NYC Half Marathon Guide Dog Relay – Training Logs
On Sunday, March 17, 2019, a team of Guiding Eyes dogs will help us accomplish something that has never been done before. Thanks to a special accommodation from New York Road Runners, three Running Guide Dogs will guide-run the 2019 New York City Half Marathon… with one dog aiming to cross the finish line and receive the team medal.
Three very good dogs, to be selected from our training team – Labs Gus, Lynx, Waffle, Westley and Yukon, Flint and Fred during earlier runs – will pace Tom one at a time on the 13.1-mile racecourse. Veterinarians and volunteers will be stationed along the course to provide check-ups and ensure the team’s hydration, health and safety. Each dog will set their own pace, running three to five miles to bring awareness to our Guiding Eyes mission: providing guide dogs to people with vision loss.
Want to join our team and be a Running Guide Dogs Supporter? Our nonprofit organization is funded entirely by generous donors like you. Please support our mission and help us provide one of these world-class running guide dogs for a runner who is blind by giving $2.00 or more per mile. Your donation of $26.00 will help fund our Running Guides program and all of our services that bring guide dogs to people in need. Donate today.
Training Log #4
Date: Tuesday, February 19, 2019
Days to race: 26
Location of training: North County Trailway, Briarcliff Manor/Tarrytown, New York
Conditions: 33 degrees, sunny, light wind
Distance covered: 5 miles
It was distance week for the Guiding Eyes team as we took four running guide dogs – Gus, Lynx, Waffle and Westley – out for a five-mile run. Our preferred distance route, the North County Trailway, was icy in our hometown, so Running Guide Specialist Nick scouted out a clearer stretch to the south. We boarded two vans, each containing a runner, two guide dogs and a pacer, and sent one van to Briarcliff Manor and the other to Tarrytown, five miles apart via the trail. All the dogs wore their Ruffwear dog boots for extra paw protection on the chilly asphalt.
Tom set out first southbound from the Briarcliff Manor parking lot, guided by Waffle and paced by Jolene on her road bike. Waffle is famous for speed rather than distance, but on her longest run to date she handled it like a champ. The team swapped Waffle for Gus at the Tarrytown meeting point, and Gus guided Tom back north with ease; “He laid down the miles like a pro,” said Tom. Gus was especially impressive when approaching the trail’s few icy patches. Said Tom, “He knew when we were running too fast for conditions, and came to a full stop before the path became a skating rink.”
Nick set out from Tarrytown on the northbound leg, guided by Lynx and paced by Ben on his e-bike. Lynx was angling to keep up with a pair of professional runners ahead of him on the trail, and ran the five-mile distance to Briarcliff Manor at an impressive pace of 8:09 per mile. Westley ran the return southbound leg at a consistent pace, staying calm and focused on his guide work even when faced with the day’s most unexpected distraction: a coyote striding across the trail, 50 feet ahead of the team. That’s a big change from last week’s Central Park carriage horses.
During transitions in the parking lot, the team drew the attention of Briarcliff Manor’s Finest. Lieutenant Dominick Bueti, Sergeant Linda Salov, and Police Officer Fredrick Yerks, all fitness enthusiasts, “were impressed with the program and offered us any assistance we needed. And Dominick loved the size of Westley’s head,” said Nick.
Another highlight of the day was the much-anticipated mid-run reunion as the southbound and northbound groups blew past each other at the halfway point; Ben said, “the dogs loved it when they realized they knew the approaching runners!” The people loved it, too; with the dogs on their left, runners Tom and Nick managed to fit in a high-five.
Our team performed exceptionally well on this long run, proving that they have the endurance, stamina and paw-power they will need on race day. Five miles each for the guide dogs, and ten miles each for their runners and pacers, made for quiet van rides back to Yorktown as we all rested up from a strong day’s work.
Support our mission by making a donation of $2 per mile, and cheer on the Running Dogs at www.guidingeyes.org!
Training Log #3
Date: Wednesday, February 13, 2019
Days to race: 32
Location of training: Central Park, New York
Conditions: 32 degrees, clear and windy
Distance covered: 2-5 miles
Our third training run brought the Guiding Eyes team to New York City’s iconic Central Park for a spin around the half-marathon route’s last few miles, which trace a loop around the park before finishing near 75th Street. And while it snowed yesterday morning in New York, the team was able to squeeze in a mid-day training run in clear, cool weather. This reprieve from the snow brought the day’s biggest challenge: the park was bustling with distractions as tourists and locals alike came out to enjoy the break in the weather, with horse-drawn carriages lumbering by and Central Park Conservancy crews working hard to clear the roadways.
Three members of our training team – Lynx, Westley and Waffle – pawed the line for the day’s workout, with Gus and Yukon each taking a well earned rest day. The dogs suited up in their Ruffwear high-visibility harnesses and boots to protect their paws from the slush. Mimicking the strategy for race day, our team set out in three relay segments, each led by Nick on point. “It reminded me of my NYPD days!” said Nick. “I was on a mission to stay ahead and clear the way for these VIPs: very important pooches.” Tom, running with a guide dog, followed Nick, and Ben swept behind the group on his electric bike. Jolene worked pit crew and managed transitions, getting the dogs geared up and ready to take part in the relay.
Lynx ran first, starting at Tavern on the Green and completing a five-mile loop with a confident stride and careful attention to other runners. His biggest challenge is usually birds, but pigeons held no allure for him today: he was more interested in the horses, wanting those giant dogs with hooves to come along for the jog. Westley ran second on the same route, drawing attention from a utility worker who pointed and exclaimed, “He has his running shoes on.” This social boy loves to visit other dogs; he is learning to resist the temptation to stop, say hello and exchange high-paws as he passes other canines. Waffle, who is new to the team and still building up her endurance, anchored the relay in the last position. Refreshed from her weekend walking in the woods at home with Tom and Gus, she was excited to show off her speed during her two-mile run.
In total, Tom ran 12 miles yesterday. That’s a long time to hold a harness, but the job was made easier by his Ruffwear custom handle, which the company 3D-printed from a clay mold of his hand to make it easier to grip. The team also learned a logistics lesson: in Energizer Bunny fashion, our runners outlasted Ben’s e-bike – he had to stop and switch batteries at mile 10.
Given today’s beautiful conditions, our biggest challenge was working on pedestrian clearance: getting the dogs used to navigating Tom through crowds at a safe distance while managing the park’s many distractions. Distance runners love the mantra, “nothing new on race day.” By acclimating the team now to the sights, smells and obstacles of Central Park, we help ensure that the dogs will be calm, focused and ready to run on March 17.
Training Log #2
Date: Thursday, February 7, 2019
Days to race: 38
Location of training: North County Trailway, Yorktown, New York
Conditions: 40 degrees and overcast
Distance covered: 3.1 miles
The Guiding Eyes team kept it local for our second training run of the week, held on the North County Trailway just minutes from our headquarters. This trail, part of a system that connects our county with Manhattan, is an asphalt-covered former railbed framed by woods and waterways. The flat and fast course is perfect for gauging each dogs’ preferred pace: the speed at which they are comfortable running.
As often happens to runners, work got in the way of training for two of our team members: good boys Flint and Fred stepped off the team, as they were needed in their important day jobs as guides. We also welcomed a new addition: Waffle, the first female Lab on our team, who was so eager during training class that we decided to move her up.
Tom ran a total of 12.4 miles today, guided by four dogs in sequence: Westley, Yukon, Waffle and Gus, each running 5K, or 3.1 miles, with Lynx taking a well-earned rest day. The pairs were accompanied by Nick as the pacer, while Ben was overseeing the progress and training from his electric bike. The dogs sported our partner Ruffwear’s spiffy dog boots to protect their paws and provide added traction.
Tom was first guided by Westley who put in a solid performance on his giant paws which required a large-sized boot. Waffle was Tom’s second guide, and their first run together was impressive. The dogs set their own pace, and she was enjoying the run so much, they allowed her to “open up” to her top speed, comfortably achieving a pace of six minutes per mile for a short stretch. “She had more gas in the tank.” said Tom. Yukon guided third, taking his time to get used to his new running shoes. Gus, who is usually a barefoot (or should we say “barepaw”) runner, guided last and achieved a coveted negative split – completing the last half of his run at an 8:17 pace, faster than his first half. This achievement showed that Gus, a seasoned runner, has patience and won’t guide Tom too fast, too early in the race. Tom suspects that Gus’ time was improved by the refreshing roll in the mud he took midway, “just to get those new sneaks looking real.”
Overall, the dogs’ pacing ranged from Waffle’s blazing six-minute mile to a more leisurely 10:45, with an average pace of approximately 8:15 to 8:30 per mile. By letting the dogs set their own pace, we learned what times to expect on race day. With the half-marathon a little over one month away, the team will continue to put all of the pieces together – endurance, speed, gear and focus – as we work towards our Central Park finish.
Want to join our team and be a Running Guide Dogs Supporter? Our nonprofit organization is funded entirely by generous donors like you. Did you know a donation of $50.00 will provide a guide dog with protective dog boots, like the ones worn by our runners today? Donate to support our Running Guides Program and as a thank you we’ll email you an exclusive video of the last few seconds of Waffle’s first run with Tom – a well-deserved after-run meal and a celebratory full body wag!
Training Log #1
Date: Tuesday, February 5, 2019
Time: Early afternoon
Days to race: 40
Location of training: Prospect Park, Brooklyn, New York
Conditions: 57 degrees and sunny
Distance covered: 3.25 miles
This week, the Guiding Eyes team went to Brooklyn on an unseasonably warm and sunny day to take the guide dogs out in Prospect Park, setting paws on the start line of the half-marathon route. The team – Jolene, Ben, Nick and Tom, with dogs Westley, Yukon, Lynx and Flint – took the training van to Brooklyn from Guiding Eyes headquarters about an hour away.
After arriving at the park, the team began their training runs: two runners, two dogs and two pacers on electric bikes. Tom was guided first by Westley and then by Yukon, paced by Ben; Nick ran first with Lynx and then finished with Flint, paced by Jolene. The dogs wore their spiffy UniFly running guide harnesses, developed by RuffWear in partnership with the Guiding Eyes Running Guides team. After warming up with a quarter-mile walk, each dog ran a 5K, or 3.1 miles, around the park.
The dogs worked hard on avoiding obstacles in this new environment, occasionally pausing to refocus when facing challenges such as pedestrians with strollers and city dogs begging them to play. During Tom and Yukon’s miles, a fellow runner pulled alongside the team to offer encouragement: “I’ve got friends at home that won’t come running because they’ve got a bum knee. It’s great to see you out here.”
What did the team learn from the day’s training? Tom said, “The dogs showed us their enthusiasm for running, but just like humans, they need more time to build up their confidence and ability to get safely across the finish line.”
Another challenge was the weather: the conditions were 50 degrees warmer than the previous week’s training run. The dogs are not yet acclimated to running in warmer temperatures. We trained inside at New York’s Armory Track & Field Center during last week’s polar vortex, so this week the team focused on keeping the pace slower and the dogs hydrated. Runners know that the key to a successful race is preparation, but when it comes to race conditions, it’s smart to “expect the unexpected” – an important lesson for the team as training ramps up.
Next stop, Central Park.
Support our mission by making a donation of $2 per mile, and cheer on the Running Dogs at www.guidingeyes.org!
Special thanks to Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO, and John Donnelly, Vice Chairman, of JP Morgan Chase & Co. for leading the way with their personal generous philanthropy that helped to support the training and lifetime vet care of two of the running guide dogs that will be given at no cost to blind athletes upon completion of the race. We are looking for your support to help sponsor Waffle as part of the Running Guides Program!