Running with Dogs—Man and Animal in Partnership

Patrick Kiernan, a doctor in London and veteran or masters runner of high standard, has two types of training partner: the team-mates from his club, Heathside, who run over the hilly landscape of Hampstead Heath in north London, and his two dogs, Moffy and Jimmy. Kiernan is an interesting example in any case: a late beginner, though he always kept himself active and cycled to and from his medical practice in Kensington, he didn’t get involved in serious running till he was 48. Within two years he’d twice run the Flora London Marathon with impressive times of 3:11 in April 2003, as a celebration of his 50th birthday, and 3:06 the following year. He’s also run 37:40 for 10kms on the road and 1:24 for a half-marathon.

He does the bulk of his training with Moffy and Jimmy. Moffy is a three-year-old whippet cross and Jimmy, the younger dog, is a greyhound with a touch of Afghan hound. “The dogs are company and also a good reason to get out running either early morning or in the evening,” Doctor Kiernan explains. “Jimmy is always ready for a fartlek or speed session, though Moffy (named after the Greek for Love) has slowed down a little these days, Jimmy is always up for it.” He adds that it’s important to have dogs well trained before you contemplate taking them running.

Patrick almost always trains with one dog, sometimes both of them. If he’s the only human athlete among the party, the routine goes as follows: walk or jog with the dogs to Hampstead Heath (he lives just five minutes away). He always carries a plastic bag, in case a dog needs toilet facilities during the session. As soon as they reach the green, hilly expanse of Hampstead Heath, they start the warm-up run. “The dogs have to have their play, running to and fro, then they adjust better to following me in the training session.”

Then it’s off the lead and away. Patrick often runs a kind of fartlek, since “Dogs have no sense of a steady pace.” This freedom, this fundamental running in the open, has hardly held Kiernan back, considering his performances so far. Three years ago he was on holiday on the Isle of Wight, off the south coast of England. There he met a runner who told him about a 10-Mile race on the island. He took part, finished in “much, much more than an hour!” Congratulations are due then, for his very impressive progress.

When Patrick does his long Sunday run with his clubmates, Moffy and Jimmy usually come along. He firstly asks the group if it’s okay. “Sometimes I forget that the dogs are there, then I have to break away and go looking for Jimmy.” And sometimes Jimmy comes back with his findings, giving Patrick the task of trying to free a squirrel.

“Their fitness for about an hour is very good, but usually they can’t manage any longer. Both dogs are built for speed and if they don’t feel like running, they simply stop on the spot! But without them I wouldn’t have had the same motivation, they are my pacemakers.”

There is a negative side, or perhaps better put, dogs can create difficulties, especially when they meet other dogs. There’s nothing for it but for Patrick to run around in circles until Jimmy and Moffy have had their play. “You feel proud, running with dogs.” As he prepares for the Flora London Marathon 2005, he makes a further point, since his wife Sarah is a keen horsewoman: “Sometimes I’ve run alongside her, she on a horse and with the dogs. It’s a fantastic feeling!”