Sunday, December 13, 2015

Virginia City 100 - 2015 - Part 2 - the Ride

Continued from Virginia City 100 - Part 1 - The Prep

* * *

Section 1 - 0-24 Miles

The ride starts at 5 a.m. outside the Delta Saloon on the main street running through Virginia City. The start line is about 20 minutes walk from camp, so we really had to be up on our horses by 4:30 ish. I was glad of my glowsticks - it's really dark out there at that time of the morning. Fergus was relaxed but animated and just wanted to get on with it all.

Bless Bob Hall for telling me to keep my fleecy sweater on (it was warm at the start and I'd wanted to jettison it) - it turned out to be freezing at various points along the trail just before sunrise an hour or two later.

Trying to persuade Fergus not to trample the spectators at the start (photo: Bob Hall)

KT and I once again went to our plan of riding the first section separately - so I could let Fergus move out without rubbing either of us raw fighting his enthusiasm, while KT and Ani could start their day in a more measured, sensible fashion. Having done this successfully at 20MT 100 back in February, I knew this would put me about 30 minutes ahead of KT, which meant I'd get an extra long rest at the first vet check.

Our friend Megan Kenworthy and her excellent horse Scooter were riding VC for the first time and we were pooling our crew to some extent. KT had her mom Carol, Megan had her mom Katie, and Renee was going to play floater between the three of us. To add to this, KT would be riding with Nina, who's husband Juan was also thrown into the mix.

We'd discussed ahead of time how the crew pool might work - who would need to be where, when. Renee thought that Megan "usually moved out pretty good", so we figured she'd likely be in the front, with Fergus and I in the middle, and KT bringing up the rear.
Sunrise over Virginia Highlands

As it turned out, Megan caught Fergus and I in the first five minutes of the ride and we ended up riding almost the entire first loop together (with one break when she got off and ran down the old Toll Geiger Grade and I hand-walked it).

At the top of Geiger Grade overlooking South Reno - Megan off and running... and that would be the last we'd see of them until we got to the bottom

Bottom of Geiger Grade/Old Toll Rd - by then I'd found a rock and taken advantage of it to scramble back on, as I knew they were few and far between towards the bottom of the hill. At the bottom, the local residents had put out a water trough, and through Fergus' enthusiastic TWH-walking, and Megan getting a drink, we caught up with her again at the bottom (photo: Sanne Steele)

Fergus and Scooter paced well together, although I was a little concerned that I'd be tempted to go faster than I ought to be going if we stayed together (the horses egged each other on a little, so I had to watch my rating at all times). 

I actually spent almost the entire loop agonizing over what to do - stay with Megan, or wait for KT? I kept looking for a sign that this pace wasn't going to work for us in some way. 

I had a feeling that Megan wouldn't be taking as many walking breaks as KT would (and I do like those walking breaks, wussy rider that I am). KT rides an overall slower pace - but is really even - she doesn't necessarily get any slower towards the end of the ride. Put simply, she is the Queen of Pacing and is the most sensible 100-mile completer I know. If I stayed with her, I knew we'd finish because she just has a knack of picking a really good pace that gets us to the finish line. 

But I also knew that I'd  pay dearly – physically – for that slower pace, keeping Fergus' natural speed down. I'd done this at Tahoe Rim 50 three weeks before and my body had been a mess for about ten days afterwards - totally out of proportion with the degree of physical activity of the day. He just naturally moves about 20% faster than most horses - not because he's fast, he just moves BIG.

Mindful of that pain, but also knowing that so long as I could keep things under control, it was probably kinder to Fergus in the long run - to let him move out at his more natural speed - I finally opted to stay with Megan for the whole ride - she was good company, we'd move out sensibly, and finish in good time. 

And I reasoned that KT was riding with Nina, so had company... and although I really wanted to spend the day with her (she lives nearly 500 miles away, and we don't get to see nearly as much of each other as I'd like), we'd be competing again together in the Riding Dead 100 over Halloween and we'd have plenty of time to catch up then (predictably, the Riding Dead 100 was cancelled, so that plan totally backfired). 

* * * 

Heart Rates:A strange thing had happened at Tahoe Rim 50 three weeks before. The day wasn't particularly hot and we weren't moving particularly fast, so I didn't elyte Fergus at all during the day - other than what I'd put in his feed, which predictably he refused to eat during the ride. At the first vet check, Renee was doing PnRs and her initial take on it was that Fergus was "dead" - he had no pulse. Finally she found one (in the 50s, I think), so off we went to the vet. The vet - Chrysann Collatos - listened... and listened... and listened. She finally said "well, he would have had a pulse around 56, but it's actually only 28 because he's routinely dropping 2-3 beats at a time". Fergus stood looking totally relaxed, he was eating and drinking well and showing no signs of stress in any way. So we decided to just keep an eye on it and make sure he didn't do anything amiss.

At the next vet check, it was the same story - nothing amiss, except for those missing beats.

At the final vet check, his pulse appeared to be totally normal, so I dismissed it as "one of those things". 

It was only afterwards when we got to discussing it among a group of endurance riders that the connection with the lack of elyting was made. Hmm.

Because of the above, I resolved that I was going to adhere rigidly to a proper elyting protocol during VC100 and that Fergus would get dosed at regular intervals. There would be no anomalous heart rates making any appearances at VC. I dug out every syringe I owned at home - some of which hadn't been used in years, let them soak overnight (they had traces of god-knows-what in the bottoms of them), then rinsed them out and was ready with my arsenal of squirters and a bottle of mixed up ProCMC+Enduramax+applesauce. 

At vet-in for VC100, Chrysann was our vet. She was very pleased to see me as she couldn't remember my name from Tahoe Rim and had wanted to get into contact with me. After the Tahoe Rim, she'd gotten curious and talked to a few other vets - including Gary Magdesian - an associate professor at UC Davis, and one of the Tevis research veterinarians - and the general consensus had been that this was NOT normal and WAS cause for concern. She suggested that I should take Fergus in and have him monitored with a remote heart rate monitor for 24 hours to see what he was doing. 

No pressure on the eve of our 100 miler, eh? 

That said, when she checked him at vet-in this time, his heart rate was totally normal - no skipped beats, no anomalies. She wondered if perhaps he had had some kind of virus at Tahoe Rim?

* * *

7:45 a.m. - When we got to the highway crossing at 19 miles, Chrysann was there doing the trot-by, and while I chatted briefly with KT's mom, Carol, she scuttled over and took his pulse. It was actually very comforting - having our "own personal cardiologist" out on the trail to keep an eye on things - she'd been the one to notice this problem in the first place, so she knew exactly what she was listening for. And it wasn't there at 19 miles either. Phew.

Vet Check #1 - "Market" at 24 Miles

8:45 a.m. - Chrysann was our vet at the Market, so she was once again able to monitor him carefully. Fergus was ravenous, but otherwise seemed normal - his CRI here was 52/44. Chrysann was suspicious - 44 seemed too low to her. 

Far from being a relaxed 45 minute hold - I almost reverted back to my early days in endurance when everything went by in a blur and I simply didn't have enough time. 

Best thing at this check - Renee - my saviour! She had dived into Starbucks and gotten me a mocha and a sandwich. I managed to force in about 2/3rds of the sandwich, but the mocha went down, almost in one. That stuff is nectar at that point in the ride. 

Once I got that out the way, I had to deal with the problem that first thing that morning I'd neglected to lube any of the normal places I need to lube when riding Big Mover Fergus - the insides of my knees, knicker elastic line, and my under-boobs. Usually I keep a tube of Monistat Chafing Powder Gel in my pommel bag for just such occasions, but it had recently exploded in my pack, coating the inside with gel (there'd be no chafing inside my pommel bag). And of course I'd forgotten to replace it, so had to borrow KT's Bodyglide. 

Couple that with - surprise! Every girl's dream! I got my period unexpectedly - and of course had nothing with me, so had Carol rummage through KT's truck to find me something. So I had to scuttle to the portapotty and do some speed-remediation. Needless to say, only the insides of the knees (already chafed raw) got lubed. 

In the meantime, Fergus was starting to act funky. Partly it was that he needed to pee (he did - all over the concrete we were standing on, splashing both of us liberally), and partly it was that Scooter – his new best friend – was in another crew-location. He scarfed down two pans of goodies that Carol offered him (go figure - this was the stuff I nearly didn't even bother to bring, since he'd ignored it so categorically at Tahoe Rim), but then started fidgeting around and acting odd, so I took him over to stand with Scooter. And instead of standing quietly like a good boy, he proceeded to trample everyone and everything in sight, drip mash all over everyone else's belongings and generally make a nuisance of himself. Because I needed to "remediate", I left him in the care of Katie Kenworthy who I'm sure was very relieved to hand him back when I reappeared. Sorry about that, guys. 

KT and Ani showed up 30 minutes later, and we did our best to avoid the horses seeing each other. Ani (who is a grow-up) couldn't care less, but Fergus had spent the day before bellowing at him and needing to stay close at all times. He'd even gotten pissy with me when I insisted we did a pre-ride out to the cemetery and back in the afternoon. Either way, I didn't want to risk him spotting Ani and getting all attached again. Result - KT and I did a "Hi! Bye!" at the vet check, and Megan and I were off again (or at least would have been if someone hadn't done the wrong math on my vet card and written my out time down wrong - ten minutes later. Spent a couple of minutes getting that sorted out).

Section 2 - 24-39 Miles

This loop went pretty much as planned.  It started to get hot, I dunked my bandana in the trough at the bottom of Geiger Grade. Actually, more accurately, Megan dunked my bandana in the trough - I couldn't reach the water from the lofty heights of Fergus' back. 

Bailey Canyon

We spent a happy hour working our way through Bailey Canyon with Fergus leading. When we were finally done, he pulled off to the side to let Scooter have a go and proceeded to stop a lot and generally act unmotivated going up to the saddle. Down the other side he moved out, but still didn't feel outstanding. Despite warnings that the creek on Jumbo Grade wasn't running, there were several places where the water had pooled on the trail and we were able to sponge a little and get them to drink. Towards the bottom, I elyted Fergus like a good girl and realised that you could lose a lot of time faffing around with elyte syringes and trying to get back on your recalcitrant steed who didn't want to stand in a convenient location next to the trough - instead he wanted to move back and forth, do his best to knock me in, then stand so close I couldn't actually get my foot in the stirrup.

LOVE THIS PHOTO!! Fergus and I trotting across Washoe Lake State Park (photo: Baylor

We zipped across the Park, taking advantage of the good footing (and the fact that Fergus knew where he was, and knew that there'd be Good Things at the other end).

Arriving at the "Trot-by" at Washoe Lake - a 15 minute hold for refreshment purposes.
By now, it was HOT. (photo Hiiesalu-Bain?)

12:25 p.m. - The trot-by proceeded like a NASCAR pit stop. The horses drank, Renee hosed Fergus and Scooter liberally, we got 60 pulses on them (a requirement before we could leave), we did our trot-by, and we retired to the small stripe of shade next to the truck for refreshments.

Saddle bag water bottles were refilled, elyte syringes replenished, I forced down an entire meal in about 45 seconds while the horses scarfed down the buffet provided to them by Carol, Katie, Juan, and Renee.

My favorite part was when I was reaching up to get something out of the saddle bag, Renee walked up, without a word sprayed my arms with sunscreen, told me to shut my eyes and mouth, sprayed my face, and walked off again without me ever uttering a peep. This is the best kind of crew - the ones who don't ask you anything, they just do it - but they know what you need so it's not intrusive.You just feel "serviced".

L to R: Renee, Scooter, Juan, Katie, Carol, Fergus, and Megan
And then after 15 minutes, they threw us out, citing that their "next round of customers" (KT and Nina) were about to arrive. Knowing that they needed to pick up the pace a little, they'd made 15 minutes on us in this section. Good going guys! (I bet they didn't waste all that time faffing around elyting at that last trough...).

Section 3 - 39-51 Miles

This next is the worst of the climbing. Last year, poor Roo about wilted going up here. It's a huge 1700 ft climb that goes on and on, in the worst heat of the day, with no redeeming qualities - other than the lovely views looking back down on the valley. I'm sure the horses appreciate it. Oh yes.

Climbing towards the SOBs
At the top, instead of being rewarded by what appears to be a flat section of trail, you're confronted by the SOBs.  Unfortunately for Fergus, I'm pretty sure he remembered this section. Luckily for Scooter, he was cluelessly oblivious, so we put him in front.

Climbing, then climbing some more. 

Poor sad Washoe "Lake"

We came from that lil' road down there between the hills

Start of SOB #1

SOB #1

SOB #1 - starting up the climb. Andy Gerhard and John Brain catching us

Andy Gerhard wondering why this was a good idea

Fergus fascinated by the varying degrees of abuse being exclaimed from behind

Andy and John

Megan catching her breath

...nearly at the top

The trick is to teach your horse to tail without being distracted
by the vegetation invitingly placed beside the trail

Stopping to munch on said vegetation is actually well received by horse and rider

Fergus puts on a burst of speed and we surge to the front

SOB #2

The bunch grass by the side of the trail is always a big hit

Andy and John keeping pace with us

With the SOBs done with, Megan and I did our best to keep our pace up - trotting as much as we could on the way to the Jumbo #1 water stop. The trail is pretty rocky in places and Fergus wasn't very motivated along here, so it was a "down" part of the ride. I hoped to spot some wild mustangs which sometimes congregate up here, but they were a no-show. I drank some warm Ensure and did my best to stay cheerful.

2:50 p.m. - At the Jumbo stop, Fergus dived into the wet hay and I drank some lemonade. At this point in the ride, it's hot, you're tired and you know you're falling behind in the fuelling game.

The last section between Jumbo and camp (and the alluring hour-hold at 51 miles) is four miles of flat/slightly downhill very hard-packed rocky Ophir Grade (the old toll road between Virginia City and the mill at Washoe Lake) and we left right behind John and Andy. Megan seemed eager to keep up with them but straight away I was unhappy with the speed for this section. Last year I'd been forced into a much speedier pace than I wanted to go with Roo because I needed to stay with his buddies to keep him motivated. My gut feeling was that was what tipped Roo over into his "too much" zone, which I'd been trying to stay out of - and needed to stay out of if I hoped to finish the ride. Just another thing that didn't work out on that ride.

This year I didn't need Fergus to stay with the other horses, but trying to persuade him not to keep up with them was all but impossible. I could force him into a slower pace by making him walk, which he'd do without too much complaint, but if I wanted him to trot sensibly and let them pull ahead, that just wasn't going to happen. A few times we walked, but then he'd just accelerate even faster each time we started to trot again, pounding his legs even harder. No amount of rating would make any difference. So we were towed along with me doing my best to try and maintain some semblance of control and wincing at the pounding.

51 Mile Check

3:30 p.m. - The first time I did Virginia City 100, I distinctly remember coming in to the 51 mile stop, totally whupped, and thinking "We're only half-way done". Kiss. Of. Death. Never, ever think this. So instead I do my best to focus on the fact that we've got a nice hour-hold waiting for us - food, rest, and maybe a face wash. And here we are - sitting in the shade, enjoying boiled eggs by the looks of things, and the use of Carol's aloe-drenched wet ones to spiff up my grimy face. 

Lunch stop at 4 pm. 

Throughout the day, I'd been watching Fergus' front glue-ons gradually separate from his feet, so I had to make a decision - continue with what we had, and run the risk of losing a boot in the dark and making him lame (as I had with Roo last year - he lost a boot in the dark somewhere on the 51 to 76 mile loop... but no idea when). Or remove the front glue-ons and put strap-ons on instead. I opted for the latter and Crysta very kindly took care of removal for me. As it turned out, the boots were better attached than we thought and she had quite a struggle on her hands getting them off.

Crysta working on Fergus' feet

This was the first time I'd used gel soles and so I was expecting some teething troubles. In the event, at least they protected his feet for the first half of the ride. The squishiness of gel soles mean you get more movement of hoofwall against boot wall than with standard boots and as such, I should have cut notches into the side walls to allow for that. It would have meant better adhesion at the front because that area wasn't being stressed so much. Lesson learned.

Crysta removed his glue-ons and we put on his Renegade strap-ons and I'm happy to say that I had no further boot issues (although I was worried going through the deep mud-puddles near the spring on the Cottonwoods loop).

Section 4 - 51-76 Miles

At this point we were 45 minutes ahead of Kaity, so by the time she had vetted and with all the kerfuffle of prep to go out again, Fergus didn't get a chance to glom on to Ani.

And unlike last year, Fergus didn't fall over as Roo did leaving the check. We were in good shape.

Curiously, I swore that the trail was completely different in places on this first section, but when I downloaded the GPS track, it turned out to be exactly the same.

We moved along, trudging the climbs and trotting where we could. Out by the V&T railroad tracks we saw two big bands of mustangs coming down out of the hills.

6:50 p.m. - At the Jumbo #2 water stop, Fergus once again dived into the wet hay and scoffed and scoffed. I checked his boots to make sure no grit was getting caught in the heel captivators.

Once again we were being pushed and pulled by Andy and John who arrived just behind us, but passed us on the long climb leaving Jumbo. I was worried that Megan would want to stay with them again and knew that their pace was faster than Fergus wanted to go, but thankfully she opted to let them go ahead. Fergus used my rule of trotting the flats and walking any hills.

Up on the mountain, as the sun set, we were rewarded with the twinkling lights of Reno far below us. I ate my pizza-margarita-inna-squeeze-bag and got heartburn (the downside of this foodstuff). With no moon, despite glo-sticks, it was pretty dark out there, especially on the steep downhills, and we had to rely on the pones' surefootedness to get us through. Turns out one of my glo-sticks had given up, but I still had two bright ones to light our way.

Arriving at Geiger Summit road crossing, our trusty crew was there to feed us and our pones. Both Fergus and Scooter dived into mash pans which I was very grateful for, but I wasn't able to enjoy the hot chocolate due to having a desperate need to use the toilet (as always, endurance is nothing but glamorous in the need to share). With no portapotties available, we continued on.

The section shortly before Lousetown Road is very trottable, but after being slapped in the face by tree branches, followed by Scooter tripping badly on the whups, Megan requested that we walk instead. Given how fast I've done this section in year's past (2012 - chasing Connie and Pam and trying to catch up with them in the dark; 2009 - following Connie on Shardonney as she flew off the mountain), the Mt Davidson to town section seemed to take a very long time this year. Every year the track down from Sign Hill towards town seems to get more and more rubbly as well, with no path through the middle to avoid the rocks.

Arriving at the cemetery at 74 miles
(photo: Sanne Steele - who mans the finish line with her trusty twin helpers - who by this time were fast asleep.)

Section 5 - 76-100 Miles

10:25 p.m. - After being "in distress" for much of the last 10 miles or so, I spent much of my hour hold at 76 miles in the portapotty, much to Renee's consternation as she came looking for me. At least you can rest sitting on the toilet.

Thankfully my crew-buddies took good care of Fergus - blanketing him and stuffing him with food. Thanks guys - this could've gotten tricky without you!

Carol cooked up a vat of pasta, chicken apple sausages and alfredo sauce (which we discovered at 20 Mule Team, goes down very well at this time during a 100 miler), so I sat and scoffed a bowl of that. Yum. By this time, Kaity and her companions were only 30 minutes behind us, so we did a slightly longer "hi-bye" and soon enough we were out again.

I have to say I don't remember much about this loop, other than Fergus being fairly reluctant to do anything but walk, which made me sad. He'd trot short distances, but his heart wasn't really in it. Luckily both he and Scooter have excellent walks, so we walked... a lot.

By the time we were on the backside of the Cottonwoods lollipop, I was starting to hallucinate from fatigue - something to do with plastic rip-rap on the ground. I even dozed off a couple of times - waking up slightly panicky - thinking if I fell off Fergus it was a long way down to the ground.

It was cold coming around towards the Cottonwoods vet check as it always is along the river bottom there. Fergus still wasn't very interested in trotting and I was feeling slightly sick at the idea that we might - once again - get pulled at 92 miles.

2:20 a.m. - As it turned out, my fears were unfounded. We vetted quickly upon arrival and Fergus trotted out with straight As on his card and a CRI of 60/52. As at all stops, the horses were ravenous, so we let them eat for 20 minutes while we drank coffee. I was a much happier girl this time around, knowing that unless something went horribly wrong, it looked like we would be finishing.

At 2:45, we saw the red lights of Kaity and her group approaching the vet check, so we pulled the big blankets off the horses and scrambled back on and set off into the darkness before they arrived (once again, I was concerned that Fergus didn't need to see Ani).

On the return journey, I remembered a section of track where, on a training ride a few years back, Fergus had been the strongest and fastest I'd ever felt him. This night, however, while he was walking with purpose, he still had no interest in trotting. I had to assume that his feet were bothering him and concluded that this just wasn't the ride for him, given all the hard-packed trotting.

We were approaching Lousetown Road when a pickup truck driving in from the vet check passed us. Fergus and I were in front and although the driver slowed way down, for reasons I still don't understand, Scooter suddenly totally flipped out and leapt sideways, dumping Megan unceremoniously on the ground. Luckily she clung on until the last minute, so didn't have too far to fall, but from my vantage point I thought he'd trampled her and immediately started visualising a ruptured spleen or other internal injuries. And the fatalistic part of my brain flashed back on my earlier thought of "unless something went horribly wrong..."

Thankfully Megan got up unscathed*. The driver stopped, mortified to have caused this problem, but Megan assured them it wasn't their fault. I don't know if it was the lights of the pickup that scared Scooter, or the unexpected bed, or something in the bed that rattled, but he settled down soon enough and Megan was able to clamber back on.

We decided we were definitely walking in :)

(* afterward I confessed to Megan that I had plans that, even if she was injured, I was going to stuff her back on her horse and get her to the finish... a little bruising and broken bones never hurt anyone....)

4:27 a.m. - Coming up from the bottoms towards the finish, we could hear Kaity's group catching us from behind, and as we reached the finish line, we could see their lights coming - trotting strongly along the last section of track. They would finish a mere four minutes behind us.

We came through town for the final time - Fergus still walking strong and I thanked him mentally for hanging in there.

At camp he was as hungry as I've ever seen him - diving for hay and towing his minder around helplessly behind him. Other than extreme famine, he seemed none the worse for wear for his ordeal and trotted sound with As for his final vetting. We were done and Fergus had completed VC100 for the second time.

During the confusion of vetting five horses at once, someone came up and said "we need to drug test your horse" and had me sign a release form. Suddenly my bubble burst. I flashed on my aggressive elyting protocol and in my tiredness began to panic in a paranoid fashion that I hadn't cleaned all those syringes properly and that somehow Fergus would test positive for something (not clear what, since I couldn't remember the last time I'd used Bute, so any residue that I imagined being in the syringes would be at worst months old, and more likely years old. But when you've been awake for coming up on 28 hours, rational thought isn't high on your list of skills). I was totally bummed out - despite getting straight As for his final vetting (OK, a B on guts, but considering how he was stuffing food in, that was hardly a concern), I felt that Fergus had been "not quite right" for much of the last 30 miles of the ride and wasn't quite sure why. And now he was going to test positive for "something" and it was all for nothing.

Got Fergus untacked and tucked in a blankie and pulled on his leg-sleeves and installed him in front of more hay and mashes than a horse could possibly eat, and then sat sadly watching the sky lightening and ate another bowl of pasta and sausages.

* * *

Results for VC100

On to the Aftermath...

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