September 28, 2016

Death Before DNF- Dusty's Latest Adventure

Back in February I got Dusty two races for his birthday: a 60k night run that ended up being moved to the daylight in scorching heat in June (which he placed 1st in and had one hell of a run, but I spent the time at the ocean with Wyatt instead so had no media to share) and The Death Before DNF event that was booked for September.

Wyatt in his Sea Monster boots, super excited to see Dusty coming down the trail

Death Before DNF was an intriguing race. The main goal was 100 miles in 24 hours, but the race wouldn't end until the last runner  quit and was named last man standing. It was being held only 1 1/2 hours from home by a beautiful lake.

Mommy, can you take my shirt off cuz Daddy has his off and I want mine off too

Saturday was the day and Dusty went up for the 8 am start hoping to complete 100 miles. Nobody knew anything about the course beyond the fact that it was a 2.4 mile loop that you had to do at least 41 times. It was billed as single track with good views of the lake.

Unfortunately the heat hasn't let up here yet and Saturday reached triple digits yet again. I saw Dusty off at 6 am to head to the trail while I hunkered day for a day of Curious George story time with Wyatt planning to meet up after afternoon nap.

Wyatt off running with Dusty. He told me I wasn't allowed to go because I had my short on and runners go shirtless.  
As the morning progressed I knew the run was taking its toll. Apparently the trail was difficult and the heat was taking people down left and right. Dusty was making decent time all morning and pacing himself the best he ever has, but then it got scorching hot out.

The only flat section of trail on the entire loop
By the time I grabbed the cheese pizza he asked for and headed his way at 330 pm only 6 runners were left out of the 30 starters. This includes the organizer who did one lap before deciding it was insane and hanging out at the one and only aid station the rest of the day.

Going up the first hill. All climbs were short. but steep and full of roots. 
Dusty was hot and tired when I got there, but was still moving pretty well. We ate pizza and then Wyatt wanted to run a loop, so off we all went together. Once we hit the trail I understood the issue immediately.

The loop began on asphalt as it left the tent camping area and then quickly dove into a single track trail in the woods. As we made our way along it was apparent that this trail was never flat. It either went up or down at all times and some sections were so steep you nearly had to go on your butt to get down. Add in tight turns and so many roots you could barely see the dirt floor and it was as much a mental workout as it was a physical one. You just never could get into a rhythm or good stride.

Gong back down and around and through
I loved the creepy twisty trees through here.

There were some wonderful views though and the fact that you did it so many times made it a bit easier as you could learn where to move out and when to slow down.

I left him at 7 pm at 31 miles down and no longer hoping to make 100. His PR in a 24 hour race is 64 miles and I knew he really wanted to at least beat that.

More creepy trees. I don't think I would have liked them so much at night. 
My heart broke for him at midnight when he texted that he was done. There were only 4 of them left at that point and he had 42 miles done. He had stopped sweating and began to shiver despite the heat and he knew he wasn't metabolically stable enough to go on.

Going down. I was proud of Wyatt for navigating this so well, but I couldn't imagine having to do this 41 times. 
I felt really bad for him. He had wanted it so badly and he tried his hardest. Unfortunately, buying his own veterinary practice in June put a stop to his lunch hour runs and his training wasn't what he had wanted going in to this race. Had the trail been easier or the weather been cooler I know he would have at least reached his PR if not the 100 mark, but things were just not working out.

The lake views were amazing though
The next morning we found out the results. Only 3 of 30 made it to 100 miles. One of the runners is well known in this area for his speed in the 100s and typically finishes in just over 17 hours. He took 1st in this event and it took him 33 hours to cover 100 miles. Dusty informs me that most 100s have a 30 hour cut off. The 3rd and final finisher completed in over 35 hours.

Lake selfie
Going down again. 

It was a very brutal course and I told him he should be proud of the 41 miles he fought for. I'm not sure what his plans are from here. I know he really wants to do a point to point 100 instead of these 24 hour loop runs that kill you mentally. Burning River 100 is top of his list for next summer as long as things at work settle down again. A friend invited him to run another 100 miler close by here in December, but it is a 1 mile loop and he just can't fathom going around the same circle 100 times. We will see what he comes up with.

Going donw
And coming back up

September 21, 2016

The Disintegrating Saddle Pad

The saga with ThinLine continues and has now turned me off of the brand for good. If you recall, I had noticed a full thickness rub on the sides from where the stirrup leathers met the pad. It was the size of a quarter and the underlying wool was coming through.

Rubbing from the stirrup leather created a hole in the fabric
Their response was less than stellar given that a) the pad was only 2 years old with 200 competition miles on it, washed 3 times by hand and air dried and b) I had written to them after the Biltmore 100 giving them a rave review of the pad and how wonderful it had performed. In fact, they were so happy with my letter that they featured it on their blog.

Anyway, the response was that they were unfamiliar with the needs of the endurance community (even though the pad is sold as an endurance specific pad) and sent me two pieces of the ThinLine material to figure out what to do with on my own. It arrived quickly, but was thick and bulky and mostly useless.

I went about my merry life planning to use this current pad for conditioning and break out the new one Dusty had gotten me back in April for competitions which would buy me a lot of time until I would need to figure out what to do.

But then last night happened.

Gem has been extra sweaty this summer and with a competition in only 1 1/2 weeks, I thought it would be a good idea to take the pad home with me Sunday and wash it. I stashed it away in a closet (bad idea BTW - that closet now reeks!!) and pulled it out last night to hand wash in the bath tub under cold water.

I got it wet and began to run my hands lightly through the wool to loosen the fibers and break up the sweat and grime. Imagine my horror when I pulled my hand away and a big glob of wool came with it!!

I ran my fingers through again and even more came out and thus ended my endeavor to wash the pad. I pulled it out of the tub and my heart sank when I saw this:

The entire sheepskin just melted away and was gone
I think the video below should work. It shows how extremely lightly I pulled to get the pad to just fall apart. 

I threw the soaking wet pad into a trash bag and went to stew on the couch. I briefly thought about contacting the company, but to what end? They have been zero help with anything else and I know what they will say. The sweat melted the sheepskin. I get that. But at $350 this is a top of the line pad being marketed specifically to endurance riders. No way would I ever purchase another.

Thankfully, I have the back up, brand new pad to use next weekend or I would be in a big bind. I don't know what pad I will try next, but it for sure will not be a ThinLine product.

September 19, 2016

Being Creepy or Being Nice??

The trail head was completely dead Sunday morning when I pulled the rig in around 9 am. Shortly after unloading Gem, I heard the tell tale rattle of another rig bumping down the gravel entrance. I always find it a bit odd when someone decides they have to park right on top of you when there are dozens of open spots and so I noted with mild annoyance how this person pulled to a stop in the spot directly in front of mine.

The leaves are starting to fall already. I think it has more to do with the fact we haven't had a drop of rain in all of Sept than it being fall. Typically the leaves remain until November. 

A few moments later a man with grey hair, a wrinkled face and a matching wrinkled plaid shirt with dirty jeans came limping over to me. He said something about how empty the lot was and then hung around as I tacked up Gem.

Southerners tend to be on the friendly, no personal space side and so I wasn't too worried as I just walked around him and finished tacking up mumbling answers to his questions and pretending to be polite. He was so annoyingly in my way though that he had to back up when the fly spray came out as the first few puffs hit him.

Nature has better aim than any man. 

But then his questions started to creep me out.

He asked if I was riding alone. I said yes, but then quickly added that my husband typically comes out with the dog and kiddo to hike with us. He then asked me what trails I was riding and remarked that things can happen when you ride alone and that it is smart to have someone know exactly where you plan to be.

I always dismount and lead Gem across the river. I don;t enjoy riding the next 10 miles in wet shoes though. 

Now, I am pretty sure he was just being a friendly old man who was worried about seeing a young woman riding out alone, but it seriously started to get a little creepy as he kept trying to figure out where I was riding and I kept giving him vague answers. He asked if I wanted to join his group when they arrived, he was apparently waiting for some friends, and I bowed out of that by telling him I was going to be moving quickly.

Eventually I was all tacked up and led Gem away to hit the trails and said my goodbyes. I typically let Gemmie walk the first bit to warm up, but this time I egged her on and we moved out to the far side of trails that has a lot of intersections just in case.

Nothing else of note occurred during the ride. I didn't get lost this time and made the loop as I planned. The first half was empty as it is a more technical portion and farther out from the trail head and Gem and I made good time for the first 7 miles.

Once we hit the main loop that goes around the barn, the traffic picked up and our pace slowed significantly. We were about 9 miles in or so when I came across the old man on his mule leading a group of 4, consisting of another older man and two middle aged women, down the trail. We said hello and he asked if the hubby had showed up to hike with me.


I said no knowing that I would make it back to the trailer before he ever did and the trails were super busy by this point anyway. I carried on my way and ended up a while later at a filled parking lot.

Gem looked great at the end, a little more sweaty than I'd like for the exertion although it was 85F and she has declared it winter so her coat is getting pretty fuzzy and thick already. I keep hoping she will realize we are not up north anymore and stop becoming a yak, but I doubt that will ever happen.

Beautiful Lake Johnson. 

The only other memorable moment occurred as I was rinsing her off. Croft hosts horse shows every month in the summer and boasts a wonderful arena, four wash racks, bathrooms, showers and a concession stand open during the shows. I was hosing her off when some guy came flying into the bay right across from her on his mountain bike causing Gem to jump. I glared over at the intruder wondering why anyone would come flying in at near top speed next to a horse.

I watched as he proceeded to rinse off his mountain bike as I finished scraping Gem and then I heard him mumble something. I asked him what he said and he responded in a delightfully thick Irish accent "nice horse" which I barely understood. We proceeded to have a lovely conversation and I later told Dusty he was lucky because he almost lost his wife that afternoon. I do love me an Irish accent. :)

As I was walking Gem back to the trailer, a loose horse came galloping over to us. I had noticed him earlier by the picnic tables and he was a looker. Tall, brilliant chestnut with four high white socks and a thin blaze down his face. He screamed at Gem the entire time I washed her off and I wondered if he was a stallion. Well, I found out he was as he charged over to us, but he was easily caught by his dragging lead rope. The Irish man came over to offer help although he had no clue what to do, so I just grabbed the lead and walked him over to his clueless owner who was eating a sandwich in her truck. I handed him over as she explained that he knows how to untie knots and I recommended she get a snap hook instead.

Then I loaded Gem up and headed to the barn. It was an uneventful ride, but an eventful day at the trail head.

September 7, 2016

Getting Lost

Sunday was slated for a nice long trail ride. With the temperatures finally livable again, I wanted to get around 15 miles in at a decent pace and headed off to Croft yet again (Croft is the closest to the barn at around 45 minutes).

There were already several trailers in the lot when I arrived around 9 am. I debated on which trails to take and decided on my favorite long loop: head out the entrance road then dive into the woods on the right hand side, cross the river and meet up with the red loop I rode twice last weekend. That totals around 12 miles and then there is a small loop that comes off it where I could add 3 more if time was on my side. I had to be back by 3 pm for a Labor Day picnic.

Everything started out really well. Gem was spooky, but settled down after about 2 miles and realizing that I wasn't messing around. We did a lot of halting nicely and not walking off until I said to and worked on being straighter as well. She acted like she was going to die when I made her trot an entire mile without being a dork about it until I reminded her that she cantered 34 miles before. Trotting 1 wasn't going to kill her.

Then things went a little wonky.

I haven't done the long loop in a really, really long time and had only done it twice total. I knew the creek crossing was a pain - it basically goes over a large rock that is covered in slick moss and then heads through the woods on the other side. There is no sign saying to turn into the creek, but if you go straight you end up reaching a NO HORSES sign.

Creek crossing with faint trail on the other side
I saw an entrance to the creek that resembled my memory of it and had a good number of hoof prints leading down. There was even a picnic bench although I didn't recall that from before. I dismounted to lead her across the creek getting my shoes soaking wet in the process and letting her drink. The creek crossing is 4 miles into the ride with 2 left before hitting the red loop and my Garmin was pretty much saying that I was right.

I'm dying. Its been 2 miles. I can't go on,

My toes are wet. Seriously?
Across we went but then the trail petered out. There was a trail there if you squinted petty hard and almost made it up, but it was still there. I thought it was really odd that it had gotten so overgrown. Croft has great trails that are really well maintained and I did not recall running across a trail so poorly marked before. The trees were bare of markings as well, but I soldiered on anyhow on foot and then eventually mounted up again.

I  was just beginning to think about turning around when the trail came to a T intersection with a beautifully marked trail. Huh. I thought perhaps I had just missed something and turned left away from the creek and along our merry way.

Beautiful trails
Except a mile later I realized I didn't recognize anything. There were large mountain bike jumps that I had never seen before and the trail was marked with a yellow rectangle. There were no hoof prints to be seen and I began to get really concerned.

Wonderful to trot down
Shade, shade everywhere!

The yellow marking is used for the Palmetto Trail. This trail runs something like 250 miles through the entire state with some sections horse friendly and others not. It was most certainly not a loop and I began to worry that I might not end up anywhere close to my trailer.

After another mile I finally turned back around. The trail was gorgeous and a lot of fun to ride on (I had come across a sign that confirmed horses were allowed) but then it hit me. The little trail I basically bush whacked in on would be near impossible to find again. The trail was so hard from the dry summer that Gem wasn't leaving prints either.

At least I now knew I was permitted on the trail
For the first time I was really nervous. I've gotten "lost" a lot on trail but I could always back track where I came from. It may add a bunch of miles on, but I always knew I could make it back. But as I went along the trail staring hard at the woods to my right, I became increasingly worried that I would not be able to find it.

A bridge I had not passed before which basically confirmed that I was unable to find my deer path. 
The miles ticked on by and I paced along the trail hoping to find my deer trail to no avail. Finally I came across two mountain bikers and asked where the trail ended up if I kept going the way I was (the direction they came from) and they told me Lake Johnson. I knew Lake Johnson and I knew it had a trail that connected back to the trail head eventually.

I sent out an SOS to the hubby. He was oh so concerned. 

Gem's walk break was over and we moved into high gear to make up for lost time.

The trail continued to be gorgeous and well maintained and we flew over it heading to familiar territory. Eventually it ended on a double wide dirt road that I had traveled on before and I made a right turn. Shortly after that I saw two signs: to my left it said barn 3 miles and to my right it said barn 6 miles. My Garmin read just over 7 miles and it was just shy of 12. If we pushed it, we could finish the 6 miles and be back for the picnic. Plus the 6 mile trail was the one I meant to take and this way I could go backwards and figure out where I went wrong.

I finally knew exactly where I was
I made Gem fly over that trail keeping a 6 mph average and 2 miles later found the creek. Apparently I had just crossed it too soon by a tiny amount and that was where all the trouble started.

Gem kept up the pace and we finished in good time completing 13 miles. She looked good at the end and now I have found a new trail I could take although I need to find the correct way to access it as I am sure my deer trail was not official.

Going down familiar trail once again
The real creek crossing. Much like the fake one I took, but deeper.

September 6, 2016

AECs- Volunteering and Spectating

Tryon Internatinal Equestrian Center is about an hour from my house and I had to report at 7 am on Friday morning. Getting up when it is still dark out should only happen if I get to ride over 20 miles. Just saying.

When I pulled in, the sky was just getting light and the security guy told me to pull around and park in the gigantic, and unused, covered arena. I go ta small thrill as I drove right past the "Do Not Park in Arena" sign and parked.

Massive covered arena used as a storage space 

I meandered over to the volunteer check in and gave them my name and job for the  day: dressage score runner. I was given a boxed breakfast, a t-shirt which was amazing, and directions on where to report for duty. As I was leaving the building, I noticed several large boxes filled with random junk: pens, a plastic water bottle, various chips and granola bars. We were told to help ourselves which in my mind means grab a bag or two of chips, maybe a couple of pens and a water bottle and be on your merry way.

A little blurry, but there are road signs everywhere to help find your way around the facility

The lady in front of me took this to mean dumping the entire box of 1,000 pens into her bag and smiling to herself. When she looked my way I asked her if she had enough to which she glared and shoved past. People drive me crazy!

I had about 30 minutes before reporting in, so I stopped beside the arenas and grabbed a chair to eat my breakfast. Then it was off to the scoring tower and encounter #2 that made me want to punch someone in the face.

As I was standing inside the tower, a slender grey haired woman came in with a look that dripped with disdain for anyone else. She walked over to ta dressage judge and introduced herself as her scribe. The judge, quite naturally I thought, asked if she had scribed before to which the lady responded, and add as much high horse snobbery in as possible and then double it, "Ummmm...yeaaah...I've been doing eventing for 50 years."

If I had been the judge, I would have kicked her out. The judge one upped me though and asked her why she was just a scribe then and not a competitor or a judge herself!!! Ha!!!

Inside the scoring tower. The guy on the left was working dressage with a view of all 4 rings. To the right were the stadium judges and timers with a view of the stadium arena. 
After that it was pretty much smooth sailing as I was in charge of my own ring and my own time. I work better alone apparently.

View of ring 2 from the scoring tower
There were 4 of us runners and 4 arenas. Two people started fighting over arena 4 which was the intermediare ring. I was happy to stay out of that and instead wandered over to ring 2 which held the junior riders beginner novice test. That was more my style.

Dressage score running is pretty boring. I stood guard next to the arena entrance (down a small flight of stairs) until two people completed their tests and then I ran/walked over to the judges booth trying my best to be invisible and not ruin anyone's warm up, collected the two sheets and then headed to the scoring tower to deliver them.

It took me about 4 riders to memorize the test. At which point I then began to try to guess what the judge's comments would be: fussy in the contact, above vertical, bad geometry etc.. I never tried to guess the score because she never went below 6.0 and never went higher than a smattering of 8s with the vast majority being 6.5 and 7.0. I never really understood why she gave a 6.5 versus 7 in general because the comments on two tests would be the same but one would be higher.

It was really fun to try to guess and then read the score sheet and see if I was right.

I also got to hang out inside the judge booth for a while and listen in/learn to scribe. The judge was amazingly nice, had a great sense of humor and really liked to teach.

Stadium jumping arena

Some take away points:

- Every rider rode past the judge's booth at least once in warm up. Those who looked at the judge, smiled and said hello/thanks for being here routinely scored higher than those who just went past ignoring the judge.

- The just basically mirrored itself going each direction. If there was any amount of improvement at all on the second go round (so say you already did a 20 m canter circle to the left and were now going right), she automatically gave the rider 0.5 points higher than the first time.

- In this arena, on this day, the size, breed or color of horse made no difference. I saw big, fancy shiny horses and tiny little quarter ponies (adorable!!) and all received the same scores.

- Not a single jump saddle or AP saddle was to be seen. Every single rider was in a dressage saddle.

I left when the ring finished for the morning and was disappointed I wouldn't get to see any of the riders jump. I felt a little attached to those young riders on their small horses and ponies compared to the ring running behind me which was going Training and was filled with massive steeds.

Saturday afternoon, I convinced the hubby to head up to cross some cross country and stadium rounds. It is free parking/free entry and the weather was glorious. We arrived around 4 pm and caught a few cross country rounds and then staked out a spot on the turf in the shade to watch the Advanced stadium.

Cross country course. Dusty asked me if this was just stadium in a large field. I chuckled.
We sat in the shade, enjoying the cool breeze and low humidity while Wyatt made new friends and played. I wasn't paying too much attention to who was riding until I heard Boyd martin get called and then I started paying attention. There was some pretty famous company in that arena and it was really fun to watch.

Einstein hanging out

After Marilyn Little cinched the win, we wandered over to get Wyatt's face painted, have a go on the carousel and in the jump house. It felt more like being at a carnival rather than  a Championship horse event, but it was also really nice to have something for the kiddo to do.

Einstein was all wiped out after the afternoon spent watching the event
I'm still torn on whether or not I like the concept behind the facility, but it is a great venue for spectating and I learned a lot while running scores, so it was a win for me.

September 1, 2016

ThinLine Sheepskin Endurance Pad - Updated Review

Back before our first 50 mile ride at the Barefoot Wine and Shine in TN October 2014, I needed a new pad. I know I did a review about it at some point, but I can't find it in my logs, so a brief description is required.

The pad is an endurance shaped full sheepskin pad made by Thin Line. It has the Thin Line shock absorbing material under the seat (sorry, no good picture) and has the ability to add shims in three different areas: the front for wither clearance, the middle for bridging and the rear for well to raise the rear I suppose. It fits the length of my saddle very well and is very plush.

It has been my sole pad since then completing 200 competition miles in endurance, probably 400 conditioning miles and then the hunter paces as well. I guesstimate somewhere between 600-800 total riding miles on it in those two years. I have washed the pad three times by hand in the bath tub under cool water and either without any soap or with the stuff ThinLine recommends and sends a sample with the pad.

I love the pad. It fits Gem really well, has helped us achieve all As in back score at every ride, keeps her back cool even in our horrendous heat and high humidity and has remained just as plush as the day I got it. It cleans easily although dry time is really long and comes back to life with a wire dog brush.

It is expensive though at $350 without the shims. At that price point I expect to get many years and many more miles out of the pad.

On Friday's ride, I tacked Gemmie up in her endurance gear for only the second time since May and saw this:

The tough outer cotton fabric had begun to wear in this region pretty quickly. I am nearly 90% certain it started with a small amount of fraying after the first 50 which was only about a month and probably 100 miles total into using it. At the time I wasn't using fleece stirrup covers and since I don't use fenders, I figured it was due to the leathers.

Rub lies directly under the stirrup leather

All miles since last February have had the leathers covered and yet the fraying has continued.

On Friday I took a closer look and saw that it had actually rubbed all the way through the cotton and the wool was now showing through.

Hello Mr. Wool

Not good.

I took the pictures and shot ThinLine a message on Facebook Saturday explaining the amount of use I had on the pad and asking if this was the expected life span of their pads and any recommendations they may have for fixing it.

They responded back on Monday morning and while I am not 100% satisfied with their response, I am pretty ok with it.

Basically they said that they are not up to speed with the requirements that saddles put on the pad with endurance. They are not educated enough of the rigging that a lot of endurance saddles use and they believe that the cotton they use is of high enough durability. They recommended sending me a piece of their ThinLine material to place on my stirrup leathers and were quick to send it out that same day.

I haven't received it yet, but I do know I won't be attaching it to my stirrup leathers. I have no clue what size of piece or how many pieces they sent. I would hope to get at least two so I can fix it on both sides.  I am going to play around with it and see if there is a way to attach it to the pad overlying this region. As long as I can do it without the stitches becoming a source of irritation on Gem's sides it should do the trick.

Otherwise, I will be back to the drawing board as far as saddle pads go. I have a brand new one of these that Dusty got me for the 100 and which we completely forgot to use. I got about 2 years out of this one, so using this one for conditioning and the new one for competition should give me a long time before needing to replace. I have no clue what I would switch to though, so I am really hoping I can fix this.