Category Archives: running

Agility ladder…. for humans

I went to trail running skills clinic #4 this morning (at 6:30 AM… in the dark… in the cold (45 degrees F)… but not rainy, thankfully!) and wow was this one revelatory! We did technical-trail skills, up and down a rocky little section of trail, after warming up by doing agility-ladder drills–stuff like the drills in this video (ignore the ads, sorry about that, but the video is actually pretty good).

Anyway, doing the drills really revealed to me just how weak my left knee is and how much I favor my right knee. I could move right well but not so much on the left side. I’d heard that from Daisy, but I thought I’d been working on it… apparently not. Or at least, not enough.

The drills also made it abundantly clear to me just how much I routinely lead with my right foot. When we did a drill that was left foot out, right foot in–I could do that, but I really struggled with right foot out, left foot in, and in fact I tripped over the tape a few times.

While I enjoyed the drills and immediately found them useful for the trail running part–I ran down a bit of “technical trail” (which means: lots of rocks and roots) much more easily by thinking about “light feet, left foot, right foot” and so on–I can also see where they’d be very useful for dog agility training. We all use ladders to help teach our dogs to understand where their feet are; the drills helped me understand how my own footwork could be improved.

One of the other exercises we did was skipping down the trail. I surprised the coach who’s leading the skills clinic by being quite good at skipping; that’s because it’s my usual warmup for an agility run. I find skipping really gets all those muscles firing and ready to go. It’s a lot more fun on a soft trail, though, than in the concrete areas outside the arena!

Human rewards: challenge vs. fun

Back when I was a high school chemistry teacher, my students would fairly often come in and ask if we were going to “have fun” that day. I’m pretty sure I never answered “yes.” I’m not a big believer in the idea that education should be “fun.” I expect it to be challenging, exciting, rewarding, enjoyable… but not “fun.” That may be a distinction without a difference, but to me “fun” is a matter of moments, and moments that don’t much matter at that.

When people tell me they do agility just for “fun,” I’ll be honest: I cringe a bit. I love doing agility (most of the time, anyway) but I’m also pretty serious about it. I put time, effort, money, hard work into being good at agility. Sometimes I don’t meet my own standards, which is discouraging, but I’m fully present when I compete, and I want to do well.

All of that said, I do find agility rewarding. I find running rewarding, although sometimes running is very hard work indeed.

For me, creating a challenge and then meeting it and then trying to do better next time creates a reward cycle. Karen Pryor–whose book Don’t Shoot the Dog is a classic of modern dog training, puts it this way: “what gets rewarded gets repeated.” We reward our dogs for behaviors we want them to learn and repeat. Sit, lie down, run through a tunnel, stop at the bottom of the a-frame.

As humans, too, like other trained mammals, we repeat behaviors that have been rewarded in the past. Enjoy a bite of chocolate? That taste is its own reward, and we’ll eat chocolate again. Find brussels sprouts bitter? We don’t like them and don’t want to eat them. Run a 5K race and the volunteer puts a honking big medal around your neck? You’re more likely to run another one. Or maybe you run to try and run faster in the next race. Or farther. Or to see those numbers on the scale go down. Or to see that Q on the results sheet. Or to see that your dog placed ahead of your friend’s dog for the first time. The cliche of human rewards is “whatever floats your boat.” Humans are better than dogs at anticipating rewards; we all know people who’ve worked for years to get that huge ribbon and title that we call a MACH (or CATCH or CATE).

And yes, some people call agility “fun.” For me, agility is way more complex than fun. It’s about challenges: challenges that are hard–can I get to that blind cross?–challenges that require analysis and experience–how can I best handle that line?–challenges that require training–leaving Rush in the weaves while I peel off and get farther down the course. I find meeting challenges inherently rewarding.

Last minute (sort of) thoughts

I am having a terrible case of “what the hell was I thinking?” about the sprint triathlon I’m doing tomorrow. (I notice I can’t say “running” or another more specific verb. The pun of tri-ing is just too awful to use. I’m stuck with the vague and unsatisfying “doing”. So sorry.)

Seriously, even with long trail runs where I’m likely to be DFL and it’s likely to rain, I don’t feel like it’s a mistake to have entered. But right now, I just feel like it’s all terribly complicated–a race where part of the competition is in how fast you can get your shoes and your bike helmet on? I’ve packed a bag, in layers, with all the things I think I need (two pairs of shoes, goggles, swim cap, clothes for after, bathing cap, five water bottles (some with Skratch, some without), sport beans, and more!) (oh wait, bike helmet, gloves, sunglasses!). Tomorrow morning, at 7 AM–for an 8:20:15 start (yes, they’re that precise, because it’s a staggered pool start)–I have to arrive, get my act together and organize all this stuff.

I love doing 5Ks. By comparison, the hardest part of a 5K is figuring out where to park and whether to toss a sweater in the bushes just before the start or leave it in the car and be cold for fifteen minutes before the start.

Well, I paid my entry fee. I’m not going to scratch now. I’ve done the training. I don’t think I’ll be DFL (but how would I know before I finished and looked at the results, anyway, since everyone starts at a different time (which ranges from 7:30 AM on)?). Think of me tomorrow. I’m hoping I’ll be enjoying it.

Training….

Me, not the dogs.

So I started running again (I was a competitive runner in my twenties) so I could get to where I can keep up with Rush. Now I’m running because I enjoy it, because I feel restless if I don’t–and I really enjoy the occasional race, too,. I started swimming again (I swam on my high school team and my college team–I was an “also swam” but I showed up and occasionally came in third (if there were only three swimmers in the event) and sometimes that single point for third meant we won as a team, so not all bad)) to balance out my muscles from running and agility and reduce my likelihood of getting injured. I started biking again (after spending my elementary school Sunday mornings wandering the countryside on my bike while my parents and sister slept in) because I want to bike with Jay and because I wanted to bike the beautiful Oregon Coast and find out about bike touring.

You see where this is going, I hope? I’m running and competing, I’m swimming, I’m biking. Yes, I signed up for a triathlon. Triathlons, it turns out, come in different distances. The Ironman is a sufferfest of a 2.5 mile swim (usually in a lake or ocean), 100 mile bike, full marathon (26.2 miles). I’m not doing that. I’m doing what’s called a “sprint triathlon”. That’s the shortest version–kind of the triathlon version of Couch-to-5K. This one is a 500 yard pool swim (20 lengths, that’s all), 12 mile bike ride, and a finishing 5K run. It’s the first weekend in May. I signed up for it partly because I had that weekend off from agility, so why not do a triathlon?

The only part of this where Rush–my personal trainer–is helping me is the 5K run. Fortunately, I have human friends who are meeting me at the pool and biking with me, and Jay and I are biking too.

I find that many people react to these things by saying, encouragingly, “you can do it!” which always makes me wonder if they secretly think I can’t. I’m pretty sure my friends are not that two-faced, so I think it’s just sincerity speaking. Still, it makes me squirm a bit. I don’t think I’ve ever failed to finish a competitive event I’ve started (well, I’ve walked Rush out of a few agility runs, but I’m not counting that, because that’s about our teamwork, not my fitness), and I don’t really commit to things I’m not prepared to finish. I have scratched out of events before I started–illness or injury–but that’s common sense.

So yes, I can do this.

But when I signed up, I stupidly really didn’t understand about the training involved. The hard part of triathlon, as I’m given to understand it, is the consecutive nature of it. You swim, and then–when you’re done swimming and your legs are tired–you get out of the pool and you go bike. And then–when you’re done swimming and biking and you’re even more tired–you run. So in training, you don’t just go to the pool and swim, you go to the pool, you swim, and then you bike. Or you go for a long bike ride and then you run.

I’m working on this concept, and I’m stunned by how fast my fitness level is improving. I took last Thursday off and “just” walked the dogs (three times, but not long any one time). Friday I ran with Rush, then biked over to the pool, swam, then biked home, including up the hill from hell (Yamhill St. from 78th to 72nd). Saturday I ran a 5K race on Mt. Tabor, despite being tired from the day before, and still finished well under my previous best time for a Mt. Tabor 5K (the courses are all slightly different, but they all involve a long downhill and a long climb). Sunday Jay and I biked from home to Gresham, out the Springwater Trail, twenty-four miles total (and the hill from hell at the end), and then I changed quickly–four minutes total–and ran Rush… and my pace was better than Friday’s. Apparently it does make a different to have thoroughly warm muscles… Who knew?

In other news, I had my body fat level tested last week. I’m composed of far more fat than I’d hoped, so I still have a good bit of weight to lose. At a pound a month… well, this could take a while. That’s okay. At least, today I think that’s okay.

Dealing with Feeling Discouraged

It’s Monday morning after a fourteen-run three-day AKC trial, and I’m feeling more than a little discouraged. In fact, I’m thinking cinnamon rolls and hot chocolate (it’s cool this morning).

Why so discouraged? Well, I’m still struggling with those last five pounds, but this morning, because I ate rather less carefully over the weekend, it’s not those last five pounds–it’s those last seven pounds. Yes, my weight is up, not down. I have reasons (not excuses, which are different): I had the flu, my weight was way down (3 pounds from these last seven), I felt horrible, I nourished my soul and I ate too much. The flu kept me from running much (not at all for multiple days, in fact). I’m pretty much over the flu, and now I have to get “back on track”… Back onto my I’m-losing-weight-so-fucking-slowly-I-can’t-stand-it track. Seriously, I know losing a pound a month is better than gaining a pound a month, but really? I want it to be easy (don’t we all?!) and it’s just not. (Screaming in frustration.)

And then there was the agility. Okay, I’ve spent four years now working toward being the handler Rush needs and requires. And on Friday, I managed it for two runs, one in FAST and one in Jumpers. We won Jumpers, beating border collies and fast Dobermans. That was great, and the run was a pure pleasure, but I had three runs with multiple faults and stupid mistakes and sometimes Rush makes me feel like a complete idiot. And then Saturday was worse, with the only clean run being in Time to Beat, and even there, we’d have had a refusal if refusals were called in T2B. I just wasn’t there for him. And Sunday was worse than that. I felt like a train wreck, dropping old rusted pieces on the tracks as we went. Rush jumped over the a-frame contact for maybe the second or third time in his agility career; he had not one but two flyoffs from the teeter, which he has never done before. (Sunday he did a perfect teeter.)

Sooooo…. not on track on the diet part, dropping rusted parts on the train tracks in agility. Feeling old and fat and slow. And unsuccessful. And did I say slow and fat? And old? Especially old. (My son reminded me that he’s turning thirty–which he considers old–in September. Yeah, if he’s old, what am I?)

Feeling desperately discouraged, in fact. Like what I’m doing just isn’t enough, and I don’t know what else I can do. I log every bite I eat and I mostly eat pretty carefully, and I’m running and swimming and biking to get fit and fast enough for Rush, and he just keeps getting a little bit faster and a little more insistent on perfect handling.

I can catalog a few really good things about the weekend: my knees held up, despite walking a total of 72000 steps over the three days (and I biked and ran on Thursday too). I was fast enough to make it to a blind cross before the last jump–a triple–in Jumpers on Sunday (but I only pushed for it because I’d already blown the Q). I successfully sent Rush to his leash on every single run of the 14 runs. I won a free three-day entry to another trial. Pieces of every single run were good. Our last run on Sunday, despite not Qing, I managed to set a really nice line for the first 15 obstacles. Of course, then he took an off-course tunnel and then missed his weave entry, but… fifteen obstacles is pretty good, right?

From here, where? Well, I guess I’m back to doing what I’ve been doing. I’m going to go for a run, to burn calories, keep Rush fit, try to get faster, and enjoy some time in the woods on my favorite bit of trail. A short run, then off to the barn to try to get Rush to fly off the teeter again, just so I can remind him that he’s not supposed to do that. And then reward him when he does it right the next time. At least, that’s the plan for this morning. I can plan for success, right? Even if I’m old and fat and slow, with a fit fast dog who needs me to be a much better handler than I am.

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.

A rant (please ignore if you don’t want to be offended) (includes swearing) (as usual)

I’ve been told lately that I have a tendency to be harsh and blunt and should be kinder and more gentle. Apparently some people have been offended. I’m contemplating whether the appropriate response is “fuck ’em” or whether I should try to be more … well, more filtered. I’ve never had much of a filter, and of late my filter has gotten perhaps a little too porous.

Losing weight–slowly, painfully, one ounce at a time–seems to have triggered my inner curmudgeon. I hear certain phrases and they trigger an instant internal response. It’s like pressing a button. “I need to go on a diet” or “I should go on a diet” triggers “no, you need to change your life, because what you’re doing now is making you fat and a diet is temporary and you’ll just get fat again when you stop ‘dieting’.” “How did you lose all that weight?” triggers “Move more, eat less.” and if I actually say that, then people say “I want it to be easier than that” and I want to snap. Losing this weight has been hard, and I’ve accumulated opinions about what it takes, and really, I’m pretty sure what worked for me would work for anyone, if you stop making excuses and decide you actually will do it (because that decision is the most crucial step), not just make excuses.

I’m not sure why my weight loss seems to anger other people. My working theory is that I’m taking away a lot of their excuses. After all, I’m sixty. I’ve had cancer. I’m female. I was really overweight. All of that was fine, and no one ever criticized me for the weight–other than the orthopedist who told me I was heading for double knee replacements by sixty (four years ago). Even the doctor who referred me to the nutritionist–the one who told me I’d “be hungry sometimes and that’s just fine”–didn’t actually criticize me. She just wrote “obesity” in the list of medical problems I was facing. But now that I’ve lost almost all the weight I set out to lose (six pounds to go, as of this morning), apparently people are worried that I might have become anorexic (and my filterless brain says “would you like to see my food diaries? no? then please be quiet.“).

I want to snap when I hear excuses that people think are reasons. I want to record their excuses and play them back to them, over and over and over (and then one or two more times), until they realize they are excuses. I had a reason I couldn’t run well, why it hurt to walk, and I had that reason for maybe ten years, and now that I don’t have bone cancer (chondrosarcoma, left distal femur, now considered cured) any more, I’ve spent nine years (nine fucking years, folks) losing weight, getting faster, working on my health–and you want an easy answer and to make excuses? Yeah. You can make excuses all you want, but if you took the energy you put into your excuses and put it into changing your life… well, in a year, you’d be a little further down that path you say you want to follow.

“I wish I could run faster but my knees hurt” is an excuse when it comes out of the mouth of someone who is fifty pounds overweight. My snappish curmudgeonly brain wants to say “Lose weight, try Couch-to-Five-K, and maybe you’ll run faster and I’m pretty sure your knees will hurt less. It worked for me. Or you could try swimming. Something. More exercise than trotting around the ring with your dog.” I try hard to shut up but don’t push me, folks. Really. Following that excuse with other ones about how you don’t have the time or energy or whatever? You’re making excuses. Stop lying to yourself. It’s not just that you’re lying to me, it’s that you’re lying to yourself. Curmudgeon says: “You don’t really want to get more fit–if you really wanted to do it, you’d be doing it, not making excuses.

I don’t know anyone whose dog is competing at the upper levels of agility who has a fat dog. We all know how to keep our dogs at a healthy weight. Many people I know have treadmills for their dogs, to keep the dog fit. We all know what it takes to have a fit, lean dog–and my first thought when someone with a fit, lean dog says “I wish I could lose weight” is that “you should manage your own diet and exercise as carefully as you manage your dog’s diet and exercise. That would work.

Shaping: Behaviors vs. Results (human edition)

I just wrote a very long post–one I’ve been thinking about for days–about shaping dog behaviors. This post is about getting results through shaping human behaviors. It’s no secret to anyone at this point that I’m trying to lose weight and get in shape and run faster and that I’ve been trying to lose weight and get in shape and run faster for more than three years. It started when I realized that running Rush in agility was going to take way more than I was capable of at that point, and the effort–the one where I lose weight and get in shape and run faster–has continued since then.

That’s the easy part. I identified the result I wanted: to run Rush in agility successfully. Note that that’s a result, and that it’s a result that comprises many many steps. It requires training Rush in independent obstacle performance; it requires training him to follow my lead, to have a good startline stay; it requires that I run faster than I could run then, that I handle more effectively (no time to correct mistakes!)… and more.

So I knew what results I wanted, but I struggled with identifying the behaviors that would lead to those results, and I struggled then–and continue to struggle–with how to reward those behaviors. Just as there are some rewards for Rush that are so rewarding that he loses his brain (which is why I don’t carry frisbees into the agility barn but I do carry squeaky tennis balls), there are some rewards that I just can’t use for myself. For example, I’ve identified keeping a food diary as a behavior that significantly helps with weight loss, but rewarding that behavior (writing down what I eat) with chocolate (one of the highest quality rewards for me) would require that I control myself successfully around chocolate. That’s as difficult for me as it is for Rush to control himself around flying frisbees. I do keep some chocolate in the house (on a very high shelf, at the back, where Jay can reach it, but I can’t) (unless I get out a ladder), but the chocolate itself is a reward for not eating the chocolate. That makes sense to me, even if it sounds completely nuts. (I note that Rush’s highest and best food reward–chicken liver treats–leaves me cold. But he’s not that interested in chocolate, so we’re good.) Mostly these days, I’ve developed a habit around keeping a food log, and the months and months of food logs and the consequent data availability and the resultant weight loss have become the reward. (It has helped enormously in identifying just what foods help me to control my lust for sweets and starches.) Initially, though, my rewards were things like a manicure after N days of logging. I still keep lemon creme body wash–ridiculously expensive–as my reward for running.

The real problem with shaping human behaviors is that the reward is rarely (if ever) a surprise. If I say to myself “I will reward ten days of food logging by getting a manicure,” that’s perilously close to being a lure rather than a reward. I have tried to persuade Jay that he should get me a new cashmere sweater every time I lose ten pounds, but I’ve failed. Besides, predictable rewards are not as successful with humans as unpredictable ones. (Las Vegas has built an entire city around unpredictable rewards!) I’m not really surprised (any more) when I lose weight–although I do find it very rewarding–when I follow all the behaviors that I’ve identified, because at this point I know what works.

There are some rewards that do come as surprises, though. When I realize that my Q rate has improved significantly, even though I’m competing at a more challenging level, that both provides a reward and provides an indication that I’m moving toward my goals. I ran faster over five kilometers last weekend than I have since I quit running competitively in the early 1980s–a new PR for me, and progress toward my goal of achieving the same age-group percentage (70%) that I achieved back in my twenties. I’ve moved from an age-group percentage of 42% to 61.6% over the last two years. That’s significant progress. It feels really good–very rewarding–when I check that on the age-group percentage website. It helps, too, to discover that keeping up with Rush is just not as hard as it used to be.

Slow training?

Confession time: I just spent an HOUR trying to figure out whether I started the Couch-to-5K program in December of 2012 or December of 2013. December of 2013, it turns out, which means I’ve been running regularly for slightly less than two years, which means I’m doing way better at this than I thought. I really thought it had been three years! Memory is so unreliable. I started losing weight in July of 2012; I bought a Fitbit in September of 2012, when I had already lost nine pounds; I started Couch-to-5K in frustration when my weight loss stalled (at about thirty pounds down) and stayed the same for about two months; I bought a Garmin FR 10 (the base model running GPS watch) in April 2014; I bought a Garmin FR 225 (GPS running watch with heart rate) in September of this year (2015).

I like measuring things. I mostly keep pretty good records–I’ve weighed myself daily (or almost daily) for more than three years. I keep a training log in which I make brief notes about what I’ve done that day for running, dog training, swimming, cycling…. I occasionally describe specific pieces of training in this blog, too, although not as much as I did when Rush was a puppy, especially since the training I’m doing these days is getting more and more subtle and is more about timing than it is about training.

(Yes, I spend time reinforcing and rewarding weaves and contacts; I work jump sequences with Rush and Dancer both for strength training and understanding of jumping skills; I regularly reward Dancer heavily for her teeter performances. I do a lot of skills maintenance. I just don’t write about it as much as I used to.)

Last January, a friend of my husband’s, a man named Kurt Searvogel, decided to tackle one of the oldest world’s records in cycling: the task of riding the most miles in a single year. The record (as of today) belongs to Tommy Godwin, a British cyclist (and vegetarian) who biked more than 75,000 miles during 365 continuous days in 1939 and 1940. He did this feat, as Kurt is doing this feat (as of today, Kurt holds the record for the second-most miles in a year, and is slowly reaching his goal of passing Tommy Godwin), by getting up every single day and working toward his goal. It got me thinking about all the things that can be accomplished by doing something every single day, and I started thinking about what I call “slow (dog) training.”

Slow training, to my way of thinking, is about the things that don’t have to be accomplished right away, things that can take a little time, that aren’t needed right now. Sometimes it’s things that have to take time–like training myself to run fast–sometimes it’s something that I’m feeling lazy about.

Rush has always pulled on leash; he’s very determined that I walk just too damn slow, as far as he’s concerned. I would like it if Rush had better leash manners, but I don’t feel so strongly about it that I’m never going to let him pull again (because then it would be weeks before I managed to get out of the driveway). I thought about Kurt and I thought about Rush’s leash manners, and I decided I would spend a little time every day working on his leash manners. How little time? Ten treats worth. Kurt is cycling about twelve hours a day to reach his goal; I was willing to put in about a minute a day toward mine. It’s important to know your limitations.

I started putting Rush’s leash on and doing ten treats worth of loose-leash walking and things got better. Much better. Not perfect, but better. Just doing a little bit every day helped.

Meanwhile, I’ve been working on my own running fitness, four or five times a week, since Christmas of 2013. Rush has been my running buddy most days. I use a harness to run him, though, because it gives me more control, I don’t have to worry about choking him if he pulls, and because I think it’s more comfortable for him. Jay and I also use a harness for his walks; I use it on the front attachment if I’m also walking Dancer.

Rush, however, has always avoided his harness. We’ve developed a regular routine for getting his harness on to go running. The routine goes like this: I open the kitchen door. I pick up the harness. Rush runs away from me, out the kitchen door, circles under the outside stairs to the studio over the garage, then sprints past me and stands impatiently at the back gate. He hangs his head like a beaten dog while I slip his harness over his head. I attach the leash and sometimes I give him a cookie (if I have one handy). I open the gate, we go for a run. Rush likes running–when I put my running shoes on he barks and leaps into the air in excitement. He is just not happy about the harness. This has been going on for the entire (almost) two years I’ve been running with him.

Sunday (today is Tuesday) I went to run with Rush and as I picked up the harness and went to open the door, Rush appeared next to me, instead of running the other direction. I put his harness on and we went for a run. It was so easy that I didn’t even realize it had happened until it happened again later that evening, when Jay and I took the dogs for a walk. And then again today: I got my shoes on–and Rush said “okay, let’s go” without his usual detour around the yard.

Somehow, I’ve persuaded Rush to change his mind about the harness. The occasional treat, perhaps? The fun of a run? The regular walks? I don’t know which thing he’s decided makes it worthwhile to get his harness on. It might be the new harness I got a few months ago–it fits rather better than the old one–but he didn’t mind getting the old harness on when I tested it on his walk last night. Maybe he just decided it was too much effort to run around the yard avoiding me.

Aerobic Agility Fun (for you and the dog)

Most of the time when I go to the agility barn to practice, I do short sequences–no more than five or six obstacles–so that I can focus on particular skills I want to practice. Lately, though, I’ve added a new aspect to my training, which I call “aerobic agility.”

I do a lot of “exercising”: I run with the dogs (individually), which is an aerobic workout for me, and a slow trot for Rush and a medium trot for Dancer. I swim, by myself. I bike, on a bike by myself, sometimes with friends, sometimes alone. Some of these things are “exercise”–by which I mean I find them a bit of a chore sometimes, although mostly I enjoy movement and the feeling of stretching my capabilities a bit.

My favorite form of recreation, though, is an agility weekend, which involves a lot of slow walking and some serious sprinting. Recently, in response to one of “those” articles about motivating yourself to move more, I thought about how to create more regular opportunities for the kind of agility I do on weekends.

After some thought, I set up a spiraling agility course, pretty simple, all the contacts, no complex weave entries, just one discrimination, no backside jumps–but a LOT of running. (See map below.)

aerobic agility

Yes, it’s 29 obstacles. But notice that it can also be 58 obstacles, or 87 (or more), because you can go from obstacle 29 to obstacle 1.

Now Rush loves to run fast through an agility course and this is a course that is designed to give him room to run in full extension, hit the weaves in full extension, try to hold his contacts even though he’s going fast–in short, it’s a fast, flowing course where the challenges for the dog come from the speed and the flow.

The challenges for the handler also come from the speed and the flow. This is a “yeehaa!” course (which I would also call a “sprinter’s course”), for sure.

After I set it up, I started running it with Rush. He loved it. I loved it. We completed 29 obstacles and he was still flying and I could still breathe, so I kept on going, watching out of the corner of my eye for something spectacular that I could reward, so that I could stop for a moment and catch my breath. When he accelerated toward the weaves on the second go-round (somewhere around fifty obstacles under his paws), I shouted “yes!” and threw his ball as he finished the weaves, then doubled over, gasping. Rush chased the ball down and brought it back to me at a dead run, tongue hanging from the side of his mouth, huge grin on his face matching the grin on my face.

We practiced some smaller sequences (going to the backsides of jumps, for example), then I gave him a break while I let Dancer run the course (using the #4 tunnel instead of the a-frame on the repeat passes). I got in a serious workout that left me sore-of-muscle; the dogs had fun and got a speed workout as well.

Aerobic agility. What more could you ask for?