In September 2010 a new training partner came into our lives; Murphy a two year old (ish) Border Collie (ish).
When we first met Murph or the The Murphinator, as he is known at home, he was quite the saddest, skinniest, dirtiest and most neglected dog in the animal shelter. He slowly came over to us and leant against our legs and from then on we knew he would be coming home with us.
Since that day he has been a big part of our family and watching him I think that a great number of lessons that athletes could learn from him.
Rob de Castella is an Australian marathon runner I saw win gold in the 1986 Commonwealth Games in 2:10, he won Boston that year in 2:07 but he is famous for effectively doing the same training week on week.
Now like de Castella, Murphy doesn’t care if he does the same walks in the same order in fact with him being a Collie it is quite the opposite. He is quite indignant if when we go out the door before his pre bedtime walk if I turn the opposite way.
This may be a simplistic approach to take but to be honest there are worse things you could do than to follow an appropriate training plan week in week out when training for an endurance event.
Murphy wasn’t always this pinnacle of health you can see in his photo above. When we first got him he couldn’t run for more than about 20 minutes. Like anyone who had been neglected he was out of shape, but with love, good nutrition, consistent training and recovery he soon increased his fitness.
I know some of my athletes get a bit grumpy if they don’t get their run in, I know I do, but even I can not match the enthusiasm for a run that Murph has. He could not be happier when he hear the “W” word or hears his lead being moved. He is down the stairs in a flash and after a quick couple of dynamic stretches (unsurprisingly down-dog then up-dog) and he’s ready to go.
I think if we had the motivation that dogs possess then following any training programme would seem far less of a chore.
Recovery & Nutrition
Recovery is an important facet of how Murphy, or any athlete can run hard and when Murphy is tired he sleeps. and he sleeps a lot He doesn’t try and push the training too far – although I’m sure he would if he could, after exercise he finds a quiet corner usually at our feet and sleeps. Perhaps not a workable solution for the working athlete but the concept is good.
Murphy, like all dogs however does have a secret recovery weapon. Professor Michael Davis of Oklahoma State University reported when conducting research into Sled Dog endurance that they adapt rapidly to sustained strenuous effort. According to his work, four days into a sled pull the dogs biomechanical profile had returned to where it was at the start – in other words the recovery process was happening both quickly and during exercise. Couple that with an aerobic capacity that would make most elites cower and an ability for muscles to absorb fuel direct from the bloodstream through thin walled membranes and you have as Professor Davis states a very efficient machine.
Christopher McDougall in his book Born to Run discusses the heat removal inefficiencies of animals and why humans can always out run an animal from an endurance perspective – I’m yet to out perform Murphy! A further area of mastery is that of “on course” and “post training” nutrition. Murphy’s heat removal by panting is used to his advantage when running through the early morning dew. He literally laps it up hence keeping up with his hydration requirement not ahead of it – Professor Tim Noakes would love this! He isn’t adverse to stopping at the odd puddle which I’m not suggesting, but he doesn’t need to be told to drink and doesn’t try to drink too much.
When we run down the local cycle path he takes his inspiration from the Kenyan runners and always runs on the grass verge not only reducing the impact on his joints but increasing his ability to hydrate on the move. Of course his “footwear” is minimalist but then it always has been! So the next time you run, think of Murphy and the lessons perhaps that you can learn from him.