“John” – Marathon Dog

by Claudia Roedl

I’d like to introduce you to “John,” my running partner, my best friend, my heart…as a matter of fact, I’d like the whole world to know how fortunate I am to be associated with this nine-year-oldGolden Retriever.

In 2000, while helping out a family friend on a potato farm in northern Wisconsin, and without my knowing, my husband drove 200 miles in order to surprise me with a puppy. He walked up to thepotato grader with a nine-week-old pup so pristine and exuding that irresistible puppy smell that I felt myself too dirty to even touch him.

Little did I know on that afternoon that this gift would become the driving force behind every one of my last 31 marathons and the motivation for training runs occurring in the hours before dawn in every kind of imaginable weather. Unlike human running partners, John never whined or gave excuses, but rather fell into a methodical trot by my side...no leash necessary...never even stopping to smell a tree or shrub and ignoring those very few runners we came in contact with along our route. The mileage for that morning couldbe five miles or 15; the weather cold, rain or snow (never heat) regardless, it was all the same...his happiness was in the moment.

John and I have run literally dozens of half marathons (13.2miles), with John accumulating his own rather impressive finisher medal collection; but was he ready for the “big dance?” No other dog has ever completed a full marathon.

This spring I decided to confer with my veterinarian to see if she thought John was ready to run his first full marathon (26.2 miles). It was to be held in Prescott, Arizona, which is rated one of the toughest marathons in the country. I was apprehensive as we almost lost John to Valley Fever in May of 2008. It’s been a long haul, but I’d say he’s at 100 percent and Dr. Cynthia Brown agreed; he was in excellent shape to accomplish such a feat given his nine years of conditioning. For others who may wish to try this, please don’t think to do this in haste. The dream to run a marathon takes years of training, not to mention dogs are usually not permitted on a marathon course.

John and I left Scottsdale, Arizona, at 2:45 a.m. to arrive in Prescott, for a 5 a.m. start. We ran at elevations of 7,000 feet with breathtaking views, on crushed limestone and packed sand, which was great for the paws and feet alike. We found a couple of rivers that he could jump into, and aid stations every two miles were a welcome sight where we both eagerly ate bananas and gulped Gatorade. The other runners found comfort in stopping to pet John during those last several miles; changing their grimaces of fatigue and pain into smiles.Last year as I crossed the finish line my husband released John from his leash to greet me. He was still suffering from unsteadiness caused by the Phenobarbital used to treat his Valley Fever. He fell at my feet and this crushed me as John had been so strong, running so many miles in his life and now he appeared helpless
But, now this was going to be “his” moment, five hours since the start, we crossed the finish line together! This was “his” race at “his” pace…I had no idea how many people admired him. I could not get away from the finish line for all the people coming up to congratulate John on his feat and telling me of all the times they had run with him in races throughout our time in Arizona. He had his 15 minutes of fame and was the subject of countless photo requests. For John it was just another run; albeit a very long one that morning, but it all ended the same as any other…a medal, a banana, a bagel and a nap all the way home in the backseat.

Thank you to Michele Santiago, for my current Golden “Noah,” who is from Elysian lines…you are the reason for this tribute to John appearing here by contacting the editor about his amazing accomplishment.

Thank you, Heidi Greefkes at Xanthos Golden Retrievers for choosing this pup for me nine years ago; my third Golden from Xanthos and surely not my last. You have given us a gift to which no dollar amount can be attached. Sixteen years with three of the best Goldens I could ever wish to have; all chosen at your own hand. I know, like most breeders, it kills you to see John shaved, but you try running 26 miles in a fur coat!

And finally God, whom I thank each day he allows John to be with me as we all know they can be taken from us in a moments notice. I never take a minute with John for granted.

This article was approved by the Editorial Review Board.

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