Bristol Short Track Darlington Daytona Barrett. Bristol's the best running partner I've ever had--he never complains, and never minds when I do, never drops me, can always go, never has to check with the wife, never wants to go for a bike ride instead.
We started out walking him when he was two months old, up to the end of the block and back. The older and larger he got, the farther he went. We started running at three and a half months. He liked it from the start, and pushed forward except to pee.
Bristol took to trail running almost immediately. At four-and-a-half months old, he ran 10 miles with me in the rain. Now a year and a half later, at full-size, he mashes out miles with a swagger, rarely stopping unless I do. He marks his territory with his lungs and legs; we haven’t found the limit yet.
I was drawn to trails when I started running over 25 years ago. I run for fitness for sure, but I run to connect with something bigger and older and wiser than I. But if I try, and if I let it, it can include me too. There’s a rhythm I seek, running and breathing and being.
Bristol and I run at Croft State Park, a former US military installation, training grounds for thousands of men who fought in WWI and WWII. Before that it was farmland. Walls and road beds remain, some now parts of the trail system. We run through open hardwood forests, signs of a recovering ecosystem, the result of leaving things alone for 50 years.
Bristol has never chased the squirrels, nor the deer. A turkey scared him one day, and he took passing interest in a fat black snake. He’s learned to trust my pace for the various distances we run together. I trust Bristol with trail finding, and watch him sway through S turns, graceful and strong.
Today’s run, a short shake-out after a busy week, led us back onto familiar trails. One skirts sharply around a wide hole, left, I imagine, by exploding ordinance. Bristol lifted off behind me, full body extended over the hole and hit the trail ahead running at full speed, an athlete reaching his prime.
. When a faint trail is obscured by leaves or snow, we trace the contours, not looking for the trail, but feeling where the trail ought to be.
Bristol has played a significant part in a new cycle in my running, extending distances and running almost exclusively on trails. On trails, my run becomes elemental, exposed to heat and snow, rain and bitter cold, packed dirt and sand and mud, downed trees and rocks and lost trails.
On one run, Bristol stopped behind me. I kept running, then looked back to see him sitting in the middle of the trail. I kept running. He watched me turning to look at him as I gained fifty or sixty yards on him. Then I heard him coming, full speed along the trail. He passed me without a glance and shot ahead.
I like to use these runs to explore new places. There are a number of cemeteries at Croft, mostly old family grave sites in various states of upkeep. History at Croft runs deep, and far; Bristol and I travel it on foot.
Like most good trail runners, Bristol will occasionally get into his own head. We spend hours in the woods, and the conversations often last the entire run. But at times, when feeling good, or bad, we drift into our own thoughts, content to let the birds and bugs take over the conversation.
I carry water for myself. And food. Bristol takes neither. He won’t drink from a squirt bottle, and food doesn’t interest him. His metabolism never seems to fail. In summer I plan runs to cross the many creeks at Croft as often as possible.
Bristol knows these trails as well as I do. One day I got all turned around, and found myself in a place I didn’t expect to be. Following a faint trail I knew died out, Bristol and I set out down the creek in the direction we wanted to go. We traipsed through bamboo thickets, each of us searching for clear passage, for about five minutes.
At last, after having squelched some panic myself, we found trail we knew. Bristol bolted ahead, skipping in freedom. I felt myself push the pace in relief. You'll just have to imagine: two hour run in the woods with Bristol, sunshine, t-shirt, dense brush bushwhack, getting lost and finding myself again.
When Bristol and I run with others, he seems to like the inevitable competition as much as I do. At the end of one run, we started running harder about a mile from the end.
The pace picked up until we were rolling along at near full speed. When we took off, Bristol sprinted to the front. He had a great run, playing as we went, but most definitely focusing on the finish as much as we were.
Bristol seems to understand how to preserve his energy. Often, after he passes me at full tilt, he pulls off the trail to wait for me to pass, then falls in behind me. I rarely if ever rein him in, and his focus is clear. Christy points out that in so many pictures, he’s running straight in the middle of the trail.
Bristol is a very patient dog. He understands “Wait” better than “Stay.” He’s not bothered by horses, or people. Sometimes, though, he’s just ready to go, and will start off down the trail on his own.
There’s a peacefulness about Bristol. When we run, we both seem to revel in the presence of all of it, to smell, breath, touch, move, in the same contours as the trails. And it’s all a part of the greater whole, a snake, a turkey, two spike bucks running in the same lines, the trees, the creeks, the blood, the spit, the lungs.