Habit

21 days to form a habit, or so the adage goes. Newer research suggests it can be anywhere from two weeks to eight months to form a new habit.

And how quickly do we lose them?

Right now, I feel like I’ve lost some of my habits. Somewhere along the way, I’ve fallen out of the habit of many things I used to do. Running. Writing. At this point, even riding. And once you fall out of the habit of doing something, and you look back on it, it makes you wonder, “How did I do that?”

How did I run a 50k ultramarathon three years ago, and now after 1/8th of a mile down the canal path, I’m gasping for breath? Sure, I can blame hurting my ankle back in December and it still not being 100% right, but the truth is, I fell off the fitness bandwagon last summer, and have yet to find sufficient motivation to climb back on it again. I need to — I’m out of shape, feel like a squishy marshmallow, and have some extra pounds that have decided to creep up on me that really need to go. I also need to get creative, since the gyms are all still closed, and part of why I stopped going last year was to save $$$ on membership costs. I did add 1/4-mile jog to the daily dog walk routine yesterday, and ugh. It’s like starting back at the beginning. But it’s something, right?

p2268017215-o192582975-6

3 years (and about 20 pounds) ago. While I don’t have much desire to make a grab for the ultra-distances again, I did enjoy the cross-training I incorporated and want to get back to that.

General fitness work…that, I need to get creative, since gyms are closed and Amazon is currently out of stock of all free weights. I’ve started doing a “plank a day” and adding time every day…and my abs and core are laughing at me. Not for the first time do I wish people held fitness as well as horses do.

While backing up some computer files the other day, I got to browsing through and opening up some of my creative writing files. I used to creative write all the time, especially during college and my stint in court reporting school. Why write term papers when you can write creative fiction? I was in such a habit of it, I never realized how prolific I was. Of course, my major failing as a writer? I have a hard time actually finishing things. The vast majority of my writing projects are unfinished…some just need a chapter or two tacked on, others are half-started ideas. It’s always been for fun, not publication, an exercise for my creative brain cells, and often times, good therapy, since there’s no law about creating fictional representations of annoyances and subsequently beating the crap out of them on paper.

thumbnail_IMG_2922

All of my creative writing projects from 2005 onward live on this drive (and a couple of other back-up places)

But while the ideas are still there in my head, and sometimes scribbled down in one of my never-ending ideas notebooks…I don’t remember the last time I sat down to a keyboard and a blank Word doc and actually wrote. (Creative fiction, not blogging or a work article/project.) And I find myself out of the habit. Words don’t come easily. Characters who once lived in my head feel like strangers. I get caught up on the minutiae and technicalities of writing versus just letting the story come. I feel self-conscious and self-judgmental. (Why??? If I have no intention of publishing, why can’t my brain just switch off and let me write for myself?) Or I can’t be bothered to try to put words on a page, because I have a story playing out in my head, and I can’t translate what’s visually playing out in my head as cleanly into words as I would like. So I let my writing habit fall by the wayside. Although I do still find myself scribbling down random ideas…so there’s still hope…

And riding. How do you admit that you’re out of the habit of the one thing that has been a constant in your life for the past 27 years? Or that you’re losing heart for the one habit that has pretty much defined your life? Obviously in the immediate here-and-now, with rides shut down and no signs of getting back to “normal” on the horizon any time soon, it’s of little to no consequence. But the future? I don’t know what the future holds.

This has been another slow, downward spiral. It started last year after Flash got hurt. I wasn’t there, I had nothing to do with it…but having my favorite horse taken out of commission really knocked the wind out of my sails. Maybe it was dumb on my part to get so attached to a catch ride horse who isn’t mine, but my heart doesn’t always obey logic, and I connected and bonded with that horse from the first moment I interacted with him. He raised the bar to a whole new level for me, where it isn’t even fair to the other horses I’ve catch ridden to try to compare. Even though I’ve ridden him fewer than a dozen times all told, he changed the face of endurance for me.

IMG_7663

It’s been a year since he got hurt, and was at the vet clinic only 2 miles away from me for a couple weeks as part of his recovery time. I loved my daily visits with him, and how much he loves smooches and selfies.

The inglorious end to my winter 100-mile plans struck another blow. Not only was it yet another case of plans going awry, this time I also felt like a major failure. Pretty sure part of the deal of catch-riding your friend’s pony doesn’t entail breaking your friend’s pony. :/ Was it a pre-existing situation and something he had brewing for a while? Yes, most likely. But whatever the case, it was ultimately caught up to him on my watch, which still makes me feel guilty, and I can’t help but armchair quarterback myself and wonder what I missed along the way, where I went wrong, what could I have done different. I had been feeling pretty dang good about the whole endurance thing, felt like I had finally grasped the elusive art of pacing, was getting my ducks in a row, might actually have a shot at cracking my 1,000 endurance miles milestone…ah, nope.

Since then, I’ve made no real attempts to try to ride. Excitement flared briefly after winning a raffle entry to the Barefoot in NM ride, and the offer of the ride manager’s super-experienced horse to take me through…but that ride was supposed to happen in April, which it obviously didn’t.

And finally, even almost-27-yr-old Mimi decided to get in on the “fun.” Sometime back in March, probably when I was gone at Convention, she whacked a front leg on something. Who knows what. Wouldn’t be the first time. End of March, I noticed a hard lump on the outside of her right front leg that she was flinchy to hard palpation on, and was off at the trot under saddle and in-hand.

91280372_271124350551178_2941572338811928576_n

That wasn’t there before…

The area corresponded roughly to where the splint bones are, but I wasn’t sure if they went down quite that low. Fortunately the vet was scheduled to be out for spring shots within the following days, and she took at look at it, declared it to be a “remodeling splint” that wasn’t impinging on any ligaments or tendon area, and that it would just take time.

So I’ve done one 5-minute bareback meander on her for the past two months. Last weekend, we took a couple-mile hand walk around the barn neighborhood, where she proceeded to still be an utterly hilarious pain-in-the-butt who still thinks she can drag me around like the pipsqueak 11-yr-old I used to be. Spoiler alert: She can’t since I now have the power of height, weight, the correct application of physics and leverage, and most importantly, a rope halter, to my benefit. But it’s still funny to see her try, and her sassiness and attitude makes my heart happy. She owes me nothing, and has well-earned a life of ultimately being a happy pasture pony if that’s what she needs.

She’s also happily trashing fly sheets, since we are two weeks into the season with this year’s sheet and it’s already looking tattered. This doesn’t bode well for its survival for the entirety of the summer. I think I will start a betting pool for how long it actually lasts…

95758197_10112452965264681_7731206510239285248_n

She’s unamused by unicorns, apparently.

Combine all of that, though, and I’m just not feeling all that motivated at the moment to seek out saddle time. Which is a bit weird when so much of my life has revolved around and been defined by horses for so many years. I don’t know. Maybe I’m just feeling a bit burned out. Or at least tired of trying so hard and fighting so hard and feeling like I’m getting nowhere. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: Horses, and endurance, are not for the faint of heart.

On the flip side, there is one habit I’ve apparently picked up: my succulent obsession habit. I’ve added “a few” new additions since my post on the subject last month, and I’m a wee bit obsessed with tending my plant babies right now. Which is really ironic, because succulents tend to thrive on benign neglect, so they’re probably feeling a bit suffocated with me hovering around, waiting for them to dry out and show signs of “water, please!” (Pretty sure I’ve killed my past batches with love via over-watering, so to that end, I now have a moisture probe, an the watering bottle doesn’t come out until that needle is hard-pegged on “dry” and the plants are looking wrinkly.) The biggest challenge will be getting them through the hot summer months, especially as the evenings heat up, and I have way too many of them to bring them inside the air conditioning. I may have to get creative with ice packs…

I know what I’m feeling right now is a rough patch, the culmination of things that have been building over time and finally coming to a head, in a time when everything is weird. This isn’t the first time my motivation has ebbed or that I’ve found myself frustrated and asking “why?” in regards to my equine sport of choice. I also tend to fling myself at projects, ideas, and tasks with a bit of wild abandon, putting a lot of time and energy, both physical and emotional, into them (see: “How many plants can Ashley buy in the span of three months?”), so it doesn’t entirely surprise me that eventually I would start feeling some effects of burnout along the way.

Right now, I don’t have any answers, just the thoughts that were swirling around in my head during this morning’s walk. But I do have plant seeds in the mail and on their way to me…after managing to sprout three adenium and a dozen lithops, I’ve decided to try my hand at raising echeveria from seeds. Because apparently my brain still needs a project, even if it’s not one of my “usual” habits.

100-Mile Musings

I don’t spend a ton of time on Facebook discussion groups, endurance-related or otherwise. I tend to “lurk” — I read and pay attention, but don’t often chime in, mostly because I’ve always tended to keep a fairly low public profile and social media, and use it more for direct interaction with friends and people I know. But I digress. Long story short, a thread on one of the endurance groups popped up in my newsfeed this afternoon and caught my attention.

The gist of the topic? What is stopping people from doing 100s?

Good question. Wish I knew the answer. Especially because I could probably be the poster child for a skeptical eyebrow raise of “Why do you keep doing this?” with all of the ups and downs I’ve experienced along the way. Maybe I’m just a slow learner, because I still have a love affair with wanting to try 100s. I got into endurance with the specific wish and desire to do 100s. Especially Tevis, but all of the 100s (particularly the “buckle” 100s) have appeal to me and are on my “I hope I don’t have to wait until the unforeseeable future to get to do them” list. With my current set-up as a catch-rider, the 100-mile goal becomes that much more elusive, but it doesn’t stop me from hoping/wishing/scheming.

Virginia City…my #1 “must return” 100-miler…because where else do you start in the dark in front of a saloon? And 76 miles gave me a serious taste of, “oh, so close.”

Both of my 100 attempts have just left me wanting a finish (at those rides, and at any 100, really) that much more. Pulls at 50s and LDs tend to bum me out, and yes, while I really  wanted finishes at the 100s, I feel like even starting those rides was an accomplishment.

Just like there’s a phrase about “horses who can do 100 miles” and “100-mile horses,” I think the same probably applies to people. There are people who can and will do 100s…and others who eat/sleep/breathe 100s. Although I haven’t completed one yet, I’m pretty sure I fall in the latter category. It’s difficult to describe why, or the personal appeal. I do this sport for fun, and there are elements of 100s that are most definitely not always fun. But I guess for me, those times when you think, “this is stupid” or “what was I thinking?” are outweighed by the satisfaction of conquering and accomplishing something supremely challenging.

IMG_4082

I got to see the start banner from more than just the window of the crew vehicle…so I at least got my “Tevis start” experience under my belt. Now I need the buckle ON my belt.

Besides, there is something magical that happens after 50 miles. I have absolutely loved starting in the dark, and being out riding in the dark. There’s a bit of a dichotomy that occurs…a desire to get as far down the trail as possible before losing the light…but also a part of me that wants to linger, to not be in too much of a rush and miss that opportunity to be out, watching as the stars appear.

Even when riding with other people, there’s a connection that happens between you and the horse in the dark. They can see — you can’t. You have to be willing to put a lot of faith and trust in their hooves to carry you through that trail safely…and I can tell you from experience, you feel pretty darn bonded to the horse after that.

IMG_0103

On the trail at dusk, racing the fading light.

I don’t really know where I was necessarily going with all of that, aside from my own random musings, and if it really had a point other than to illustrate that I really think those people who want to do 100s will find a way to make it happen (eventually, one way or another), and those that really don’t find it their particular cup of tea won’t. That is one of the benefits of endurance in that if does offer so many options…I just hope there are enough people that like and continue to like and support 100s to keep them around long enough for me to jump in and participate more as the opportunity arises.

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.

IMG_7998

“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.)

17554134_10107682387770221_6972872268075058055_n

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. :/