Sue, Jim & Cody on the 14,433' summit of MT Elbert, CO - The highest peak in the Rocky Mountains


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Runtrails' 2005 AT Journal
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PREP #13:  ULTRA LABS        March 15
“Man is troubled by what might be called the dog wish,
a strange and involved compulsion to be as happy and carefree as a dog.”  
- James Thurber

Ultra Labs:  Cody, age 2, March 2005

Tater, now eight, and Cody when he was a puppy

How can Jim and I NOT run almost every day? We have two addicted running dogs who are most unhappy on days they don’t get to romp in the woods with us. They may not like to be out in the rain or cold in our yard, but they’ll go run with us under ANY weather conditions.

And they don’t whine about it like WE sometimes do!

I’ve always had dogs. My parents raised German shepherds when I was growing up. The only time I haven’t had one or two dogs of my own was when I was in college. Dogs are an extension of me. They make my life complete.

Jim did NOT grow up with dogs, but he learned to tolerate, even enjoy, the two Labrador retrievers I brought with me into our marriage.

That’s love. And tolerance. Thank you, honey!

Labs can be terrific trail runners. I’ve had four so far, and every one of them has been able and eager to do ultra distances with me on trails. They go ballistic any time they see us getting ready to run – they know all the signs. They love nothing more than to hop into the van or truck to go run. Actually, they love to just go “run errands” with me, even if we don’t “run.”

It’s a very good thing they like to travel, as much as we’ve done the last couple years (see Prep14).


Tater is a yellow Lab who will be nine years old in August. Psychologically she’s still a bouncy pup. Unfortunately, her body has let her down. She’s got arthritis and hip dysplasia, but she’s still good to go for two or three hours on a trail. She's a wild woman in the woods, putting in twice the mileage we do because she's off on numerous forays.

When we have to leave her at home because the run is too long or strenuous for her, it just breaks my heart to see her sad eyes. "Goodbye" is a four-letter word to her. She slinks away dejected and I feel sorry for her. She'll be with us all summer on our adventure run, though, and can go with Jim when he's doing runs under three hours.

We have lots of fun with Tater's name. My ex-husband named her. I have no clue where he got that name, but he's the same guy who named another dog "Spoony" and a gray cat "Blu."  Guess I shouldn't talk, though. Some of the dog names I've come up with were "Bear," "Moose," and "Bubba!" 

Anyway, when we got Tater she was a fluffy ball of yellow fur. She quickly got the nickname "Tater-Tot."   When she's being her normal sweet self, she's "Sweet Tater." When she gets left behind, she's "Po Tater." Since Labs are one of the most prevalent dog breeds, she's also "Common Tater."  I need to take a photo of her with sunglasses on so she can be "Spec Tater." 

OK, I'll quit!!


Cody will be two on March 26. He’s the black Lab in the photos above, chosen partly with this adventure run in mind.

After Tater’s doggie companion died in 2001, we had just her for a couple years. She needed a new buddy - two dogs are usually better for each other than one.

I also needed a new running companion for long training runs and this trek. We looked for a litter that would be born in the spring of 2003 so the dog would be two when I started the AT run. That way, he’d have time to train up to long distances between age one and two, and be full of energy during the adventure run (and the way he's going, for a long time after it!).

Like Tater, Cody has been a joy to run with. His enthusiasm is contagious. He’s even got a sense of humor, like when he does tangents and then comes bouncing back toward me on the trail with a twinkle in his eyes, wanting to play. He doesn’t run off into the woods like Tater does, tracking anything that moves; he actually runs with me.

Best of all, Cody’s got an insatiable appetite for running, mentally and physically. He lives to run, swim, and eat. He’s built tough, all muscle and bone. We haven’t been able to wear him out yet.


Sturdy as Cody is, however, I won’t take him with me on the Trail every day. There are some places, like the Smokies and Baxter State Park, where dogs aren’t allowed on the trails because of bears and moose. Some places will be too rocky or dangerous for him. Some days will be too hot for him (he really absorbs heat with that black coat on all the time). Some spots are notorious for rattlesnakes and porcupines.

And some days the little bugger WILL need to rest, whether he wants to or not! 

I’ve read the “rules” about having dogs on the AT and have corresponded with some thru-hikers who’ve had their dogs along.  Since we’ll be using our camper every night and each day on the Trail will be a separate “long run,” it’ll be easier to have Cody with me than for a thru-hiker to have a dog along 24/7.

One big advantage we have is that Cody doesn’t have to haul much food. He’ll eat in the camper in the morning and evening. He’ll carry his own snacks and water for one day only.


Our old doggie backpack was uncomfortable for long runs; one of the straps buckled right behind the dogs’ front legs where it rubbed Cody's hair off on a long run one time. In true dog fashion, he didn't complain and I didn't know there was a problem until we got home.

We got Cody a new, comfortable pack this winter. It's a Wolfpack "Banzai"  model made of ballistic nylon (see One strap goes across the chest, and one goes under his belly about 2/3 of the way back from his shoulder (small of his tummy). There is nothing to rub against his “arm pits.”

I highly recommend other runners and hikers use a pack with straps configured in this manner.

The pack rides very well, and Cody adjusted to it quickly. I’m gradually increasing the weight and the time that he’s wearing it, just like I’m adjusting to my own pack. I’d like to get a similar pack for Tater.

Cody will carry only his own supplies, not mine. I’m not going to have him “mule” for me. Although he can carry one-fourth of his weight (about 20 pounds), I don’t see any reason for him to carry that much.

I got Platypus bladders for his water because they are more comfortable against his body than rigid water bottles and they collapse as they empty.

He’ll also carry a lightweight collapsible/disposable water bowl, snacks (dog bones, Power Bones, whatever digests easily), and a little shovel so I can bury his waste (and mine) – one of the seven Leave No Trace principles.


Like all my other Labs, Cody is a “chow” hound. He eats so fast, we nicknamed him "Hoover." He’ll eat almost anything, the more the better. Since he’s a stocky English-type Lab (Tater is the slim, hunting dog version of a Lab), we limit the amount of food he eats at home so he doesn't gain too much weight. He's about 82 pounds now.

On this adventure run, however, we may have to add a higher calorie “performance” blend dog food if he isn't able to eat enough regular food to keep up his energy. I'll have to monitor his weight, energy level, and "look of lean-ness" along the Trail like I do my own.

I really don’t think it’ll be hard for Cody to maintain his weight since he normally inhales his food, but we’ll have to be sure he’s getting enough calories AND water every day. Some thru-hikers’ dogs have died from dehydration and/or malnutrition.

Some other hazards for dogs on the Trail are sharp rocks cutting up their paw pads, ticks (Frontline has been very effective against fleas and ticks on our dogs), aggressive dogs, and wildlife (poisonous snakes, porcupines, skunks, bears, moose, mountain lions, etc.).

So I not only have to watch out for myself, but also my four-legged companion. I don’t mind that extra responsibility because Cody is such a joy to run with.

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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© 2005 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil