If you’re just getting into the groove of regular activity, a Couch to 5K may be the prefect place to start. One, there’s no special equipment needed aside from a good pair of running shoes. Two, there’s no shortage of free resources to help you come up with a regimen. Three, it’s designed to be a very achievable goal: to be able to run for 30 minutes after nine weeks of training. And last but not least, it’s just the sort of thing most dogs live for.
I’m taking it as a given that if you’re at this point, you’ve read my last post and have already received your vet’s blessing to embark upon this program with your dog. While it’s a reasonable goal for most dogs in good health, there are some for whom it may not be appropriate: the very brachycephalic, the obese, the arthritic, those sorts of things. As always, be a good steward for your pet’s health.
I mention the Couch to 5K because it is designed to reduce the risk of immediate overtraining, something with which all you Type As surely identify. You feel good on day one, so you immediately run 10 miles on day 2 and tear your Achilles. Or your dog ruptures his cruciate ligament, a three thousand dollar surgery.
The more detail oriented among us like specific guidelines such as how many minutes to walk and how many minutes to run, and, luckily for you, there’s an app for that. There’s tons of apps for that. But you don’t need to follow a strict regimen if that’s not your thing, and when it comes to your dog you need to be able to react to their needs as well without being stuck on specific dictates.
So, with that in mind, here are some basic guidelines to follow no matter what you do:
1. Give yourself a day of rest between training days. This one’s hard for me, because I tend to have clusters of free time and clusters of busy days. But if you don’t, you’re asking for a sprain and increased recovery time. It’s amazing to me how much better I run after being forced to take a week off, the whole time me panicking that I’m devolving. Rest = recovery and rebuilding.
2. Know good pain versus bad pain. Feel the burn does not mean “feel the sharp stabbing in your knee.” You probably know the difference between the sore feeling you get from an intense workout and the deep ache of a muscle pull. Respect that. Dogs are sometimes subtle, so for them the only pain sign you may get isn’t an obvious lameness but a reluctance to walk when they once were enthusiastic, excessive panting, or lagging behind you on your run. They want to please you and will push themselves much further than they should to do so, so be gentle with them.
3. Set a goal. Having a specific race in mind will force you to come up with a schedule to be prepared by race day, even if it’s not strict schedule. Runners World has a list of dog-friendly 5Ks across the nation, but it’s by no means all inclusive.
4. Know when to ramp up. Keep an eye on your dog’s attitude after your workout. A pooped pup who needs to immediately sleep is a sign to continue at your current level for a bit. Once your dog finishes the workout with energy to spare, you know you’re good to go to the next step.