October 2, 2016

East Coast Ride and Tie Championship: Long (30 mile) Course

Saturday morning dawned cold and foggy. It was beautifully perfect weather for what was about to start. Theresa and I sat around her camp table eating donuts and bagels trying to stay as warm as possible as the sun decided if it was going to rise while we tried to figure out a way to finish by 2 pm to avoid getting ourselves or Gem shot by a kid with a high powered rifle.

(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)
And that is how I found myself up before dawn on a cold morning, eating powdered donuts trying not to think about all the hilly, twisting miles that stood before me and a belt buckle.

 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. 
The morning was glorious though and thankfully the weather cooled off for us, so we didn't have to battle heat and distance and terrain all in one go. I knew Gem was under prepared, but could handle it specially since she would be getting breaks along the way. Theresa and I discussed strategy: she wanted 1 mile stretches to avoid tying as much. Honestly, I was just hoping to complete and was thrilled she was game to do this with how under prepared I was for running it. I mean, I did put in 9 miles a week, but it was 6 miles on a treadmill and 3 out in the hills in my neighborhood. Not really great prep for 15 miles of hills and roots. I told her I would go along with whatever she wanted.

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??
She started out on foot  as we careened down the hill and over the bridge to enter the red trail and begin our adventure. Gem was in a mood. She was on fire and not listening one bit. The first mile couldn't end fast enough. All I wanted was to get off her and run away, leaving her tied to regain some brain cell function until Theresa found her.

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. 
I caught up to Theresa in about 1/2 a mile or so and she wanted to go another mile, so I rode on and tied Gemmie. It took about half the previous time and soon I took off running. I was enjoying the feel of my legs moving me down the trail on a brisk morning in my favorite deep woods.

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
 I hadn't thought to pack any food or electrolytes with me. I never do on rides and while I had my 2L camelbak that was only filled with water and my body was screaming for more. I needed fuel. I needed elytes. And I had none. Not smart. Not smart at all.

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
Gem continued her annoying spooky behavior throwing in some majorly impressive stops and turns for both Theresa and me. Theresa has a very spooky gelding (he is blind in one eye and has a good excuse), so she was used it riding a ping pong ball, but that doesn't make it any more enjoyable. I missed my happy horse from the first loop.

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.

Curse words were exploding in my head as I approached this climb on foot. We were at mile 20ish with 10 more to go at this point and my legs just refused to run up anything. The mile marker where Theresa would ditch Gem was still 1/2 mile away as I began to trudge up the hill. Photo: me
Theresa on the other hand looked as fresh as when we began. I guess that's what conditioning does for you. I was so glad to have a partner who not only could, but didn't mind picking up my slack. I think she ran all but 4 miles of the entire second 15 mile loop.

But no!! My partner LOVED me!!! There was Gem waiting at the top and I still had 1/4 mile left to go before the true 1 mile mark for the switch. I nearly cried when I saw her. Of course I had to make it up the blasted hill still, but seeing your horse waiting for you takes the lead off your feet.  Photo: me
Soon enough, we came upon the 1 mile to camp mark. We had wanted to cross together, but I was on Gem and she was starting to fade. Gem was tired. More tired than I had ever felt her and also more tired than I thought the effort demanded (more on that later), and I really just wanted to get her to camp and vetted in. Theresa was ok with that and I took off with Gem who knew exactly where we were.

One final time past the photographer 
Running strong. I love her running form and need to learn this from her
Gem and I charged up the 30% grade hill to the finish at a canter and I hopped off immediately. Dusty helped me strip tack, sponge and then 2 minutes after crossing we headed to the vet. She pulsed at 44. Tired mare really wasn't all that tired. She was just pissed off and holding a grudge.

Heading to the final vetting. Theresa is still perky, but I feel ready for a nap
She vetted in great with a B in gut and anal tone, but all As elsewhere, nearly dragged me down the trotting lane and then earned my favorite comment ever from a vet at a check:

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.

His response???

"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
So basically after 30 miles, being extremely under prepared with only two 15 mile rides period over the course of 4 months, with a hairy winter coat and highs in the mid 80s, Gemmie's end CRI was only 4 beats over her resting at vetting in.

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. 
We finished in around 6 1/2 hours and were out of the woods before the rifles started going off all around us. We got turtle and a belt buckle. It was the single most demanding thing I have ever done, both mentally and physically and I still can't believe we did it.

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 what all did we come home with?? Well, we got the following:

Ride shirt, mug for completing, RW 20% off coupon for entering and the turtle award! The RM came over to give us our loot because we needed to head out before the 6:30 pm dinner and awards to get back home. Theresa noted the lack of buckle and ran over to get it. She had not just suffered through 30 miles for no buckle!! Photo me

And then there it was....

This made every mile, every hill, every last second worth it. Photo: me


  1. Ha that buckle was definitely worth it ;) congrats on finishing strong even if you thought you were gonna die!

    1. I texted my husband multiple times that I was going to die. Even with that it was a lot of fun!

  2. Impressive effort! I could never run that much without needing surgery after. lol

    1. I found the transitions the worst. Both riding and running took a while to re adjust to. Overall it was a lot of fun though. I'd love to do one and a tally be prepared for it. Finding a partner is the hard part

  3. congrats! Shows that horses don't lose conditioning very quickly, and that humans have a much harder time of it! Great accomplishments, and love the shiny buckle!

    1. Gem did a great job with minimal conditioning. Horses really do hold on to it pretty well. me on the other hand? I have to fight for it

  4. Wow, you really are insane. That buckle is totally worth it though.

    1. It was worth every hard fought step :)

  5. Well I'm super impressed! That buckle is so awesome. And that orange shirt is pretty funny too. Contrast on the finish.

    1. Thank you!! I loved the shirt and just had to buy it.

  6. Yay Team Gemmie, glad the event went well and you got your shiny :) I loathe running, did it only because of team sports...but getting a shiny buckle at the end might be totally worth it!

    1. Thanks :) Yeah...the buckle made it all worth while. It is completely addicting though.