With a huge emphasis by medical researchers and dietitians on maintaining a healthy lifestyle these days, many of us have a regular fitness regime that we follow. Whilst we tend to focus on our own fitness, we often forget that our furry friends need to be kept fit and healthy also. In this regular column, I show you how I not only changed my own lifestyle but also made a huge impact on my four legged friends fitness also.
For those who are unaware, I like many people have a story. It is a pretty simple story to be honest but a story nonetheless. I can go back to January of 2013 which is not that long ago to when I weighed over 14 stone. I can go back further again to the year of 2011 when I was well over 16 stone and living a very unhealthy lifestyle which consisted of a diet of fast food, fish and chips and so much grease that I am surprised how my arteries have not been clogged. My fitness levels were atrocious, my stress levels were through the absolute roof and to be perfectly honest, I absolutely hated everything about myself. I wouldn’t of known what fitness was had it hit me in the face. So what changed you might ask? Well, not only did my lack of exercise mean that I was extremely unhealthy but it also meant in return that my good buddy Koko was also becoming seriously unhealthy. She was not getting her daily walks due to my poor lifestyle choices and I was genuinely too lazy to take her anywhere.
So what did I do? I took up running at the start of 2013. I had done a bit of running before I had let myself get seriously out of shape in 2011 but when you are eating out every night of the week, the financial ability to enter 10k or half marathon races tends to go out the window. In 2013, that changed though and I made a pact to change my lifestyle. In the space of a few months, I had reduced my weight down to just under 13 stone. However, I found that the problem with running was it got quite boring. So that’s when I started to bring Koko back along on my walks. I ended up going back to college later around September of 2013 so running with my dog got to be a challenge, what with late nights in the college library and projects taking over. As a result Koko’s walks and runs suffered and she didn’t get as much physical activity as I would have liked.
It was nice that I had Koko to keep me company for a nice brisk paced run but due to the lack of walks in late 2013 and early 2014, I realised that I had been consistently ignoring for quite some time that my dog had grown to an almost obese level. Koko was at this stage over 43kg in weight. I spoke with her Vet and we both agreed that a change in Koko’s diet was not only necessary but it was crucial for her health. After having a small operation on her eye back in April, Koko was in a depressed mood for quite some time. With a big cone around her neck, my poor pal was barely able to go outside. So what did I do? I knew it was time that Koko got back to the dog she once was. Once my exams finished in UL, I was sitting in the front room one morning when I turned to Koko and said that magical word that she along with every other dog loves to hear – “Walkies”. Koko has always got very excited when she hears this word, fit or unfit. So, the day after my exams finished, off we went and then we did the same the next day and the next after that. In the meantime we had changed Koko’s diet to help her lose some bit of weight. Yet, I noticed this wasn’t enough.
So June 2014 arrived. I said that it was time to do things different. I needed a running partner because to be honest running is boring as fuck on your own and Koko needed to get fit. Getting to spend some time along the way with my favourite companion, it was a win win situation. The first day I took Koko for a run, she could barely run for a few minutes without running out of breath. The next evening was the same but as each evening went past we would up the pace a bit and slowly but surely Koko was able to run for that bit longer. This continued and whilst taking two days off per week, I gradually built up her fitness whilst working on my own also.
Now for those of you who don’t know the beautiful campus of Limerick University too well, on the north end of the campus you have three large synthetic grass pitches with a walkway the whole way around them. It tends to be on one of our regular walking routes. One day in mid July as we were walking our regular route around this track, I looked at Koko and said “Ok we’re going to have a little race on the last 50 metres and if you win, you get this” (signalling to a small bone in my hand). So we walked to the starting point at which point her tail was wagging ecstatically and I shouted Go and we both took off running a full force sprint that a greyhound would be jealous of. Koko had the advantage of having a grass surface to run on and beat me by a head. I was actually so proud of her that I went over to her and gave her a huge hug to which I got a response from her reaching for my hand for the bone which I had promised. The plan worked and despite what people said afterwards, the bribery had worked. Koko was after beating me in a sprint race for the first time since she was two years old. I was genuinely so delighted.
So the next day, we had two sprint races and the day in which we tied at one a piece. We have continued the sprint regime since then. On the 15th August, I decided that it was time we upped the pace a small bit. So, I increased the distance to a 200m sprint which I would myself be relatively comfortable with but I was not prepared for what was to come. Not only did Koko beat me, She literally left me eating her dust and when I eventually reached the finish, she was there lying down relaxing and waiting for me as if to say “What took you so long?” To me, this symbolised a significant change and a defining moment for us both. What I had wished to accomplish when I started Koko on this journey had just happened, she was fit, she was healthy and she was back to action. Koko sawa significant weight change having dropped from 43kg to 35kg in the space of two months bck in late 2014. For a dog of Koko’s age (6), this is a fantastic turnaround. We knew the warm summer was going to be coming to an end but Winter or no winter, when it’s time to run, there is nothing that would stop us.
While Koko continued running with me throughout the winter of 2014 into 2015, her health started to deteriorate having an operation for pyometra in 2014. This meant, that my running partner was out of action again. And for me, the running became less frequent because my running buddy was no longer able for those runs. It’s funny how boring running becomes after having a companion who can kick your ass in a 100m sprint and who’s the coolest running partner being a dog and all. Koko did recover enough to go on walks and for me, this was my new fitness, long evening strolls with my pal.
However We did lose Koko in April 2016 to cancer and for me, this was where the running stopped. I always saw it as our thing and I still look back on it as our thing. I have 2 beautiful dogs now and while I love the walks with them, the motivation to go running with them hasn’t been there. But i realise that I am making the same mistakes that I made with Koko and these 2 amazing young dogs are seriously unfit and overweight. So I think it’s fair to say that it’s time that I build them up. Get back into the running for both my own physical and mental health and for the health of Bruno & Milly. The trouble is that any time I try to run next to Bruno, he sees it as a game, he jumps up on me, trips me and is determined to just flatten me on the ground. I’ll admit its a fun game but he needs to learn that there’s no getting out of this now.
It’s going to take time but each week, I’ll give a little update on these adventures. I’m hoping it will come a time when Milly Bruno and I can have a nice run without me being thrown flat on my face by either dog.