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.