Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Tipping into 100 Milers

So Mike Everett was curious what pushed me into doing 100s.

Firstly, I should say that like many others, I always had that classic goal of "completing Tevis" - seeing a Cougar Rock photo on a co-worker's office wall is what got me back into horses and into endurance riding in the first place in my early 30s. I didn't start endurance because I had a horse and wanted something to do with it, my whole endurance career was aimed from the very beginning at the elusive Tevis completion.

But wanting something and getting it are different things.

I had a rough start to endurance riding - first horse was physically hard on both himself and me (he was always going lame; I ended up needing knee surgery); the second horse had a congenital lameness issue which meant we only did one season and that ended in heartache; the third horse suffered a pasture accident and was never sound again...

So it wasn't until I got Roo, eight years after starting endurance riding that I really got to settle in and ride 'for real' - at that point I'd only cobbled together about 550 miles and still felt like I didn't have a good handle on what the heck I was doing.


Roo is an excellent little horse: he's uncomplicated, gets on with it, and will travel cheerfully down the trail on a loose rein. His downsides are that he's always had crappy recoveries, he spooks like a devil*, and can be moody as a moody thing** and so most of my 'management issues' with him are mental.

(* whiplash style - I came off during three successive E-rides, including in the last half-mile of a back-to-back-50 where he should have been tired after 100 miles and I got such a bad concussion—despite the helmet—I didn't even know where my trailer was).

(** loses complete motivation and slows to a crawl if his ride buddy disappears).

My biggest "problem" is that I don't ride fast. At one point, I was doing a fine job of managing to come third from last at every single ride I attended (which takes more skill and strategy than you might realise, honest). More recently, I've bumped up to fifth from last... but you get the picture. So long as I finish in the allotted time for the distance at hand, I'm content.

My reasons for this are twofold - for one, I hate arbitrary time constraints and can't stand being corralled into something time-wise - if this is supposed to be fun, I'll get there when I'm ready; and for another, I don't have the time, stamina, know-how, or desire to do the necessary conditioning needed to top-ten a ride.

But I always knew that my lack of speed (and lack of ability to get out of a vet hold on time) were going to be a problem if I wanted to finish a 100.


In 2007, Roo and I had a stellar year, completing 9 x 50s and a 75.

I can clearly remember pulling into camp for that 75 and having the weirdest feelings - "finally I'd made it to the big kids!" countered with "I don't belong here and they're all looking at me" (?). But I was so excited that we were going to try the 75. Interestingly, I don't remember ever doubting that we'd finish.

The ride went relatively smoothly. I rode with a friend so we didn't have any moving forward problems. We got some kinks worked out - had girth rubbing issues so Roo was slathered in Desitin, I neglected to pack enough horse food in my crew bags (who knew he'd eat that much on a 75?), and he got a massive hind-end cramp in the last half mile which scared the heck out of me but resolved itself. As always, we didn't ride fast but we got the job done, finishing near the back in the dark.

As an aside, I was fine with night riding. We'd practised it four weeks earlier completing the NV Moonshine 50*** ride, coupled with the fact I have a tendency to stay out too late during conditioning rides and end up being caught in the dark.

(*** NV Moonshine ride starts about an hour or two before sunset so you complete a big chunk of the loop in the daylight before it gets dark - then you ride the same loop backwards in pitch black. Excellent opportunity to find out how you and your horse will do in the dark, not to mention being really fun).

After Roo's performance at the 75, I honestly think he was ready for a 100, but I didn't know what I was doing. I think in the back of my mind I wanted more proof of his solidity. For some reason, I felt that he had to prove himself at multiday rides before he attempted a 100. Looking back, I don't think this is true, I like my 100-mile horses to have done a back-to-back 50 and I like to have done a 75 so that I know what I'm dealing with, but don't feel the horse has to have completed 3-4 days of 50s in a row to be able to do a 100.

More Rides

Later that year, we went to the Tejon ride with the idea of doing all three days and beforehand I fretted that I didn't know enough to know if it was time to stop. As it turned out, the weather conditions were horrendous the second day and I was so pleased with how he dealt with it that I decided we'd done good and didn't ride the third day anyway.

I promptly messed that karma up three months later when I took him down to Death Valley and tried to do all four days. He was raring to go and it wasn't until the second half of the third day that he settled down enough to ride on a loose rein. We did a good chunk of that day - across the 13 mile dry lake bed - enough to demoralize the best of horses - on our own. At the end of that section, we caught up with some friends at the penultimate vet check and, instead of keeping to our nice steady pace, I kept up with them and rode the last 8 miles much faster than we should have. Coming in at the finish, he was fit to continue but the ride vet said she "saw something" and that we should check back with her in the morning.

That alone should have been my red flag. If the vet "sees something", "something" is there and it's time to stop. But instead, blinded by my "must do all four days" goal and thinking he just looked funky because we'd come in a little fast, and given the go-ahead by the vet the following morning, I started Day 4.

Roo felt amazing - I couldn't believe how good he felt after 150 miles as we flew along the trail in the brisk, bright morning sunshine. And about three miles before the lunch vet check he was dead lame in the rear and I hand-walked him in. Lesson learned. I am a dummy.

(Predictably, he had an almost identical pull the following spring - day 2 of a ride, rode with a friend on a faster horse. Roo got pulled at lunch with a hind-end cramp. OK, so I'm a slow learner.)

On to 100s

Two other things were going around that time.

Patti Stedman "exposed" herself to the endurance world, so to speak, by writing a series of articles in Endurance News chronicling her journey to 100s with Ned. She explained how neither she nor Ned were terribly "classic examples" of 100 mile material, and more or less said "If I can do it, anyone can". (Ned went on to complete 6 out of 7 100s, with Patti on top for 5 of those).

Bearing in mind my feelings of "OMG, I don't belong up here with the real endurance riders" when Roo and I did that first 75, my brain filed Patti's story away for future consideration.

Around then I also became friends with Crysta Turnage and her horse, a cobby horse of indeterminate breed named Sinatra. After about 600 miles of 50s, Sinatra and Crysta completed Sunriver as their first 100 in 2006, tried Tevis, messed up on timing and got pulled OT at Michigan Bluff (~65 miles). Crysta did a few more 50s and then, because she lives in icy NV, more or less took the winter off.

In February 2007, frustrated by the OT pull at Tevis, she decided that they were going to go and do 20 Mule Team 100 in Southern California. Her reasoning  was that she had nothing to lose - Sinatra didn't have a sparkly 100% completion record, so they'd go to the desert and see what happened.

She wrote up the ride story - including an incident in the dark when Sinatra got itchy while being hand-walked down a hill, lay down to roll (fully tacked up), and got all weebly for a minute when he got back up again. (

But the upshot was they finished. Huh. And she'd hardly ridden him at all that winter?

Three and half months later, they finished Patriot 100, followed handily by Tevis, followed by an attempt at Virginia City 100 which was thwarted when Sinatra choked at about 50 miles.

But I haven't mentioned the best part. Sinatra, like Ned and Patti, wasn't "100 mile material". He was built a little on the heavy side, had a high-stepping ("energy wasting", right?) gait, he wasn't fast (his "go along" trot speed was about 7 mph), he wasn't hot (I loved riding with them because he didn't make the horses around him crazy), he wasn't forward or long-legged or an arab... he was just a little cobby-built horse that went along like a metronome.

And I reasoned if Sinatra and Patti and Ned could finish 100s (and in Sinatra's case, could finish Tevis), why couldn't Roo and I manage a 100? It was time.

The second part of Crysta's influence was her reasoning for going to 20MT. It taught me to evaluate exactly what I was aiming for in my endurance career.

  • Was it preserving my stellar 100% completion record? Well, like Crysta, I already messed that one up.
  • Was it fear of failure? likes to fail. But where are you going, adventure-wise, if you always do the same repetitive tried-and-tested activities, safe in the knowledge that you'll more than likely finish? Are you growing in any way? Are you pushing yourself in new and interesting directions?
  • Guilt that I might mess up? Well, yes, that was a biggie. In the back of my mind, I wanted to do a 100 "right", I didn't want to somehow mess up and compromise my horse. But in reality, given my slow-poke speed, what's the worst that was likely to happen? We'd go OT (dummy me), he might get pulled for lameness (possible, it is 100 miles, but would it be a career-ending lameness? not likely), he might go into metabolic crisis (why? Provided he was eating and drinking, I would be riding slowly enough that I wasn't going to push him over a metabolic cliff).
  • Fear of the unknown? This is also a difficult one. You don't know how the horse (or you) will react to that distance. You're told the horse will likely "hit the wall" at some point. I fretted that I wouldn't know the difference between "horse is fed up" versus "horse is about to drop dead". But I knew he'd managed 75 miles and was certainly still good to go at the end of that. And once again, you'll never know how your horse (and you) will react to that distance unless you take the plunge and find out.

Patriot 100

The best push was Crysta agreeing to chaperone us on our first 100 at Patriot the following year. Nothing better than having someone to hold your hand.

Once again, I had that "ooooh, I don't belong" feeling pulling into ridecamp. I felt totally sticky-outy, like everyone would be looking and going "they'll never finish a 100" (uh huh... like they have even noticed you exist...).

I recall parts of the day-time portion of the ride quite clearly. The flowers in the meadow next to the lake; my crew cooking eggs and potatoes for us for "lunch" - although I had no idea what time of day it was; Roo doing a huge spook coming into the mid-day vet hold and me glancing down during vetting and realising he'd spooked himself out of his shoe - it was totally twisted and hanging off (luckily my shoer at the time was also doing the 100 and was in on his hold, and very kindly reset the shoe for me); trotting down endless wooded [dull] fire roads... but the parts I remember most clearly were the nightime portions of the ride - when things got difficult and the amazingness of doing 100s really set in.

As it turned out, by that time Sinatra was suffering from an aggressive squamous cell carcinoma in his nose and although we thought he was OK, when we got to the 75(?) mile vet check, it became clear that he was done for the day. Roo and I were on our own.

(Sadly, this was the last ride Sinatra did and he left us the following year.)

So off Roo and I went, in a bad situation. Roo doesn't like travelling on his own so I had a feeling we were going to be in trouble because of this. But it was still light and there was one remaining rider behind us. We'd see how things went.

We did pretty well for the first couple of hours - there was a big climb and Roo was willing. Even when it got dark he was still "ok", until he started to see big rocks by the side of the dirt road. And began to spook at them. And worst of all, the trail was taking us away from the vet check and camp. The further we went in the "away" direction, the slower Roo went. No amount of "persuasion" from me could convince him to go faster and we were pretty much down to a slow walk. I didn't get the feeling he had hit the wall so much as his mental powers were just beyond being able to go faster when threatened by a multitude of attack-rocks.

Finally, the trail turned and we headed south again. Roo's camp radar kicked in and he allowed that, possibly, he could trot afterall. I remember trotting along after midnight in a cloud of euphoria, feeling ridiculously hot (it was a humid night) and poking my t-shirt into my bra to bare my midriff to try and cool off. I remember the trail taking a jog north to drop down to a dirt road below us, and having to be very emphatic that, yes, we would be taking that trail away from camp, albeit briefly. I remember being amazed that he was able to stop dead when detecting tuffs of grass by the side of the trail, despite it being pitch black. And I remember the despair when—once again—he decided he couldn't (wouldn't) trot any more and at this slow walking speed, we would not be finishing our first 100 miler afterall.

We trudged along in the dark and I came to terms with it. We'd had a good day, Roo had given me a good ride (up until then) and he'd done his best. Neither of us were maimed in any way. It wasn't the end of the world. How many other people were doing something as interesting as this - riding around in the dark, looking out at the lights across the lake, experiencing life to the full? In reality, the whole thing was pretty cool.

And because we were going so slowly, the rider behind us caught us up.

It turned out that this rider had been flung into a tree earlier in the day and had broken some ribs, so was understandably unwilling to trot much. Roo cheered up considerably once the other horse caught us. (From later rides when he also threw out the sea anchor when riding alone and wanting horses behind us to catch up, I suspect this had a lot to do with why he was dragging so much.)

I eventually figured out that if I could get the other rider trotting, Roo would cheerfully trot too and we stood a vague chance of actually finishing the ride. So there started an exercise in psychology - trying to persuade the other rider of "good places to trot".

The rider announced that they had some glowsticks and would be slightly more willing to trot if we could find some way to attach them to the breast collar. I knew I had tape in my crew box at the vet check, so was happy that we could resolve that problem. Except when we got to the vet check, by miscommunication, it turned out that my crew had taken my crewbox with them and I had nothing at the vet check.

(This, incidentally, taught me self-reliance - you will need all those bits of string and electrical tape that you stashed in the pommel bag.  :)    )

We got the glowsticks attached and I was kept awake for the next three hours by virtue of having to regularly use cunning psychology to keep us trotting in fits and starts.

In the last couple of miles of the ride, as we were making our way through thick, dense, dark woods, I heard some crashing by the side of the trail. Immediately I concluded there was a bear in the woods, the horses were going to spook and dump us and run off, and we'd never finish the ride.

And then the bear spoke: "Lucy?". It was my shoer who's flashlight had broken and who'd lost the trail in the dark.

We formed a three-horse procession and came zooming in to the finish (fastest we'd gone in the last four hours) with about ten minutes to spare on the clock.

And complete we did. I won't say it was pretty, but we got the job done - and had an adventure in the process.

And I was hooked.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Tahoe Rim Trail / Watson's Loop / Tevis trail

Failure to Write

So I failed dismally to write about the amazing trip Renee and I took to Moab in September 2013 with Uno, Roo and Bite, where I spent much of my time with mouth agog.

pft and I returned to Moab in June 2014, ostensibly to pick up a tiny Spike, but mostly because we wanted a trip to Moab. We got a new tent (wonderful), took Finn and two bicycles and camped at Barlett Wash for a week of blissed out exploring, bike riding on slickrock, reading books in the heat of the afternoon. And I failed to write about it.

I failed to finish my Tevis with Fergus story (although, like the Moab trip write up, I did start it) - that ride will go down as probably the best I'll ever have - it was, without a doubt, the ride of a lifetime.

I failed to write about Roo and I doing Tahoe Rim Ride as a last minute spur of the moment option - and that ended up being one of Roo and my best rides together. He evidently loves that trail and does well on it - this was our second time doing the ride.

And finally, I failed to write about Roo and my attempt to finish Virginia City 100. Maybe one day it'll get written, but it's a daunting task.

(As an aside, I have also failed to continue running. I had to slow down a bit for Tevis, so's I didn't overdo it. And then I had to slow (i.e. stop entirely) for VC100 since I was definitely starting to teeter on overdoing it. And then when I tried to start again while doing lots of other things, my body said "Enough" and rebelled. So I agreed and haven't run since. I'm doing my best to pace myself. Not quite there, but balance is slowly being restored. I'm more or less over the post-100 bleahs ("My life isn't worth living unless I have a 100 to aim for") and starting to return to normal.)

One of these horses is not like the other.
What I will tell you about is the excellent ride we had this past Saturday on the Tahoe Rim Trail / Watson's Loop / Tevis trail.

Crysta and I had vaguely discussed the idea of horse camping at Faith Valley, but it didn't really pan out. I suggested Castle Peak loop, Crysta was leery (after I took her and Renee there when the snow wasn't quite melted and we had an "Adventure" (i.e. we squeaked by)). Crysta suggested Skillman, but I couldn't get excited about going there. Crysta suggested "the trails around Robie" and I really wasn't excited at the idea of the long dirt road to get in to Robie either, until it dawned on us that we could park at the hw-89 (Tevis) crossing and ride from there.

Huh. A 'splorin ride. My favorite.

It takes a little over 2 hours to haul up the mountain (including a civilised Starbucks visit on the way) and really is a no-brainer - up the freeway, over the top of Donner Summit, turn right and park in the turnout just past Squaw Valley by the side of hw-89.

There was slight excitement at the very beginning when Crysta slipped under Uno's feet while stopping mid-mount to untangle Uno from Digs' lead rope (she would be ponying him). Both got loose and trotted cheerfully back along the bike path through the underpass and up to the trailers where we retrieved them 30 seconds later.

But otherwise the ride went without incident. I'd downloaded maps to the GPS app on my phone, so knew that even if we didn't know where we were, I'd at least be able to tell where we should be going from that. And Crysta had a paper map which gave us the general idea about what we were supposed to be doing.

We followed the Tevis trail backwards up to where it opens up onto a dirt road. Tevis trail comes up from the left, while the connector road to the TRT continued up the hill to the right (there are several other smaller turns along the way which we eyeballed, but this one is the BIG dirt road).

Clambered up the hill, admiring Digs' NV drumsticks and Uno's developing ones. I fretted slightly that this was Roo's first ride back after being pulled at 92 miles at VC100 for rear end lameness - was he healed or would his back legs fall off during this climb?

Arriving at the top, all limbs still attached, it leveled off onto perfect footing and some ambiguous trail marking. The TRT crosses this dirt road, but we only noticed the trail markers headed south. It wasn't until I looked at the GPS to ascertain that, no, we didn't want to stay on this trail, and then pft backtracked about 100' we found the TRT headed north - marked, but a little surreptitiously. We shall call him Eagle Eyes Pft.

The turn for TRT headed north isn't very well marked -
you have to look carefully to see the trail and spot the markers

The TRT was REALLY fun. Lots of twisty turny singletrack that you could have a blast on. It wound up to the overlook at Painted Rock, and then dropped down the other side on a smooth switchbacked trail.

At the top of Painted Rock

Looking towards Robie Park. The Tevis trail is directly below us
(although I didn't know that until afterwards, looking at the map)

At some point, the trail changes to the Watson's Loop, but I'm not clear where. The trail follows the south flank of Mt Watson with views of Lake Tahoe, passing boulder piles and winding its way up over the shoulder of the mountain.

Watson's Trail

Looking down on Lake Tahoe

Eventually, it drops down to Watson Lake (pft and I had been here once before many years ago on mtn bikes when we spent the weekend with a summer ski lift pass at Northstar). We were a little leery of sinking in the mud at the lake, trying to get the horses a drink, but the lake level was low enough that it revealed a gravelled shore, so everyone got a drink.

Watson Lake

Roo and Fergus 

Being that it was mid-October, and being that we were up past 7,000', we'd carefully put on our extra clothes, strapped jackets to the back of the saddle, I'd put Roo in Small Thing's breast collar* which still had glowsticks attached from VC100, and I'd brought a headlight along. We were ready.

(* Small Thing's zilco breast collar is actually exactly the same size as Roo's - just with the straps buckled onto their smallest settings. Funder and I cunningly adjusted it the night before VC so that Roo could wear his yellow BC during the day and we'd switch to the glow-stick encrusted one for the night-time portion - thereby eliminating about 15 minutes of faffing around at the 50 mile hold. Girl Scouts R Us and we get points for cleverness).  

As it turned out, it was t-shirt weather and not even remotely chilly by the time we got back to the trailers at the end of the ride. In fact, it could be said that it was perfect weather. < Beam >

Leaving the lake, we had to check the GPS and map again - there's a sneaky left turn thrown in there (actually marked with lil' silver tree-tags with "W" punched into them) which puts you on another fun singletrack which spits you out on the paved road that leads to Robie.

Trying to figure out where we are, and where we're supposed to be going.

More singletrack and you drop onto the dirt road that leads to Robie.

Dirt road on the way to Robie Park

You follow the dirt road to the hairpin at the end then take the left-most trail. Again, was glad to have the GPS to consult, since Roo wanted to take the most direct route back to the trailer (over the top of a 7,762' mountain top - yes, there is a dirt road that leads up to it. Yes, he would have taken it). I even ended up walking along with the GPS turned on, watching the blue dot that was us, to make sure we really were on the correct trail (we weren't).

The final trail took us into the back of the meadow and, voila, Barsaleau Pavilion before us.

They have spigots at Robie Park, but since we'd crossed enough creeks and stopped at the lake, we didn't bother to try and find out if the water was still turned on. Probably would have been good to know. We did partake of the bunch grass in the Mansfield Arena - strangely empty with no vendors, no vets, no horses.

On the way to the Tevis start line

And then we blitzed home again on the Tevis trail all the way back to hw-89. Both Roo and Fergus assumed their "everyone out of the way, we know where we're going" modes (both having at least started Tevis), while Uno and Digs ambled along happily behind.

My favorite pea-head who has done good this year.

And because Crysta made us get up at 6:30 a.m., we were home before it was dark.

Friday, July 18, 2014


So Far:

With the new regime of:

  • get fit for Tevis
  • get fit generally
  • lose the 10 lbs sitting on top of the 10 lbs that already wasn't supposed to be there
  • maybe sign up to do the Way Too Cool 50k in March (this run is a lottery entry with only 850 entrants for the several thousand who apply, so getting in may be one of the biggest obstacles)

I've been runnin' every other morning for about three weeks now to get to the baseline recommended stage of "this schedule assumes you're a regular runner to start with and can run for 30 minutes without stopping". Not quite there yet, but could probably do the 30 minutes if my life depended upon it.

Currently I'm squarely on "Week 1" of the 26 week option shown below ...and have been for three weeks. I'm going to give myself 10 runs at the 2 mile level before adding distance - which means I'll be bumping up to 3 miles next Friday.

My run consists of speed-hiking down our driveway, running one way (on dirt), turning around and coming back past the bottom of the driveway and running the other way (on pavement, although I run on the verge a lot) and turning around, and then slogging back up the driveway again = 2.06 miles.

In the last 100 yrds or so, I really lengthen my stride and run like a real person for a very short while (and can feel how easily it would be to damage to your body running like real people do). I also force myself to run all the way to the top of the three minor "hills" (I use the term loosely), even if it means I'm running slower than I would be going if I was walking - it's all about keeping a sustainable pace. I don't much like the turning around points, since it interrupts my running and I invariably drop to a walk for a mini-break when I turn around, but do my power-hike impersonation when walking. And doing the driveway ruins any splits, since it drops my overall time drastically, but I figure I get extra brownie points for doing it (and when it's hot, I get to take half my clothes off, since the driveway is nicely vegetated and hides me from the road).

This morning was my 8th run and they've been going like this:

28:08 - "OMG, I can barely run for 20 seconds"
27:57 - "OMG, this isn't much better"
26:43 - "hmm, starting to get the hang of this"
26:42 - "that didn't feel good"
26:22 - "coo - look, I took some time off my split and it actually didn't feel too bad"
26:26 - "this run actually felt faster than the much for that"
25:23 - "Oooohhh! Good jump. Starting to feel like I can do this"
25:54 - Had two moments during this run when I actually forgot I was running and was distracted by non-running thoughts. This might be starting to work properly.

Today was the first day I really felt like I was making progress. The ankle-full-o-metal was a little whiney, but nothing bad, and the shin on that side was making its presence known - I still never got full-strength back in that leg after I broke it in 2008 and the calf muscle is noticeably smaller, so I'm taking it easy and not pushing it.

Softly-softly, catchee monkee.

The Programs

When I started up running, I actually had 36 weeks until the Way Too Cool run, so I have the option of dawdling along and finally ramping up to the "16 weeks until..." program close to the event, or being more sensible and doing the "26 weeks until..." option. I actually like the longer option because it looks more interesting (fartleks and cross-training thrown in):
16 weeks to a marathon

26 weeks to a marathon

I like these plans because they don't assume you want to spend your life running (I don't), they give you rest in between. As an aside, this may also be the biggest problem with the whole plan - do I actually like running enough to spend so much time doing it? We'll see.

I do, however, like spending time on the trail and can get excited about the idea of doing specific runs, so that may play into my favor.

Even though I understood the principal of them, I wasn't sure exactly what the fartleks involved so looked it up. This is what it says:
  • During your longest run of the week, run a 1:00 surge every 6 or 7 minutes. This surge is not terribly hard—perhaps only 15 to 20 seconds per mile faster than your normal long-run pace.
  • At the end of the 1:00 surge, simply return to your relaxed rhythm. If you have a hard time returning to "normal" long-run rhythm, then you are running the surges too quickly.
I can do that.

But apparently that's fartlek for beginners. This is what I should be aiming at as I get more proficient:
  • After warming up, run a 2:30 pick-up beginning with the first 30 seconds only 5 to 10 seconds faster than your normal training pace. Each subsequent 30-second block should be a touch quicker than the previous with the final 30 seconds (from 2:00 to 2:30) being at or slightly faster than 10K fitness or race pace.
  • Recover with 90 seconds jogging easily
  • Run another 2:30 pick-up the same way.
  • I recommend running two sets, or a total of four pick-ups, which will take 16:00, including recovery.
Hmm, we'll see. Guessing these things are aimed at track/road runners, since I already get to do the extra work whenever I go up one of my hills. We'll come back to this in a few weeks.

Can It Really Be Done?

It didn't really occur to me until I started delving more into it and reading stuff that the generally accepted behaviour for a "running career" is that you run 5 and 10ks first, then maybe a half-marathon, and then maybe a full marathon before even considering something further. And it seems like most people start running on roads.

Being blessed with very little competitive spirit, and not feeling much need for speed, the whole concept of "getting the job done" over distance is much more my philosophy. I can get excited about the idea of doing a particular trail much more than covering a particular distance at a particular speed. Being no stranger to being "out there" for long periods of time (albeit on horseback), I'm hoping that this will translate into tenacity on my own two legs.

Sarah Nels writes:
" After spending a few weekends listening to their epic adventures and being truly inspired by [a group of trail runners'] unworldly perseverance, I signed up for a 50K training program. I had never run more than 15 miles and didn’t even know what a marathon felt like." 

This is her plan:
If you’re ready to upgrade your status to “Ultra Runner,” here’s my 5-step plan:
  • Step 1: Put your money where your mouth is: Sign up for your first 50K. Depending on your current level of fitness, give yourself at least 12 weeks of training time.
  • Step 2: A goal without a plan is just a wish: Find a training plan and stick to it! A 50K training plan will likely include more cross training than a marathon program and recovery runs on Sundays – both are key to your success as an Ultra Runner. Building core strength helps with climbing, descents, and tricky technical trails while recovery runs help you make the adjustment mentally to running on tired legs.
  • Step 3: Join a trail running or ultra running group: Five hour Saturday runs will go by much faster if you’re chatting away with a group of like-minded individuals, and more importantly, safety in numbers on isolated trails. I’m no stranger to having friends run ahead of me to scare away snakes.
  • Step 4: Eat and drink early and often: While every runner has different nutritional needs, I try to consume at least 100 calories an hour on a 2.5 hour run, 200 calories an hour on runs 3 hours or more. Use practice runs to learn what your body likes during long workouts. As you will be eating and running at the same time, your stomach might not be able to digest complex foods. There are lots of energy gels and bars on the market – try them all. You can also pack fruit, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (a personal favorite), mashed avocado or potato. Training is the time to dial in your nutritional needs.
  • Step 5: It’s all in your head: Set a seemingly impossible goal, know what it takes to achieve that goal, accept that there will be hurdles along the way, and just do it! With a little mental toughness and commitment, you will amaze yourself!
and here's a possible training program:

We'll see. I may discover that I really don't want to spend that much time running, in which case it may fall by the wayside, but in the meantime we'll see how it goes. Right now I feel slow, lumbering, and clumsy, but this morning's run offered glimpses of what may come in the future. 

And if nothing else, Finn thinks it's a most excellent caper.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Remedying the Pre-Tevis "I haven't done enough" Jitters

The original plan for this weekend was to attend the Tevis Fun Ride and ride CA Loop, but the problem with that plan was that it would take up the entire weekend and there was a pile of other things that needed doing at home. So instead I opted for not going and cramming as much into the three-day weekend as physically possible. I think I achieved that goal - I'm tired, I'm filthy, and I have blisters on the bottoms of my feet.

Day 1 - Friday - Jobs B Done

  • Gold star to me for doing my 2 mile run* in the morning, even though I left late and it was hot. 
(* I have this vague plan to aim for the Way Too Cool 50 k Run in March. 

There are several flaws to this plan - namely, I don't think I actually like running enough to want to run 50k - let alone train for it. And secondly, it's a lottery entry, with n thousand applicants trying to squeeze into 850 places, so the chances of getting in are limited. And thirdly, I don't think running with 849 other people sounds remotely fun. 

Despite all this, I have the "how to train for a marathon in 16/26 weeks" [depending on which plan you go with] and will work at it - it'll get me in shape for Tevis and I may even lost the extra 10 lbs that popped up over the original extra 10 lbs that aren't supposed to be there. 

It has to be taylored slightly to fit in the conditioning for Tevis and then VC100. For example, I'm supposed to run Monday morning, but that's after having "two rest and recovery days" - which I didn't actually get and right now can barely creak down to the trailer to get out the GPS that I left on my saddle. Perhaps Monday will be yet another "rest and recovery" day.).

Luckily, everything that got done this weekend was accompanied by a small helper.
  • Small Thing got trimmed - which was a good thing, given that whoever is his trimmer does a lousy job at keeping on top of his feet. Totally overgrown and out of control. I'm glad he's not my pony and I don't pay his trimmer.
  • The boxes from our week trip to Moab that were cluttering up the front hall got emptied and put away, so we can actually walk through the front hall now, not act like it's an obstacle course.
  • The annual "put up the sunshade over the back deck" occurred. This year, it is engineered sans cinder block holding it in place, and is therefore, in the words of my friend Funder, "very classy".

  • In the evening, we met up with Crysta, Ronda, and husbands at the Fast Friday's motorcycle track racing at the Auburn Fairgrounds - lots of fun in a very low-key way. These were followed by excellent 4th July fireworks (they only set off one fire, but had four fire engines standing by), followed by a beer at the only bar open in the entire town. Good ending to the day.

Day 2 - Saturday - Nine Miles of Cool

Except for a couple of walking rides up at Robinson Flat, Roo, hasn't actually done any work in six weeks, post-NASTR 75. Part of this is because his poor back was totally mangled by the well-past-sell-by-date pad I used, coupled with all the walking we ended up doing on that ride -  so it was better to let his back heal up. It still looks awful, with a large pink blotch - and I feel really crappy about it - but he's not sore on it, so I figure some riding probably won't do any harm - and he's supposed to be doing VC100 in September, so I can't let him sit for too long.

Plus I was eager to try out the new Skito foam shims.

Accordingly, pft and I took Fergus and Roo out to Cool in the afternoon mostest heat of the day and took them up the training hill, and then ran them about for nine miles. Everyone had a lot of fun. I was a little concerned that Roo looked like death at the end... but he looked like that before we even set out - I think he was in "hot weather mode" - where he just looks like he's on his last legs (never mind that for the first three miles of the ride, he was quite able to leap about and try and buck whenever Fergus trotted, so I overstretched my poor abused adductors again trying to stay on).

Climbing the training hill - we were soundly beaten by a woman on foot
...who turned out to be Melissa Ribley, out with Robert and Chris Turney,
presumably doing their version of heat/hill training

starting to regain weight

And in the evening we visited Ann and Jess for fud and talk-around-the-table - haven't done this in too long and it was so nice. And of course drank margaritas (hot day, etc, etc) and then didn't leave there until 1 am

Day 3 - Sunday - Heat Training R Us

My cunning plan for this day was to get up as early as I could and beat the heat.

So much for that.

In reality, after the previous late night, I did my best to achieve a lie-in (fail, owing to being woken up by "something" biting my hair), and then had to trim Fergus because his boots wouldn't fit. And then had to come indoors and lie down because it was hot and my back was cricked.

Amazingly, despite nearly wussing out (pft said "you don't have to ride today", and I nearly fell for it), Fergus and I were packed in the trailer and on our way to Driver's Flat by 1 pm... to ride in the hottest part of the day. Needless to say, neither Fergus nor I were highly motivated.

Mindful of the sad state of my quads after hiking down to Swinging Bridge three weeks ago, I hand-walked (hand-dragged?) Fergus down to Francisco's. The temperatures were in the high 90s (36-37°C) when we left the trailer and they just got hotter. Down on the river road, with the sun reflecting off the white surface, it was well over 100°F (38°C).

The thing I wanted most was to get off that stupid hot road, and to stop watching the happy rafters down on the river, not sitting in their rafts - oh no - they were all in the river next to the raft, bobbing along in their lifejackets. Jealous was I.

Once we got around the river bend and into the trees more, it was a little cooler, but only a little - still in the high 90s. Fergus, who was so fidgety for sponging three weeks ago, stood stock still, totally unmoving while I sponged him, and me, and him, and me, and him, and me... repeat. Getting him to leave the creek proved tricky.

Sandy Bottom - about my favorite place on this section of trail. You're
down close to the river and I always expect to see ancient giant sturgeon
in the clear deep water.

And then you climb - and the higher you climb, the narrower the trail becomes,
and the more steep the drop offs. Fergus was a good boy, though, and looked
after me (as usual), even though I am a weenie.

After the climb to the top of Ford's Bar. Fergus isn't fond of Ford's Bar

On the switchbacks on the way up to Peachstone. 

Huzzah! We arrive at Peachstone and I take a celebratory photo.
Couldn't figure out why it was all 'soft focus' and peculiar - until I
realised I had my iPhone stuffed in the front of my bra and had
then liberally drenched myself with the horse sponge in the creek.
Result was a rather steamy lens

This is what that photo was supposed to look like

My visions of trotting up the switchbacks to Peachstone didn't pan out - Fergus did a lot of trudging. I think the combination of the heat and being out there all alone did him in. He wasn't exactly what I'd call dynamic.

But we got to the top, looped around to White Oak Flat, and then went back down again on McKeon-Ponderosa, back down to Francisco's, and then back up Driver's Flat, for a total of 21.5 miles and 3500' of climbing (and descent, since it was a loop). All in all, a decent conditioning ride, even if it was a slow one. And the combination of this, and the training hill the day before, and the CA Loop planned for next weekend, salved my "haven't done enough" feelings. Fergus worked hard these last two days and I feel less like he's been standing around doing nothing and therefore can't possibly finish Tevis.

On the way back down to Francisco's from White Oak Flat.
Using White Oak Flat as the vet check instead of Francisco's
was an alternate Tevis route that was taken once in the 90s
with the idea to keep the historic trail open. Unfortunately, the
section through Todd Valley is now quite built-up and someone
was hit by a car going through there in the dark on Ride Day, so
I think it was deemed a bit too dangerous. 

Fergus' lack of motivation on the hand-walk down from White Oak Flat had caused me to procure a small whacking stick with which to encourage him. This "whacking stick" was wimpy enough that you could have whipped a baby with it and the baby wouldn't have noticed, but it had the desired effect on Fergus and a suitably animated (i.e. not being dragged along by your face) was produced. I told Fergus that Karen (his former mommy and trainer) would not be impressed by his behaviour.

Wimpy whacking stick that I kept for the trudge up Driver's Flat, just in case

Back down at Francisco's, where he peed copiously and
was suddenly miraculously cured of his inability to go downhill.

We even had an adventure. 

After you leave Peachstone, you climb another 1.5 miles and pop out on a paved road for a short while. This then veers onto a small singletrack, which in turn drops you into Todd Valley.

The entrance to the singletrack had branches across it to dissuade people from going up there. Of course, Fergus and I weren't dissuaded, so marched over the top of the branches and went 20' before coming up against a downed tree blocking the trail. It was a pretty wimpy tree and I figured I could bend it and pull it and shove Fergus through (Fergus is good at bushwhacking), and was in the process of doing this when I noticed a blueish thing lying on the trail behind the tree branches... wait....isn't that a wasps' nest?

The wasps' nest - about the size of a football.
It looked deserted, so I figured it had come down when the tree tipped over and all the wasps had vacated the premises.

Crouching down for a better look, I noticed a couple of sluggish wasps crawling on it, so decided that maybe there were some residents. But the thing was totally blocking the trail, with no way around so it needed to be gone.

I maneuvered Fergus back along the trail, took him out to the road and hung him from a tree (this road just leads to the single house at the bottom, so has zero traffic on it), and went back armed with a branch. My plan was to brush the wasps' nest off the trail with my long stick, and it would just drop off the side and Fergus and I could push our way through the downed tree.

I poked the nest and it moved about 2" and a large number of wasps came out. I squawked and ran back down the trail to the road, startling Fergus by my sudden appearance.

Waited for them to calm down and went back again - with a longer stick - and had another go. This time, the nest moved even less distance and even more wasps came out of it. This wasn't going to work.

So of course, what we did was climb a vertical bank, dismantle someone's fence temporarily (fence that had a sign on it saying "No fishing, No hunting, No trespassing" - which of course didn't mean us, what with this being an emergency), put the fence back together again, and then push through the undergrowth (read "poison oak") to drop back onto the trail 20' further up from the nest (and run like heck when you get there, just in case).

All I can say is it was lucky it was Fergus, who takes all such activity in his stride.

* * *

Looking downriver towards Poverty Bar river crossing. The Tevis trail goes
along the right bank about 20% of the way up the hillside.

Somewhere around 5 miles into the ride, I decided I wanted pizza for supper, so the entire trudge up Driver's Flat was spent txting with pft, trying to figure out where we could obtain pizza from (particularly, given that I had no money or cards with me). He called around and said if I could get to the Cork and Fork by 8:30, there would be pizza waiting.

It was 7:50 and we weren't to the top yet.

Looking down towards Francisco's from Driver's Flat Rd

To his credit, once the climbing part was over, Fergus actually trotted the entire last half mile back to the trailer (by now the temperature had dropped to 82° (28°C) and it felt deliciously cool), and I did the fastest untack in living memory, while at the same time giving Fergus water - he sucked down three small buckets (2.5 gallons? each) in the time it took me to whip off his clothes, and I shoved him in the trailer, and through the canyon we went.

Pizza was procured. Yum.

 And Fergus got another drink once the crisis was over.

pft asked me if I'd actually looked at the pizza because he had ordered a "combo" and didn't know what was on it. I told him, no, I hadn't looked at the pizza at all.

 Good weekend.