How four paws can make running easier

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Brianna Lawson was going through a stressful time during the summer of 2017. She’d just graduated from college, moved back in with her parents, started her first full-time job, and was planning to go to grad school part-time in the fall.

She needed an outlet. Brianna wanted to become a runner, but she’d tried it before and it never stuck. In the past, she’d used an app to guide her through a couch to 5K program, but it always progressed too fast. “I would beat myself down because I would think, ‘I can’t even do the beginner app, what am I doing?’ So I would give up. I never usually made it past three weeks.”

That summer was different.

At the same time, Goldie, a rescue dog, had come to Brianna’s parents with challenges of her own. She had been used as bait for dogfighting, which made her both fearful of and aggressive toward other dogs. After being rescued, she also bounced between multiple families who couldn’t take care of her. By the time the Lawson’s took her in, Goldie had never had the chance to just be a dog, and she had never known love.

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She didn’t know how to play with toys. She latched onto Brianna’s dad and lashed out at other dogs who would come near him. Goldie would get into little tiffs with the Lawson’s 10-year-old black lab and Brianna’s brother’s puppy.

Brianna thought that maybe taking Goldie out on daily walks might help. The dog took to it immediately. More than expending her energy, their daily walks provided Goldie the one-on-one special attention that she had never gotten before, but so desperately wanted. Her attachment shifted, and she became Brianna’s dog. Even better, the walks seemed to be helping them both deal with their stressors.

Goldie also gave Brianna renewed motivation to try running. “I realized ‘hey if I start running a couple minutes at a time, I’ll finish faster’ and that’s how my running journey began,” Brianna recalls. This time, instead of using an app or time-specific walk/run intervals, Brianna would pick up her pace at one light pole and run past two, then she’d walk for two and repeat. She increased the number of poles she’d run past as she progressed. And Goldie followed Brianna’s lead perfectly.

Soon, Goldie would nudge Brianna if she wasn’t in her running clothes, ready to go, at the usual time. And they both began to run for longer and longer stretches. Their routine helped Brianna develop a love for running and a habit she’s kept up for three years. As for Goldie, it’s helped her come out of her shell.

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She’s still protective of Brianna and will act aggressively toward other dogs when they come near her owner. “We’ve learned that she’s an ‘only dog,’” Brianna says. But she reframes this challenge, adding, “I love that she’s protective because it means she learned to love again, even though she was abused.”

When Goldie isn’t with Brianna, she does much better around other dogs now. At first, she was shy and didn’t play at doggie daycare. That’s completely changed. “I love that she’s learning to be a dog again in a happy, healthy, and safe environment. Her personality has really come out in the last two or three years since we started running.”

As for Brianna, she says, “I like who I am when I run.” She’s found that the activity gives her a necessary outlet for emotional release. The habit has stuck this time because it makes her happier, but Brianna also emphasizes that taking the pressure off herself was imperative.

In November 2019, Brianna went through another stressful period of transition: she was leaving her first job, finishing her master’s program, and trying to find new employment. She’d also signed up for a half marathon. She was hit with anxiety the night before the race and that helped her to realize that she needed to focus on making running fun.

“I tried really hard to reframe running as just for fun and not because I have a race,” Brianna says. “If I need to walk, I walk. I don’t pay attention to my watch anymore, I go by feel and I don’t put any pressure on how many miles.” And running with Goldie helps. Brianna says her dog gets so excited when Brianna puts on running clothes and grabs Goldie’s leash. “It’s pure joy,” she says, which reminds her that running should be fun.

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Even though life is less stressful now that she’s focused on working full-time as a replenishment analyst for a jewelry manufacturer, taking the pressure off her running helped Brianna continue it for her health and well-being.

That attitude has been especially important to keep Brianna running during the pandemic when everyone’s goals and schedules are out of whack. She runs most days, but she has to run less frequently with Goldie during the hot, humid Louisiana summers. They do still go out one evening a week and every Saturday morning.

They run in Goldie’s favorite park, generally earlier than most other dogs and owners show up, so they can both enjoy the park without worry. Brianna says she keeps Goldie on a short leash and will cross to the other side of the street if another dog approaches. That has prevented any issues on their runs.

Ultimately, despite the ups and downs, despite their challenges, both Brianna and Goldie have kept running. Brianna said that she didn’t consider herself a runner for the first year and a half. Then, she heard podcaster Ali Feller (Ali on the Run) say, “If you run, you’re a runner.” Now Brianna says she might run the New York City Marathon one day-a goal that never crossed her mind when she first started.

That’s the power this sport has: the ability to change your perception of what you can do. It can also change you in profound ways, helping you to cope with stress or even move past trauma.

All you need is a pair of shoes and the will to go, but a furry running buddy never hurts.

Originally published at on July 8, 2020.

Book coach helping aspiring novelists achieve their dreams. I’m also a dog lover who writes about writing, running, and mental health.

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