Georgetown 2014 RnT Championship report
|July 18, 2014||Posted by Melinda under Event Report, Ride and Tie|
Here I am 3 (4, 5…) days after the event and I don’t feel any more ready to compose a witty, hit-the-highlights story than I did the day afterwards.
This dream has been over a year in the making and the month leading up to it was filled with such emotional and life changing events (for those of you reading that aren’t regular readers – things like engagement, family death, starting clinics) that when I think about try to write about Team Hot Mess’s accomplishment I alternate between speechless and word vomit.
In the last week I haven’t felt stressed, but I’ve also felt like my brain has been NQR. My friends assure me is from stress – whether I feel it or not. It’s like my reptile brain hasn’t quite caught up to current events.
However, Funder managed a completely reasonable event report that can be found here, so I suppose it’s time for me to make an effort.
Stage 1: In which Mel is not at all sure this is going to work and tries not to have a panic attack.
Ready. Set. GO!
Funder ran away from camp to I took deep breaths and tried to not throw up. Farley was acting like it was a 100 mile start and was forward, but not pulling. We passed Funder and started to look for a good tie spot.
I was nervous about that first tie. What was Farley going to do? Would she remember that one hour we spent 3 months ago tying?
I tied her, started to run away while keeping an eye on the pony….and she spun around to look for Funder coming up the trail.
SUCCESS. She remembered the game and was expecting a second runner.
For one of the early ties it took Funder 15-20 min to catch up. Since I was expecting more like 10 min my heart was in my throat the entire time. What happened? Had my pony crushed her into the dirt? Dragged her? Broken her tie rope and ran from a bear? I forced my anxiety down and tried to keep running and not think about it. When Funder caught up to me she said “That was perfect! Let’s do more longer ones!”. I took deep breaths and told myself it was going to be OK.
I know how physically fatiguing mental stress is so I really tried to relax after everything went well for the first ties. The first couple ties are the worst for horse behavior and obviously things were going well enough I could stop worrying right?……..
As soon as I was able to convince myself everything would be ok when running away from the tied horse…a guy charged by on his horse and commented that he accidentally blasted past a tied horse with blue ribbons in tail and made it a little nervous.
I was like “is she still tied? was she really upset?” but he just sorta shrugged and didn’t give me any details.
Great. How helpful.
Funder took a really long time to catch up on that particular tie. I was a wreck. I was nervous by 20 min. Fighting off severe anxiety at 25 min. At thirty min I decided I was stopping on the trail and not moving forward until I saw them.
Thirty seconds later she appeared.
Funder and Farley had “technical” difficulties. If you’ve read Funder’s story you know that involved Farley’s bridle being twisted in such a way that the bit was near her ears because of a tie rope carabeener SNAFU. But it wasn’t exactly noticed until (of course) Farley stepped on Funder’s foot.
I think that’s when I finally relaxed. The worst had happened. A horse had ran past Farley at full speed. There had been a tack malfunction. Funder had still managed to get on the horse. Horse and Funder were OK. They had caught up to me. I was OK. Everything was going to be OK. I could run for a long time and they would still catch me. EVERYTHING WAS GOING TO BE OK.
Stage 2: In which Mel realizes she made a big mistake, but plays the game anyways
Now that the adrenaline had subsided I was feeling less nauseous it was time to eat breakfast. Yum! Time to drag that oh-so-handy trail food out of the saddle bag……Except there was no saddle bag. And no food.
Oh great. I’ll just do the first 13 miles without any food and after not eating breakfast. Yep yep yep. This was wonderful.
It probably had to do with the drama of the morning which was me not being able to find my socks, deciding not to wear socks and then immediately busting the back of my heel open on a stick…and deciding that I would wear my cushy thick socks. Except the cushy socks made my shoes fit a half size too small but I figured it was my price to pay for my stupidity. I *knew* I had packed socks but figured they had fallen out of the bag as I walked to the car?
*of course* at the end of the ride I found the socks. In the same container as I was looking. I swear they weren’t there 12 hours earlier…..
I sincerely hoped Funder had been smarter than me and put a trail bar in her back and not relied entirely on the saddle bag.
(I knew Funder loved me when she didn’t even once yell at me for forgetting our saddle bag of goodies. )
There was nothing to do except go forward on the trail and force the little reptile brain to stop screaming about food and focus on tie strategy instead.
My strategy for ties was to take care of my partner.
It was a game – Either make my partner do a really BIG hill or make her run for a slightly longer time on the flats/downhill but don’t make her do both. And while I was on foot running waiting for her to catch up, cover as many miles as I could as efficiently as possible.
First consideration is terrain
- Steep hill? Tie at the top and then run like a bat out of hell down the other side – that means Funder would have a horse when she needed it after climbing a steep-ass hill. Just rode down some rolling terrain at a good clip and faced with a big steep hill? Tie Farley at the bottom of it so she could take a break while I slogged up it nice and slow. Funder would have some easy running miles, have a fresh horse to ride up the hill.
Second consideration was timing
- Tie Farley too far away and not only would Funder have to run longer in order to find the horse, but it would also take her longer in the saddle to catch me. So even if Funder was OK with the longer running time, I had to balance that against the extra time I would be running as I put the miles between me and Farley as Farley was waiting for Funder.
Thirdly, we had to consider the overall 35-36 miles and combine terrain, mileage and time and put together something that worked.
- Give Funder enough miles that I wasn’t going to burn out, but also not tying Farley so far ahead of Funder that I was going to run forever and ever and ever before she caught me.
As the lead runner, the decisions I made had a huge impact both me and Funder. That’s a LOT of thinking and mental work – more than I would normally do at either an endurance ride or an ultramarathon. Let’s all say together: “lead dog fatigue”! However the stage of “in which Mel is whiny and tries to give the lead to Funder” is still far in the future and this early in the race Team Hot Mess was bopping along the trail like pros.
Stage 3: In which Mel runs a very long time all by herself.
The first vet check was half way through the first loop at approximately the 13 mile point. Funder rode in, which meant I would ride out.
I arrived a couple minutes behind Farley and Funder and I stuffed food down my mouth and into a saddle bag and then vetted her through.
44 pulse and the vet said she was the best looking horse through the check.
This was the point I started thinking that we had a good shot at finishing this thing, since my main concern was that Farley was going to be lame. Over the past year I’ve had 3 weird and apparently unrelated lamenesses. The only common factor was the lack of hind boots in each case, which is why I made the decision to glue boots on the hinds for this race. No excuses and crossed fingers! But Farley seemed to be handling the stress of the ties, the heat and hills, a heavier rider than she normally carries, and being near the back of the pack better than I thought she would. (she HATES being turtle).
Funder was going to be delayed another 15 minutes addressing some saddle rubs with our wonderful and last minute crew. I made the decision to leave hoping that it would be more efficient for our overall progress if I got out on the trail ASAP. I rode out of the vet check for about 1/2 mile and tied Farley at the bottom of the hill, hoping that Funder would appreciate a nice downhill run and could make good time on Farley as I went slower up the hills.
I chose my tree carefully, knowing Farley would be standing there for a while.
Running all by myself….first 30 min
- Isn’t this fun?
- I’m really helping out the team.
- Look at me go!
Running all by myself….minutes 31-45
- I really hope I don’t get lost. That would be problematic since I have absolutely no idea where I am.
- This sorta sucks.
- This hill is really steep. Maybe I could just sit down and take a little break. Or maybe I could slow down and not charge up these hills at the fastest walk possible.
- Wow, this is a fun little single track that I wish I was riding.
- Am I going to get all the stream crossings on foot? (the answer to the last one was “yes”).
- Funder and Farley are never ever going to catch up.
Running all by myself…minutes 46-60
- Stop thinking about Funder and Farley catching up. It’s just making it harder.
- Pretend this is your 50 miler. Isn’t this good training?
- Don’t think about what’s behind you, it’s sucking you back. Instead see if you can get to the next vet check before Funder and Farley!!!!!!
Running all by myself…minutes 61-75
- Let’s think logically. Math problems! Just the thing to do in my head. If in average terrain and average speed it takes 3 minutes for the rider to catch up to the runner who has been running for 5 min. And if the rider left the vet check on foot 15 min behind the rider, and ran for 10-15 minutes and started riding…..how long would it take for the rider to catch up to the runner who has been running since the horse was tied?
- (quick napkin math in head)
- Answer: 1 hour 20 minutes.
- Conclusion. It is now 11:15 and Funder/Farley will show up 11:20-11:30
- The lies we tell ourselves…….
At 11:17, only 3 minute off from my quick calculation, the other 2 members of Team Hot Mess appeared behind me on the trail. I have never been so happy.
I hopped on Farley, rode for about 3 minutes, and felt absolutely revitalized. Just getting off my feet and having company for that short amount of time gave me the energy to go on. Endurance sports really are 90% mental.
Stage 4: In which Team Hot Mess actually moves down the trail together in a group-like fashion
For the next 6 or 7 miles Funder and I stayed closer together. The sun was hot, the trail rocky and exposed, and sometimes when she caught up to me it was on a section of trail that Farley and I were going the same speed, so we just hung out together and visited before switching off.
Both of us, bolstered by the success of the first loop discussed our strategy for the second (10 mile) loop. Funder thought she could do 5 miles of the 10 mile loop as the runner so the plan was to split it 50/50 and put her in front if possible to give me a mental break.
I think this is one of my favorite memories of the ride, even though it was the hottest and poorest footing sections with random hornets that not only buzzed around my head, but landed on my shoulders and BIT me. Being able to run down the trail with 2 of my best friends, visiting.
Stage 5: In which Mel hits a wall, becomes whiny, but makes forward progress anyways
After applying menthol spiked antichafing cream to my nether regions (which left me without the ability to breathe or scream for approximately 30 second to the great amusement of the crew) we lef the second vet check for the last 10 mile loop. Initially we put Funder in front, but it was quickly apparent that she was not going to be able to get far enough in front of me to tie, and during the heat of the day Funder’s highly tuned warning bell of “baby don’t wanna run” was going off, so I got back out in front we continued our earlier strategy….
It was about 4 1/2-5 hours into the race and I hit my usual afternoon wall, which often manifests as ab cramping.
Now I couldn’t run either. And, I could only trot for really short sections before I needed to get off.
But, I could still hike and make forward progress. So that’s what I did.
It seemed like forever but in reality was more like 30 minutes where I just kept my head down, whined to Funder when she caught up to me, trotted off for as long as I could stand, tied, and then hiked off again. That first 4 miles of the 10 mile loop took forever.
During my last trail marathon I ran most of it with Craig (owner of this company) who is also an experienced ultramarathoner. He told me stories of running 100’s and mentioned that during really hot afternoons he will often walk for a couple of hours, so he’s refreshed and ready to go at nightfall. He watches other runners around him push through those hot afternoon hours, only to run out of energy and fuel later on.
Keeping that in mind, I knew if I just kept walking forward briskly and didn’t fight the weather and the trail, but relaxed and worked with it I would come out ahead in the end.
Sure enough, once again, I was bobbing down the trail like it was ain’t no thing.
Stage 6: In which Team Hot Mess gets it done.
At 3:30, which was the 8 1/2 hour mark, I hit another lull. I finished my 50K in under 8 1/2 hours, so this was the longest I had been on my feet. I decided that I was perfectly capable of running until 4pm. I was then capable of moving my feet until 4:30p. Then magic aliens would come take me away I would no longer have to move.
With that plan in place I bounced down the trail.
By this time, Team Hot Mess was riding in group fashion again, with Farley often jogging along behind me on the trail. Occasionally Funder would force me to get on my bouncy rough arab and I would gallop away and tie at some reasonable point, and then Funder would catch up again.
At 4pm I felt better than I had at 3:30 so I kept running – even running up slight uphills as well as the down hills and flats. I felt AWESOME.
At 4:30 Funder pointed out that it was alien time but by that time we were *so close*. And at 4:47, in 9 hours and 47 minutes, Team Hot Mess crossed the finish line, hand in hand, the proud owners of new shiny buckles.
Some random thoughts about the race
- I really focused on not fighting the trail. I tried to relax and “go with” the trail – whether that meant I was walking up a steep hill or running. Let it flow. I tried hard not getting antsy when I needed to walk that thirty min in the afternoon, and keeping in mind as each mental wall appeared, that it was to be expected, and it would be worked through – and instead of fighting it – embrace it, acknowledge it and then move beyond it by putting one foot in front of the other.
- My tie rope was designed for the smaller diameter trees of the oak foothills and so it was not quite as effective for the larger pines. In the future, it might be nice to make a second tie rope if I know I’ll be tying to larger trees.
- At the last minute I came across two articles on irunfar.com. The first discussed how foot placement too far on midline or crossing midline instead of keeping the leg squarely under the trunk can put stress on structures such as the IT Band. Sometimes trail runners encounter trail conditions that force them to place the footfalls closer to midline – such as single track. The article is here. I really paid attention to foot placement during the race, in addition to playing with some of the drills and noticed a HUGE improvement in running efficiency and how my normally complain-y right side chronic injuries felt. I really recommend skimming the article if you tend to have running related injuries more on one side of your body.
- The second article discussed the Pawback exercise. Much like the visualization that is used in centered riding, there’s a visualization to the pawback exercise that is more than just the physical movement – just thinking about the pawback activates the muscles differently. Employing the pawback when going down hills, and later in the race really focusing on the pawback for all my running is what allowed me to keep “the bounce” all the way through 9 hours and beyond. The pawback is a drill I did on flat road running when I was an undergrad in college, but hadn’t realized its application to trail running – especially down hill – to keep from overstriding. Yes, the drill looks dumb and it looks like a horse pawing but it works.
- I couldn’t see very well the last couple miles of the race. My contacts got really fuzzy. Combination of being tired, irritated eyes (dry, dehydrated), and salt. I’ve never had this happen in the middle of a ride or run – just the end when my body knows I’m almost done, but I’ll have to consider how to handle it if it does start to affect me partially through an ultra. I really don’t like running in glasses although I usually remember to throw them into my duffle in case I need them to drive home. If I’m in the middle of the ride I’m likely to just take the contacts out and ride without them – Farley will take care of me – but it’s different when *I’m* the one on the trail running!
- Lead dog syndrome is absolutely real and should be considered as part of the mental “game” of endurance. Even though we weren’t able to really address it, just by recognizing early on that it might be a problem helped me not fight it. 90% of the time whether on Farley or running I was totally by myself. Those breaks when all three of us were together were immensely helpful and problem contributing to me *not* completely burning out.
- I wore my full size buff and (you should be so proud of me…) dunked it in EVERY SINGLE trough and creek I went through. It made a HUGE difference in my comfort and heat management.
- In the total time of 9:47 I estimate that I probably lost ~30-40 minutes in checks. I think I ran ~70% of the mileage and I’m less sore than if I had ridden – Farley isn’t the smoothest gaited horse and I’ve noticed I more sore riding than the same distance running.
- I was still bouncy at 9 1/2 hours. A hardcore ultra run is definately in the cards for me!
- I’m not especially fast but I’m steady. With the exception of 2 notable walls, both which seem to be time of day and pure running time dependent and get easier every time I go through them, I don’t slow down much from the beginning to the end. Sorta comforting in a way that I’m not a dismal excuse as a ride and tie partner.
- The horse decorating went REALLY well. Curling ribbon + electrical tape + glitter is DA BOMB. The pictures don’t quite do the decorations justice. The best part decorations didn’t interfere with the ride and still looked good after 9 hours of sweat.
- Having a partner I could trust to take care of my horse made all the difference. There were some sections of trail that I ran over that I was really really really hoping they were going through at a sedate or at least controllable walk – and because Funder is an experienced endurance rider who keeps her horse sound by smart riding, it was a huge relief to realize I 100% trusted her to make good pacing decisions. Endurance riding really does give you the tools to take care of your horse
- Endurance has also given me a third sense about staying on trail. I missed one turn when I was on foot, and realized almost immediately that I was off course because I came to an intersection that wasn’t marked quite right. I find that I learn the personality of the trail marker at rides and more than not seeing a ribbon in a while, sometimes it’s just the way a turn is or isn’t marked that can clue you in. Looking for ribbons and trail markings is completely second nature now, which took several seasons of riding endurance rides to develop. It takes zero mental energy for me to keep track of markings and when I saw the last ribbon etc. – which is good – more energy to spend on other things, and less time getting lost or second guessing the trail.
There you have it – a way long, sort of discombobulated post about the ride and tie championships. It’s been a good week in clinics, but the sort of week that has been a nightmare to spend anytime writing or doing personal stuff. Hoping to catch you guys up soon on the more recent happenings!