I’m not big on public displays of affection, but I make an exception when I’m walking to the park with my running partner, Mookie. Around 6:30 am, still dazed from bed but too anxious to keep sleeping, we head to Prospect Park just in time for off-leash hours, and I can’t keep my hands off of him. I bury my nose just behind his ears and inhale the Frito smell of his fur, kneel down to his level, wrap my arms around his neck, and tell him I love him, like, 40 times in a row.
To be clear, Mookie is a dog.
This half-mile walk-and-pet is part of our pre-run ritual. Once we’re a block from the park, Mookie becomes laser-focused on the task ahead. Mookie is an Australian Shepherd, so he was born to work, specifically, herd sheep. There haven’t been sheep in Prospect Park since the 1900s, so instead, he runs laps around me.
As soon as Mookie grew out of puppy-hood, and the vet told us that his bones were fully developed, I started running with him. It took some practice at first (because I'm not nearly as interesting as a ball or a game of fetch), but with the right leash and some patience, running has become surprisingly fun and meditative for both of us. We’ll either run straight down the Long Meadow in Prospect Park during off-leash hours, or if it’s not too hot, we’ll run on the actual running loop — and we’ve even run a 5K race together. I’m not keen on running with humans, so running with Mookie is simply the best.
Most running magazines will tell you that the first step to finding a good running partner is choosing someone who has the same fitness level as you. I would consider myself a casual runner: I actually enjoy the sensation of running, and I love the feeling of having run, but I don’t care enough to pay attention to my speed or distance. Mookie is exactly the same way. During the run, he canters carefree through the Long Meadow, and afterwards, he turns into a teddy bear. When we’re side-by-side, the gentle rhythm of his four paws turning over on the pavement provides a comforting cadence, and while he may have slightly more stamina than me, I listen for his panting to determine when we need a break.
Because Mookie is a dog, he can’t talk, which is another reason why he's a great running buddy. (But, Mook, if you can talk, please tell me and I’ll keep it a secret.) Sometimes, I don’t want to chat on a run. There’s a big trend in mindful running right now, and it’s basically the idea that, like mindfulness, you should set an intention before a run, notice how your body feels as you run, and pay attention to any thoughts and feelings that may arise. People swear this will make your run more enjoyable, and I think it’s true.
In my opinion, dogs are the most mindful creatures on Earth. Cats may be otherworldly, but dogs are present. According to a special report from Harvard Medical School, walking or exercising with a dog is one of the easiest ways to get more mindful. When Mookie is on the running path or on the Long Meadow, nothing else about his day matters. Sometimes, he’ll pull me off the path because he notices a squirrel, or he'll jolt ahead to hunt for someone’s picnic scraps. Sure, it’s annoying when I have to yank a piece of artisanal cheese out of his mouth, but it always makes me feel more connected to the world around me, rather than wrapped up in my phone as I’m wont to do when I workout.
This is all to say that running is so much better with a dog — but honestly, that's the case with most things in life.