Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014: That's A Wrap

I so very badly want to say "and good riddance," but any year that sees me turned into an actual trail runner can't be all bad.

Many things certainly did not go as planned, and I'm pretty sure I spent the least amount of time in the saddle that I have since I started riding. I think if I hadn't had the trail running, I probably would have gone absolutely out of my mind climbing the walls, but hitting the trail with my own two feet kept me (reasonably) sane.

As far as 2014 goes, it may not have gone as planned, and I may have spent far too much time dwelling on that the past few months, but looking back, it was actually pretty decent.

Got to ride Libby again. We may not have
technically completed, since we came in
overtime, but we had a good time and got in
a good training ride.
photo by Susan Kordish

Still got some pony time in. Sensing retirement is imminent, but
will still keep taking advantage of the good days when I can and
when she says she's feeling good.

my girls

Fun times meeting with fellow bloggers at the AERC
Convention in Atlanta. 

And did I ever! Some riding, and lots of

Lots of time with my favorite running buddy!

Another epic Tevis crewing adventure!
(That's Artemis's full younger brother Spike I'm holding.)

One of my best friends got married, and I was
one of her bridesmaids. This is probably the
first and last dress pic that will grace this blog.

Seeing more of the Tevis trail!

Ran a road race (15k) -- as in ran the whole
thing -- and didn't die!

But these were way more fun! Ended the year with 48 race miles
total...racked up way more run miles than ride miles. *shrug*

Semi-swimming in the Salt River.
May not have ridden much, but the
times I did, it was usually pretty fun!

I'm not one to make resolutions ("inebriated declarations of good intent"), and quite honestly, I've thoroughly embraced the "no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy" mentality when it comes to trying to plan things out too far in advance, since it all falls apart anyway.

I've got my spring roughly mapped out in terms of trail runs (which you'll find out about as they happen, lest I alert the universe to my plans and jinx myself), and it looks like I'll probably be doing the Bumble Bee ride again...just the fun ride this time, since my saddle muscles aren't in shape.

Beyond that, my only immediate plans are to snore in the New Year...I generally have a rule about going out on New Year's Eve -- I don't -- and have no plans to break it this year. (Currently chuckling a bit at the all-day rain forecast, and the 29* overnight temps...that'll put a crimp in the Fiesta Bowl and block party celebrations. And it may even put out the dog-and-pony-startling fireworks. Love fireworks, but prefer to see them in a place and environment that isn't disturbing my Disneyland.)

Hope everyone has a fun and safe New Years Eve, whatever your plans may be, and we'll see you in 2015!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

TOA Blog Hop: Shining Star

I'm still contemplating my 2014-in-review post, so have an easy post, courtesy of The Owls Approve Blog Hop to tide you over.

Let's talk about the biggest achievements your horse has accomplished. I'm not talking about you as a rider - I want to know what your ponykins has done to make you proud. Is there a glorious satin collection, did he/she figure out some dressage movement that took months to learn, or are is it just a great day when your butt stays in the saddle? It's not all about shows or the things that people see.

She's my 50-mile endurance pony. She successfully did a sport that not many horses can do, and even fewer still within her breed. She's definitely got "unlikely endurance candidate" stamped on her, but she still did it...200 miles worth, with three other pulls, only one of which was about her.

Above and beyond that, she completed the Man Against Horse 50-miler. I could not be any more proud of my less-than-14-hands of Go Pony than I was at the finish of that ride. She reduced me to tears as she strode proudly across that line, nearly 12 hours after we had started that morning. Didn't matter we were the tail-end of that pack...we had conquered the trail that had thoroughly whupped up the previous her mind, we had won.

As sad as I am that she's now retired, I'm happy I was able to give her the years of endurance that I did, because that is where her heart is happiest.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

an article worth sharing

As 2014 wraps, this is a very, very timely article to read in the wake of a year that most definitely has not gone according to plan.

I wanted to copy excerpts of the post here, but couldn't narrow it down to the "best few" excerpts, because they're all applicable, so instead, just go to the source material and read:

Reading this article this morning was exactly what I needed to "hear" right now, and it's something I have bookmarked to easily access and read whenever I need the mental boost and encouragement.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Hot Chocolate 15k

I really don't do road races. I don't like the monotony, the hard surface, and the crowds. My schedule prevented me from attending the December race that Aravaipa put on, but I wanted to do something that would increase my mileage, so I opted for the Hot Chocolate 15k. Plus, the goodie bag hoofie looked pretty awesome, and you all know what a sucker I am for good swag.

Plus, I did figure that the flat course would be an excellent opportunity for me to work on my consistency, form, and pacing, as well as sustained aerobic activity. (It must have worked, because this past Wednesday's group trail run post-race went really well.)

ready to run, bright and early Sunday morning

Gear Rundown:

Bondi Band headband (and opted for free-flying pigtails)
INKnBURN "Flutter" tech shirt
Oiselle Cable Knit arm warmers (I love new favorite accessory)
CW-X Stabilyx tights
WrightSock CoolMesh socks
Panache sports bra
Hoka One-One Stinson ATR shoes (delightfully cushy for hard surface, but too ankle-rolley for trail)
Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta hydration vest

The large crowds are part of why I'm not a fan of big road races. Over 3000 people, divided into 5 start corrals, with 10 minute gaps between each corral starting. I was in the third corral back, so had to wait about 20 minutes. It makes for a spread-out course, but difficult if you were hoping to find people in a different corral.

sea of people
in my designated start corral
toeing the start line!
I was there early enough to get right in at the front of the corral, which meant I didn't have quite so much early on crowding.

The first two miles, I clipped along at just over a 9:30-minute mile...I kept telling myself to back it off and slow it down, because I've never been able to sustain that kind of pace. Prior to this, the fastest I'd ever managed a single mile was a 10-minute junior high. So to break that now, about 17 years later, kind of tickles me.

Eventually, I reeled myself in and finished the rest of the thing at paces between 10:00 and 10:30-minute miles...and ran the whole thing. I took my "walk breaks" at the water stations, because I cant run and chug from a little paper cup at the same time, but aside from that, I kept on running.

clipping along in my own little world,
likely rocking out to my music
Admittedly, much playlist abuse happened on this run, since usually the only way I road run for any sustained period of time is with a killer playlist at my disposal. I left my iPod in the truck, thinking "How bad can it be?"  Fortunately, my phone is synced with my playlist, I had my phone on me, and by mile 5, I was grateful I had at least remembered by headphones and had them plugged in to the phone and rockin' out.

The course was all roads, and taunted me just a bit by being in plain site of the McDowell Mountains, with the Superstitions in the background. But doing that kind of road work was excellent for my sustained pace-building...too hard to set a consistent pace on always-changing trails...and it was excellent for me mentally to push myself and keep going even when I was hitting mental walls. (And it was all mental, because I physically felt great.)

I shocked myself by actually having legs left at the end to sprint the finish and finish in pigtail-flyin' style.

The 15k finishers got really awesome medals shaped like chocolate bars, and all finishers got a plastic mug with hot chocolate, chocolate fondue, and all sorts of yummy goodies to dip into the fondue. It was really good chocolate, too.

finisher's medal and chocolate

One of my endurance buddies was running as
well, and we found each other after our
respective finishes and spent some time hanging
out together.
With that race, I wrapped up my official competition run miles for the year with 48 miles...which is more than I've ridden this year. Not sure how many miles I've run, total, since I started back around March...I do a lousy job of tracking some of my shorter, casual runs. That'll be my next project...seeing if I can total up what I've done this year.

Pass Mountain 10k

A little late, since this was actually mid-November...

Originally, I wasn't going to do Pass Mountain, since it fell on the same day as the Lead-Follow Endurance ride at McDowell and I had plans to ride. Well, the original ride plans fell through...and the subsequent plans fell through...and all of my efforts to obtain a ride resulted in nothing, so I decided to go do a trail run instead.

Pass Mountain was yet another Aravaipa Running race, which meant awesome swag, great trails, and another well-run, organized, fun race.

The race was held at Usery Mountain Park, which I've ridden at for years and years and know the trails all really well. (Said it before, I'll be in trouble when I get to a race where I've not been to and have to actually pay attention to where I'm going.

This one was also just the weekend after my half marathon at San Tan, so I stuck with the shorter 10k distance as a good stretch-out. I'd also talked one of my buddies from the group I run with into bumping up to the 10k, and told her I'd run it with her.

The 10k course stayed down on the flatter part of the park trails, so it was almost infinitely runnable. My challenge to myself was to see how much of it I could run, non-stop. And with the exception of the short climb up Cat's Peak Pass, I did end up running the whole thing.

It was a fun change to run with someone...I typically run alone, intentionally...I like the time to be in my head-space and sort things out. But for a shorter race, I really enjoyed it.

We ended up doing the 10k in about 1:06.

Seriously short race report this time, since it really was a short, fun day on basic, straight-forward trails, and no drama involved.

I will do a quick "Gear Used" rundown though:

Buff Headband (and as you can see in the photos, hair was loosely braided, so I had some hair movement happening)
Oakley Minute 2.0 sunglasses
INKnBURN "Flutter" tech shirt (I love these shirts. Awesome designs, comfortable, breathable.)
New Balance running shorts
Shock Absorber "Ultimate Run" sports bra
SmartWool socks
New Balance Fresh Foam WT980 shoes
Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta hydration vest

Photos from the day, courtesy of Aravaipa Running!

bombing down Cat's Peak Pass


running buddies!
me and Carolyn did the 10k
me and Leslie (she did the 25k)

Monday, December 1, 2014

an experiment

As most regular readers have probably noticed, it's been a little content-lite around here of late...and very horsey-content-lite. There's actually a reason (aside from my laziness and lack of motivation) for that.

I was dealing with a frustrating and somewhat disheartening issue with Mimi. Even since last year, I'd started having some intermittent problems with her tripping on the hind end, specifically when we were working in the sand arena. I did some basic evaluations of how she moved in-hand (sound), gave her a good trim, booted her all around...and it would still happen, every time I would ride in the arena, we'd hit a deeper patch of sand, and she would stumble or catch her hind end.

It got really, really frustrating, to the point where I basically didn't ride her for the better part of the summer/early fall. The fatalistic part of me thought, "Well, that's it...years of use has finally caught up to us, she's gone permanently crunchy, and one of these days, she's going to fall down on me." It was upsetting to me because I didn't know why (and don't have the $$$ to throw at a lot of vet diagnostics); it was upsetting to her because she's a careful, sensible horse with smart footwork -- I could see it visibly upsetting her every time she would trip, and she would try so hard not to.

So I gave her some time off from riding. I still went to the barn, still spent time with her, still trimmed her. She was obviously feeling good, watching her run out to the pasture (moving sound!).

About six weeks ago, I needed pony time. Don't even remember the specifics now, just that I needed to be on my pony's back. I had gone down to the barn not intending to ride, but something compelled me to hop up on her, bareback, using the only gear I currently had down at the barn, which was her dinky little sidepull.

She was perfect.

She gave me a smooth walk, and her trot was more than eager. My bareback seat is less-than-impressive (especially on what is essentially a 55-gallon drum), so I really don't do anything other than a slow trot pace, but she wanted to do more.


A week later, I repeated the experiment, this time slightly better equipped with bareback pad and actual headstall-with-brakes. Again, excellent, and even offering to canter. (Umm, no. Canter + bareback = Ash hits the dirt.)

The only thing that was different was a lack of saddle.

A part of my brain had toyed with the idea that maybe my saddle was too narrow (again!) for her. Part of me argued that we did all of our 50s in that saddle without any soreness...but she's a lot softer and out of shape now. I also didn't want to look too seriously at this possibility because it would mean needing a new saddle, which isn't in the current budget. (So, a permanently retired pasture puff was somehow the better option here? Don't ask me how my brain works sometimes...)

A couple of whiney texts later (that would be me whining), Lucy offered up her spare-spare treeless saddle -- a Barefoot Cheyenne model -- for me to test out my theory. I got the saddle last week, and after doing a make-over to one of my Skito pads to bolster it up to treeless saddle requirements, I headed out to the barn yesterday to test it out.

all decked out...maybe now we'll have somewhere to go?
She loved it. We got a good 45 minutes of arena work in -- walk/trot/canter/circles -- and she was an angel. I've had a lot of resistance from her of late with wanting to rush the gate/acting arena sour...and that wasn't the case this time.

She also offered up the most lovely, rolling, collected-on-her-own canter I have felt from her in for a couple of years now. And that was entirely spontaneous on her part. She was also giving me her big trot -- the kind that makes 16hh horses canter to keep up. Awww, pony legs. :)))

The biggest thing was to have all of this happen in the arena. It's not secret between her and I that we both prefer the trail, and begrudgingly do arena stuff when it's the best we've got. Arena work also is my way of getting honest feedback from her. She's got an outstanding work ethic (I can only hope any subsequent horses are half as good), especially on trail, and will work through most discomfort if it means getting down the trail. In the arena, her feedback is more honest (a bit 'Princess and the Pea'-esque, to be honest), so to have her that forward and cheerful about arena stuff was exceptionally good.

Now we just need to get back out on trail. (And if she's this forward and cheerful, I may bring along that running martingale and remind her that the overabundance of enthusiasm isn't necessary.)

fuzzy face!!!
she is
SO fluffy this winter...all of them are. which
probably means it's gonna be cold. brrrr.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

XTerra Trail Run: San Tan Half-Marathon

Almost five years ago, I tried my first half marathon, the PF Chang's Rock-N-Roll. I finished, but it wasn't pretty -- but what should I have expected from minimal training, and a fitness level more suited to saddle time than foot time? I also -- not surprisingly -- managed to break myself along the way, finishing with a foot that was either very heavily bruised or stress fractured (no, I never went to a doctor to confirm either has to involve arterial spray or dangling limbs for me to go to a doctor). So I finished, but I didn't feel like I had finished well...there was the satisfaction of having done so, but it sure hadn't been a whole lot of fun.

Fast forward to this season of trail running. My goal has always been to keep increasing the miles. I finally, finally managed to do this running thing right in gradually building up and not letting my enthusiasm get the better of me, and I've felt amazingly good with how I'm doing.

I'd signed up for the XTerra San Tan way back in the summer as a way to have a goal on the calendar to train for. Doing the back-to-back races last month in Cave Creek was a good physical and mental boost -- the two combined would add up to the same mileage as the half marathon -- the difference would be smashing them together without a multi-hour break in between.

Part of why I was excited about a race at San Tan was these are my trails. After riding down there for so many years, I know pretty much every dip, turn, and rock in the area. I know there is an end to the awful sand washes, I know where I can speed up and where to conserve for what's still to come, and the chances of getting lost were essentially impossible.

sunrise on my familiar mountains

This race was being put on by XTerra, another trail running organization that puts on multiple races a year. I did my packet pick-up ahead of time -- Sole Sports is close enough to justify me driving to it, plus I needed a restock on some supplies. Got my number and shirt, and they had a "create your own goodie bag" set up where you could grab PowerBar gels and bars.

Saturday morning, I was up even before the alarm went off -- I guess that's what happens when I go to bed early. I left myself lots of time to get ready, which was good when my tumbleweed cloud of hair would not cooperate into anything other than my standard pigtail braids. I also had time to stop in at the McDonald's drive-thru on the way down to the San Tans and grab a sausage biscuit -- the lack of egg means it's something I can actually stomach that early in the morning.

all taped up and ready to go...using kinesiology tape for extra
support in areas I know could be potential weak spots
Yes, those are nuclear warning symbols...
yes, I have a sick sense of humor

Phoenix weather has now gotten to the point where it's kind of chilly in the mornings, so I had worn sweatpants and a hoodie for the drive down, and changed into my race gear once I got to the park. This time around, I used:

geared up, complete with "what was I thinking?" look

Race start was at 7:30, and people started shuffling over to the starting line a few minutes ahead for the pre-race briefing. Course markings were red arrows on laminated signs attached to either small wooden stakes in the ground or existing trail markers. The race director warned that this was a tough course.

start line madness

There was a good-sized entry field -- 112 in the half marathon. I had one fairly large concern about this particular race, and that was the time cut-off. Course closed at 11:00AM, which meant a 3-1/2 hour time cut-off for finishing. I'm not a fast runner. In my sign-up sheet, I gave a predicted 3 hour and 15 minute finish time, with my "if it all goes really well" goal in my head of finishing in 3 hours.

Just based on the cut-off time and large entry field, I sort of predicted this would be a fairly competitive race, so I hung way to the back at the start. 7:30 on the nose, they released the pack, and I shuffled out at the back at my typical slow start pace.

It usually takes me about a mile to warm up, get control of my breathing, and settle into a comfortable pace, so I sort of like courses that are slow and technical at the start. Unfortunately, this wasn't one of them. The first several miles are extremely runnable -- a gradual, smooth uphill on mostly-doubletrack trail -- and this is the kind of course that, if it's runnable, you need to be running, because there are plenty of other parts where you will not be running (at least if you're me).

Examining my split times, turns out that first mile was actually my fastest pace, but it felt really good. A very pleasant surprise awaited me on this section of the trail -- since the last time I had been to the San Tans, they had installed a new single-track section on the hillside above what had previous been a wash trail. This was exceptionally nice, and the trail itself was this very gradual uphill with some little dips and twists that made it very fun. With that much nice trail at my disposal, I ran the first several miles non-stop.

views forever
this is a short climb up before the trail descends towards the flat,
and has traditionally been a "pause for a breather and photo" stop
with the horses...had to keep with tradition, of course

There was another short section of re-routed trail -- another wash avoided! -- and then there was an aid station at three miles. I grabbed a cup of water and cup of gatorade, chugged both, then began the dreaded Malpais section, which is several miles of sand wash, broken up partway through by a climb up to solid service road, more climbing on rocky service road, and then a descent back into the wash.

ugh, this wash
not a fan on horseback, not a fan on foot

And most of the wash is the deep stuff that you slog through. Ironically enough, I discovered that it was actually easier to jog it -- sort of a snowshoe effect -- versus walk it, where you sank deeper into the sand and went even slower.

(Endurance riding note here: I have a new appreciation for the difficulty level of sand, and a new respect for the proper conditioning a sand-based ride takes. That said, I'm glad to live in the desert and have the sand to train in, because I would rather train in it than try to take a non-sand-conditioned horse to a desert ride.)

This was one of those sports where knowing the trail come in handy -- I knew that the wash actually did have an end. Mileage-wise, I was feeling a little discouraged, because they had signs posted at every mile, and I hadn't seen mile 4 yet. So imagine my surprise, when right at the end of the wash, was a "mile 5" signed posted! Talk about a boost! Apparently I hadn't been paying attention right around mile 4 or something.

Immediately out of the wash is a climb -- about 150' elevation gain in half a mile -- but you're so glad to be out of the wash and on solid ground, you don't even care that you're climbing. Unfortunately, once you're on the other side of a nice downhill, it turns into more sand for another mile or so, but once you're out of that, you're done with sand for the rest of the course.

Another aid station at 7 miles -- more water and gatorade, although my system started giving me some warning that it was not all that appreciative of the gatorade. 7 miles -- over half way, and in 1:26!! 

This section of trail is one of my favorites -- lots of up and down single track, and extremely runnable. Somewhere around mile 8.5-ish, I started paying the price for fun in that I had forgotten to bodyglide up thigh area when changing from sweatpants to shorts, and now was getting some chafing as a result of sweat + running motion. I tried sticking a piece of moleskin to my leg, but the running motion just peeled it up, so off it went and I ignored it. If that was the worst discomfort I was in, I could tough out a little bit of chafing. 

Another aid station at just about 9 miles -- I grabbed just water that time. Supposedly, at least according to the website information, it was advertised that the aid stations would have water, gatorade, power bars, and gels. Unfortunately, that wasn't actually the case, as the only thing I ever saw was water and gatorade. Disappointing, as I could have used some stuff to munch on. Fortunately, I was carrying gels and chews with me, and I went through two gels and a pack of chews, but I like my "real" food -- even a power bar would have been good, but I didn't bring any of those because I thought they would have them out at the aid stations.

The next section was one that was newer to me -- a recent trail addition to the park that I had only ridden a couple of times. There was one uphill section that was exposed, in full sun, and a bit of a slog, especially since the trail was full of people out for a casual hike that I had to keep dodging as they would stop for their scenic photos.

The reward for the uphill was an awesome section of mostly-shady downhill for about a mile and half -- all runnable -- and into the aid station at 11.5 miles. More water, and then the part I was dreading...the climb up Goldmine Mountain.

elevation profile from my race

See the elevation profile above? See that part where the grey elevation thing goes way high in a very short amount of miles? Yeah...that would be the climb up Goldmine. Not only is it insanely steep, it is very, very rocky. The park actually has a "Warning: Hazardous Trail" sign posted.

I'm not going to lie: This part sucked. Halfway up, I started pausing every 30 seconds or so for a rest, because my quads were threatening a complete mutiny. I all but crawled up the last part, and was so happy to finally reach the top. Funny thing, running felt great at the top -- actually stretched out the protesting quads and hamstrings.

I also had an epic near-wipe-out at the top when my tired feet didn't lift high enough to clear a rock. I felt myself go airborne, and was prepared to totally eat dirt for the first time -- something I'm dreading -- but miraculously, I landed on my feet and kept going. That actually gave me quite the adrenaline boost, and I motored down as best as I could. The down was fairly technical as well, although it was mostly made up of large chunks of solid granite -- my shoes clung to that granite face most excellently -- but it still wasn't a great place to make up time until it leveled out some.

It's all downhill to the finish, and you can see it from a ways out, being up on the foothills of the mountain. When I hit the 13-mile sign, the finish was still a ways away. And while I may not be the greatest ever at judging distance, even I could tell that was more than 1/10 of a mile away. Hmmm. Well, the fine print had said distances may not be exact...

And then I hit the 13.1-mile sign. Well, there's the official half-marathon distance! And I reached that point in 2:51, so I actually did hit my time goal that had been based on 13.1 miles!

And I still hadn't reached the finish. I really hit a mental wall at that point -- finish was visible, but I still had a comfortable time buffer, my legs were tired, and quite frankly, I didn't want to break myself for finishing a couple of minutes faster or not. So I did a combo of walking and running the last 0.9 miles and crossed the line with a time of 3:06 for 14 miles!!!

I came in 105th out of 112, and 37th out of 41 for women.

They handed out medals to finishers, so that's kind of fun, having an official race medal.

They had a small food spread, so I grabbed some orange slices, a piece of muffin, and half a banana and nibbled on that as I headed back to the suburban. I ditched my race gear, pulled on compression calf sleeves and flip-flops, then headed home where a shower awaited.


Two days later, I'm feeling really good. Both Monday and today, I took Artemis out for a walk, a couple miles each time. Low impact, but the stretch felt really good. My overriding goal, aside from just finishing, was to not get hurt. Historically, I haven't had a great track record of this, which doesn't inspire a ton of confidence in my future race goals (just keep moving up the distances).

This time, the only lingering soreness is some tight spots on my left quad and hamstring, which I can feel pulling on my knee a little bit, but I keep stretching and using the foam roller, plus I've been wearing compression tights during the day since Sunday, and sleeping in compression socks at night. Muscle soreness I can definitely handle, since everything else feels great. I don't even have any blisters, and the chafed area was minimal and healed overnight after an application of aloe lotion.

I'm taking it easy this week -- trying not to be the Queen of Overdoing It for once -- so no Wednesday night group run, and will continue the morning walking through the week. I'm signed up for the Pass Mountain 10k on Saturday put on by my beloved Aravaipa Running group, and I think that will actually be a great leg stretcher since it's a comfortable, easy course.

At the time I signed up for this race, I didn't know who the different companies were that put on these races. Aravaipa put on the first three races I've done, and I have to say, I really like their style. XTerra put on a good race in that it was a well-marked course, and they seem competent and professional, but their emphasis is obviously on faster racing. I was disappointed by the lack of well-appointed aid stations, and honestly, it just didn't have quite the family-like, welcoming atmosphere that I feel at the Aravaipa races.

I also saw an extreme disregard for trail care and littering -- there was a constant trail of dropped gel packets along the trail, so much that I wouldn't have even needed course markers to follow. :(

The whole thing reminded me a lot more of road race mentality than ultrarunning mentality, and ultrarunning is what I gravitate to -- it's not just about the race, but about enjoyment of the trail and the experience.

Aravaipa is putting on their own San Tan race in January -- I'm going to sign up for the 26k, which is only 3k longer than what this one ended up being. And while the Aravaipa course goes up over Goldmine, they don't use the Malpais section, which means my quads won't be already trashed from the sand before having to do that climb. Plus, it's a multi-loop course, so the Goldmine climb happens earlier in the race as part of the first loop.

With the total mileage being 14 miles, that's officially the longest I have ever run. And I ran a lot of it. I've finally gotten to the point that I'm not even really thinking about it...I just run. Back in the spring, I could barely run 1/4-mile non-stop on flat ground. And now? Now I'm finally finding my stride.

(Yes, I'm aware my horse blog is turning into a running blog...but the horse life is being uncooperative at the moment, so this is very much a real-time reflection of how to cope with "not everything goes according to plan.")

Thursday, October 23, 2014

reality check

Lest I get too full of myself post race success...there's always a reality check gremlin lurking just around the corner, ready to make my acquaintance.

In this particular case, it was Wednesday's group run, which was another vertical rock climb that was more hike than run...and completely demoralizing. There was a part of my brain that argued that I maybe I should have stayed home and given my body that had just done 21k over the weekend and a still-sore foot a break...but the part of my brain that jumps into the deep end with anything new wanted to prove how serious I am about being a part of the group and this running thing didn't want to miss a week. And I had a new pair of more-cushioned shoes to test out -- nothing like a good run as an acid test, right?

(Hey, I never said I made smart decisions.)

Bottom line? As good as I felt after Saturday, I was equally humbled after Wednesday. Not only was there a ton of climbing, but the trail was incredibly technical and very rocky. My new shoes have quite a bit of cushion on them, which I suspect I need for the support...but the trade-off is lack of ground feel, and I felt like I was wobbling all over the place as I'd hit rocks and random uneven surfaces.

Not my finest moment...and in retrospect, I didn't exactly set myself up for success. Let's see: a still-sore foot that I was altering my running gait in an attempt to protect, new shoes that I'd never tried on trail, in the dark, still-recovering body from race weekend. How was this supposed to end well???

Needless to say, runs like that do nothing for my self-confidence levels, especially when I start thinking ahead on the topic of moving up in distances. Over the weekend, I was all cheerful and gung-ho about my future race plans, full of confidence, bombing down the trails without a second thought or care. Last night, the gremlins were all pointing and laughing at me, my confidence shattered, straggling along at the back of the pack, and the only thought in my mind being "I don't wanna get hurt."

Maybe this is all part of the process? Some sort of a self-governor that keeps the ambitions to a sensible dull roar? It's certainly not exclusive to running, I know that much...I can't begin to count how much roller-coaster ups and downs I've experienced in horses themselves, not to mention distance riding specifically, and the personal, non-horse-and-running life is certainly not excluded by any means.

I'm not expecting cloud nine all the time...I'm not that unrealistic...but it would be nice if the roller coasters would coordinate among themselves sometime...I gotta have something to fall back on to maintain my functional levels of sanity at most points in time.

I have to remind myself of this...everything has ups and downs,
good times and bad...but if it means something, it's worth it.
So much of what I do and who I am involves serious head games
and a certain level of mental toughness.

On the bright side? Even on my worst day, I'm still faster than a zombie, so have a decent chance of surviving the inevitable zombie apocalypse. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Cave Creek Thriller 11k/Thrasher Night Run 10k

I totally know how to Do Everything Right before a run, including: a very technical, brutal hike/"run" three days ahead with lots of tricky footwork, babying along an already-sore foot/ankle caused by who-knows-what, and a Friday evening emotional meltdown followed by a round of whiskey and ice cream. Yep, sounds like a great taper routine.

the rock pile, otherwise known as the Holbert Trail at South
Mountain -- the trail is visible in the lower left-hand corner of
the photo, and goes up from there...

runner fuel???

Questionable decisions about what constitutes an ideal taper aside, I had an awesome run weekend as I attempted my first double header races: the Cave Creek Thriller 11k in the morning, followed by the Thrasher Night Run 10k less than 12 hours later, both held at the Cave Creek Regional Park over virtually the same course, both put on by Aravaipa Running.

(I have to take a moment here and proclaim the awesomeness of Aravaipa. I am completely spoiled by the three races I've been to that have been put on by them, in addition to also participating in their weekly group training runs. The events are top-notch, well-organized, have amazing run swag, and attract a fun bunch of people, and I'm really enjoying the social aspect of the weekly group runs.)

I had every intention of doing a reconnaissance run at Cave Creek ahead of time...but time got away from me, and my knowledge of the course ended up being maybe half of it that I had hiked a couple of years ago. Better than nothing, at least.

Cave Creek Thriller 11k

True to my overly-prepared form, I had everything packed and ready Friday evening: clothes laid out, extra clothes packed, hydration pack filled, water bottles filled, snacks sorted and packed. Good thing, too, since I accidentally set my alarm to go off on weekdays versus the weekend. Oops. Fortunately my reliable, four-legged alarm clock squeaked at me and I only slept in about 15 minutes past when I was supposed to be up.

There's also virtually no traffic at 6:00 on a Saturday morning, so the hour-long drive up to Cave Creek was smooth sailing. I was still up there later than I wanted to be in that I had to park a little ways from the start/finish area...but it at least made for a nice walking warm-up. I checked in, got my number bib and awesome race t-shirt, then headed back to the truck to finish getting ready.

Gear Used: (morning edition, top to bottom)
Funky Cowgirl Bands Sugar Skull headband
Oakley Minute 2.0 sunglasses
Columbia Total Zero Tank Top
Victoria's Secret Standout sports bra
Kerrits IceFil sleeves
New Balance running shorts
Smartwool anklet socks
Newton BocoAT trail runners
Dirty Girl Gaiters in "Day of the Dirt" (matches the headband!)
Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta hydration pack

I somehow manage to turn this into just as much of a stuff used ordeal as riding. :)

Once I was all ready, I had about 15 minutes before the start of the 11k, so I took advantage of the permanent restroom facilities, then made my way over to the start line. There was a quick "follow these ribbons and these signs on these trails" briefing, then the countdown was on, and we were off!

There were 81 people in the 11k, so it was a slow-moving cluster at the start. I headed out in approximately the last third of the pack as basically stayed there. Going out too fast is something I am very cognizant about and deliberately make myself hold back and start slow.

let's do this thing!

a lot of the trail was quite runnable...some
uphills that were best walked, usually followed
by downhills that more than made up for it
The course also had an aid station at just over the halfway mark -- my first real trail running aid station! I ran in, drank a cup of water and cup of gatorade, ate a couple of boiled potatoes dipped in salt, and grabbed a couple of ginger cookies to nibble on my way out.

Immediately after the aid station was the Worst Climb Ever to the top of the saddle on the Go John Trail. Aside from a couple of short flat sections, it was a climb best hiked.

we're supposed to end up in that saddle on the left side of the
photo, after climbing and switchback basically across the span
of the pic

immediately out of the aid station
 Fortunately, I'm a good hiker. I'm actually a stronger hiker than I am runner, so I just set to hiking/slogging/grumbling my way up that climb.

just the beginning of the climb

oh-so-attractive middle-of-the-climb faces
a patented Ash "what was I thinking???" moment
It was so worth taking my time in the beginning, though, because I ended up passing people on the climb up. And at the top, the climb was rewarded by a fabulous stretch of smooth downhill that you could fly.

all downhill (mostly) from here...
I'm usually not a super brave downhill runner -- if I'm gonna wipe out, it's most likely going to be on a downhill -- but apparently I have a somewhat reckless side that came out to play over the weekend, and it showed up in the form of going tearing down anything that was even vaguely runnable, and hurtled the rough stuff that wasn't.

This part was the most fun ever, and the fact it was all exposed with no shade just provided good inspiration for keeping my feet moving and getting back to the finish (and shade) that much faster.

on the home stretch, less than a mile to go
photo courtesy of Aravaipa Running
I finished with a time of 1:27:53, 54th overall out of 81, 20th place female.

finish swag! beverage jar w the race logo

roadkill runners r us

Thanks to the weekly group runs I've been doing, I actually know people now, so I had friends to hang out with afterwards, and cheer on people coming in on the 24k and 50k. Since Cave Creek is an hour away, I planned to just stay up there all day versus drive home and drive back again.

My post-run reward to myself was a pizza lunch from Freak Brothers Pizza (also run by the Coury brothers that are behind Aravaipa Running):

fresh, homemade, wood-fired pizza!
Once traffic from the morning races cleared off, I was able to move to a closer parking spot as well, and I took the opportunity to lay down and rest. (Yay for SUVs with lots of space and fold-down my suburban.) An actual nap didn't happen...a bit too warm, even with windows open for cross-vent and breezes...but I was at least able to lay down, get off my feet for a while, and read a book before the evening fun began...

Thrasher Night Run 10k

The only spot of concern was my still-sore foot and ankle. I still don't know what I did to make it sore (wondering if I stepped wrong/hit a rock at the Dreamy Draw group run a week and half had some rocky/technical parts, and then the South Mountain rock scramble certainly didn't help), but there were some rocky parts of the trails that were giving me some "ouch" feedback if I stepped on a rock too hard.

I did some preventative "taping for sore spots" with KT tape and hoped for the best on the evening race...

Remember the change of clothes I mentioned packing? I didn't actually bother to change. I was kind of sweaty and dirty from the morning run, but nothing was rubbing, everything was comfortable, and I just didn't think it would be worth it. I did change my socks, as clean socks make everything better, and I had been feeling like my toes were bumping the seam of the sock against the front of the shoe, and I re-braided my (messy) hair and changed headbands.

Gear Used: (evening edition, top to bottom)

UV Half Buff (less bulk than the original Buff, because I only use it as a headband)
same tank/bra/shorts
Wrightsock anklet socks
same shoes/gaiters
same hydration pack

earlier races getting ready

another desert sunset
The best part about the night run was that one of my endurance buddies was also going to be there! I ended up running into K in the parking lot about 20 minutes before the race started, so we had a chance to chat. We met up a couple times out on the course, but for me at least, running is a deliberately solo activity for the most part (with the exception of my Wednesday group runs, and even those, I run by myself within the group), so I may chat with someone for a couple minutes, then drift off on my own again. But it's awesome to have someone to hang around with before and after the race!

K & A -- endurance and running buddies!
bummer that we live on opposite ends of the Valley
The night group was smaller -- 56 in the 10k -- but for whatever reason, it ended up being more tightly clustered for a longer period, and it took me until three-quarters of the way through the race to get a space bubble where I wasn't actively chasing someone or being chased down. That meant the pace felt faster -- but that could also be because I already had done 11k earlier and was more tired. (Ya think???)

I have to say, I love running in the desert at night. There's a unique feel that doesn't necessarily translate to the daytime, and is difficult to put into words. Maybe it's because my first trail run was at night, and I've been doing the group runs at night, but I don't find it scary (especially with a good light). My favorite part was the last quarter of the race, where I was all alone in a perfect space bubble, and it was so quiet, like I was the only one out there. For someone who runs to sort out her head space and for "me time," that's about as perfect as it gets.

The course for the 10k was similar to the 11k, but the first part was reversed, with a small section cut out. I think it was actually easier this way -- the uphill was longer, up shallow and off-and-on runnable, and the downhill was fast. Like, I look back on it now and wonder, "Did I really go flying down that section as recklessly as I did?" (Yeah, I did. Like I said, apparently my reckless side came out to play over the weekend. Maybe not a great thing for my physical health [if I wipe out], but for someone who has always approached physical activities with a neurotic level of caution and fear, this is a huge thing.)

The aid station was in the same location, and this time, I drank some gatorade, swiped a couple of potatoes in salt on the go, and started hoofing it up the Go John climb again, nibbling on potato chunks as I went. I used the same strategy as before -- just keep hiking -- and I ended up passing half a dozen people by the time I hit the top. From the aid station onward, the trail was the same as the morning, and I used it to my advantage. I hit that downhill and went absolutely flying down -- not wanting to get caught by the people I just passed was a strong motivator.

And it worked. From the top of the climb all the way back down to the finish, I didn't get passed by anyone. I also discovered that I've gotten to the point where, unless it's an uphill, it's just as easy to keep running the flats or downhills when I'm tired as it is to walk them, and I cover more ground. I never thought I would use the words "run" and "easy" together in the same sentence, but I've gotten to the point that running has definitely become easier. I've learned to find my rhythm, get past the initial discomfort, and settle into it. And after years of believing I would never be a runner, that feels really good.
you can never have too many finisher glasses --
my eventual house guests will someday all be
drinking out of run glasses

a little worse for the wear after a collective
21k...but all the better for it

Out of 56 in the 10k, I came in 27th overall, 13th female, with a time of 1:25:48. My pace was slower for the 10k, which was expected -- night pace is usually a bit slower (owing to the lack of being able to see anything), on top of already having run. But overall, I did so much better than I had hoped!

K and I both finished -- she was just a couple
minutes behind me

The finishing aid station buffet was wonderful as always -- I chowed down on gummy worms (they're a weakness), bean burrito wraps, cheese quesadillas, watermelon, and pumpkin pie -- then wrapped things up with people I knew and headed home. The runner's high kept me going on the hour drive home and long enough to shower before I crashed into bed.

run swag: water bottle and fold-on-itself backpack are the
sign-up goodies from the Thrasher 10k, with the mason jar
finisher's glass, and the Most Awesome Logo Ever t-shirt was
from the Thriller 11k, with a finisher's drinking glass
I could definitely feel the collective 21k by the end -- my left foot was pretty sore on the outside top part, and a bit on the ankle, and my right leg especially was brewing up some pesky shin splints again, probably due to over-compensation for the left foot. My whole body was a bit muscle-sore a day or two later -- sore upper arms from the fact I use my arms to propel me forward when hiking, sore abs/core form actually using my core, and of course, sore feet. The leg muscles themselves weren't too bad, it was more shins and feet.

A couple of days later, as I write this, I'm pretty sure the foot is bruised -- there's just a small localized area of discomfort that I can usually walk out of, and feels better with support. I've been wearing my compression calf sleeves, which help the shin splints, and doing some aggressive applications of ice and arnica to the foot. My working theory is that my Newton shoes are a little too minimalist for me, especially in really rocky, technical terrain, and that I probably need something with more cushion and support, especially when I get tired and my form is sloppy, or I'm having too much fun flying down a hill to worry about how hard or soft my foot is landing.

To that end, I went a picked up a pair of Hoka One Ones today and am eager to try them out. They're still a more neutral drop from heel to toe, similar to the Newtons, just with a lot more cushioning. I've got a trail half-marathon next month, so we'll see how they work there. 

My plan was to do the back-to-back 11k/10k for a collective 21k, or 13.7 miles -- just over the 13.1 distance of a half-marathon. Just like doing back-to-back shorter rides before moving up a distance, I figured this would be a good indicator of whether I could put the two distances together and succeed at the half marathon. I feel encouraged, so long as the new shoes work and the feet don't hurt, and I keep at my training. The race is at the San Tans, so I can do the course in my sleep and know exactly where to make time and where to keep it to a dull roar.

Sadly, it's not an Aravaipa race...but the next Aravaipa race conflicts with the McDowell ride -- oh, well...can't do it all, I suppose, but I guess having to choose between an endurance ride and a trail race is a good problem to have.