March mileage, April goals

March 2014And March is a wrap! Another low-mileage month for us. (Yes, G and I are playing Dungeons and Dragons – Pathfinder to be precise.)

After Twenty Mule Team in February, I gave Dixie ten days with me totally off her back. It rained a lot, and I got out there every day to take her for a hand-walk and graze, but I was still pretty excited to finally get back up there – even in the rain.IMG_1480


IMG_1481We did a little riding and a little running until the 12th, when the dentist came. I talked about that in an earlier post, but I didn’t mention the tattoo. It’s another two-parter, so I wanted to wait til it was finished.

At Rides of March, I had a great time vet scribing for two of my favorite vets. I was going to ride one of Angela’s mares, but I thought since it was her horse she sent in the entry, and she thought since I was the rider I sent in the entry, and the entry didn’t get sent, and the ride was full, so welp! Everybody seems to assume that I was upset or disappointed to not get to ride, but I’m not, really! I’d been planning on going over to volunteer, then I was offered a horse and that seemed like a bonus extra-fun plan. When I didn’t get to ride, I just went right back to my original plan of volunteering – it was well worth the drive just to hang out there!

I came back from RoM with a new-to-me Supracor pad to try out, and some unexpectedly good news. My barn has limited trailer parking, and I’ve been on the list to get a spot there ever since I moved in… in October 2012. Finally, a spot had opened up! I moved my trailer over on the 16th and immediately felt like I was home. All of my precious horse junk, stored in one place! This shaves an hour off of my trailering-out time, and saves me $113 a month to boot. Yay!Adventure has a homeI headed out for a Real Ride with the Supracor, and after ten miles we had dry spots. Damn. I worked on the saddle fit, but I don’t know if I did enough.

The next time I got out to the barn, I knew I needed to trim a bit. But Dixie was extra-boingy, so I had to let her get her ya-yas out before I even tried it.boing boing boingI did, eventually, get her to slow down long enough to trim her feet. 😉 And it wasn’t “a bit,” she needed a full trim. Stupid hundred-mile horses and their insane hoof growth!

On the 22nd, I did that nine mile run, then hooked up the trailer and went to go pick up a friend. We got back safely, and I was going to go to Briones the next day, except I’d picked up a nail on the way back. My trailer tire was flat. Swapping out the tire took just enough time to ruin my plans of hauling out that day.

Finally, even though it was supposed to rain, we got to Briones on Tuesday. It looked ominous yet beautiful!Briones parkingWe set off in gusty sprinkles of rain, and I immediately started setting up the flowcharts in my head. If we can make it to the first gate, 3 miles away, before it really starts raining, we should have enough time to get through the next 3 miles of steep clay hills before they get too slick, and then it’s just 8 more miles in the rain, and I’ve got a raincoat and an extra powerbar, we’ve gotta push pretty hard or we’ll get soaked and it won’t be any fun and wait. Wait.

We don’t have to do this. I’m not actively building her fitness right now. She did a hundred mile ride a month ago – she’s not losing condition yet; she’s supposed to be on easy work. Why the hell am I contemplating a dash through the mud today?

So I scrapped that plan and we had fun instead. Dixie was enjoying herself, moving out at a really nice forward walk. I let her stop at all the lush green grass. We encountered two groups of hikers (a tremendously busy day at the reservoir), three flocks of turkeys, one buck, and one Scary Monster.

I haven’t written about this, because it’s just too cheesy for words, but Dixie and I really do share a profound bond now. The last time we saw turkeys, about a year ago in Redwood Park, she flipped her lid so bad I had to get off. We were on a hilly singletrack and I really thought she was going to back off the cliff. Turkeys are atavistic monsters from hell to this horse. But at Briones last week, something was different. I don’t know if she knows she’s a badass now, or if she fundamentally trusts me to keep her safe, or what, but she did not flip out. We’d come around a corner and start some turkeys on the trail, and she’d get quite large under me, but she never tried to run. I ride with barely-loose reins, just the slightest bit of contact in case she trips, and I did not even pick up the slack. I just talked to her – mainly so the stupid birds would see us and move – and she’d listen, and she’d walk forward as the birds went up and down the hill to get away. It was amazing.

We went up to the first gate at ~3 miles, grazed for a while, and turned for home in the drizzle. On the way back, we stopped at one nice patch of grass and I got off to pee, and Dixie smelled something in the woods. She was very insistent that Something Was There, and I got just a hint of a bad smell too, like whatever the olfactory equivalent of “I saw it for the blink of an eye” is. Skunk? Mountain lion? I don’t know, and I’d prefer to encounter neither.

But she was terrified, so I led her over to a rise in the trail and she stood for me to get on and we booked it out of there. If she trusts me to reassure her about turkeys, I also have to trust her when she sees something. Briones grazingBack near the trailer, we grazed in the drizzle until the drizzle turned to light rain, and we headed home. (The barn is on the other side of a ridge of hills, and it was pouring there, so I did have a better ride out than I’d have had at home!)

The next day, Jonah finished the tattoo. They always look better IRL, so here’s a context shot. (I used my REI dividend on a pair of running shorts. Having a badass tattoo on my calf may be the only thing that gets me over my lifelong distaste for showing my leg-skin.)IMG_1634And here’s a terrible photoshop collage. The bathroom has the best light, yet provides the least-attractive backdrop, blech.desert tolkeinIt’s a Joshua tree, with a crescent moon and some epic stars and there’s even a little yellow glowstick. I’m not sure if the glowstick is “right” and I may go back and get it outlined and turned into a ribbon, but I’m going to live with it for a month and see how I feel. (And the moon is a perfect arc; it’s just peeling and I didn’t notice when I took the picture.)

I think it turned out very Tolkein-esque, if Tolkein had lived in a desert instead of a green agrarian paradise. And I just love it :)

And that’s about it. A little more run-and-riding, and we’re headed into April!

My only horse goal for April is to get through the 50 this Saturday at the Nevada Derby with a happy and healthy horse. She’ll get a week of light duty after that, then hopefully it’ll quit raining and we can get some miles at various parks I haven’t ridden yet. Point Reyes? Maybe something with Laura Crum down by Santa Cruz? Ride Mt. Diablo? Whatever sounds like fun for the both of us that’ll keep our fitness up.

My only running goal is to do something blog-worthy at the Diablo Trails Challenge on the 19th. Mel is running the 50k, so I registered for the 10k – I’ll run that, then get a friend to help me get to the Curry Point aid station so I can pace her and threaten to laugh if she pulls. I don’t have the entire plan figured out yet, but I’ve got days and days left.


How to lie (to yourself)

One of the things that I’ve noticed lately is that as I’ve gotten older, my ability to lie to myself has gotten better and better. And that’s totally cool with me!

Yesterday, I ran nine miles, and I did it by strategically lying to myself.

2014 Canyon Meadow 2

Let’s back up for a minute. About a year ago — it must’ve been my first little trail ride after the debacle at ROM ’13 — I headed out in the park and noticed ribbons everywhere. Then I noticed runners everywhere, and I had to pick my way through them, and I thought “gotta remember this for next year!”

Then later in the year, I started trail running. Achingly slowly at first, but I stuck with it. My walk intervals have gotten shorter and my run intervals have gotten a little more ambitious. (I can now run up hills for at least thirty, forty feet before I give up and start walking!) When 2014 rolled around, I remembered that run in my park, and I signed up for it.

But none of the distances were quite right for me. I plan to top out at the 10-13 mile range; I just don’t have any interest at all in running marathons or ultras. (For god’s sake, I pay how much to keep a horse? I can ride her for 26.2 miles any time I want!)

Canyon Meadow offered a 5 mile or a 13.1 mile half marathon (or various distances best accomplished on a horse.) I didn’t feel like I was ready for a half, but I wanted to run more than 5 miles. So I had a good look at the course map and noticed something.

Redwood 1

I could park at the barn (yellow dot) and run (or “run” which is what you call it when you are doing more hiking than running) over to the start.

The only problem is that my barn is in a canyon, then there’s a big fucking hill up to the West Ridge, then a steep drop to the stream in the canyon at the Canyon Meadow campsite. I can go around, to the right on the maps, but that’s slightly longer, with up-and-down hills instead of one killer monster hill. But no matter! I did not want to run just five miles; I have done that on training runs. I didn’t want to thrash my body two weeks before Derby by trying a half-marathon. Therefore, parking at the barn and running to the start was the only way to be sure I’d do a little more than five miles but less than thirteen miles.

And the course map was quite easy! Only one big climb, up Canyon, and then it was all flat or downhill. Five miles isn’t really a breeze for me, but five miles with one climb isn’t much of a challenge.

Redwood 2 course

So here’s the lie I told myself:

I’ve ridden these trails a lot and I know for a fact that it is .57 miles up to West Ridge, but then you just drop down into the canyon, so like a mile to the start and a mile to get home, maybe more if I went around the ridge instead of climbing it again, ok, no need to look at the map, that’s the plan. 

I didn’t even glance at the map. I didn’t add the mileage, and I didn’t think very hard about it: I’d park at the barn and it would be a one mile warmup and a five mile race and a mile slog back to the truck. I got registered for the race.

(Pre-registration is absolutely crucial, in my experience. If I wake up at 5:46 am on a perfectly good Saturday and I haven’t already put money on the line, I will roll over and go right back to sleep rather than get up and go race!)

This whole plan seemed like a terrible idea at 5:46 am on a perfectly good Saturday, but I was out $40 or whatever already, so I started moving. I sullenly showered, dressed in proven gear, forced myself to eat a powerbar, and headed over to the barn. At the barn at 6:40, I sat in the truck with the heat on and sulked. I could just drive down to the right parking lot, pay $5, and run five miles like a normal person.

But. That was not the plan. Once you start out maybe-kinda-probably lying to yourself, you can’t change course. The plan was:  hike a mile over, run five, hike a mile back. Harden up, Funder, get out of the truck and go!

I ducked in the barn to pee, and the barn guys were quite surprised to see a boarder that early. Dixie saw me and thought we were going to a ride and started dancing in her stall. Poor mare; not quite yet! I headed up the Tate at a good clip, got on the West Ridge, and decided to just take it down to the canyon floor.

Redwood 3 getting there

I’d sort of thought about going down Orchard, which is the straightest line toward the race start, but during the hike up Tate I remembered that you can’t get across the stream there. You have to go upstream or downstream to an official bridge. It’s sensitive amphibian habitat or something. (Insert a rant, positive or negative, about California conservation stuff:  the parks district people are downright Nazis about water quality issues in the park… but it is a gorgeous, pristine, multi-biome park mere minutes from one of the most crowded urban areas in all of North America.) So I decided I’d just as soon slither down West Ridge and end up near the downstream bridge. I picked up a trot on the ridge and made it over to the start right when I’d planned to get there, at 7:30. Picked up my number and tee and wandered around trying to stay warm until the start at 8.

There were over 400 entries in all the distances, so the start was super crowded. At the 8am “gunshot” start, I just stuck to the right and walked steadily from the start — I knew I couldn’t run up Canyon and I wasn’t even going to try. The assholes who can run up hills ran away from the rest of us pretty fast, and I started passing slower walkers. Having a horse with a great walk has developed my walk, too!

About halfway up Canyon I got synced with a woman in those Vibram toe-shoes. She said hi, so I asked her how thick her soles were, and we started talking about the perils (and pros!) of unpadded “barefoot” shoes. (I run in unpadded zero-drop shoes, but not the toe-shoe kind, because I love socks.) At the top, we started jogging together, and we ended up talking and running the entire first half of my race together. She’s from Weimar, CA, and she knows the guy who started Western States — her version of the story is that he was going to ride Tevis like he usually did, but his horse was lame, so he decided to just run it instead, and thus was born one of the craziest ultramarathons: the Western States 100. It’s Tevis, on foot. ON FOOT.

Anyway! She’s in the middle; I’m on the right side of the picture. Down in that valley to the right is where we started; Dixie lives over the ridge even further to the right.

2014 Canyon Meadow 1

She was running the half marathon, so shortly after we turned off of East Ridge, her trail split from mine. We shook hands, exchanged names, and I told her I’d be crewing at Tevis with purple hair if she came out to watch the riders come through. I hope I get to see her again!

And then I turned my music back on and actually got in The Zone for once. It’s not like running was suddenly easy, or I was actually enjoying the process of running — but I did feel really good about my pace. I’ve been slowly expanding my “green zone,” and I thought I could keep up my run/walk pace til the finish without a problem. I slowed down and chatted with a lady walking her dog, then took off jogging again.

Ahead of me was one of the dreaded Greybeards. If you’ve run anything at all, even a 5k, you know who I mean: one of those senior citizens who just shuffles along looking like they’re on the verge of death, but despite your best efforts, you can’t pass them/stay past them. No matter that you’re half a century younger and nominally fitter! You’ve got all factory parts and the Greybeard probably has a pacemaker and three titanium joints, and it looks like he (or she, women can be Greybeards too) is on the verge of death. But as soon as you stop for a drink of water, here he comes, shuffling past you and leaving you panting on the side of the trail.

(I really want to join the ranks of the Greybeards in due time.)

But this one wasn’t leaving me in his dust! I kept spotting him around bends of the trail, and what’s more, I thought I was getting closer to him! I honestly think I could’ve passed him… but I kept reminding myself, “you have to get back to the truck after the race, Funder.” I kept it in the green zone, let a Greybeard-in-training pass us both, and finished the race in 1:16:36. (Half a minute behind the Greybeard I was chasing, if you’re keeping score at home.)

At the finish, I collected my medal and grabbed a handful of chips from the snack-smorgasbord. But the lateral side of my left leg felt tight and crampy, so I thought I should head home ASAP.

I could reverse my trip over to the meadow and climb back up West Ridge, but that sounded fucking horrible. It’s about 500’ of climb in half a mile. Or I could go down Golden Spike, which is longer, and it has a hill so steep it’s got log steps set into it, but the hellish step-hill is way, way shorter. And it’s pretty, and I hadn’t run Golden Spike in months (because I hate those steps so much), so that’s the way I went.

Redwood 4 gettng home

The ultramarathoners were coming down Golden Spike, and I slowly and politely worked my way upstream against them. It was a really good excuse to not run anymore — I could run four or five strides, then leap off onto a rock and let a stream of insane super-fit ultra runners go by, then run four more strides and do it again. My legs were really tired, and honestly, I was pretty disappointed in myself. How could I be this tired after just six miles? But that’s exactly why I parked at the barn and not at the start:  to push myself. I kept moving, eventually getting off the race-trail. I even found the energy to jog some more flat bits of trail, and steadily death-march up the last few tiny hills, and I staggered back to the barn at 10:20 am. I’d been on my feet for about 3.5 hours, and even if I’d only done a pitiful seven miles in that time, at least I’d stood and moved the whole time, and hopefully I’d toughened up my feet a bit.

From her sunny little paddock, Dixie watched me curiously. WTF was I doing? Why was I stumbling right past her? Where was the damn trailer? But I marched straight into the barn and sank down on a bench in relief. Then I popped back to my feet (ow) and headed over to the laminated trail map on the wall. I whipped out my phone and started adding up the trail segments. .57 plus .09 plus .28 plus… holy shit. 4.03 miles. Plus 5 miles for the race.

I’d just gone nine miles — the furthest I’ve ever traveled on foot — and I’d done it by lying to myself.


This is the same way I ride hundreds, too. I still need to sit down and put my head between my knees and breathe deeply when I think about riding my horse one hundred miles, but if I tell myself it’s just five vet checks, I can do it. Make a rational plan that breaks the goal down into segments. Stick to the plan, at all costs*! Don’t overthink the big picture, just work each little bit as it comes up.

(*I’m not an idiot. I’m allowed to reconsider the whole plan if outside circumstances change — if I wake up with a scratchy throat, or I trip and my knee is twinging when I get up, or if there’s an ominous storm front coming and I don’t have the right gear, I am allowed to wuss out. But I never allow myself to change the plan when I’m just sullenly shivering in my truck before dawn.)

So that’s what works for me. How about you? Do you lie to yourself? What’s your technique?

Back to the drawing board

I didn’t have horses when I was young (except for a brief foray into pony ownership when I was very small, like 5 or 6.) Instead, I alternated between running around in the woods like a wild tomboy and exploring the brand-new world of personal computers. I was a redneck nerd, long before nerds were remotely cool.

All those hours staring at 16 color VGA graphics (Ultima and Space Quest, represent!) gave me a gamer’s outlook on life. It’s an interesting framework to use to talk about endurance.

Anybody who’s played a long RPG all the way through knows that games are divided into different stages. Usually, in the early game you’re focused on trying to stay alive, and in the mid-game you’re assembling and tweaking your gear, and in the late game you defeat impossible odds and either win or just run around the game world, basically invincible, until you’re bored.

Obviously, this analogy doesn’t translate perfectly to anything in real life. (Mainly because there’s no save points in real life so we can’t go back and try the exact same boss fight again. Real life has a lot in common with Nethack, actually. Ugh, bad egg.) But it’s the framework that I keep coming back to.

My first couple of years in endurance are kind of a blur (and if I hadn’t blogged them, I’d have forgotten a lot of what we went through!) We skated through a lot of rides by the skin of our teeth. But gradually we both learned to take better care of ourselves, and 2012 was definitely the high point of my “early game” endurance career. We finished every ride we entered, looking pretty good each time, even the quite hard Tahoe Rim Ride at the end of the season. But things were slowly tipping out of equilibrium, and even then I knew it.

Dixie finished out the 2012 ride season a couple hundred pounds lighter than she’d started. Partially, that’s because she was kind of fat at the beginning of the year, but she was way too lean at the end. The barn near Stanford wasn’t feeding her enough, and what’s worse, when they noticed I was giving her extra hay and grain, they just cut what they were feeding even further. I still don’t know if they were incompetent, malicious, or trying to keep her looking “endurance lean,” and I guess it doesn’t really matter. It wasn’t working for Dixie.

So away we went to my current barn in Oakland, and I changed my focus. I’d started 2012 thinking that her one 50 in 2011 was a fluke; I finished it knowing that she was a solid 50 miler horse. By no longer worrying about her basic ability to do the job, I freed up space in my brain to start worrying about all the little components that make up long-term success.

Dixie got a couple months of good food and active rest, and then we started building back up for 2013. In early March, I decided that I wanted to try a multiday and try a hundred. After doing both days at Washoe in May, I confirmed to myself that I’m not that keen on riding multidays and that I probably had enough horse to do a hundred. And you know the rest of the story from there: I plunged into a seemingly endless cycle of tweaking gear and getting bodywork done on both of us and trying to generally get my shit together for a whole new level of riding.

Finally, after quite a lot of perseverance, the stars came right and we finished Twenty Mule Team last month. We both basked in our achievement for several weeks, but I’m well aware that I’ve just entered the mid-game.

Something you’ll notice over time in real life, and especially if you look through the ride records, is horses that do a couple of years of endurance, then disappear. Sometimes it’s the owner’s life changing, or the horse just never settled in mentally, but sometimes it’s just all the little things catching up to the horse. It’s a little sore from the saddle and maybe has some ulcers and it’s a little footsore, and the end result can be that the rider can’t get that horse through a 50 any more, so the rider switches mounts. I’m sure this happens in all the disciplines — it’s not unique to endurance by any means!

But one of the things that attracted me to the sport was the emphasis on longevity. If you get it all right and you’ve got a little luck, you can keep a horse doing 50s for ten years or more. Twenty year old endurance horses aren’t as sprightly as seven year olds, but they’re out there, loving their jobs. I’ve always wanted Decade Team, even before it was an official AERC award! (It started out a section on Karen Chaton’s website, where she’d interview Decade Team riders; now it’s a “real award” recognized by AERC.)

So Dixie and I are in the mid-game now. We’ve “stayed alive” through the early challenges, and now we just need to get everything tweaked into absolute perfection. Depending on your horse’s tolerance for discomfort/pain, you can do many, many miles with bad shoeing or a saddle that doesn’t quite fit, but it seems like that stuff eventually catches up. My goal this year is to finish the Triple Crown, but to make that happen, I have to address all the little stuff. It’s all adding up, and if I don’t fix this stuff, it’s going to tip from “nagging thing” to “serious injury.”

Last week I got Dixie’s teeth done. She’s had a couple of basic floats by vets, but hasn’t really had a dental specialist work on her teeth… ever. (Some vets are also dentists, just like some vets are also chiropractors. They’re not mutually exclusive, and I’m not knocking vets who also do dental work!) Anyway, the ladies at the barn booked a dentist for a two day clinic out here, and I signed Dixie up.

Her teeth weren’t a wreck, but they weren’t aligned right. He took off a few hooks, fixed the angles of her molars, and did quite a bit of work on her front teeth. The fronts were a little too long and she wasn’t able to grind properly.

I really liked the dentist. He was just as passionate about teeth as I am about hooves. He gave the horses lots of breaks, popping the speculum out and letting them drop their heads to rest. He uses power tools and hand tools, depending on which one works better for each situation. He went at Dixie’s molars with hand floats and switched to the giant dremel thing for her incisors, and he gave me good, comprehensive after-care instructions.

Her TMJ seems to be a lot less sore. I didn’t even realize it was sore (and yes, I feel like an asshole for not knowing) but it’s much better now. After Dixie’s dental, Rebecca did some of that horribly wonderful trigger point work on her TMJ. Once Dixie realized, “hey, that feels kinda good,” she dropped her head and relaxed and yawned bigger than I’ve ever seen her yawn. And she’s chewing food completely differently now, with a much smoother side-to-side slide. Yay, happy pony!

And now we’ve moved on to tweaking the saddle again.

Back in January, I finally remembered to stop at Echo Valley Ranch in Auburn and buy a Woolback. I did a couple test rides in it, then took it to Twenty Mule Team. Well under 150 miles total. When I got home, I ran the pad through the washer and was dismayed to find that the damn thing was completely disintegrating.

Distintegrating Woolback

Current-generation Woolbacks are wool fleece woven into a synthetic backing fabric. I don’t know if older Woolbacks were actual sheepskins, with the leather still attached to the wool, or if they just used a sturdier backing fabric, but this shit is worthless. The backing fabric is falling apart — not even coming apart at the seams, just crumbling away along the spine near the seams. I’m wicked pissed; I paid like a dollar a mile to ride on that thing. Toklat hasn’t answered my email and I haven’t gotten around to calling to yell at them yet, but I will say that I’m underwhelmed by their customer service so far.

So I’m on the hunt again. I got a Supracor pad on trial from a friend, and yesterday I took it out for a brisk ten mile jaunt.

Side note: It was definitely one of those Perfect Rides. You know, the reason you got into riding: that fantasy of cantering along on a happy, obedient pony on a spring day? But most of the time, you get a sullen horse, or a runaway horse, or the weather’s shit, or the boots keep coming off, or all of the above… Well, yesterday was perfect. Dixie asked to gallop up every hill, and I let her gallop up every hill that didn’t have a blind curve at the top. She stopped for all the dog walkers. She spooked in place, quite charmingly, at the ninja deer. When I got off and ran, she ran shoulder-by-shoulder with me. Just perfect.

And when we got back to the barn and I pulled tack, I found two palm-sized dry patches on her back. Damn it.

Dirty horse dry spot left Dirty horse dry spot right

I want to blame the pad. To hell with you, Supracor, I really liked you until you did my horse wrong. But a couple of high-mileage riders — the people who’ve “beaten the game” and gotten multiple horses through long careers — keep telling me that the Supracor is just showing something that the Woolback was hiding. Double damn.

I don’t think there’s anything fundamentally wrong with the saddle. I think I can make it work with some tweaking. If I could call a saddle fitter, I would, but I heard a not-very-glowing review of the one Specialized fitter I know of in the area.

Today I got out to the barn and took a good look-and-feel of the problem areas. Like my friends thought, they’re right under where the stirrup leathers wrap around the saddle tree. It was very hard to see anything, but when I closed my eyes and ran my fingers down the padding, I could feel a little bulge on both sides. So I spent about 20 minutes rasping the bulge, feeling the area, rasping a bit more, etc.

I don’t know if this tip will help anybody else, but I might as well explain it. I had a white paint marker, and I marked each bulge with the paint pen — just drew an oval and zigzagged some line in the problem area. That gave me some boundaries for the rasp work. I rasped all the white away, brushed off the loose foam, and carefully felt the whole pad again. Then I’d mark some more lumps with the paint pen and rasp them away. It’s a trick I learned from my days as a woodworker: sometimes it helps to mark high spots with a pencil before you start sanding the wood.

Tomorrow I’ll get back out for another test ride in the Supracor and see if I’ve managed to fix the problem. I think I’ll keep working with it until Derby. If I think I’ve got it fixed, I’ll ride the 50 in the Supracor, but if not I can borrow another Woolback.

This isn’t an entertaining ride story. And it’s not even a good gear post; I don’t know if you’ll learn anything specific from it. But I think the general idea is worth sharing. Endurance is fundamentally really easy (you just get on a horse and trot down the trail), but at the same time it’s quite hard (see: this entire post). You can definitely learn what you need to learn as you go, but you can’t stop thinking and analyzing.

Just don’t forget to bask in your accomplishments as you achieve them. For two whole weeks, I was on top of the world. All my gear worked and my horse felt great and we’d finished our first hundred!

I knew it wouldn’t last. I knew I’d be back in the “I have no idea what I’m doing” doldrums before too long. But by god I really, really enjoyed that little honeymoon period.

February Mileage / March Goals

Well, let’s try this WordPress thing out, shall we?

February 2014 calendar


109.61 miles, plus a couple of little fun walk rides. That would be impressive, except it was really just three rides. Ouch.

I’d certainly planned to get in a couple more rides, but I really hit my goals in December and January, and honestly, I don’t think Dixie could’ve looked any better after 20MT.

Two weeks driving a rental (a rental that I didn’t want to have to pay an extra cleaning fee for) made it really hard to do more than hand walk/jog. The rains finally showed up and made my hilly park super-sloppy, too. I’m just too happy with her condition to push her into a slip in the mud. It’ll work out.

March is going to be getting back in the groove for both of us. I haven’t run in forever, and I think I’m almost ready to pick it back up. I’m fascinated by Mel’s posts about the science behind recovery. I’ve felt physically ok for several days, but I haven’t felt mentally recovered until today, and I’m trying to respect that.

Rides of March is on the 15th, and I’m hoping to go over and ride a friend’s horse in the 50. On the 22nd there’s a trail run in my park (5 mile/half marathon/ultra distances) and I really should go run the 5 mile distance. I’ll get Dixie out for a 15-20 mile ride in the middle of the month, do plenty of shorter fun rides, and take her over to the Nevada Derby 50 on April 5th.

Food, gear, etc

Everybody’s favorite question is “what do you eat?” Even the experienced people are looking for new ideas, so here’s what I managed, roughly in order. (Remember, I can’t eat gluten, so there’s entire categories of food I don’t dare touch.)
  • A red bull
  • Powerbars
  • Coffee
  • A banana
  • Salami and cheese and “crackers”
  • Cold steak (it was so good I almost ate it all and then I remembered: never eat the last of the rider’s food, even if you’re the rider)
  • Ham and cheese
  • Chicharrones
  • Pasta, sausage, and rice noodles

Saturday early:
  • 1/2 red bull
  • 2 powerbars
  • Some pecans

Saturday midday:
  • Two eggs
  • GF snickerdoodles
  • Grande mocha
  • Potato chips
  • Cold steak
  • A mango drink
  • Cheese and crackers and salami
  • String cheese
  • More cookies
  • Pineapple
  • Chocolate pudding (where we’re going, we don’t need spoons)

Saturday dinner and beyond:
  • The rest of the steak (I’m so glad I saved it)
  • Chicharrones (not very good for the first time in my life)
  • Rum and coke
  • Dark chocolate m&ms
  • Hot chocolate 
  • Rum and diet coke (FUCK NO)
  • Peppermints
  • Kaity’s energy chews – what were they?
  • Dark chocolate espresso beans (maybe never again; I don’t think they made me queasy but I ate them right before I got queasy, and URK)

Everything tasted great or at least passable, except as noted. I didn’t eat ~enough~ out of my saddlebags, but I swear to god having great crew means you have enough time to eat enough at the checks. I cannot thank Kaity’s family enough. 
I drank 80-90% of my camelback between every hold, and I took two Hammer Elite electrolyte pills whenever I’d think about it. 
Dixie actually wanted wet mash, which is a little unusual for her. If she’s well-hydrated, I usually offer her a dry mix of LMF Gold (high-fat high-protein grain) and Elk Grove Stable Mix (low NSC but very palatable hay pellets). If she’s not interested in eating it dry, I pour in enough water to make it a milkshake. At this ride, she scarfed down the milkshakes. I usually crumble up a Nature’s Valley granola bar on top and offer any carrots or apples I can find, and she gets to eat whatever hay strikes her fancy. 
The best way to get her to stop eating, I’ve found, is to offer beet pulp. To hell with you and your beet pulp, human.
Between Kaity and I, we had some very fine stemmed alfalfa, some boring grass, some other boring grass, and some three-grain, and both horses went for all the hay according to their tastes. 
I electrolyted her the way I’ve been doing for the past year: half a scoop of Enduramax, half a tub of applesauce, fill it the rest of the way with water and dose her right before we leave the check. I’m going to switch to my friend’s (hi G!) secret sauce, which includes ProCMC, but I didn’t want to change it up at a big ride like this. 
One side of my saddlebags has people food, ride card, etc, and the other side has nothing but carrots. I can cram about 3 lbs in there, and when we get discouraged or she hasn’t eaten recently, I “insert carrots for more time.” Carrots are perfect food for desert rides:  they’re really easy to transport and feed from the saddle, and they’ve got a little water in them. And they can take more abuse than apples!
I mentioned that Tami and Dave glued boots for me again, and I really need to give them another shout-out for the amazing job they did. Virginia City was the first time I’d (had her) glued, and she fit pretty perfectly in 0’s all around. This time? 0.5’s on the fronts, 1’s on the back. 
I thought her feet looked exactly the same. It’s really hard for me to see changes because I see them so regularly. But Tami said her feet looked better, and they’re certainly not bigger because they’re flared, so:  cool. The front right boot looked very wonky to me, but Dixie moved out perfectly in it and they weren’t even close to failing when I went to pry them off. 
It just looks so bulge-y at the toe!
And no filling in her legs. The footing is better than Virginia City (but really, VC is unbelievably rocky; y’all just don’t know if you haven’t been to Nevada), but it’s not easy terrain. I think the squishy Goober Glue in the soles of the glue-ons makes a tremendous difference in their comfort level. I know from my own barefoot-shoe running that an extra 2mm of sole makes me far more comfortable, and the squishy support in the frogs probably helps stimulate them. If you don’t glue for long rocky rides, you should consider some pour-in pads, perhaps? 
I took a lot of (somewhat random) pictures of Dixie’s Easyboot glue-ons and Kody’s Renegade glue-ons, to show you the difference in them. I am really happy with how she goes in the Easyboots, but I think I’m starting to see the reasons you’d pick one brand over the other. I’m not really ready to sort and describe and post the pics, but that’s in the pipeline. You can do a little more tweaking of the hard-shelled Renegades, especially if you have an overreacher. 
I know that I’ve spent a lot of time squee-ing about how wonderful my Specialized saddle is, but I’ve found the Big Problem with it: cantle bags. 
I had a purple Stowaway that I bought at some ride last year and never really used. I don’t usually ride with a cantle bag — one of the few times I’ve come off Dixie was when I was twisted around trying to get something out of one, and she shied from a rabbit (really?!) and I ate dirt. But they’re really a good idea for the longer distances, so I strapped it down on the saddle Friday night.
I ran the straps through the stirrup leathers, but the buckle looked like a world of hurt.

And I didn’t like how it looked. It was too far back, hanging off behind the pad, but worse, it looked like the buckles were going to be directly under the back of my thigh. I wanted to just set-and-forget the cantle bag and not try to strap it on at dinner, and I didn’t think I could do a hundred miles with something poking my thighs. 
So I muttered shit, took it off, and carried it over to Henry Griffin’s tack trailer. He had an English style that might have worked, so I stole temporarily borrowed one and tried it on my saddle. The pocket didn’t quite fit over the back of the seat, but worse, the velcro straps that go around the billets are about 4” too short. 
Double shit.
I returned the stolen bag and went digging in my trailer. Surely I had something I could make do with! In one of my early fits of “I need one of everything,” I’d bought the last old-style cantle bag Henry had. It’s a tiny duffle bag, with a big metal zipper and a bunch of D-rings. (And it’s so old it still has Henry’s Montana address on it, if that helps date it!) 
It fit, and if I strapped it down it wouldn’t bounce and it wouldn’t rub, so it would have to do. 
Wire from D to D, with bungees going from saddle D’s to the center D on the bag.
One more shot, post ride. I’d threaded the bridle underneath the yellow bungees, with a carabiner for insurance, but the whole thing stayed very tight all day/night.

I feel totally, totally justified in all my hoarding tendencies. I will buy anything I see in a checkout line that looks like it might work on an endurance ride one day, and at some point I’d picked up these adorable tiny bungees from REI. And I had some wire that I’d saved from changing out a fluorescent ballast. Between the wire and the bungees, I got that bag down tight
Inside the bag, I had two spare Gloves, two of the biggest space emergency blankets I could find, an extra flashlight, an extra multitool, some wire and baling twine, some toilet paper in a ziplock, and a tiny roll of duct tape. Garbage bags work almost as well as emergency blankets, and I wanted two because if we got stranded and I got cold, Dixie would get cold too. 
So, if you’ve got a Specialized, what works for you on the cantle? If you haven’t tried a cantle bag yet, I think you could do some minor surgery on an English-style Stowaway (fix the pocket size, replace the velcro straps with longer ones), but to be honest, I’m not thrilled with the idea of straps under the billets. If I didn’t have that one rare and wonderful Griffin’s pommel bag, I’d try to mod a tiny camping duffel from REI and strap it down, but right now I don’t know of an off-the-shelf solution.

Anyway, getting that straightened out took hours, and I had no time to hang out with Evelyn The Tights Lady! But she gave me a big cheer on our way out of camp at 65 miles — thanks, babe! 
I started fully tacked up: halter, bridle, bit, and running martingale. Dixie knows that she can’t properly express her feelings about the pace I choose when she’s in the running martingale, and she has to content herself with angry little head-shakes instead of wildly flinging her head around in the hopes I’ll let her run. She hates it, precious, but I hate having the reins flipped over her head more! The martingale came off and went in my saddlebags at the first check, and it never ended up going back on. I didn’t start with a crop, but I did grab it when we headed out at 65 miles, when I knew she would be extremely unmotivated. Took some whacking to get her to the top of the ridge in the dark, but once we quit climbing, she got with the program and moved out with just an “ok trot” or a bit of leg for the rest of the night. 
I tied Mel’s Lucky First Hundred Rump Rug to my pommel when we set off after 65 miles, and the luck clearly rubbed off. I didn’t want to try to attach it to the maze of bungees on the cantle unless I was going to use it.
Things I need to change: 
Dude, I am so done with that one headlamp. I’ve got three: a really heavy complicated one, an extremely reliable middleweight one with no red light setting, and a nice new-ish ultralight headlamp with a red light. Twice now I’ve yanked the newest one out to find it’s dead — last time I got batteries from Lucy and thought it was a fluke, but this time it was dead again so it’s dead to me. I don’t know if it really sucks battery that fast from disuse, or if the switch is just in a bad spot and it gets turned on accidentally, but it’s unreliable. Ended up starting with the white light, but I couldn’t turn it on without blinding everybody, and at 91 miles I swapped with Brenna for a red light. (Also I need to store spare batteries in the trailer, or at least in my camping duffle.)
I told y’all that I rode half the distance in just a rope halter. I didn’t use my favorite halter, the blue-and-purple paracord one from Mrs. Mom, because it doesn’t have rings. I pulled out my backup rope halter (hoarding: justified again), made of yacht rope with sidepull rings, and rolled all day in that. It worked; she went fine without a bit and seemed to appreciate the freedom, but it won’t do long-term. It’s got those “control knots”, and it’s fairly rough rope, and I just don’t want it yanking on her facial nerves. Also, it’s not sized right for a TWH head, and at the finish I noticed she couldn’t quite open her mouth wide enough to yawn — I had to re-tie it a little looser (and lower on her nose) for her to get a proper yawn. 
So I need something custom, and I think I’m going to get ATG to make me a biothane halter fitted precisely to her head, with bit hangers or a snap-on headstall. I need to get with them and get the measurements I need to take, but I actually have plenty of time before the Derby (or even NASTR).
And I need new stirrup leather covers. I bought the velcro kind, because the tube kind are so horrendously hard to fiddle with, but the velcro is rubbing. When I was scratching Dixie all over on Monday, I noticed two little rucked-up patches of hair on her ribs. So Tuesday I apologized, promised I wasn’t really going to ride, and threw the saddle on. Yep, the hard plastic velcro backing was rubbing her. No heat, swelling, or tenderness, but it’s one of those things that will only get worse.

More on boots later when I feel inspired to write again!