It always looks more impressive from the outside

Last week, before I signed up for that half marathon, I was having one of Those Days. The ones where I realize I will never get to ride endurance again, because it’s such a solo sport, and I start frantically looking for something active and outdoorsy to do with a baby.IMG_4429A baby that gives FREE HUGS is a pretty good tradeoff though.

(Those Days aren’t rational. I know that Orion might like to ride, and he might like to bike while I ride, and he might like to run with me, and he might like to hike and ride me or Dixie when he gets tired, and it’s just gonna take a little while to figure out which of those scenarios is true. But time just crawls sometimes, and this is what gets me through the night.)IMG_4597That horse looks really good! 

So I was looking up camping with a baby — never mind that I barely understand camping without a horse, and I don’t know what I’d do if I woke up in a sleeping bag and didn’t have to get on a horse before dawn — and I clicked around for a while and ended up finding this.

http://adventurousparents.com/2014/07/31/take-it-easy-mamas-finding-value-in-unexpected-setbacks/

Go read the whole thing, but this bit really resonated with me:

I know as well as any new mama how it feels when that-friend-who-started-trail-running-a-month-after-delivering-a-baby posts a photo of her latest baby-free jaunt through the woods … And I discovered that comparing myself to others really is futile because I don’t want others to compare themselves to me. I know that I post a lot of photos of me doing active, outdoorsy things, so I wanted to set the record straight.

Yall know that I’m so proud of getting out for an hour to run, or four hours to ride, because it’s the highlight of my week, right? I spend so much time sitting on the couch nursing this dude that I ended up getting a special butt-pillow. Most days I do the bare minimum to keep body and soul together for me, the baby, and the pets. So yeah, I use my blog to celebrate my exceptional achievements — but don’t misunderstand, they truly are exceptional achievements and they take a lot of effort.IMG_4611Here’s my gratuitous trail porn panorama. Click on over to see it full size.

Part of the problem that seems common to most of us adrenaline junkie types is (Former) Fat Kid Syndrome. We were some combination of fat, clumsy, and nerdy in grade school, and we just can’t shake those self-definitions. I’ve been pushing myself to be stronger and go longer for -six years- now and it still feels like I’ll be a permanent couch potato if I take a week off. I don’t feel very impressive, and I don’t look particularly impressive, but here I am, taking pics of my latest baby-free trail run.IMG_4622Just one more.

And while you’re reading links, here’s something I wish I’d read when I was pregnant.

http://adventurousparents.com/2014/11/10/pregnant-and-pushing-the-limits-exemplary-or-exceptional/

I feel like I was exactly as active as I needed to be — including being a total couch potato for all of November and December — but I felt a lot of guilt about it. People kept sending me links to stories just like the ones she talks about, stories about women sprinting at nine months and marathoning at seven and whatnot. I just wanted ice cream, man.IMG_4443I grew this dude on Chipotle burrito bowls and ice cream.

So if you’re pregnant or you’re thinking about it, go read that, ok? Just being pregnant is enough. You feel the same (or awful) every day, but your body really is busy doing a lot of stuff. Do only what feels good and right. (I wouldn’t trade my ride’n’tie, hard as it was, for anything!) But don’t feel bad about how much or how little you’re doing.IMG_4535Trust me, it’s a good time in life to cultivate your “I don’t give a fuck” attitude. Soon as you have that baby people are going to be sending you sleep training advice* and breast/bottle advice and vaccination debates and it will never stop.

*Look, I pretty much never say this, but I am judging the hell out of you if you leave your 8 week old alone for twelve hours and call it sleep training. Judging you SO HARD.

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Milestones achieved recently include: getting really good at holding his head up and learning how to operate his hands to bring a toy to his face. 

Still Fighting Inertia

I was going to write a post about my last ride, but I think I’d rather use my limited time to talk about motivation and running instead. I’ll stick the pics from last weekend in here instead — Mel and I took our trusty steeds out to Cache Creek for a very pleasant four hour conditioning ride. I have pronounced Dixie ready for a slow 50 at the Nevada Derby next weekend, god willing and the creek don’t rise.IMG_4324So I signed up for a half marathon. It’s trails, of course, in Tilden Park (very similar to my own Redwood Park) on May 9th. IMG_4330I’d been talking to my friends, and Ash was nervous about her upcoming ultra. Mel said she wouldn’t be nervous if she hadn’t signed up in advance, so we were debating the merits of spur of the moment entries vs. signing up way in advance — if you sign up way in advance, you’re guaranteed a shirt that fits, and you have a goal to train for. I started thinking about how it’s been a really long time since I had a running goal, and I went poking around the local trail running organization sites, and one thing led to another and suddenly I was on my iPhone on active.com laboriously entering my billing info for this run. Happy Mother’s Day!IMG_4328I really didn’t feel right racing — even at my pitiful speeds — while I was pregnant. I just felt so tired and my heat tolerance was even weirder than usual, so I didn’t even try to race after the epic adventure of the Ride ‘n Tie. And without any goals, my running gradually slacked off until I wasn’t running at all by the end of summer, and then I just quit for the duration. IMG_4334I made myself start running again when I started riding again, but I quickly ran into the same problem: I hate to exercise. Dixie, I understand you, I really do. 

She is the most sluggish, awful, bad-tempered creature if I ask her to go train alone — it’s basically just exercise to her, and what’s the point? If I can get another fit horse or three out there with us, she’ll get excited and actually train hard, and of course when we go to a real ride, she has a great time. IMG_4349I’m not quite as bad as she is. I feel better immediately after a run, but I still need an externality (a race entry, and impending humiliation) to get me out there. And oh my god, yall, like it’s not bad enough being an uninspired and very slow runner — it really is even harder with a baby.IMG_4342I know I deserve time to myself. There’s no doubt that G loves the kid and is entirely competent to take care of him. But I’d made excuses every Tuesday for a month straight, and it took the impending humiliation of this half marathon to get me on a trail this week. IMG_4339I’m going to do this thing on two days a week of training. Of course that’s not ideal, but it is what it is. But only having two days a week to run means I really cannot fuck around and miss a run, and that’s the only thing that got me out there. IMG_4338Anyway, so I’ve got all the usual mental inertia, plus I was in a hurry to get back to O. Because I have that mental inertia, plus a baby who’s iffy on car trips anyway, I hadn’t actually scouted where I was going to run — I knew there was a jogging path right between I-80 and the Bay, right as you approach the Bay Bridge, and I thought that would be a great place to run. It only takes me ten minutes to drive to the dentist, near that trail, so I should be able to drive over, run for 40 minutes (hopefully running 5k or close to it) and drive back in an hour. And I definitely deserve an hour to myself!IMG_4335The problem is that I go to the dentist during the day, and I run on Tuesday evenings at rush hour. The dentist is ten minutes away when I can hop on I-80, but more like twenty when I have to fight traffic on the surface streets (and at least twenty if I’d gotten on the interstate!)IMG_4352As soon as I realized that it was going to take more than eleven minutes to get to the trail I started to freak out. I missed the baby already. The baby was already starting the 5 pm fussy phase. My husband had worked (from home) a full day and he shouldn’t have to deal with the fussy baby for more than an hour. Maybe I should just cut my run short?IMG_4357But that’s dumb. G is at home; he’s going to hear O fuss regardless. The hard part about getting out to run isn’t staying out for another ten or thirty minutes – it’s getting out of the house to begin with. IMG_4354So I pushed through. I missed a turn, got the shakes, pulled over in a parking lot, texted G and told him my stupid thoughts, and kept going. Eventually, I got to the trailhead parking lot and started running. Right off the bat, I got passed by a skinny twenty year old who clearly had not just had a baby, and I let my unworthy, sullen rage fuel my run. But as soon as I’d finished, I felt fantastic.So here we go. I think I’ve found just enough motivation to accomplish one more goal. The plan is ever-longer runs, with or without Dixie, on the trails every weekend, plus shitty tempo runs, with or without Cersei, on Tuesdays. Seems legit!

Kings Canyon ride

(One of the main problems that’s slowed down my blogging is how precious time on the laptop has become. I can whip out a blog post inside of an hour and spend another hour attaching the photos, but you can see how often I have two solid hours to spare! I’ve managed to do almost all of my normal computer stuff on my phone (shout out to Evernote, Dropbox, and 1Password for keeping me “productive” and Kindle/iBooks and all the social media apps for keeping me sane) but there’s no Scrivener app. But I’d really like to write more, and it doesn’t look like I’m going to have blocks of computer time available in the near future, so I’m trying out writing on the iPhone. This was banged out in an afternoon with Werdsmith, and it did the job pretty painlessly.)

For last weekend’s ride, I wanted to do something other than yet another loop around the perimeter of Redwood Park. I though about trailering out to Briones Reservoir – it’s a 14 mile loop around a gorgeous lake, and one of my favorite conditioning rides – but that would take entirely too long. I’d be gone for at least five hours, probably six, and that seemed too long.

G loves to spend time with his kid, and Orion is really an easy kid – but he’s still just two months old and pretty needy. But more importantly, if I’m gone for that long, I would totally need to pump or my boobs might explode. I just got a portable manual pump, for just that reason, but I didn’t want to try it out so soon.

Surely I could do more than ten miles without trailering? (Yes, there’s a lot more than ten miles of trails in Redwood Park, but most of them are singletrack, and the park’s so busy on the weekends you can’t go anywhere near conditioning speed on the singletrack.)

Fortunately I remembered the San Leandro EBMUD trails. You can enter the northern end of the trail system from Redwood, and I’d never explored more than a few miles of the EBMUD trails. I sat down with the maps and plotted out a ride: a couple of miles in Redwood to get to the EBMUD entrance, then down to the Kings Canyon loop, then back home the way we’d come. About 13 miles all told.Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 3.22.40 PMOne of the reasons I like riding Dixie so much – why I’ve logged so many hours on her and I’m still not bored with it – is because it’s almost meditative. I can stop thinking about everything else in my life (even Orion, and that’s quite a feat) and just ride. I can’t daydream too much; she needs an active rider. But I can get in the rhythm of working with the horse and the hours and miles just fly by.

We headed out, up to the ridge and along and down into the canyon, then up and over onto the next ridge – where we started chasing the jogger last week. A third of a mile up that trail, we turned off to the right, out of Redwood Park and down into another canyon.

Ironically, as soon as you leave Redwood Park you enter a redwood forest. I tried, for the hundredth time, to get some pictures in the redwood forest, but there’s just not enough light to take cell phone pics in motion, even at a walk. One day I’ll remember that, halt, and get some decent pics.

We climbed out of the redwood grove and popped out into the rolling grassy hills of the East Bay. California’s still in a drought, but we’ve gotten enough rain for the grass to grow. It’s just violently green right now.IMG_3998

I don’t appreciate the non-mountainous parts of California like I should. (In another few weeks all this grass is going to turn brownish yellow, yuck.) But in early spring, even I have to admit this place is stunningly beautiful.IMG_4001The crowds of people in Redwood mostly disappeared over in the EBMUD land. There’s no bikes allowed, dogs are allowed on only a few trails, and you have to pay a nominal $10/year fee for a trail pass. Those few restrictions mean that EBMUD trails have about 20% of the traffic of Regional Parks trails.

Dixie and I got in a lovely groove as we worked our way back to the MHA horse pastures just past Valle Vista – the furthest we’d ever gone. We popped through the last gate and set out across a meadow toward the oak-covered hills.IMG_3999Almost all of the KC loop is on fire roads like this. Very wide, hard but good footing, nonstop gently rolling hills.IMG_4007We got our first view of the reservoir at the top of one of the hills. Dixie is entirely unimpressed and wants to know if we can turn around yet.IMG_4008Technically, we’d already seen the north end of the reservoir, up near the MHA pasture, but it had been dry for so long it was just a semi-marshy meadow.IMG_4010I told her it was a loop trail and insisted she keep going.IMG_4014As we headed south, we started to see more water in the lake.IMG_4018Eventually we turned back to the northeast, and finally left the lake behind.IMG_4020Nothing but green grass and blue sky.IMG_4021IMG_4022The eastern part of the trail runs near the small hovels carelessly thrown up along Camino Pablo.IMG_4025And then we started to climb. I found this elevation chart someone did, and the trail climbs 400+ feet in half a mile. It’s straight up a fire road, no switchbacks – I’m sure Trailmaster Aarene is shuddering.IMG_4026Only the first half is in direct sun.IMG_4028Poor unfit Dixie was a trooper though. I’m not gonna lie, she was well into the “death march” part of the day, but she plodded on up that monster hill with only a couple of brief pauses.

We made it to the top and walked less than a hundred feet before the road plunged straight down the other side of the hill, just as steeply as before. I slithered off the horse – she’d done plenty and deserved a break, and I was more than ready to walk. About halfway down we popped out of the forest back into the grasslands, and suddenly I could see for miles.IMG_4029The little white and brown dots on the hills right center are the MHA horses. The brown open area to the left is the dried-out northernmost tip of the reservoir. You can see the white gravel Valle Vista parking lot with the gravel trail leading up to it. And to get home, I needed to get past VV, over the forested hills in the left foreground, and up and down two more canyons – another five miles or so. We’d been out for about 2:50 at that point. So much for my quick jaunt!IMG_4030IMG_4034There was nothing to do but keep going. We walked the whole way down to the gate, and by the time I remounted Dixie had perked up and we trotted for home.

Back through the redwood forest and across the road and back up to Redwood Park. I hopped off to open the gate and ran about a mile, then got back on for the meadow full of people and the last monster climb. Dixie plodded up it (another un-masterful 400′ of climb in a third of a mile) and trotted along the ridge, then I got off and we ran down into the canyon where the barn is.

We got back in just under four hours ride time. My tits felt like they were going to explode. I couldn’t even manage to rinse my poor horse – bad Funder. :( I got home to my frazzled husband – and my new manual pump! – six hours after I’d left. Sigh!

Horse stats: 12.83 miles in 3:58. I kept Dixie trotting where I could, but we don’t trot training downhills and I can’t convince her to trot many training uphills, and that trail had a lot more ups and downs than I’d anticipated. It was a good challenge for her, and she should end up a lot fitter for it.

Dixie was barefoot and did just fine. I’m still paying a trimmer to do her feet, and the woman is doing a nice job. She had nice even sweat patterns and no obvious soreness when I pulled her tack. She wore a breastcollar but no crupper (but I’d definitely use a crupper for an endurance ride!)

Human stats: I ran about 3 miles, plus the long walk down the big hill – I’m calling it 3.5 miles.

Tragically, my feet got a size and a half bigger when I was pregnant. In February, the only shoes that fit me were sandals. I decided to make the best of it and change shoes completely, so I bought some Altra Lone Peaks. They’re zero drop but nicely padded, and I have decided I really like them. I felt really good running and riding all day in them, and today my feet don’t hurt at all! My quads are stiff – that’s definitely the most work I’ve done this year – but overall I feel good.

February wrap-up

Yes, it took most of a week to get around to recapping February. That’s babies for you — but all of a sudden, the young master has decided that he doesn’t want to be held all the time and he’d prefer to sleep in one of his multitude of baby beds, so I can write on the laptop. For now, at least — he reserves the right to change his mind.   IMG_3926

Dixie and I managed just over 29 miles in February. That’s pretty respectable, all things considered, and I’m pretty happy with how we ramped back up: a 2 mile ride to start, a couple of 5 mile rides, a brisk 7 miler, and on Saturday, 10 miles in exactly 2 hours.

Dixie got to meet Orion last month, when I met the trimmer at the barn. She was very sweet about it, very interested in smelling him but very soft and kind.IMG_3781

The trimmer got better pics of the three of us. (Orion slept through the whole thing.)IMG_3788

I don’t usually write about conditioning rides anymore, but Saturday’s ride was (barely) blog-worthy. If I ride the perimeter of Redwood Park, I can get ten miles, plus it’s a loop so sooner or later (usually later) Dixie realizes that it’s faster to keep going than to go back, and she turns on the afterburners.

We’d just done the second big hill climb, two miles into our ride, and I saw a nice shot: the green hills of the east bay framed by the trees of my park. I fumbled out my phone and snapped the shot, but I got a runner too.IMG_3853

I turned Dixie to the left (no, don’t turn around, we’re not going home yet you lazy beast) and urged her after the runner. It took almost a mile to catch her — that lady was a machine, jogging steadily up and down every hill she came to. But eventually she got tired and we caught her, just in time for a pair of mountain bikers to overtake us and give Dixie something new to chase.

At one point we passed a runner going the opposite direction. She managed to convince her year-old intact male bird dog to stay with her as we politely walked past them, but I wasn’t the slightest bit surprised when we saw that damn dog again. And by “saw,” I mean Dixie and I trotted a half mile further down the trail and then the bird dog exploded out of nowhere, barking nonstop at the top of his lungs and running in circles around Dixie, feinting at her. We’d slowed to a walk again to get past a pack of bikes, and they all stared at us slack-jawed, clearly ready to dial 911 when it all went sideways. Dixie pinned her ears at the stupid dog and we stood quietly for a while, waiting for the owner to appear. But the dog got more and more frantic, and I decided I’d rather be on the ground, ready to smack it with my crop if it finally got brave enough to try to bite my horse, so I got off and led Dixie back the way we’d come.

In the intervening half-mile, we’d passed a guy with two very large, very hairy, very horse-aggressive dogs. He had them both on leashes, under control, but he wasn’t very happy to see me and my new friend again. I shrugged at him and yelled “Not my dog!”

“Whose dog is it?” he yelled back, wrestling with his frantic beasts.

“Some woman we passed a half a mile back that way,” I said.

The man’s glare faded a tiny bit. The stupid bird dog was still running in circles barking nonstop at Dixie, and she was just following me, irritated at the dog but willing to refrain from kicking it for a little while longer.

Eventually (with a growing crowd of 911-ready onlookers trailing behind my circus) we found the bird dog owner. She managed to call her hound off and I got back on and trotted away again, past the horse-aggro dogs and the pack of bikes and the same runner (she’d passed us again in the confusion).

Dixie had been moving out really well, and we’d only gone another mile or so when she decided that we were definitely pointed toward home. We started cantering and galloping the small hills and trotting the flats, only slowing to a walk for the steep downhills and the numerous knots of people. Another half an hour saw us back at the barn.IMG_3857

And it looks like I’ve got a sponsor — my barn’s weird phrase for a part-leaser — for Dixie. He’s a nice older man who sponsored the big palomino NSH for years, but the palomino colicked and died last weekend. (At 28 — it’s always tragic, but wow that horse looked great for his age and I never would’ve guessed he was an ’87!) One of the trainers introduced us on Saturday, and on Tuesday S took D out for a trial ride.

Honestly, I figured he’d call me and say thanks but no thanks, but he liked Dixie. She behaved for him. I mean, obviously I think she’s a great horse, and she’s solid as a rock for me, and I’m pretty sure she’ll be great for anybody who’s a confident rider, but I couldn’t be sure.2x02_The_One_Where_They_Build_a_House_(072)

Anyway, he’s going to ride her on Tuesdays or Thursdays, just an hour or so of trail riding. She’ll get out more, and he’ll have some horse time, and I won’t feel so guilty about not being able to ride during the week.

Last weekend was Twenty Mule Team. I wouldn’t trade this baby for anything in the world, but at the same time, I was really sad that I wasn’t able to go to Ridgecrest. And this weekend is the AERC convention, which I’m not going to either, and that’s tough too. What a crazy year it’s been.

But the 22nd, I think, I’m trailering out to ride with Mel and Farley, in preparation for us trying to get our Decade Team 50s done. (Decade Team is an award given to the same horse/rider team for completing at least one 50 every year for ten years — doesn’t have to be consecutive years, but it’s hard enough to keep a horse going to her late teens without missing a year or two and pushing it into her early 20s.) I’ve got high hopes of doing more than one ride — I’m still planning for VC100 in September — but if I can get one 50 done this spring, at least I’ll check off my Decade Team ride.

Orion continues to be the cutest, sweetest, easiest baby in the world. He’s growing like a weed! His white onesie was baggy at the beginning of February:IMG_3528And too tight before the end of the month.IMG_3753He learned to smileIMG_3835He grew eyelashes (and eyebrows, but they’re transparent, so you can’t see them)IMG_3877And lots and lots of muscles!IMG_3922I’m pretty sure he is the World’s Cutest Baby. <3IMG_3891