Monday 11 December 2017

The dogged runner

She's no longer convinced that they lie in wait for her, but a fear of untethered dogs, says Sarah Caden, means she'll never be a rural runner

The unpredictability of country running is not for Sarah Caden. Stock photo
The unpredictability of country running is not for Sarah Caden. Stock photo

One afternoon, my neighbour and I were talking about our running habits. She had just come back from a holiday in the west of Ireland and was looking forward to re-establishing her regular running habit around the city coastline where we live.

"I don't really like running in the country," she confessed. She said that country dogs scared her, and admitted that part of the reason that her family had finally got their own dog was to make her feel more confident on holiday runs.

She admitted to feeling foolish; but I thought she was brave to admit it. Since I started running a couple of years ago, I'm mortified by my fear of dogs, which was easier to keep under wraps before. I'm almost always too chicken to run in the countryside, but even as a city-dweller, I've been vaulting over walls and doing U-turns if I see one ahead.

Part of the beauty of running should be that you can do it anywhere; you just put on your runners and head out. I still kid myself that this is part of the beauty of running for me.

It's not, though, because I'm always worrying about encountering a mutt that bears me ill will. I've moved on from the narcissistic belief that they are lying in wait for me personally; but I still regard them as lurking.

I don't dislike dogs. I quite like them, so long as I know that they are nice. I don't like strange dogs. I don't like dogs that fly at you. I don't like dogs that bark, or nip at you with excitement, or are too big or too small. Or, crucially, too much off their leads where they shouldn't be.

And they're often off the lead, even in on the promenade where I run after walking my daughters to school. There are signs up saying that this is forbidden, and that there are fines (yeah, right), and there is a huge beach where they can do what they want. I'd love to run on the beach, by the way, but it's the dogs' domain, so I leave them at it.

I've come to terms with the fact that I'm a city runner. The unpredictability of country running is not for me, and the dogs play a part in that.

Dogs, who roam more freely in the country, who come flying down driveways and out of gateways, and just appear as if from nowhere. I recognise that this is allowed, that the countryside is the dogs' territory and I'm the outsider who needs to conform. Except I can't, because, as I've come to accept, I'm not just a city runner, I'm a city person at heart. I like the order. I like roads and paths, rules and regulations, buildings everywhere and people about.

Floating off

I love the countryside, but the very openness that is its charm also gives me the heebie-jeebies. For example, I'd rarely take a walk on my own in the countryside. I feel like its wide expanses might gobble up little old me. Or that I might become unhitched from gravity and simply float off into the sky, like a balloon off its string. And who would hear me call for help? That's what bothers me most.

So, despite the obvious loveliness of a run on a country road, I struggle to do it. Should a dog run out a farm gate or across an unpopulated beach, there's no one around to call it back, to tell me everything is OK, or even just to witness my terror. There's no escape. It's me against the dog, and the dog wins.

On holidays, I have my runners packed, but then I stare off down those lovely/lonely roads, and I chicken out.

"I can run when I get back home," I think, "where there's a hefty fine for dogs off leads and where there is order."

Often, of course, there is not, but it's better than nothing. And I'm not getting my own dog yet.

Sarah Caden is running the VHI Women's Mini Marathon on June 5 for the Down Syndrome Centre. To sponsor her, see

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