(All photos used with purchase and credit to Becky Pearman unless otherwise stated)
How on earth did we get to this point?
Let me back up several months to where it all began with a barely thought out hair brained idea.
Sometime in mid May I caught wind that the East Coast (EC) Ride and Tie (R&T) Championship was coming to Biltmore. The shiny belt buckle for completing the long course haunted my dreams. I wanted it. No, the raccoon in me needed it. But who would be stupid enough to partner with someone who could barely run? Dusty was the obvious choice: he could easily run the whole thing without me, but we didn't have anyone to watch Wyatt for us. Who else?
Then it hit me: Theresa. She is an accomplished trail runner, an endurance rider and just about the nicest person I have ever had the pleasure to meet. The shiny buckle captured her heart as well and she agreed to my insane plan of tackling the 30 mile course.
Time continued on and between the summer heat and Wyatt's therapy schedule I quickly realized that I could either get Gem or myself fit. I didn't have the time to do both.
The summer was mostly spent on myself: Gem sat getting fat and lazy while I put in two nights a week running on the treadmill and one day out in the neighborhood. When August hit I realized I was screwed. Gem hadn't been ridden much at all and I was still topping out at around 3.5-4 miles on my long runs. How was I possibly going to get us both through the 30?
I switched tactics and got two 15 mile rides on Gem (a third attempt was thwarted) and then plum ran out of time. She was as ready as I could get her.
In between all of this, the EC R&T changed venues to my beloved Clemson trails due to a double booked event at Biltmore. Then the final blow hit: Clemson had also double booked the forest for that same day. Along with our R&T would be a high powered youth rifle hunt. The only day out of the entire year rifles are allowed in the forest and we would all be running and leaving our horses tied to the trees during it.
The RM spoke with the event coordinator and was told they would be taking a safety class in the morning then head out to hunt around 2 pm. She suggested we wear orange and get off the trails by 2. Since the ride started at 7:30 am, that gave us a ride time of 6 1/2 hours. I had planned on a ride time of closer to 8 hours. Ah...crap.
|New ride shirts were offered at an additional fee at the last second. They were perfect!! (Pic by me)|
|Both of us fatter than I'd like, but still a lovely shot during the vetting. Of note, the head vet came in from CA for this event.|
|Beautiful head shot captured during vetting on Friday.|
|Theresa trying out Gem on the way from the barn to start. Sporting her nifty pajamas to boot.|
|Ride start. You will notice me hiding off the left trying not to die.|
|Being super tense and leaning way forward helps in this case. Will I ever learn??|
The first tie took me way too long. I couldn't find a tree I liked and when I finally did, I took forever to do it so that by the time I was running off, Theresa was in sight behind me. It took her about 1/2 mile to catch me and I called to her "see you in 1/2 mile!!" as they passed. Gem was staring me down and I swear she tried to run me over as she cantered on by.
My legs felt fantastic and I immediately fell in love with trail running. I went up, over and around everything spreading my arms out like an airplane as I made the turns. I was also grinning from ear to ear like a fool.
A half a mile later, I saw Gem tied to a tree looking for me. I said hello, asked her if she was listening any better now and hopped on. The answer: not really. She charged ahead in a barely controlled canter and we chased Theresa and the other horses down. There were 12 in the 30 and we were the last to tie (more on strategy and what did and didn't work in a later post) so she saw lots of horses passing her.
|Always a beautiful site!! Photo by me.|
|Theresa caught running|
|Finally having fun on Gem!|
We kept that up for the entire first 15 miles. We would exchange in mile increments as we went along although by the time we hit mile 4 or so we were left in everyone's dust. Gem settled down by the second time I mounted her and was more enjoyable from about mile 4 onwards. I don't think she will ever make the start of a ride easy for me, but it is getting quicker and quicker each outing.
Gem also caught back on to the game by the second time I tied her (third time tied for the day total). She would stand looking back for her runner, albeit impatiently and with some pawing, and then once mounted up she would turn her ears forward and charge hunting her runner down. She was ceaseless in her obsession at finding her runner and once spotted, she locked on and went full blown. After she caught up, she would slowly pass and then I swear she started looking into the trees. She knew she would be getting tied shortly. I was amazed at how she loved the game and how seriously she took. It made my heart sing.
Things were going really well until we made the turn from the red trail to blue at around mile 6 or so. It was a sharp right hand turn and there was a downed tree right afterward. Gem decided she didn't have to actually pick her feet up at all and just crashed over it face planting and sending me flying on the other side. Thankfully I landed on my feet and just got back on telling her to start paying attention. She had been so focused looking through the trees for Theresa, that she hadn't even noticed the log.
|I was almost always smiling when on my own two feet|
From there it was back to game on. We chased down Theresa, passed, tied and ran off. Eventually she would came hauling up behind me full bore and then pass to repeat again. It typically took them about 1/2-3/4 of a mile to catch me when I was on my feet and I would have them go about another 1/2 mile. At this point we were pretty close to running and riding 50:50. (Both photos below by me)
|The trail looks so different when you are on your feet|
|Where is my horse?? Has it been a mile yet? No! Argh!|
Blue isn't my favorite trail. It cuts through some recent logging sections and is hard to follow and pretty bare of shade. I was really glad we ran it in the morning. We hit the most exposed section around 9:30 am. I was on Gem at that point and was chasing Theresa down. I saw her zig zagging down the trail ahead of me and Gem locked on. We made a turn and she was out of sight. I figured the trail had just went around some more turns, but as we went I kept not seeing her. How fast could she be going?? We were putting in 10 mph miles at this point. Seriously, how fast could she go??
Just as I was cresting a hill and contemplating calling her on my phone I heard her scram my name from behind me. Huh?? Apparently she had stopped to pee and missed a turn. I hopped off and held Gem while she caught up and then took off running telling her I would see her in 1 mile.
Around that same time, I crashed.
|Pretty sure I was about to die here. No longer having fun on my feet and was wishing Gem was closer. Photo: me|
We still had roughly 6-7 miles left, of which I would be running at least 3 and I was spent. I had already run 4 or 5 tough miles keeping up my hopeful sub 10 minute mile pace and my legs felt it. I didn't want to let Theresa down though, so I grabbed one of Gem's carrots from my pack and ate it while keeping my forward momentum as much as possible.
|Not the most recommended trail food, but it worked in a pinch. Photo: me|
Eventually we came near the half way check. There is no mandatory hold for a R&T. It is just a gate and go where the runner and rider have to switch. Theresa and I agreed it would be best to have her ride in, so I could get Gem vetted and both of us fed allowing her to cover some miles slowly until we caught up to her.
Gem vetted in with her tack on (strange for me because I have always taken it off) and had a pulse of 52, all As and was allowed to continue. Dusty and Wyatt met us there and he held her while I shoveled food into my mouth. He yelled at me for not taking anything out on trail as he shoved stuff in my pack for later. 10 minutes later I headed out to find Theresa.
Gem was pissed. Thoroughly, completely and utterly the most pissed off I have ever seen her.
She had been gipped of her break and she knew it. At all prior events she would get a 40 minute (except at the end of the 100 but by then I think she didn't really care so much) break to nap, lazily eat and relax. She got 10 minutes and was back on the trail. She was not a happy camper.
She declared that she would then take her stolen break time out on trail and refused to move above a crawl for the first two miles. She crawled along at a 1.5-2 mph pace and anytime I did snap her into a trot she would spook so horrifically at absolutely nothing that I feared a second fall on tired legs. So I walked and worried about how far away Theresa was getting.
After the second mile, she snapped out of it and started to move again. I was relieved and annoyed at the same time. We did eventually catch up to Theresa, but it took us close to 5 miles to do it.
The second loop was my all time favorite of any trail I have ever ridden. Green rides out around Lake Hartwell with beautiful views and trails technical enough to be fun, but easy enough to fly over. I also ate a Gu at mile 18 and within 15 minutes had a second wind I didn't know was in there.
|Gem began to use her tied periods to rest in the second half. I caught her full blown, eyes closed napping at one spot. Photo: me|
Nothing super special happened the second loop. My legs were shot. I had to walk all the up hills, but forced myself to run the flats and downs at a more than slogging pace. I kept up sub 10 minute paces for the sections I ran, but was crawling up any incline. On a trail that is only ever up or down, that doesn't make for much running.
|One final time past the photographer|
|Running strong. I love her running form and need to learn this from her|
|Heading to the final vetting. Theresa is still perky, but I feel ready for a nap|
Dr. Nathan Hoyt was vetting and he is one of my favorite ride vets. He has a sense of humor, wants people to succeed but cares about the horse too. He went to do her CRI and just laughed saying "CRI...fine"
The scribe, RM and I all said in unison "Fine? Is that an official vet criteria?" and then laughed.
"When you trot your horse down and back after a 30 mile effort and you hear luuub......duuub.....luuuub......duuuub....you don't have to go all heroic to count it. If you want a number, say 40."
|Vet card. I wasn't worried about the two Bs. There was little water on trail and no good grazing. Without the regular hold to stock up, she didn't have time to really fill her tank. Photo: me|
What is the saying?? You need three things to make a good endurance horse: brains, legs and metabollics. Good luck getting all three at the same time.
Well, she has metabollics to spare and great legs, but she is for sure is missing out on the brains. She is extremely intelligent, but is annoyingly spooky and a little mean deep down inside.
I was extremely proud of my team of 3. Gem did well as usual. Theresa was a rock star and earned her MVP for the team. Without her, I would have been toast and I know it. I made it through somewhere between 10 and 13 miles and 2,538 miles of up and another 2, 538 miles of down over the 30 miles on my own two feet which is no joke when all your training was on a flat treadmill
and maxed out at 4 miles.
|Pissed off Gemmie. Seriously, she was cranky the entire second loop. Wonderful shot of Theresa and me though. I may print and frame this one.|
|Photobombed by the cutest little man ever. Photo: me|
|Looking good after 30 miles and 6 1/2 hours without a real rest Photo me|
And then there it was....
|This made every mile, every hill, every last second worth it. Photo: me|