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11 Ways My Dog Is Better Than a Coach

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Lessons in trail running from man’s best adventure buddy

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The author with his preferred coach, Samivel, in the White Mountains of New Hampshire

Photos by Joe Klementovich

A few weeks ago, my mind turned to my trail-running friends who have coaches. Was I missing out? Once, I was lucky enough to find myself on the podium after a trail race—for my age group only, I need to point out. I’d like more of that, please, I thought. Maybe it was time.

I looked up from my self-indulgent reverie to see my dog, Samivel, waiting for me and wagging her tail so exuberantly her swinging canine ass threatened to topple her. I realized, I already have my coach.

As I finished my run, I came to the conclusion that she’s a far better running companion than any human coach.  Here’s my case.

1. My dog motivates me more than any coach could

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Who could say no to that face?

I work from my home most days. And, when running time rolls around, I’m often staring mindlessly at my screen. As if on cue, I’ll hear what sounds like someone sweeping the floor. I’ll look up to see my dog, standing in the doorway to my office, her tail swishing back and forth on the hardwood floor. (In time, I expect her to scrape out a fan-shaped hole in the floor.) Her head is tilted to one side. Resist that look and you’re in an emotional class with the Tin Man.

2.  When it comes to food, anything goes

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Mmm, delicious puddle water.

That’s no overstatement, either. She’ll snack away on a tick-covered moose carcass, wash it down with a mud puddle and toss me a look like, “Yo! You’re totally missing out over here.”

Sami’s fueling motto is, “Life is uncertain, so gorge now.” It could be some time before her next chance to scarf down, say, a child’s poorly guarded burrito. I worry she eats too quickly, but I know she’s thinking, “Hey, what’s the worst that can happen? I throw up. Then I eat twice!”

3.  Coaches cost money

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Samivel laps up her coach’s fee.

Dogs, on the other hand, accept payment in kibble.

4. Strength training? Cross training? Not so much

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Crunches? Nah. Let’s run down a hill!

I have never seen my dog in my basement lifting weights, cycling or using a jump rope. Want to get as good as your dog at trail running? Just run. That’s my philosophy, anyway. (Also, it means less guilt every time I walk past the dust-covered exercise room in my basement.)

5. My dog could care less about goals

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Samivel reminds me that we’re far too goal oriented in life. The fun is in the journey, right? My best results have always come when I haven’t been stressing about mile splits and target heart rates.  My dog’s take on goals might just be one big Zen paradox: Want your running to reach new heights? Sometimes, the best path forward is to not focus on it.

6. Try calling your coach Butthead, Meatball, Numbskull, Sweetie or Stinkie Butt

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The author with Samivel, a.k.a. Butthead, Meatball, Numbskull, Sweetie and Stinkie Butt.

Give it a try. I’ll wait.

How’d it go over? (Need a ride to the ER?)

7. My dog’s warm-up and cool-down strategy works better for me

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Panting in the car is a key component of any canine trail runner’s warm-up routine.

I hate warming up and cooling down. By the time we get to one of our local trailheads, my dog is ready to bound up the trail—and so am I. Her warm up consists of one long yoga pose of—predictably—downward-facing dog. And, when she’s ready to cool down, she simply sprints to the nearest stream and jumps in.

Knock on Milk Bones, I’ve yet to tear anything bigger than a toe nail since adhering to the Samivel routine.

8. Coaches generally disapprove of extracurricular explorations

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Samivel hot in pursuit of … something.

You’d never get cross-country footage like this if you strapped a GoPro to your coach’s back.

In fairness, though, some things my dog leads me to are best left unfound. Like that porcupine. Or that uptight woman taking a pee. (Sorry, whoever you are, that was awkward.) Or that rotting moose carcass. (See #2.)

9. My dog comes fully equipped for a long trail run

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Samivel looks on in pity as the author sifts through his high-priced, unnecessary gear.

Get a coach, and pretty soon you’ll be wearing Lycra compression shorts and $500 shatterproof sunglasses from some guy named Rudy. You’ll be carrying a GPS watch and an ultra-light race vest. My dog? She was born with better gear. All she’s wearing is a collar, and at least once a year, she decides that’s optional, too.

10. Coaches don’t need rescuing

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Coaches, as a rule, are treated reasonably well. They are rarely abandoned and, when they are, they can usually take care of themselves by teaching PE to junior-high students. A dog, however, can be a constant reminder that one small act of yours saved her from a heart-rending walk down canine death row.

11.  My dog reminds me that we’re all winners here

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No matter how short or slow, and no matter how many breaks I take, when we get back to the trailhead my dog acts like we’ve just broken the tape at Western States. Then she sleeps for 18 hours, as if to prove the point.

There are other reasons dogs are better than coaches, too. Just imagine your coach sleeping on the corner of your bed and guarding your house. Awkward, right? Ever seen a coach jaunt calmly back to the car with a few porcupine quills in her nose? When was the last time your coach quickly alerted you to a mother cub and bear on the trail?

I rest my case.

Postscript: To my friends who are coaches, I’m sorry for your upcoming exodus of clients. If it helps, how about we go for a run to smooth things over? In fact, I think I hear a tail swishing across the floor right now.

Related: Top 10 Dog Breeds for Runners

Doug Mayer lives in Randolph, New Hampshire, and runs the trail-running tour company Run the Alps. He actually thinks coaches have an important role to play, and doesn’t always take the advice of his dog. But he does think about it a lot.

Joe Klementovich is an outdoor-adventure photographer based in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. View more of his work here.