Friday, May 22, 2015

MOVING...ADJUST BOOKMARKS

I am going to be moving this blog over to a new Wordpress domain, so please adjust your bookmarks to

http://gopony.me


I will possibly add a re-direct from this page within the next couple of weeks; but at the very lkeast

Excuse the dust while I attempt to re-organize and re-structure.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Weekly Roundup

An experimental new series: my week's worth of random tidbits, discoveries, and things I found interesting.

Does a mare's ear size have a positive effect on her performance abilities?

This idea for a homemade saddle pad drying rack.

Pam Smith's account of her 2013 Western States 100 win. Some interesting tips and insight.

On the heels of yesterday's post about getting my running mojo back, I'm hoping my next race will be the Flagstaff Big Pine in June. I was offered a free race entry, so now I'm trying to coordinate if I can get the weekend away. Given that it is high elevation, I will likely go for the 13k distance (as much as the small voice is saying 'Do the 27k and make the trip worth it").

In honor of the Kentucky Derby this past weekend, the movie 50 to 1 was (finally!) just released on DVD; based on the true story of the 2009 Kentucky Derby and the long-shot winner Mine That Bird. Normally I don't watch horse movies -- they are either too depressing or too angsty along the way, but this one was really good with minimal drama and no tears...it's a great story and a thoroughly entertaining movie.

The battle within the waterproof-breathable fabric market.

Horse people always need knots.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

restarting the mojo

It's happened enough times now that I'm able to recognize a fairly distinctive pattern in how I operate, especially in how I tend to approach and deal with the aftermath of failure.

-- Immediately following 'x' event, I'm still pretty gung-ho about giving it another go -- it may have beat me, but hey, it was a good learning experience and now I know for next time...and there will be a next time.

-- After some dwell time, I start brooding and feeling sorry for myself, and generally entertaining "why bother?" types of thoughts. Because I'm clearly not meant to do whatever it was I was attempting, since I failed at it.

-- I either get sick of my own attitude, or some outside force intervenes and drags me back into the fold of whatever I was distancing myself from, and I'm reminded of why I like 'x' activity in the first place.

The latest event to throw me into this cycle was, of course, my DNF at the Crown King Scramble 50k. Not only was I physically broken, but my mental psyche took a pretty good hit, too, and I was having a really hard time remembering why I thought this whole running thing was a good idea in the first place.

I guess that's one of the hazards of the "jump into the deep end" approach...there's a greater risk of failure than a more cautious approach. But at the same time, I suppose I'm at optimist at my core, because I tend to have a "you don't know until you try" outlook.

And I will say, for the most part, on things I've failed at the first time around...I've come back to them again and been successful.

It was disheartening to pull from the first 50 I ever attempted...and to have to cancel my entry before the ride on my first two attempts to get to a 50 with Mimi...and to get thoroughly beaten by the trail at Man Against Horse...and to have a crappy running season...

But in the long run, I've managed to pull a lot of those monkeys off my shoulder and stuff them into a zoo where they belong. It took me seven years, but I got back to that ride scene of my inglorious first pull, and under similar circumstances (same trail, another borrowed horse), I finished it (Old Pueblo 2013).

That first 50 with Mimi was a wonderful experience. By inadvertently being forced to wait (things like saddle fit and her getting bitten on the back), it meant that Dad and I would tackle that first 50 together...as so many of our trail adventures have been shared together, it seemed only appropriate that a big leap into endurance would also be shared.

2008 Man Against Horse may have been a disaster, culminating in getting pulled for "likely being overtime"...but I took everything that went wrong that year and funneled it into a "how to do better" approach...and in 2009, we had pretty much a perfect ride. That finisher's buckle is one of my more treasured possessions. But after 2008, and two crappy back-to-back rides/pulls, I was ready to throw in the towel...in fact, I didn't even ride the pony for a couple of months. And then a friend offered me a horse for the 2009 Wickenburg 25, which I accepted...we had a great ride, Top Tenned, the fire to ride got reignited, and the next month, dragged the pony back into action fora successful 50-miler.

Three-and-half so-so miles still beats zero miles
And last night, I ran for real for the first time since Crown King (end of March). It wasn't all that pretty at times...but it got done. And really, it was just my cardio that had suffered. Fortunately, I've still been walking the dog every morning...and I snuck a 3-day, 25-mile backpacking trip to the Grand Canyon in there. 

I can easily fall into somewhat hermit-esque tendencies, especially when I'm hosting a personal pity party, so it does me a world of good to get out of the house, do something, and be around people who share a common interest.

Last night might have been a bit of a rough run, but good times with friends more than made up for it, and got me remembering why I thought this was a good idea...if not for the running itself, then for  the community.

Having such an encouraging, positive, supportive environment really helps, too -- the "you failed" mentality is entirely of my own design, and all the feedback I've gotten has been positive encouragement that I even tried such a race as my first ultra attempt.

As far as coping strategies go, I'm not sure mine ranks in the Top Five Recommended Ways to Handle Failure...but at least I recognize how I operate? And that I eventually manage to get back on track?

Monday, March 30, 2015

Crown King Scramble 50k: My first ultra attempt and DNF




I knew going in that it was an overambitious plan. An ultramarathon (anything over the marathon distance of 26.2 miles) is tough enough...but to pick the somewhat notorious Crown King Scramble, with its over 6000' of climbing, as a first? Well...see the quote at the top of this post.

Maybe choosing an "easier" 50k as a first ultra would have been the "smart" decision...but following "smart" decisions doesn't always result in fulfillment either. If I finished, it would be a major accomplishment...if I didn't it would probably at least net me a major learning experience and hopefully a good story.

It was a bit of both.

Ultimately, I pulled myself at the 26.5-mile point...so it was the unadvertised Crown King marathon, at least. ;) That is the absolute farthest distance I've ever gone (again, some might question the wisdom of starting an ultra when the longest run you've ever done was 22 miles), and definitely the most climbing. I ran out of body (lungs/legs) for the time I had left...if you look at the elevation profile, I still had the steepest point to cover -- about 1000' of climbing, in 3 miles, in an hour...at a  pace that was netting me approximately 23-minute miles...even my tired brain could do the math and realize I wouldn't make the cutoff, especially since I was physically out of gas to be able to push myself any faster. I also had some IT band issues that prevented me from adequately being able to run the downhills (lost time there) -- and the last two miles was all downhill.

So you'll pardon me if this is a bit disjointed as I go through it...brain is still majorly fuzzy. I actually feel better than I have coming off of other races...the IT band at my left knee is the hurting-est part, and my forefeet are letting me know I need to reevaluate my shoe choices (again!), but muscle-wise, I feel good...and mentally, I'm vacillating between satisfaction at how far I did manage to get, disappointment at not finishing, a bit of feeling sorry for myself for failing, and lots of introspection.

I definitely learned a ton and got a good dose of reality (and ego smack-down) handed to me in that I can honestly say I was under-prepared and under-trained for what I was tackling. Sure, I didn't know what to expect, having never seen the course...but I greatly underestimated the elevation profile and the difficulty of that much climbing. I'm a strong hiker and decent, albeit slow, climber...but I underestimated how much the first 15 miles would take out of me, as I'm not world's strongest runner (since that's the "flatter" section, you have to make your time there, so you end up going into the climbing second half on already-tired legs).

Getting drop bags set up and food sorted
The aid stations were spaced at miles 8.5, 15.3, 19.1, 22.3, and 27, and drop bags were allowed at stations 1-4. The first two were spaced further apart than I'm used to...I think the longest stretch I'd done at a race was just over 5 miles between aid stations, and I'm kind of a "needy" runner in that I require a lot of hydration and a decent amount of nutrition to keep going steadily. (It's the same reason I always carry so many water bottles on my saddle at endurance rides...I dehydrate quickly and physically cannot function on minimal hydration.)

So my plan was to wear my Ultimate Direction hydration pack, which has a 1.5-liter (50 oz) water bladder, and carry an Amphipod Hydraform Thermal-Lite handheld. I have to say, this is my new favorite handheld. Definitely the easiest to carry of all of them I've tried, and I love the insulating sleeve that kept the whole thing cold. Plus the wide-mouth bottle is really easy to fill at the aid stations. I started the race with Succeed Amino in the handheld, drained it by mile 8.5, refilled it with water + more Amino, drained it about halfway by mile 15 where I topped it off with straight water, and then by mile 19, I was over the Amino and just wanted cool water in both the pack and the handheld.

For food, I had Honey Stinger gels, Honey Stinger chews, Honey Stinger waffles, Pay Day bars, Clif ShotBlocks, GU, Bonk Breaker bars, and a gel flask filled with a peanut butter and honey mix. Looking back, I thought I was doing pretty good, nutrition-wise, at the time...but now I know I really could have done way better, and I think it caught up to me by about mile 23. Out of my stash, I ended up eating one Honey Stinger gel, one pack of Honey Stinger chews, one Honey Stinger waffle, and maybe 1.5 ounces of peanut butter mix. I had real food at the aid stations: bean roll-ups, potatoes, pickles, and at mile 19, it was a brief moment of nirvana when they handed me an OtterPop. 

But once it started getting warm, I had a harder time finding things that would appeal...so that's going on the drawing board of "Things To Work On" this summer, along with still messing around with shoes, and potentially hydration packs.

(Honestly, I envy the "non-fussy" people out there that seem to be able to run through anything. I tend to nitpick my equipment to death, trying to get everything "right"...and when I'm in a bad mood about my abilities or lack thereof, I think "Maybe I'm just blaming my gear for my shortcomings when in reality I just kind of suck as a runner." It's the same mentality I grew up with when riding: "A truly good rider can ride in any saddle, so if your position is bad, it's just because you're not good enough." ...never mind the saddle might be a bad fit for you and completely putting you out of balance and unable to find a good position. I think the same thing goes here...there's a certain amount of discomfort you have to push through, but you hit a point where there's only so much lack-of-proper-function you can work with before realizing "Something needs to change.")

The start for the race was at Lake Pleasant. Normal start was at 6AM, and finish cutoff was 3PM. First cutoff was at the 15.3 mile aid station, at a time of 9:30. They also offered an "early start" option that started at 5AM; only caveat to that being you were only eligible for finish status, not any of the top prizes. 

(To which my comment was I doubt any of us that were doing the early start were in danger of setting a new course record and thus having an unfair advantage. I could write a whole post on the pros/cons of the early start and whether it's "fair" and blah blah blah...but the bottom line is, if the race offers it, then there's not a problem with taking it.)

Obviously, I opted for the early start option. My reasons were two-fold: one, I was worried about making that first 15 miles in the time cutoff, because that was right up against my comfortable pace limits, especially if I needed to have something left in the tank for later. Second reason being that we're experiencing some slightly unseasonably warm temperatures here...AZ hit the fast-forward button over spring and is beelining us straight into summer. So if I could get myself that much further down the trail while it was still pleasant out, all the better.

Major, major kudos to my dad, who got up at 2:00 in the morning in order to drop me off at a friend's house where several of us would be carpooling together. Since the race was a point-to-point, it involves quite a bit of coordination, cooperation, and multiple willing sherpas/pack mules/drivers/patient-and-wonderful people.

The carpool was on the road by 3:20ish, and at the race start at the north boat ramp at Lake Pleasant by 4:15, where we had lots of time to deposit drop bags, check in, pin/re-pin number bibs, and I worked on finishing off the breakfast (ham/cream cheese on a bagel) I'd been nibbling since the car ride.
Before the start! I've met all of these wonderful ladies through
the Aravaipa groups runs and races, and it was wonderful sharing
the race and the weekend with them!
You can see all of yours truly's gear above (far right): started with a Buff (which I then swapped out for a hat at the first aid station), headlamp (dropped at first aid station, but first four miles were in the dark), Kerrits IceFil tank, Kerrits IceFil sleeves (kept me warm enough in the morning and then soaked them down at every water spot available), Salomon XR running shorts, Dirty Girl gaiters, Salomon Speedcross3 shoes (swapped out at mile 15 for my New Balance Fresh Foam Trail...more on shoes later), and Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta.

And see all that tape on my left leg? I had tweaked my IT band somehow during the Mesquite Canyon half marathon two weeks prior...the first half of the race was great, and then all of a sudden it hurt to run or even walk downhill (of course the rest of the race was all downhill at that point), and although I had been icing and slathering with arnica and foam rolling, it still wasn't 100% by race day and I was hoping holding myself together with large amounts of tape would be effective.

Sorry, I warned this would be a bit disconnected and all over the place.

Back to the start...right at 5:00, we were given the countdown and probably ~50 or so runner who had chosen the early start option were off in the darkness, headlamps bobbing and lighting the way out the same road we had just driven in on. The first mile was the pavement road leading out of Lake Pleasant and onto a wide, smooth dirt road that curved around the northwestern edge of the lake and then started heading north.

We had been told the first 15 miles was "extremely runnable"...but when the race director/source of information is an extremely hardcore ultrarunner, "consider the source" may be wise words to remember next time. Sure, it was runnable compared to the second half...but there were still some rolling ups and downs, and enough ups that walking was still a good option. If you look at the course profile, you can see if starts gaining in elevation the whole way...it just starts the real climbing halfway through.

I have to say I loved starting in the dark. For whatever reason, it mentally didn't feel like I was racing, and the first four miles kind of flew by before I even realized it...so it was a bonus to realize that much distance had passed.

sunrise

getting passed by race support vehicles on their way to set up
the aid stations

looking back at Lake Pleasant

probably about mile 5 or 6

One of my "mini goals" I had set for myself was to at least make it to the first aid station at 8.5 miles before the front runners from the regular start caught me...and I made it. They caught me almost immediately after...effortlessly running up a hill, looking barely warmed up.

approaching Aid Station #1, Cow Creek AS, mile 8.5
someone has a sense of humor
At Cow Creek, I ditched my headlamp, and retrieved my running cap out of my drop bag, refilled my handheld with more Amino, topped off my water pack, grabbed some potato pieces, and was out of there in I want to say under 5 minutes.

Unfortunately, my IT band had started making its presence known by a couple of miles in...it hadn't gotten much worse, but it was impacting how well I could run downhill.

The hard-pack road was also making me re-evaluate my shoe choice. I had started with my Salomon Speedcross3, which I am quite fond of...but they're more of a technical/soft-dirt type of shoe...as I was getting passed by people, I noticed there were a number of cushioned type of shoes like Altras, Hoka One Ones, and some of the other more cushioned varieties.

Partway through this section was a really lovely, green, shaded area with some old abandoned buildings. Very scenic, and some truly amazing rock formations.





yes, as a matter of fact, most of my running selfies do have me
looking somewhat skeptical...that would be the part of my brain
asking me how much alcohol was involved in this particular decision

At the mile 15 aid station, I had another pair of shoes waiting, since I've learned from past experience it never hurts to have extra shoes. I was definitely glad to have done the early start, since had I not, I would have been out for the time cutoff at mile 15...normal cutoff time allowed 3:30, and I reached it in 3:45...but since I had done the early start, I had the extra hour time buffer.

the famous Crown King directional rock that points the way to go

It was starting to get a little warm, since almost the entire course is exposed and lacking in shade, so at aid station #2 (French Creek AS, 15.3 miles), I grabbed my neck cooler I had stuck in a ziploc bag and added water ahead of time (a carryover riding item), and changed into differnet shoes -- my more-cushioned New Balance Fresh Foam Trail shoes. I also topped off my handheld and hydration pack, and grabbed a couple of bean roll-up pieces.

One of my running friends was working the aid station, so it was nice to see her cheerful presence and get a bit of encouragement, since I was already starting to feel a bit mentally frayed...one of my goals had been to actually make it to the second aid station within the 3:30, so to be slower than that had me demoralized.

Hindsight, maybe I should have stayed there a little longer and recovered better, but I get into a "constant forward motion" mode and feel like I'm wasting time if I linger at an aid station. 

Almost immediately, the climbing started...and so did the road traffic. The course is on the 4x4 jeep/quad road that is the back way up to Crown King. And despite notices posted, and heads-up notices that had been posted on online forums, there was still a ton of off-road vehicle traffic...and in a lot of spots, you have to stop or move way over for them to pass, thus losing time and forward momentum.

I get it, it's not a closed course, blah blah blah...but it's just for one day out of the other 364 in the year...not even a full weekend...couldn't people go kick up dust elsewhere???

The climb between aid stations 2 and 3, miles 15-19, was awful, with 17-19 being especially brutal. It was the kind of sustained, steep climbs that kept on going, where your heart rate keeps going up, and you can never get your breath, and you just plod forward one step at a time.

Or maybe that's just flat-lander me, who got a humbling dose of real hill education that day.

around mile 17-18ish, looking back on where we were

Mile 19, Aid Station 3, Silver Mountain AS, was a small piece or nirvana, as they greeted me with an OtterPop and scoops of ice that I stuffed under my hat and into my sports bra. (Finally, a use for the excessive boobage...I can hold a good amount of ice in there.)

I did stay for a few minutes there, getting my hydration pack filled with ice, and dumping the last bit of Amino out of the handheld and replacing it with just ice water. Aside from the OtterPop, I nibbled some potato chunks, a pickle, a bean roll-up, and a couple of ginger cookies.

I had been told the section between AS3 and 4 (miles 19-22) weren't as bad, so I was heartened a bit by that and set out again. The creek crossings also started shortly after this point, as the road wound through/across/alongside a small creek at the bottom of a canyon, and at every water crossing, I would get my arm sleeves wet, refresh my neck cooler, and dunk my hat/wet my hair. That made a huge difference, and I felt really good all day, metabolically. I was also religiously taking my S!cap electrolyes, starting with a schedule of one an hour in the early morning, then one every 45 minutes, and then one every half an hour as it heated up.

Around mile 20ish, my good humor started fading. I was unable to run the down sections (they were there) thanks to the sore IT band...and I was out of energy/strength to do any kind of sustained running on the flatter sections aside from a shuffle for a couple hundred feet. And uphill was reduced to a hike...not even the power-hike I had hoped for.

I came into Aid Station 4 (the appropriately named Fort Misery, mile 22.3), manned by the Phoenix group of Hash House Harriers, which, based on my understanding, is best described as "a drinking group with a running problem"...and they certainly lived up to the reputation, offering me both beer and whiskey shots. 

They were super-cheerful, offering me the option of dropping there ("Highly overrated, this ultra thing...you could stay here and drink with us!") I politely declined, declaring it would be a waste of good whiskey since I would probably puke it right back up again, based on how I was feeling. I did, however, take them up on their handheld pump sprayer cool-down (and apparently I had the most enthusiastic reaction of the day to that offer), grabbed some chunks of watermelon, tried to shove my crumbling psyche to the side, and trudged out of there.

I had been warned to "not look up" during this section, but you know what happens when edicts like that are issued...I looked up. And saw the road winding around, switchbacking back and forth up the side of the mountain, to what looked like a pick-up truck and some easy-up canopies at the very top. Yep, that would be aid station 5...about 5 miles and 1400' elevation away.

The next couple of miles weren't as bad...but then at about mile 25, I was faced with another big climb...and then I rounded the corner and the whole road went downhill, meaning I would effectively have to redo that entire climb, plus more. 

That was it. That was my breaking point. I couldn't do it. My IT band was hurting, my feet were hurting, I had no legs or lungs left for climbing, and the clock was running down. I trudged down the decline, where it ended at a water crossing where one of the very nice radio communications volunteers was hanging out. In a funny coincidence, it was the same gentleman who had been doing the radio communications at the aid station I had volunteered at during the Black Canyon 100k in February.

He was super nice, and sat me down on a rock in the shade, topped off my handheld with some fresh cold water, and had me find something in my pack to nibble on. I really appreciated that he didn't pressure me one way or the other -- to either drop or really push me to keep going. I sat for about 10 minutes, and right about that time, the last couple of runners and a couple of the other radio communications operators that were doing course sweep caught up to us. 

I was feeling better after nibbling on a protein bar (Bonk Breaker Cookies N Cream...actually pretty good), but my IT band and knee were pretty stiff and sore after sitting, I had done the math with the kind of pace I had been keeping, coupled with the time and miles and climbing left, and concluded that I would put a ton more wear and tear on my body, and still ultimately not make the time cutoff at the summit (mile 29).

So I opted for the ride out with the sweeps...and the way out was on the same road I would have been traversing as the course, and looking at it confirmed that it definitely got way worse before it got better, and I am positive I would have run out of time.

the road on the right is part of the course

I was at the 26.5 mile point when I pulled, so I at least made it a marathon...and that's the farthest I've ever gone. 

It's kind of a long drive back to Phoenix from Crown King -- at least 2 hours without traffic, and the road in/out is about 25+ miles of dirt road, some of it with some switchbacks and steep dropoffs that wouldn't be much fun to drive in the dark, so some of us had made plans to stay overnight and share cabins. That was a fun way to spend the rest of the afternoon/evening, hanging out with some of my running friends, and enjoying the way-cooler temperatures (down in the 40s at night, up at 6000' elevation in the pine trees) and clean mountain air. 

pine trees!
Afterthoughts...

Was I disappointed? Oh, hell yes. I've tried to be a "mind over matter" person, convinced that quitting or failing at something meant I wasn't strong enough or wasn't tough enough...you just have to dig deep and push through it. But that's not me. Maybe that means I'm a wimp, or not mentally strong enough to be able to break down all barriers and blocks. Part of me feels like I let myself down...I didn't train hard enough, or let my lazy streak get the better of me on slacking off physically and figuring mental fortitude would get me through.

It was something I wanted badly, to be able to say "I'm an ultrarunner" and maybe I just didn't set myself up for success right from the start, with picking such a challenging course, and then my unscientific, laissez-faire approach to training and running in general.

I don't know...my whole running season, with the exception of a good 26k at the San Tans in January, has not been a rousing success...which is a risk one takes when one uses races themselves as long training runs, and figures out partway through that piece of gear isn't working, and so on.

So now I'm going to take some time...let the IT band (which is commonly an overuse/too-much-too-fast injury) recover and heal, and then reevaluate. I still have enough stubbornness and ego that, when I get kicked down, I tend to pop back up swinging harder...so my game plan is to shoot for another easier 50k towards the end of the year (getting too hot now to do much) do I have the mental confidence boost that I can do the distance, train more at hills, and tackle Crown King again next year,

But for right now...I'm really tired of getting kicked down. My pity party will eventually pack up and move on, but for now, I think I just need some time to lay low and maybe not attempt anything with a success/fail option for a little bit.







Thursday, March 19, 2015

learning to tell the story

So I'm a bit behind...I owe you guys three run write-ups, a 26k from Jan, a 35k from Feb, and a half marathon from this past weekend. The 26k was awesome, was just waiting on the forensic evidence pro photos...but the 35k was not-as-good...and those are the stories I struggle to tell.

I've come to the realization I have a habit of either skipping the bad stuff, or giving it a footnote mention. Mainly because I'm not sure how to talk about it. Especially when it comes to endurance and the horses.

Some things don't make the blog because they fall under the header of "personal" or "can't do anything to change it so not going to complain/talk about it." And other things...I don't know. Sometimes it's due to diplomacy (especially under the topic of "Other Peoples' Horses") and politics  and politeness and being raised to not air my dirty laundry to an unsuspecting public.

But the badder times on my own pony? I dunno. I realized I've never gone into major detail of any of my "pull" rides with her. Maybe because I was usually in a funk afterwards and didn't feel like revisiting them...or maybe because I didn't want to be judged/criticized/scoffed at.

And that's a mindset I need to change...maybe I coulda/shoulda/woulda done something different...or maybe there was nothing I could have done to change an outcome...but they're all learning experiences, for better or for worse, and ultimately deserve their time in the spotlight. Maybe I screwed up...and maybe someone will learn something from it. (Or it'll at least serve as a Reminder To Self.)

I'm not out to detail every blip or detail of my day (my life isn't that exciting/interesting, for one), and some things, due to the aforementioned reasons of diplomacy/politics/politeness, are better left for private conversations, but I think I can do a better job of learning to tell the story -- the good and the bad -- and embracing the learning experience.

Sometimes I wish I had been blogging back when I first started distance riding. I sort of did, in a way -- a personal journal, the sort that will never see the light of day -- but I would have liked to have a more detailed record of some of my earlier rides. I have photos, and I have vet cards, and generally a "best of" highlights reel that plays in my head, but it's only been in the last few years I've started doing really detailed ride stories (mostly for my benefit, because I enjoy writing them, as well as for future reference...and I know how much I enjoy reading others' ride stories).

a waaaaay before blogging moment...Mimi and I at the POA
World Show in Spanish Fork, UT, July 2002...our last show ring
hurrah, and the final events/points needed to get her Supreme
Championship in the POA registry.

So that's my task...I've got the stories...now I need to tell them. :)

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Getting Started in Distance: It Doesn't Have to Be Complicated

One of the big obstacles I see/hear about when it comes to people getting into distance riding is that it's overwhelming, they don't know where to start, and don't want to "mess it up." (Hey, I'm still there on that last one.)

I'm going to make it simple: Start with what you have.

Seriously.

The basics you need are (and this is just my opinion, FWIW, based on my own personal experience): A fit, sane, sound horse; a saddle that fits your horse and yourself; a tack set-up that fits and offers control; a way to carry water/snacks for yourself; a way to get to/from the ride.


  • The Horse: Yes, Arabians are the most popular breed in endurance. They excel at long distance in that they have been bred, physically and metabolically, for this sport. That doesn't mean other breeds can't do distance. The record for highest number of Tevis completions is held by a Quarter Horse. Start with what you have, as long as they are fit, sound, and sane. Some breeds may need more, or different, conditioning than an Arabian.

    I would not recommend starting out with a horse with known physical or metabolic issues; distance riding is a challenge and managing a horse with known issues puts you behind the curve and makes it that much harder.

    But you also don't know what your horse can and can't do until you ask. I never imagined my show pony would could ever be a safe trail horse, let alone compete in distance riding.

    She proved me wrong. Ultimately, age and prior use caught up to her and ended her distance career far earlier than either of us were ready for; but she did me proud and I have no complaints.

    So before you rush out and buy a brand-new horse for a sport you haven't done, evaluate your current herd first and see what a good base of conditioning produces. (And then go horse shopping after you're hooked on endurance...many of us operate with more than one horse. ;))
"Non-Arabians can't do distance."
Really???
Mimi may
look like a little grey Arabian mare, but she's a POA:
POA on her sire's side, and full QH on her dam's side.

  • The Saddle: If what you're riding in works, start with that. There's no reason to rush out and spend money on a new saddle -- again, for a sport you may or may not like -- if what you are currently using fits you and the horse and is comfortable. There's a good chance your horse's body shape may change as he gets fitted up, and you may need to saddle shop at that point, but there's no point in spending the money before you have to. Or you may discover that your saddle that is great for a couple of hours isn't so great after 25 miles, but don't assume the worst right away.

    I started distance riding in my gymkhana saddle: a cordura-and-leather Big Horn. It fit Mimi, it was comfortable enough for me, it was secure, and I could attach gear to it. After I stopped showing, I sawed the horn off the saddle so I would quit poking my ribs into it on uphills, but I ultimately used that saddle off-and-on all through my distance career with Mimi, and I still have it as a young horse/back-up saddle. It's not the most comfortable for me -- very wide twist -- but it works in a pinch.

    I will confess that I have been through a number of saddles: Mimi kept outgrowing them, as the fitter she got, the more her back shape changed. (In between saddles, I kept going back to that Big Horn.)

    If you do end up saddle shopping, network around -- if someone near you has a style you're curious about, ask to sit in it or try it out. (I've been able to try more saddles that way and figure out if I like them or not.) There is also an extensive used tack network that exists in the endurance world, since we've all been or are in the process of being in the saddle shopping boat.

    But if you've been logging saddle time and conditioning miles in your current set-up and it's working, stick with that, at least through your first couple of rides.

  • Other Tack: See above -- start with what's been working. The bright colors and matching tack is so tempting...and also not cheap. We all want to look good, especially when showing up to something new...but my advice would be to give it a few rides before splurging at the distance supply stores. All you really need is a halter/lead to tie with, a bridle that offers solid communication and control, and if you're going to be doing hills and have a saddle that potentially slips back, a breastcollar (of a crupper if it slips forward).

    I came out of the show ring, so most of my tack was leather, and some of it even silver-encrusted. Leather, although it smells wonderful and feels even better, generally doesn't do well in the salt-and-water-heavy endurance environment. In other words, you're going to spend as much time cleaning your tack as riding, if you don't want it to wear prematurely and weaken. I did have my day-to-day nylon training gear, and that's what I started with for conditioning gear.

    I will say that if you're coming out of a very different background (show ring, just for example), you may not have some of the necessary gear: like I didn't have a breastcollar, and Mimi's size difference meant the spare one my dad had for his horse really didn't fit...so I did have to buy that.

    But if you're going to have to buy something, search that used tack network. It helps if you're flexible on color, or start with a basic black. I know how much fun it is to try to decide what color is going to look the best on your horse -- believe me, I still like doing that -- but I would recommend holding off on spending money until you decide this really is the sport for yourself and your horse.

    (Some experienced people I know have their new horses "earn" their new tack/own color after a certain number of miles, once they know the horse will like and succeed at the sport.
My first NATRC ride ever: borrowed an experienced trail horse
that came with his own gear; I just added newbie distance rider,
overkill saddle bags, and my own reins. The breeches, helmet, and
paddock boots were what I used  for schooling.

By the time Mimi and i did our first ride, we were fairly well
put-together, but mostly through necessity of figuring out during
training rides that "What I Had Didn't Work."
I still have those basic black pieces of tack for future new horses
who have to "earn" their colors.
  • Water/Snack/Gear Carrier: For anything over 20 miles, you'll probably want some way to carry water and snacks for yourself, as well as a small on-trail kit (small first aid kit, bandanna, vet wrap, cactus comb if you're in the desert, carrots). This could be in the form of carrying it on your person, such as a Camelbak, or some kind of saddle packs. Endurance-specific saddle packs are designed to be bounce-free and low-profile, but some snaps and baling twine can secure standard saddle bags down in a pinch (I didn't know any better, so that's what I used on my first distance ride).

  • Transportation: Most rides tend to be a distance from where people live, so driving there is a necessity. If you have your own vehicle/trailer, you're all set. Work with your horse so that they tie comfortably to the side of the trailer, have a bucket for water and some sort of hay delivery/containment method, and you'll be set. Once you decide this is the sport for you and your horse, you can explore other equine-containment systems such as high ties or portable corrals. (I hard-tied Mimi off to the side of the trailer for a number of years with no problems, and some experienced endurance people still prefer this method as one of the safest and most secure methods; since they have less space to move, you just may need to hand-walk them a bit more often.

    If you are truck-or-trailer-less, there is still a way. Back to that good old networking thing: see if someone around you may be willing to trailer-pool to the ride. If you find someone willing to share their ride with you, it's nice to: offer to split travel expenses, have a horse who is a well-mannered traveler (why I actually don't like trailer-pooling in other people's rigs: Mimi kicks, and has scuffed or torn up a number of rubber wall mats), be ready in a timely fashion, and be organized and have all of your stuff condensed together as much as possible.

    Because my dad and I did all of our rides together, we were our own "trailer-pooling" entity, but I've also done some rig-sharing when riding other people's horses, and it can be a lot of fun. Good company makes a (sometimes long, boring) drive go by a lot faster (and it's nice to have a free set of hands to raid the cooler, and open bags and water bottles), and two sets of hands make camp set-up go smoother and faster as well.

    You also don't need a fancy living quarters trailer to do this sport: for years, we successfully used a 2-horse slant-load trailer, and a combination of the dressing room, back of the trailer, or back of the SUV for sleeping arrangements. Yes, living quarters are a nice luxury -- but there are a lot of people who still pitch a tent. You will see all sort of set-ups at a ridecamp; everyone figures out what works for them, their budget, and their camp needs.

Before I eventually got a Hi-Tie, Mimi successfully hard-tied to
the trailer for years; and that was all Dad's two horses ever did.

"Roughing it", endurance-style: I slept in the front dressing room
of the trailer; Dad set up a cot in the back. Coolers/food table
was also set up in the back, and tack was spread between the rear
tack compartment and the front dressing room.

The biggest "takeaway" advice I have to give is that really, there is very little out there that is a "right" way or "wrong" way if the end result is a fit, sane, sound, comfortable endurance horse, and a comfortable rider. It's the ultimate in "just because everybody else (or what seems to be like everybody else) does it, doesn't mean you have to." Sometimes there is a reason for the popularity of something (like the sturdiness and ease of cleanup of biothane tack), but it never hurts to ask why and the reasoning behind a particular action.

certainly don't have all the answers, of even half of them...just my own personal experience to draw on and relate to others. I've made mistakes, and I've done things right...pretty much like the most of us who dip our toes into the distance riding pool and decide to swim. :)

(PS: If anyone has an endurance questions they want to ask me, I am always open to email inquiries -- see the 'Contact' sidebar towards the top of the page.)

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

cross-training

Coming out of the show world, I'm a huge proponent of cross-training for the endurance horse. It's not just about getting them fit and going down the trail: I expect my horses to be responsive to seat, leg, and rein aids, to give to the bit, the use their hind end to provide impulsion, to carry themselves comfortably, and be solid and comfortable at a walk/trot/canter.

It probably helps that I actually like doing schooling and arena work. There is something predictable and immediate about it...a mix of instant gratification (well, sometimes...) and long-term results. I'm not talking about just drilling endless circles around the ring...that's boring. I'm talking about mixing it up, incorporating things like trot poles, cones, barrels, and other brain exercises into schooling routines that help create a more supple, responsive, endurance horse.

I've been fortunate enough that all of the barns I have boarded at have been performance oriented, so I have always had access to things like cavaletti poles, jumps, cones, barrels...and arena space. Some places have had larger arenas than others...currently, I have access to about a 180'x75' sand arena, which is plenty of space to do w/t/c drills, as well as all sorts of trot pole patterns or weave cones.

Basically, the faster you want to school, the more space you need...but basic trot poles can be done at a walk in a pretty small space...and if you're just starting out, most of what you're going to do is at a walk or trot anyway.

I've pulled a lot of inspiration and schooling exercises from patterns learned during my time in the show ring. Reining and gymkhana patterns, or modified versions of parts of them, are great bending and suppling exercises.

Traffic cones and trot poles are usually the easiest things to come by, and take the least amount of room to store, so that's what I've used as my illustrations. For trot poles, I like finding the heaviest wood ones that are still manageable -- they're less likely to bounce  and roll if the horse hits them, and I've had enough occasions where a solid whack of the hoof on the pole was enough to get them to start lifting their hooves. PVC gets brittle here in the sun -- one tap of the hoof and it will shatter -- plus, they're lightweight and roll at the slightest tap, so you'll be constantly resetting poles.

It's really nice to have a helper on the ground when it comes to setting poles, but after a time or two, you'll learn what the best spacing is for poles and what your horse's stride length is most comfortable at. I don't get too worked up over having things perfectly spaced and aligned, either...because I'm also trying to teach them to pay attention to the ground and their feet, and adjust their stride accordingly, which may mean imperfectly spaced poles/uneven ground surface.

Just some (bad) illustrations of some of my favorites: (Disclaimer: My horse-schooling skills are better than my Paint drawing skills.)

Flat Poles
The basic flat trot poles: Great for working on straightness, paying attention to their feet, and using their hind end for impulsion. The spacing given for each gait is a rough guideline and place to start: you may have to fine-tune the spacing for your individual horse's stride.


The Circle:
 This one is fun. Great for working a circle, and on bending and impulsion at the same time. The faster you go, the larger you'll want to make the circle/space the poles. Definitely a challenging one...start slow and work up.


 Staggered Poles
Similar to the straight poles, but really gets them lifting their feet and driving forward. Having jump standards or pole blocks of some sort really work the best here to lift the end of the pole. In a pinch, I've scraped sand into a pile on one end, or have used concrete blocks (just be aware that if you stick the pole in the inside of the block, it won't go anywhere should the horse hit it and they could trip/catch themselves).


The Box
Endless possibilities! You can do loops around and cross through the box, stop inside of it, work on turns inside, use it as a transition point (walk in/trot out, trot in/canter out, and the inverse -- which is harder to go fast and then slow down). One of the best all-around exercises and leaves a lot of room for creativity.


The Fan
Like a combo of flat poles and the circle...works them on foot awareness and lifting their backs. Would only recommend at the walk/trot...spacing on these is really tricky at the canter and requires a lot of room.


 The L
Stolen from the dreaded trail course back-through obstacle, if spaced wide enough, can be walked or even trotted through, or use the poles as trot poles and make loops and circles around/over the poles.


Figure 8 Cones
The cones aren't really necessary to do circles and shapes schooling, but sometimes it helps give a good visual aid, especially on keeping circles even and consistent.


Circle/Spiral Cone
 The basic exercise is just a circle around the cone -- work on consistent size and even distance from the cone. Great for flexibility, bending, working off leg, and even pacing. To make it more challenging, start at the cone and gradually spiral out, then spiral back in.


Weave Cones
Two exercises, one drawing. The light purple path shows an exercise that will work on more exaggerated bending and straightening, while the light green path would be more working off leg and efficiently moving through the cones. Goal on that is to get close to the cones and move off of leg, versus over-steering with the reins. (May save your knee from slamming into a tree trunk.)

Not illustrated is the rail exercises (which do need more of an area/larger space: the beauty of a lot of suppling/pole work is unless you're working at speed, it can be done in a smaller space): a common one I've encountered is to speed the horse up on the long side of the area, then ask them to slow on the short side. This is supposed to help with the speed up/slow down requests on trail...Mimi, in typically Mimi fashion, likes the speed up part...but not so much the slow down part.

I also do a lot of circles off the rail, direction changes, leg yield off the rail and back on, ride deep into corners to work on bending, lots of transitions and gait changes...basically, try to keep things interesting and make an arena schooling session count towards "putting something in the bank" that will be beneficial on the trail.

If you have questions/need clarification, let me know...and if you have your favorite arena exercises, please share!!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Pronouncing Arizona: A How-To Guide

This is meant to be a tongue-in-cheek post stemming from good-natured humor and the observations of a native Arizonan. I promise not to name names or point fingers...this is all in good fun. ;) 

A Public Service Announcement: "You're saying it wrong."

A source of almost-constant amusement for me is the pronunciations and inevitable mispronunciations of the names of places and things around the state of Arizona. You can almost always tell if someone is from out of state by how they pronounce certain names. Many names around the state can be attributed to either the Spanish language influence ('double-l' makes a 'y'/'ee' sound, for example) or Native American names and language.

Here's just a few of my favorites...


Spelled "Prescott," it's actually pronounced "Pres-kit." It was Arizona's original territorial capital, and is still a very fun city that has retained a ton of its Old West charm and character. Off the top of my head, this is probably one of the most mis-pronounced cities in AZ. (Although Tempe, just two cities over from me, is a close second. It's "Tem-pee" with a long 'e', not "Tempeh" or "Temp-ay".



Behind the pony is just one part of the Sierra Estrella range. That's "Es-tray-yuh." Not "Es-trail-la" or "Aus-trail-a." I have also heard "Es-tray-lee-ya". (They're a truly rugged, magnificent range and I cant seem to find a good overview shot of them within easy access in my photos. I've done a number of rides out here -- phenomenal trails.)



This is just one of many varieties of cholla cactus. "Choy-yuh." Have most commonly heard "chawl-la" but also it is also frequently associated with the phrase "Ouch, dammit, get it off, it's stuck to me!"


And this is an ocotillo, often crowned with bright red blossoms on the ends. When it's green, it looks sort of soft and fluffy from a distance, but like all things in the desert...it is sharp and pointy. "Ock-oh-tee-yo"...I think the worst I've heard on this one is "ock-oh-till-oh."



The big, tall cactus with the arms is a saguaro, unique to the Sonoran desert. "Saw-whar-ro", not "sag-you-are-ro" or "sa-garrow." That's 'The Bulldogs' behind it, part of the Goldfield Mtns...stare at it long enough and it's supposed to look like a bulldog's head. I'm bad at seeing-eye type of things, so I've yet to really see it.



The Mogollon Rim is one I'll give to people, because it's not pronounced anywhere near how it's spelled; at least, not really. It's "Mug-ee-on." This is a doozy: I've gotten "Mug-a-lon", "Mongolian", and many "not even gonna try it" attempts. Insider tip: Most of us just call it "The Rim." There's only one place like it, so if you refer to "the Rim" we will know you're talking about the large plateau above Payson. Also considered the "gateway to saner temperatures in the summer."

riding below The Rim, which is the flat mountain plateau above;
there are trails that you can ride/hike that take you up to the top

western edge of The Rim

Some other things I can think of off the top of my head are the bougainvillea plant ("bow-gan-vee-ya"), Aravaipa (wilderness canyon located southwest of the Valley whose name inspired the name of the group I run with: "air-uh-vie-pa"), Mazatzal Mountains (which is a funny one: technically, it's "mah-zat-zal" but locally, in ends up being shortened to "mat-a-zal"), and Galiuro (which should be "gal-oor-o" and I jsut learned I've been saying it wrong, as I've always refered to is as "gal-uh-roo-uh").

I'm sure there's a ton more I'm missing...we are a state of interesting names...but this concludes Lesson One in our primer of "How To Talk Arizona". ;)

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

forget-me-not

As anyone who has spent any time around me knows, I am a compulsive list-maker. Especially for things like rides, runs, or anything that involves me remembering stuff that is out of the ordinary. I have checklists, broken down into applicable categories ("tack", camping gear", "rider clothes", etc), that I print out before every ride. I live with post-it notes stuck everywhere: reminders of what to buy, when to expect packages to arrive, how to organize items.

(Currently, I am staring at a list for an upcoming trail race that will involve putting together 4 different drop bags for a point-to-point course.)

I wasn't always this way.

I had to learn the hard way about the value of having a hard copy list, not just skimming through the mental checklist.

My most epic fail moment (to date) of forgetfulness was back in my show days. I had traveled out to California with my trainer for a weekend-long show...and when I went to tack up for the western classes, discovered that I had my felt liner pad, but not the decorative wool blanket for on top.

Not quite the end of the world...but in a fairly competitive environment, where details matter -- this mattered.

While I was busy having a meltdown, my parents (who had traveled out to the show to surprise me), did some fast networking and procured a spare pad (color-neutral enough to work with my turquoise outfit) from another rider's parents.

Turns out that rider was Kaity Elliott. At that point, we knew each other in that vague "I know that girl and her very spotty (Kaity)/very white (me) pony" way. But the "saddle pad incident" made us more than just vague acquaintances and competitors. We started talking to each other. And hanging out together at shows. And the rest, if you've been following this blog for any amount of time, is history, of our shared adventures in distance riding, horse borrowing, crewing, and other shenanigans. A lifelong friendship, all formed over a forgotten saddle pad.

The only other (I'm jinxing myself here...) thing I can remember for an event was the Sage Hill NATRC ride in 2002, in which I discovered halfway through the drive out that I forgot my half chaps and water reservoir for my hydration pack. Neither were deal-breakers, although I was convinced that since I was riding English, the stirrup leathers were going to pinch and rub my legs raw (they didn't), and that if I didn't have water on my person, I was going to die of dehydration (and since I'm sitting here writing this today, I obviously didn't). It was a 20-mile ride in the Santa Ynez mountains in November...I'm pretty sure I still even had water in my water bottles on the saddle by the end of the ride.

Of course, just last month I went down to the barn with the intention of riding...only to discover I had left my girth at home. Not the first time that's happened, which is one of the hazards of using your garage as your tack room and driving everything between your house and your horse. Sometimes it results in an impromptu bareback ride, sometimes in a pony lunging session, and sometimes in a "screw it, have a cookie and go back out to the pasture" approach.

The main thing that has contributed to me forgetting stuff? Doing something out of the ordinary and not putting it back in place. In the case of the water bladder, I had pulled it out to clean it and left it out to dry. I remembered my hydration pack...just forgot to retrieve the bladder. Same deal, same time with the half chaps: had washed them, hung them to dry, and assumed they made it back into the bag with all of my rider gear (helmet, half chaps, GPS, etc).

These days, I've gotten pretty good about keeping things organized and "in their place" and have a routine of where to grab what...but ultimately, it's my checklists that keep me in line and organized. And I make sure that before I have something checked off the list, I have physically put my hands on it, can account for it, and know that it is packed where it needs to be.

(Working on putting my checklists into a printable .pdf file if anyone is interested...I may start compiling informational things such as my packing lists into a separate information page on here if there is enough interest.)

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Then and Now

From this: 
March 2001
Estrella Mtn NATRC
photo by Cristy Cumberworth

To this:
January 2014
Bumble Bee 25
photo by Susan Kordish

Coming up on 14 years of a lot of blood, sweat, tears, miles, and above all, learning. May my capacity to learn never cease, and the wisdom provided by horses keep coming.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

TOA Blog Hop: Worth 1k Words


Worth 1k Words.
Let's share our favorite photos of our stud muffins.  No limit.

Oooohhh, boy...you asked for it...an excuse to plaster all of my fave photos in one place. Some will have been seen before, others may be new. Obviously, the pony garners the most of these...but with 18+ years of photo-taking together, we've gotten some keepers. (This doesn't even count all of our show-ring days, all of which are hard copies that haven't been scanned yet.)

first LD, Man Against Horse 25 2006

second LD, in which she is still pulling on me into the first check

bittersweet...our last competition (and the
one that decided her retirement)
photo by Laura Bovee

my favorite ride photo ever, Valley of the Sun 2009

ignore my position...she has much better jumping form than I do

such a stinker...this is why we didn't use
snaffle bits at rides
photo by Jane Grey Photography

first distance ride, First of Spring NATRC 2002
photo by Jane Grey Photography

playing in the Salt River

playing in the wash at Catalina

one of my favorite ear-cam shots...playing in the pines in Flagstaff

Man Against Horse 50 2009 -- best ride accomplishment ever

war mare face

Las Cienegas LD -- I love the going away shot

she's not big on cuddles usually, so I love that her ears are up
and she's actually happy about it

first back-to-back LD, day two...thrilled with how perky she was!

love all ear-cam shots...so attentive and alert

first 50! I'm a dork and she's like 'whatever'
photo by Laura Bovee

And I've done enough rides and gotten enough good pics of her that I feel Liberty qualifies to be included here as well...

love this...another one of my favorite ride
photos
Bumble Bee 25 2014
photo by Susan Kordish

the precursor to the above awesome photo,
I'm gabbing and she's hydrating
photo by Susan Kordish

majestic view, dorky green horse, silly rider
and granted, I had my stirrups a hole too short (green horse
security thing) but dang, she's tall and I'm short
photo by Susan Kordish

another favorite going-away shot
photo by Susan Kordish

our first ride together and we kinda look
like we know what we're doing
(after she spent the prior several minutes
balking at the photographer)
Prescott Chaparral 30 2013
photo by Susan Kordish

an interesting side profile shot...this mare has the most
interesting face...and yes, while the photographer is below us,
my feet are that high up on her sides
photo by Susan Kordish

Libby's first ride, Gina riding...doing her
trademark "thing" of air-pawing whenever
she's impatient

more ear-cam!

forcing cuddles and how-to-take-a-selfie on her

dork mare (mid-shake)

love it...can actually drop my reins on the crew bag and she
stays put!

being a twerp...post-ride, 30 miles wasn't enough...digging to
China and sticking her tongue out about being yelled at