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Should you go running with your dog?

On a typical morning before work, I am out the door by 5:30. The Vancouver streets are quiet and mostly deserted, except for a regular runner ahead of me with a frisky, four legged friend at his side. The pair always look happy, enjoying each other’s company on these cold winter mornings. They were like dance partners in perfect synch, running step for step. It made a delightful picture. A dog may be the most reliable companion to share in your running journey, because they are always ready when you are.

Does this image inspire you to run or walk with your dog?

There are many benefits to running with your dog, including keeping you both fit and enjoying bonding time with your favourite furry friend. They also provide comforting security, especially for women who run by themselves in secluded areas. But, before going for that run or walk with your wiener dog, dachshund, or pug, however, knowing the dos and don’ts of running with your pet could save you both a lot of grief and injury.

According to Vancouver-based veterinarian Dr. Kathy Kramer, you can’t just decide one day to go running with your dog. Owners need to be committed to their pet first. “Running requires training, since most dogs like to sniff along the way and get easily distracted,” she said. “Not every dog is cut out to be a marathoner.  Common sense dictates that while you may try to run with your border collie, you would leave your bulldog or Chihuahua at home.”

The best runners are athletic breeds, or dogs over 20 kilograms, Kramer explained. It’s important to do your research. For example, greyhounds are sprinters and not long distance runners while labradors, golden retrievers, border collies, and German shepherds may enjoy the freedom of a marathon. Larger dogs like great danes or mastiffs won’t enjoy running because it will put pressure on their joints.

Training for any distance requires following a proper program, and it is the same principle when running with your dog.

“Dogs also require conditioning like people do,” Kramer said. “A person would be crazy to start out by running 10 kilometres, so don’t expect your dog to do it!  The same wear and tear that affects a person’s joints will affect a dog’s as well. Acute injuries, such as soft tissue sprains or ligament tears can happen quickly.  As the dog ages, the percussive forces of running can cause arthritis to start at an earlier age.”

When you and your dog encounter someone on the trail, it is best to pull off to the side to let them pass without interacting.  A dog might be occasionally spooked and one should not assume others want your dog to greet them. People will feel safer when the lead is shortened.

Some smaller breeds will love running and some larger dogs would rather be couch potatoes. A good running companion depends on personality, stamina, and overall health. Dogs with high stress levels may not be able to run in the city.  Dogs that are prone to heart disease should be thoroughly screened for starting a serious exercise program.

It is also important to remember that dogs are stoic creatures who won’t show pain or discomfort until there is real damage. Heat stroke is the biggest risk during the summer. Dogs only sweat through their footpads and can easily overheat, even in normal temperatures.  Always have water handy for your dog anytime you run. If your dog is limping, call your veterinarian. Sprains or ligament tears can be very painful even though your dog is not crying out or will let you touch the injured limb.

There is some debate about the best age to start training your dog to run. Most dogs have finished growing by 16-24 months.  Kramer says if you start slow and on a soft surface, you can start to train the dog at around 12-18 months.

Will you try running with your dog this spring? Let us know in the comments below!

Soccer players and distance runners share similar training

Over 28,000 fans attended the Canada vs. USA Women’s soccer game held at BC Place, Vancouver, BC. It was the largest crowd ever at a national women’s match.

After watching the game, I decided to revisit the similarities between soccer players and runners, specifically the need for athletes in both sports to move for long periods of time without rest. It could be argued that soccer requires more stamina than other team sports because 120 minutes of play, including overtime, is common before a shootout decides the winner.  By comparison, a regular season NHL hockey game is 65 minutes, including five minutes of O.T. before the shootout, and NBA basketball games are 48 minutes before unlimited mini-halves of overtime – rare in basketball – decide the outcome.  MLB baseball, with its superb athletes, does not operate on the clock at all, though a typical nine-inning game takes about two hours and 30 minutes to play, with mega-stops and delays added in.  Even the tiring effects of physical contact from football, hockey and basketball don’t balance because of rest time that’s built into the stoppages.  Soccer, which has its own share of contact, rarely stops play.

Runners, like soccer players, are challenged by speed and the need for stamina and endurance. A world class runner can complete a marathon between 125 to 130 minutes — roughly the time it takes to play a soccer match.

Soccer players do a lot of sprinting in addition to their constant running back and forth on the field. Overall, to be competitive and on top of their game, they need both speed and endurance.

Interval training for marathoners and running drills for soccer players helps increases speed and can benefit both athletes. Running downhill is good for developing strong quads.  Running uphill will increase lung capacity and stamina.  When you add strength, focus, and mental toughness to the mix, you get a clear picture of what soccer players and runners share every day.  All athletes need to stretch every muscle group before and after a workout or match.

As for where the similarities end, soccer players explode for bursts of speed, which requires balance, control, and strength. These factors are what separate the soccer platers from runners, who simply have to focus on a singular task. It’s a sport that is up tempo and uses considerable physical and mental reflexes…and lots and lots of running. I was incredibly impressed.

Photo credit:  D. Laird Allan

#HealthAtEverySize: Big Fit Girl

As a plus-size woman, I rarely read self-help books. I find them degrading and useless. They make me feel like I’m not good enough. The authors, most of whom are tiny celebrities that can afford personal trainers and in-house chefs, put an emphasis on weight and size. They suggest cutting our carbs, eating only low-fat foods, exercising seven days a week, and attending boot camps to ensure your body is “bikini ready.”

For plus-size women, these recommendations can cause anxiety and depression, and 90 per cent of the time result in fast weight loss and even faster gains after the fact.

Big Fit Girl is an exception to that sentiment. This book follows the personal story of author and plus-size athlete and personal trainer Louise Green on their journey towards athleticism. The book is full of body-positive messages and completely dismisses the idea that health is related to a number on a scale.

For example, did you know that about 40 per cent of obese men and women have healthy blood pressure and normal cholesterol? And yet, most of those people are judged by the size of pants they are able to squeeze into.

 

Green runs through how the fitness industry as a whole discriminates against size and fails to meet the specific needs of plus-size women. Athleticism, according to Big Fit Girl, doesn’t equate with weight or size. It is something that can be measured by ability, strength, and endurance. In essence — a healthy body doesn’t necessarily mean a bikini body and the fitness industry needs to come to that realization.

I’ve been struggling with my own health journey for a while, and reading this book gave me the inspiration I needed to keep going. It begins by shattering stereotypes and discussing the lack of body diversity in advertising, media, and branding. Green asks her readers to make a number of pledges, including avoiding companies that don’t provide options for larger body types and eliminating negative, body shaming messaging.

As encouragement, Green lists the social media information of a number of professional plus-size athletes who, despite their size, have become award-winners in their field. The book is slam-packed with stories and quotes from plus-size athletes, outlining their peaks and valleys, as well as their success.

Big Fit Girl is a wonderful combination of athletic and nutritional advice, motivational success stories, and myth debunking. In between the storytelling, Green includes a number of recipes, simple stretches, her favourite workout playlist, and a training regime for a 5k race.

Green wants her readers to succeed, but not only because she wants them to accomplish their personal goals. Instead, she wants to start a movement: plus-size women have a prerogative to prove to society that they can be healthy and active. The more people that see plus-size women on the racetrack, the more it will be normalized.  “Whether you are an avid walker, a triathlete, a ballroom dancer, or an Olympic weightlifter, or if you aspire to be al these things and more, your presence as a plus-size woman working out in our society is creating a much-needed shift. And because we don’t see women of size as much as we need to in advertising, television, movies, or other media, it’s up to us – you and me – to inspire others to join our ranks.”

Ultimately, this book taught me a number of things, but these three stand out: Don’t be afraid of trying something because you think you will be limited by your size. Aim for health and fitness above weight loss and dieting. And practice self love, because you ARE an athlete.

Big Fit Girl will be available in stores on March 18.