticipation to their agility careers (and to herding and hunting, as some other examples)–and that, for those dogs, agility is Type 2 Fun. I know that Rush anticipates his agility run; he grows very intense as we move closer to the gate. When he watches a dog we’ve been following all day, he starts pulling to go into the ring. He hunkers down and stares at the first jump and his eyes flick back and forth from me to the jump and back to me and back to the jump as he tries to understand what I want. He tries to read what I want, and he barks in frustration when I’m late or confusing–and still does his best to follow my lead.

I find myself thinking about Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire: as Ann Richards (Texas politician of note) said “after all, Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels.” From the dog’s point of view, running agility (without a map or any way to know the course in advance) must be like that–and for a dog that likes a challenge and finds excitement in challenge, what could be better? Type 2 Fun, for sure.

The latest on shoes…

I was looking through the “most popular posts” part of my blog statistics, and noticed that one of the most popular posts lately is one I wrote more than two years ago about shoes for agility and for running. So I went off and read it… and found that I had moved on from almost all of my recommendations.

I’ve changed to a completely different shoe for agility. About a year and a half ago, my daughter suggested that I try the Skora Core trail running shoe. They’re lightweight, incredibly comfortable; the goat leather molds to your foot, like a glove. They’re not completely waterproof–I think Skora describes them as “water resistant” and even that is a bit of a stretch–but the comfort and the ground feel are great. Not a lot of padding… but I can feel the surface and I feel confident when I wear them that I can run well and easily. Sizing is a little odd; I wear a 9 in Inov-8s, an 8.5 in most shoes, and an 8 in Skoras.

I am wearing the Hoka One One Clifton 2 for some of my running these days. It’s wide in the forefoot, and my foot goes deep in the shoe so that it feels comfortable and secure. The generous padding of the Hokas is a wonderful thing for my knees, which have enjoyed my weight loss but are still the relative weak link in the chain from foot to hip. The Hokas are great for days when I’m running on sidewalks and streets more than on trails.

I do my trail runs in the Altra Lone Peak 2.5 . Altra shoes are zero-drop (which I have come to love) (the Skoras are zero-drop as well, and the Hokas have a relatively small heel-to-toe drop) and the Lone Peak has excellent traction, even on muddy trails. It’s not waterproof, which is a shame. I’ve tried their waterproof version of the Lone Peak (this one: Altra Lone Peak 2.0 Polartec Shoe), and it’s good, but not great. I’d rather wear wool socks and try to avoid puddles while wearing this shoe. Note that the Lone Peak keeps changing in subtle ways from version to version; I’m specifically recommending the Lone Peak 2.5.

Finally, I still recommend Inov-8’s lightweight Goretex boots for the winter. Warm, dry, comfortable. Inov-8 Roclite 286 GTX Boot is an Amazon link. But there are lots of Goretex boots these days, and frankly I wouldn’t be surprised if there are others that are more comfortable. Mine have lasted 8 years now, though.