It was a warm and muggy morning in August of 2007. I cruised along a vacant dirt road in Kansas with the crunch of the tiny rocks beneath my feet. The sun was just cresting to the east in a vibrant orange glow, lighting the open fields that spanned in nearly every direction. It was quiet, and calm, and I was somewhere in the latter stages of my morning 10-miler.
And I wasn't alone.
Beside me my then-one-year-old boxer, Landy, was striding gleefully. His four paws added to my two on that rolling road. Every few strides he'd glance up at me with those questioning eyes: is this pace ok? He'd always run in sync with me. If I picked up the pace, so did he. If I slowed down, so did he. He was the perfect pacing partner. He was out there to run with me. Not ahead, not behind, with.
His own "training" had led to an 18:36 5k PR, and it was a race I had to hold him back - he wanted to sprint with the lead group.
As the sun stretched its morning rays across the land I glanced down at my pups. His ears bounced and his big red tongue lingered out the sides of his smiling mouth. We were both enjoying our morning. At the conclusion of our run we shared a dip in the creek to cool off the way training partners do. He sipped at the water like it was his bowl while he walked slowly around, cooling off his paws.
Years later we moved to Boulder, and in my own selfishness I stopped taking him on such long runs. I had joined a training group, and my selection of training partners had changed a bit - now they had two legs.
Landy did maintain his position as my warm-up partner most days, however. We'd jog around the CU cross country course at a leisure pace, which worked out great for me - I was able to warm up more effectively while he tagged nearly every tree or tall blade of grass within sight. Plus, he enjoyed his more fartlek-style of a run because he'd get to really stride out.
It was win-win: I'd have a perfectly paced training partner to keep me honest in my warm up, and he got to sprint between the trees and claim the land as his territory. Any less than 20 minutes, though, and he'd bounce off the walls and beg for a second run.
When he was five he was diagnosed with an immune-mediated disease, and he was nearly stolen from us. But true to the runner he was named after (John Landy), he battled back, though our runs together shortened a little more.
If he ever got jealous for being swapped for a training partner with two legs, he never showed it. A run was a run, and he always enjoyed every stride, which is more than I can say.
Of my two-legged training partners, Tyler McCandless once asked me who my favorite training partner was. We were pitter-patting our way along the dense Boulder neighborhoods before another enduring set of three-minute repeats. The iconic Flatirons loomed in the distance, evidence of the gravity of our training location. They watched over like running-gods, enticing us to make the most of each run. This is Boulder...
We'd always take the warm-ups easy, because the real work, and pain, was about to come, so we enjoyed these moments where your strength came out in how easy it was to simply run.
In Boulder, there's a slew of training groups, and people to run with, and if you stay long enough, you'll share the effort of sprinting around Kitt Field, or cruising along the the exposed dirt roads at the Res with everyone at some point.
We were in the middle of a reemergence of the Boulder Harries, and brainstorming runners to enhance the group. Guys to keep pace. Guys to run with.
Finding the right fit is vital for the success any team, and so as defacto leader of our fledging group, Tyler was searching for the right fit for the squad.
Each group has its personalities: the one-stepper, the one who tempos the warm-up, the workout king or queen, the alpha-male, the quiet one, the one who talks non-stop, the talent.
As we made our way back along the trail and the water rushed from the creek besides us, I reminisced of all the training partners I had shared the miles with, and the ones I felt got the best out of me.
Of course my mind immediately went to the laundry list of two-legged training partners who had destroyed me on the track, or the trails. Some were stronger, and pulled me through longer runs - like Tyler, some were faster, and pushed me through intervals.
The competitive side of me felt that the partners that got the best out of you - the ones that pushed or pushed you, were ideal.
Years later, a new outlook dawned on me - it's not necessarily the ones who push your physical limits.
Landy enjoyed every stride he ever took. He ran with his tongue hanging between his teeth, wild eyes scanning the path ahead. He enjoyed the process. It didn't matter where we ran, how far we went, or how fast, every stride was bliss for him.
A love so pure for the process is something to learn from.
I've always connected the dots between running and life. Life, like running, is not necessarily something to race through, or to grudgingly endure its challenges, it's to enjoy the process of it all.
Go through life like a dog on a run - Enjoy every stride.
And it's why, years later, I thought back to that question... I have to give it to my four-legged friend, Landy.
He shared the run with me, or maybe it was me sharing his run with him? Maybe I was his training partner..?
I'm sure by now you're wondering why I'm rambling on about training partners, and my dog.
I had to say goodbye to Landy Thursday night. I can attempt to joke and say he picked a new training partner, or a new training group, or perhaps, he was tired of the race, which was one he extended by quite a bit.
He ran every lap of his life with pure love and enjoyment. And that's something I'll take with me on every run, even if he's not by my side anymore, looking up at me with those wild eyes, tongue hanging between his teeth, and that gleeful grin, enjoying every stride...
RIP (John) Landy Reyes
January 9, 2007 - July 19, 2018