Mid-September in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, Morning dawns with a chill, while Daylight still strokes rosy tendrils along its rocky coast well into the night.

This is my favorite season to run along the river. Winding along the banks under the evergreen canopy of Douglas fir and hemlock, the last blackberries bake in the sun, their heady perfume wafting through the air. The last vestiges high off the ground are still good for cobbler,  if you can brave their thorny concertina wire. 

In the spring, tiny bunnies wait on the path for my approach. When I’m close enough, they spring across to the other side and disappear into the undergrowth. 

In the fall the bunnies are off-duty, but the path is carpeted with fuzzy orange and black Woollybear caterpillars moseying along to find a new sheltering piece of bark. It’s nearly impossible to run without stepping on one, so my stride shortens tentatively.  


Gnats swarm in thick clouds without regard for those of us who are breathing. Frog sentries screech warnings just before plopping into water. Stagnant pools thickly braid earthy ropes of rotting leaves, scaly creatures, hidden secrets, and nature unbroken. 

 Empty Nesting

I’ve been running with my dog for years. She is a doberman rottweiler mix, smallish but big in heart. As a puppy, her name was Athena for a while. But she was a clown and snapped playfully with her milk teeth really fast, like an alligator, and laughed when I feigned horror.  So she became Toga, far more likely to be dancing on tables and popping grapes than presiding eloquently over a temple feast. Her clownishness is magnetic

Around three years old, she began to lose patches of black fur. It was gradual and not immediately noticeable. Then the remaining fur started to turn white. Her vet was clearly excited and perplexed at this turn of events, having never seen it before. She sent a skin biopsy to the lab, researched, and eventually determined that Toga is overall healthy, but has a very rare form of alopecia and vitiligo. 

At seven, her belly began to change again. It went from naked mole rat smooth to sporting several long tufts of reddish brown. But she doesn’t realize she’s funny looking, and commands respect even as she tosses my socks in the air, grinning and hopping about the living room.  

When I’m physically in shape, so is Toga. Knowing that she needs to excercise helps get me out the door, especially in winter. We have jogged through a suburban neighborhood in Idaho, followed Wyoming wild horse trails, wandered past stately mansions in Buckhead Atlanta, along industrial roads in Nebraska, through Tennessee Civil War battlefields, and braved rattlesnakes in Southern California. 

This summer she turned eight and something isn’t quite right. She’s still funny and energetic – but not as much. She gets up from bed a little stiffly. Three times she has stopped in the middle of a run. The first time we were about four road miles into six when she dragged me over to a patch of shade and sprawled, belly down in the dirt. She refused to move. Mr. Running rescued us. The second time was at 2.5 miles. Mr. Running rescued us again. 

The third time I stuck to a dirt path not far from home, but inaccessible by car, hoping the softer surface would make a difference. 2.3 miles in Toga found the only shade and plopped down again. Mind you, it isn’t especially hot – 75 maybe. We ran in Atlanta mugginess all last summer. This time I couldn’t call for help. I picked up her 50 pounds and carried her for a while, but she became suitably offended and wriggled down, dragging me back into a jog. We made it home together. 

The vet said there’s a bit of inflammation in the soft tissue on Toga’s front leg, a rest will help. But it hasn’t. She could run tests and see if there is something more, but she seems reluctant that it would tell us much, and Toga appears healthy in every other way. I worry that she hurts.

So I’ve been running by myself. It feels wrong. Mr. Running says she howls while I’m gone. She’s never done that before. 

It’s not like I run fast or very far. I use a 4 minute run/1 minute walk training app. She used to get home still ready to run, while I collapsed in a sweaty heap. 

The average lifespan of a rottweiler is 9, dobie 10. Toga has accompanied me through three moves, one marriage, two job changes, and my kids leaving the nest. I wrestle with whether I should continue to let her run until she stops or keep her at home. Or just walk. She doesn’t understand walks. 

Part of me is missing, running alone. I feel vulnerable. I research protective breeds best for running, occasionally look at ads for puppies in the area. Even though both our dogs are fine and we definitely don’t need another, I feel like my baby is getting ready to move on. 

I run because.

At my age there isn’t much to compete in athletically, except an occasional basketball or softball game ,  unless you consider golf athletic. As the years pass, it becomes less appealing to risk another pulled hamstring or lower back emergency.

Also, on the social scale my meter reads: hermit. I’d rather snuggle in with my Words with Friends (mindless escape from reality), British dramas (mindful escape from reality), and Facebook (passionate posting about reality) than make small talk about nonsense with people I don’t like. Team sports were great as a kid, but I prefer working out alone now.

So the beauty of running is this: I choose the time, the weather, the day, the clothing, the pace, the distance, the music, the ruminations. I do my best thinking while I sweat. I’m not particularly fast. I breathe heavy. I spit a lot. I forget to charge my headphones, so Zac Brown and Kidd Rock float along in my wake. I run with my rottweiler/doberman mix who has vitiligo alopecia, so she looks like a cross between an Australian sheepdog and an appaloosa gun dog. A few years ago I occasionally heard cat calls from passing cars. Now I get, “Hey, that’s a beautiful dog!”

It’s all good. I’m certainly not out to impress anyone. The point is that I get out. Running is refreshing exercise for both of us. I run to reduce stress, and so that I can eat cake and hamburgers and prime rib and cocktails. Every month or so I sign up for a local road race to keep me forcing myself out into the sun, cold, rain or, last winter, snow. Last year I began to run 5ks and 10ks. Then, on a whim, my daughter convinced me to run a half marathon with her. I found a training app that tells me exactly when to run and when to walk to build up endurance. I finished my first 13.1 last October in 2 hours 38 minutes, and I wasn’t the last to cross the finish line. Sometimes, when I’m feeling particularly tired and slow and heavy, I want to yell into the wind, “Hey, whaddya want from me, I’m 50!” and then I get passed by runners in their 70’s. I’ll keep plodding along; I see a slice of German chocolate on the horizon.