Monday, December 28, 2009

The Day of the Black Dog

The five of us started running at about 5am. We had twenty-four miles scheduled, our last long run before the Portland Marathon in 1996. It was dark and we were all half asleep. One of the guys, staring at the ground and apparently out of it, ran into one of those giant mailboxes- the kind you see around apartments or office buildings, the big metal ones- and knocked himself down. We heard a loud thud, followed by a grunt, and looked back to see him lying on the sidewalk groaning. He got up though and, after a good laugh and some good-natured ribbing, we ran on. From that day on, we called him “Thud.”

We had been using the same country road for an out and back training run course that whole summer. Every week, at about mile seven, this little black dog would come out of nowhere and run with us. He'd jump in there at mile seven, run with us to the turnaround, and then drop back off right where he'd started. There were no houses around, and he didn't have a collar or tags, so we never could figure out where he lived. But we got to liking him, and looked forward to having him along. Sometimes we'd even bring little dog treats to give him when we'd stop for a break. We didn't know his name so he just became "The Black Dog," or Black, Blackie. We would joke about him joining our running club, ask him if he'd paid his dues, call him our sixth training partner, talk about recruiting him for our Hood to Coast team. Even thought about getting him one of our club singlets. He was just one of the guys.

That day we had reached the turnaround and were almost back to the seven mile mark when this van came out of nowhere, speeding like mad, and nailed The Black Dog. Just nailed him. And kept right on going. I don't think The Black Dog ever knew what hit him. It was mercifully quick. It was dark and cold and wet and pouring down rain and we stood around him, all of us quietly staring at our little friend. There was nothing we could do. There was nothing to say. We just stood there. I don't know about the other guys, but I was glad it was raining so they couldn't see my tears. I don't know whether I was crying more out of sadness for the dog or rage at the driver. He didn't even slow down, just kept on going like nothing happened. None of us knew where The Black Dog lived, so we couldn't tell anyone. He didn't have tags, so we couldn't call anyone. Eventually, we just started running back. We hated to leave, but we didn't know what else to do. So we just ran.

I drove back later, thinking I'd bury him. I hadn't thought about where I would bury him or the fact that I didn't have a shovel. But it didn't matter, he was gone when I got there.

None of us will ever forget that day. We still talk about The Black Dog, make jokes about how maybe someday he'll be running with us in Heaven and stuff like that. How he’s on a long run in the Big Dog Park in the Sky. Whenever we talk about that day, we call it "The Day of the Black Dog." Sad as it was, we mostly remember how fun it was to have him with us.

Sometimes, when I’m running on a country road, I still imagine him running along beside me.


JeanneK said...

Nice story, Ryan. Sad but nice and well written. Poetry...

John Petrie said...

Dude, You definitely have some sad dog stories to share. When are you coming down to Salem? I need help w/ "Mr. Clean". Beers-a-waitin'!!!

Sunrise over Little Tohama, from Ingraham Flats, 2007