Getting an Education

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What’s the next best thing to a Tevis entry form?

How about an entry form to the Tevis Educational Ride?!?

Last month, a friend surprised me with an offer to join her on the Tevis Ed Ride and ride one of her horses. Naturally, I had to think about that for all of about .05 seconds. I’ve been wanting to participate in the Ed Ride for years now, but just like Tevis itself, it takes money, time, and the appropriate horse. (While it’s 64 miles in two days versus 100 miles in 24 hours, it still involves the canyons, so a fit, strong, capable horse is required.)

I have been peel-me-off-the-ceiling excited about this since it all came together. I’m really excited about the chance to see the trail again, and really psyched about all of the seminars and clinics that are a part of the weekend. Every little bit of trail experience and Tevis-specific knowledge I can get crammed into my brain will only serve to help me on the actual ride, and in the past, those who have completed the Ed Ride have a very high completion rate on Tevis itself.

It’s also an opportunity to spend a long weekend in close company with a very experienced endurance rider — over 20 years, over 17,000 miles, and 5 Tevis completions out of 7 starts. With a 2-day drive to Auburn, there’s a lot of time for conversation, questions, and brain picking.

Most of my attention for the past three weekends was spent on two different expo trade shows (two three-day shows, two weekends apart), but those are done with now, so the next few weekends will involve getting in some good saddle time so I can remind my riding muscles that they really are functional and have a job to do.

It should be an interesting weekend — because the Sierras are still snow-covered (and just got more snow on Monday), the courses for both the Ed Ride and Tevis itself have been altered this year. They’ll still use a majority of the original trail, but there are definitely some changes involved…curious to see how the ride will play out, although management is working hard to ensure that the changes don’t lessen the degree of difficulty of the ride.

And I just realized that I leave for the Ed Ride 3 weeks from today. Wooo!!!

belated birthday wishes

I spent the last three days at The Mane Event expo in Scottsdale, working the trade show booth for Renegade, so I missed posting on Mimi’s actual birthday, which was on Friday.

So this is a belated happy 24 years to my bestest heart horse in the world.

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It’s really hard to believe that she’s 24. Physically, there are times I definitely know that she’s showing some signs of her age, but mentally, she’s still going strong, and as long as she’s given some warm-up time, she is still physically strong and capable.

We were able to get out on trail again a couple weekends ago, and at one point, she was out-walking all five four of the other horse we were with. Never mind she was the shortest of the bunch, with the others ranging from 15hh to 17+hh.

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best view in the world is between these ears

Partnership

You’d think that after two decades of being together, Mimi and I would have a seamless partnership. In part, that is true. I know, for example, that she is probably the overall best horse I will likely have in my lifetime. I may have others in the future that end up better in some specific regard (more suited for 100-mile endurance rides, for example), but as far as the overall “hit every box for what I need and want in a horse,” she’s set a really high standard.

The danger of a 2-+ year partnership, though, is complacency. Of late, I’ve been guilty of just “going through the motions.” When you’ve “been there, done it all” and there’s nothing new on the horizon, it’s easy to slip into a mode of boredom with a side of “don’t give a damn.”

And she deserves better.

I owe it to her — 20+ years of packing my butt around and putting up with my shenanigans and foolish ideas — to still keep pulling my weight. It’s hardly fair to expect her to put in a good performance when I myself could be accused of being “barn sour.”

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Yesterday felt like an eye-opening refresher. I had access to the big pasture, so rather than subject her sometimes-questionable mechanics to the soft sand and tighter turns of the area, we were able to have a lot more room to move out (getting and keeping her momentum up seems to be the trick now in getting a reasonable canter out of her), and she didn’t have to work as hard at lifting her hind toes on the harder-packed turf as she does to clear the softer arena sand. Case in point: she didn’t trip or stumble at all yesterday.

As for myself, I’ve gotten so caught up in paying too much attention to fine details and minutiae that I’ve forgotten to to just sit up and ride. As a result, I’ve gotten more and more tense, overthinking and trying to force the issue, letting myself get into a downward spiral of believing I don’t know what I’m doing and don’t really know how to ride.

I don’t really know what changed, but a couple weeks ago, I had glanced at one of my ride photos I have hanging on my bedroom wall, and my takeaway impression was “What are my lower legs doing?” A closer look at some of my other photos all revealed the same consistent error. Apparently I’ve forgotten I have lower legs, and that they have a job to do in the saddle.

Lightbulb moment. Way too much gripping with the thigh/pinching with the knee, not enough “heels down, lower leg as a solid platform under you.” No wonder all my ride photos have me pitching forward, with lower legs swinging back. I’ve gotten so comfortable in my defensive, curled over, “cling like a monkey” default riding style that riding centered actually feels like I’m in a chair seat.

So the past couple of weekends have been spent paying attention to the basics of keeping my lower leg solid and under myself, with a side order of “heels down, shoulders back, eyes up.” Y’know, all the stuff I learned as an 8-year-old.

And wouldn’t you know it, as long as I kept a solid lower leg in place, everything else just came together as it should.

This is why my pony should be sainted. 20+ years later, she’s still tolerating me with good humor.

 

Crown King Scramble Analysis/Wrap Up

(Only a month late, but that’s usually how I end up doing these analysis type of posts. Have to think about things or a while, forget about it, get tired of it sitting around in a draft, realize I’m done thinking, and just post it.)

Obviously I couldn’t be happier with the ultimate outcome: my first ultra finish, and while it involved a lot of sweat, there was no blood, and there weren’t even any tears this year. I got a whole lot right, and most of the “change or do better” category are minor bumps and nitpicks versus major game-changers.

Since I’m still very, very new to this ultra game, this will not be a streamlined list. This will be me laying out lots of details, mostly for my own purposes of future reference and remembering.

What I Wore
I was vacillating on what to wear for two weeks ahead of the race. First the weather was going. Then it was going to rain. Then snow. Then be perfect. Then cloudy. After some indecision, I finally settled on:

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  • InkNBurn “Sakura” singlet. This was actually a brand-new design release from them the week before the race. I have a deep love for cherry blossoms, so I took it as a good omen as a “meant to be” race shirt for me.
  • InkNBurn “Dragon’s Gate” capris. These were a good pick for multiple reasons. 1) I was afraid my leg muscles might get cold in shorts, and stiffen up. But capris aren’t as warm as tights. 2) Have done a fair amount of training in these and they’ve never done me wrong. 3) Thigh chaffage is a real thing. The longest run I’ve done in my InB shorts has been 15 miles; I was unsure of the chafe factor/how much BodyGlide I would need beyond that point. 3) InB always has a really cool “meaning behind the design” story, and this one resonated for me:

    “These capris were inspired by the legend of Dragon’s Gate. The story tells of a huge, glimmering school of koi swimming upstream in the Yellow River of China. Gaining strength by fighting against the current, they came upon the waterfall at the start of the river. Many of the koi turned back at this point and let the current carry them away. The remaining koi refused to give up and leaping from the depths of the river, they tried to reach the top of the falls. This caught the attention of mean-spirited local demons who raised the height of the falls just to be cruel. After a hundred years of jumping, one koi finally reached the top of the waterfall. The gods recognized the koi for its perseverance and determination by turning it into a dragon, the image of power and strength.”

    My goal was to be that koi. No turning back, just keep jumping, one step at a time, no matter how long it took.

  • Nathan VaporHowe race vest. A new acquisition for me, I was able to put all of two training runs and 10 miles on it ahead of time. Overall I really like this vest. Doesn’t bounce at all, super comfortable, and tons of pockets and storage. The hydration bladder is really easy to access, to re-filling at aid stations was super-fast. My only gripe is that I think it runs a little small for the measurements, at least for us busty gals, so I had to undo the straps during the worst of the climbs so that I could breathe easier. (That said, I’ve had to do that with every hydration pack, and even some of the bands on my sports bras, so it may just be me and having a hard time handling any rib cage constriction whatsoever.) I would like to try adding some elastic pieces or extra length to the straps to see if I can fasten it a little looser — straps are extended out as far as possible. Even with un-doing the straps, I didn’t have issues with the pack bouncing or slipping.
  • Hoka One One Challenger ATR 2 shoes. I have two pairs of Challengers, one with ~ 200 miles on them and one with ~ 25 miles on them. I started with the newer pair with the though of having the most amount of cushy padding for the faster, harder-packed section of the course. I think they could have done with a little more breaking in, though, as they were a littler tighter around the toes and I ended up having a blister rubbed on my right big toe from them. I had my well-worn ones waiting for me in my drop bag at mile 15, though, and I switched over to them for the remainder of the race. Definite difference in toe space, so the newer ones will be in for a thorough round of getting even better broken in over the next couple weeks.
  • Balega Blister Resist merino socks. I’ve had really good luck with these socks. Small aforementioned blister was due to the shoes and part of my tape getting scrunched up. Socks are super-comfortable, and even when my feet got a bit wet during one of the creek crossings, the merino kept my feet warm and comfortable.
  • SmartWool arm sleeves. These are a really good option for me when conditions are slightly cooler. I tend to warm up very quickly when running, especially once the sun is out. So it has to be near-Arctic conditions (or raining) for me to wear jackets or long sleeves. I started with the arm sleeves, ditched them in my drop bag at the halfway point, and only briefly wished I had kept them with me for a couple miles of cooler, cloudy weather between mile 20-23. And then the sun came out again and I was perfectly warm in my tank top.

What I Consumed
I did sooooo well in the food/drink department this time around, and it made such a difference. I followed the mantra of “eat early and often” so I never got behind on my intake as the race went on, and as foods got a little less appealing, I still had reserves left in my tank from earlier.

I’ve also learned that consistent calories is more important for me that hitting an exact number of calories, especially taking in large quantities at a time. I do much better with a few bites of something every 30 minutes rather than a gorge-fest at the aid stations.

Huma Chia seed gels were a surprise hit — I could have managed a couple more of them. They were a great option for when I hit the level of “but I don’t wanna eat.” More substantial than Gu/other gels (most of which were concocted in a chem lab test tube), and made with all natural ingredients, they’re easy to slurp and swallow, sit well, and don’t have a fast-hit-and-crash effect on me. Strawberry, Raspberry, Mango, Lemonade, and Strawberry Lemonade are all ones I’ve enjoyed.

Hydration went really well, between carrying my water pack and a soft bottle in one of the pockets that held Skratch labs drink mix. This is definitely my go-to for any kind of electrolyte drink…about the only thing that tastes good when it gets lukewarm, and it’s really mild-flavored. Also not concocted in a chem lab. Has passed the approval test for both riding and running.

Misc Thoughts on What Went Right
I was really surprised at my fast recovery. I’ve felt far worse after shorter races than I did after this one, so obviously I didn’t over-do it, and went in with sufficient training. I even went to the gym the Tuesday after the race…not at all-out capacity and effort, but enough to engage in “active recovery.”

I ran with music. I have “meant to” in the past, and then would get to the point where I couldn’t mentally be bothered to deal with it, or I was going to “wait” until I hit the wall (uhhh, that *was* hitting the wall). I did my Mt Ord training run with it right fromthe start, realized just *how much* it helped. Music went on a couple miles in and stayed on the whole time.
However, I apparently need to get a new iPod. My old one has vanished into the ether (WTH? I have no idea how I managed that one. It’s highly aggravating, because it has to be around here somewhere, I just don’t know where and I’ve torn everything apart searching for it) so I was using my phone and the music I have stored on it. Downside? I don’t have as much music as I would like on it, in order to save space. Plus, having my earbuds attached made it that much more stuff I had to fumble with if I wanted to pull my phone out for photos, or when I took my pack off. First world runner problems.
Staying at the venue ahead of time was a really good idea. While it made for more work, the extra couple hours of sleep was justified. (That said, if I choose to do this again, I have an invitation from a friend who lives very near Lake Pleasant to stay at her place.)
I never went into quit mode. I slowed down, and I heartily bitched a few times, and there was much bad language to be had…but I never once seriously gave any thought to dropping. (Music also helped. If I’d start feeling too down I’d look for something really peppy and/or loud rock and that would lift my spirits and perk me up.)
Misc “Things to Work On/Change”

I can always do more hill training. I’m a flat-lander with limited access to the kind of true, sustained climbs encountered on this race. If I do this again, I will frequent Mt Ord and Thompson Peak numerous times. Hip flexors were definitely tight/sore during, although they recovered quickly.
Be more consistent in first half speed. My goal was to make it to mile 15 in the “normal start” time allowance of 3:30, and I did it in 3:35. 10 minutes faster than last time, but would still like to get a little more consistent on the sustained speed during the “easier” parts. (That said, I ultimately finished within 9 hours, so didn’t actually “need” that early start extra time on the back half, which meant my hill training was much stronger.)
I didn’t need to carry as much solid food with me as I did. Solids like granola bars/waffles held minimal appeal. Get more chia gels — they are almost always appealing in any weather, and are easy to eat.
If you’re planning on running with someone, discuss your race plan ahead of time — do you stay together the whole time? Do you split off at any point? Do you each “do your own thing?”
I still want to work on getting breathing under control. It was better this time, but I still feel like my lung capacity is compromised in some form or fashion. I’m hesitant to just grab the inhaler option if I don’t absolutely have to.
Went through way more electrolytes than I had planned, so I need to start carrying a “backup stash” of them in my pack. I didn’t run out but I only had one left.
Will I do Crown King again? Never say never. Now that I’ve done it, there’s a part of me that would like to improve on what I did.  Next year, though, I would like to tackle the Whiskey Basin run in Prescott — multiple distances offered, all held on the Prescott Circle Trail that forms a 55-mile loop around Prescott. (They offer an 88k, which is the full loop, and then shorter distance of 54k and 31k that have starting points along the trail, and all end up back at Watson Lake.) This year it was the weekend after CK, which would have just been too much back to back, so Whiskey Basin gets the priority nod next year.

May Day Musings

So, it’s been an interesting winter/spring. I don’t know if the fact I still keep attempting to lay out plans, both long and short-term, despite the “plans never survive first contact with reality” adage that is an all-too-frequent reality, is persistence and stubbornness, or bordering on futility.

Running events actually went pretty close to plan, albeit with some major “not according to plan” weather interruptions. You know you’re in Arizona when, in the space of two months, the weather goes from hypothermia to heat stroke.

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“but it hardly ever rains in the desert…”

I’m very pleased with how my running season went this time around. No major injuries, and conquering Crown King/getting that first 50k completion. My two major goals, and I managed both of them.

What I’m finding very interesting is the aftermath.

Trail running is definitely not my all-encompassing joy and passion the way riding is. I don’t actually like to train for running. I get a lot of satisfaction out of finishing a race, and I enjoy the social aspect, but I have a hard time mustering up a ton of enthusiasm for the idea of going out for a long training run by myself. For me, it tends to be more of a “put in the work or you’re not going to enjoy the outcome” type of mentality when it comes to training.

After giving it some thought, I don’t know if the idea of moving beyond the 50k distance really holds a ton of appeal. The idea of having to do way more training above and beyond what I did for CK has very little appeal. Maybe if I had easier access to trails, I would feel differently, but as it is now, it’s a lot of work for me to get to actual trails, and takes a lot of time. Because I do have to drive everywhere (to the barn, to trails), that alone eats into the time allotted for my “play time.” And there are other things in my life that mean more to me than running/moving up in ultra distances.

(However, as long as I have the dogs, I will always be doing some degree of running, because that’s the fastest way to happy terriers.)

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Comparing that to riding, there’s been very few times where I haven’t felt like riding. Especially if I’m on a good horse that I really like, the training and conditioning doesn’t feel like a chore or something that “has” to be done. It’s something I truly enjoy. (I always keep in mind Julie Suhr’s advice that “If you don’t enjoy the conditioning process, this is not the sport for you.”)

And it’s a good thing, too, since that tends to be the area in which all attempts at planning completely fall apart. If I didn’t love it so much, this would probably be an exercise in frustration/futility.

To whit: I was supposed to ride Liberty at the Bumble Bee ride two weekends ago. (Normally scheduled for January, but massive amounts of rain pushed it into April.) However, vehicle problems (NOT mine this time) prevented her from making it to the ride. I swear this ride is jinxed for me. Not once have I actually ridden it and finished.

Bumble Bee, A History:

  • Year One: Didn’t have a horse to ride, so volunteered.
  • Year Two: Liberty and I went overtime on the 25.
  • Year Three: My suburban engine blew up a week before the ride and I wasn’t going anywhere.
  • Year Four: Lameness pull after the first loop of the 25 on Liberty.
  • Year Five: Vehicle problems that prevented Liberty from being brought down for me to ride.

So, since I was already there, with all my stuff, I begged a bed off of friends for the night, and volunteered on ride day.

Not what I had planned, but I still had a good time, and felt right at home again with my endurance tribe. I once again landed my “master timer” job, which, aside from vet scribing, is one of the things I really like doing. I’m very organized, so the “keeping track of things” element of it is right up my alley, and apparently I can be quite bossy/direct when it comes to making sure the process runs smoothly.

Meanwhile, with the weather warming up, the pony is quite happy. Winter coat is shed out and she’s working on baldifying herself for the summer. Warm weather also = explosive hoof growth, so never mind that I trimmed her three weeks ago…by the time I got down to the barn this past weekend, it looked like eight weeks had gone by.

So that was a happy couple of hours spent meticulously working on her feet that had really gotten away from me this winter/early spring. Still not 100% where I like to see them, but since the goal is not “lame the pony from a crappy trim,” I’ll keep working at it over the next few weeks. She’s gone from “let me grow stupid-high upright feet and heel” to “let me show you how long my toes can get.” Pony feet = never boring.

And then we rode. God bless my sainted pony for putting up with me while I’m caught in this “ugh, I feel like a hot mess who doesn’t know how to ride” cycle. Apparently 24 years of riding, over 10 of which involved lessons, showing, and instruction, means nothing to my psyche right now, since I’m overthinking and just trying way too hard. However, I had a revelation on Saturday that somewhere along the way I completely forgot I had lower legs, and have been doing way too much upper leg and letting the lower leg just gleefully swing along for the ride.

And I wonder why I tip forward, or most of my ride photos have my lower leg trailing along somewhere back at my horse’s flank. Apparently the idea of the lower leg as your stable base of support isn’t just some radical suggestion.

Arena time = way too much think time. I need more trail time.

In unfortunate other news, fire season already started here with the Sawmill Fire burning approximately 47,000 acres north of Sonoita, including part of the Empire Ranch, base camp to the Old Pueblo ride, and part of the Arizona Trail on the west side of the highway (which is a major section of trail for one of the ride days, and my favorite trail for the ride).

It’s too soon to tell how it will impact the ride. The 2017 ride happened already (March), but I don’t know what will happen for 2018. The fire is at 94% containment right now.

Much closer to home is the Cactus Fire, right along the Salt River…one of my go-to trail locations. 800 acres and 85% containment, but only about 4 miles away from some large residential areas of northeast Mesa. It’s also one of the spots where the Salt River wild horses like to hang out; fortunately it appears that none of the wild horses have been hurt or killed and they are staying clear of the area.

The weather has been hot, dry, and windy for the past week, so decidedly not helpful in fire control. Southern AZ in particular gets very windy; enough so that they had to ground air support several times due to high winds.

Hoping and praying for some spring rain, or early monsoons…all of the lush greenery from the winter rains has turned dry, brown, and crunchy, and we’re currently sitting at “tinderbox” status right now. :/