Thursday, March 26, 2009


Sunday being the exception, I have been very frustrated with Limerick and running lately.

Lim has been feeling fantastic. I mean it. She has the worst case of the spring crazies in almost a decade.

In fact, I think the last time she was this nutty was Before It All Began, before she kicked out (at what? a horse fly?) with her right hind leg and got it caught in that stall window in July of 2002.

That was the climax of her story, and from then on her level of comfort and her athleticism just went downhill. And now...well, it's almost as if last year she was a caterpillar, over the winter she was in a cocoon of artic air and 1200 denier State Line Tack turnout blanket, and now? Now she is a butterfly emerging forth into a new world, a comfortable world.

She has not yet finished shedding what little winter coat she had and already her bay hide is gleaming with black and copper dapples. Her hooves are stronger and truer than they have been in over a decade, if not ever. Her muscles, admirable if they were on a seven-year-old, are jaw-dropping on a horse that was born in May of 1991. Her eyes gleam with a light that I haven't seen in so long. I am all horse. Let me be a horse!

On the ground she is fine to work with but on her back, it's a whole other story. When she's not full of herself and wanting to run and shake her head and strike out with a hoof, she is nervous and distracted and flighty. She has equine ADHD. She is sensitive and anxious.

I was going to show her on April 5th but I've decided that now is not the right time. I posted that if she behaves then I will show her. Well, she isn't behaving.

However...we are attending the show, but just for the experience of being there. I plan on doing a lot of ground work with Lim over the next few weeks and will only ride if conditions are absolutely perfect for it. Being at the show will be a good test to see if that ground work has paid off.

It's wonderful that she feels so good, and if you've been reading this blog since I started it then you know that Lim has come a very, very long way in the past year. I'll give her this time to be silly by not mounting up and forcing her to behave. But in the meantime, I'll strengthen our relationship on the ground so that when I'm ready to climb onto her back again with regularity, things will go well.

Now for the other issue, my running...

I bonked (crashed, hit a wall, whatever you want to call it) on a 14-mile run on the 15th of this month. It was my first run at this distance and it was going well until I ran out of Gatorade at mile 9. No biggie, I thought. What I have drank will carry me through. Wrong! I should have invested in some sports gels prior to attempting a run of this distance.

My legs felt like bricks by mile 11 but I pushed on.

When I tried to run a couple days later, my entire right lower leg was very sore. Uh oh! I had the 10k coming up that weekend and panicked. Bags of frozen vegetables--then bags of ice--became my best friend. I took a break from running and tried again on the Friday prior to the race. My leg was better but still sore. I was so sure I was doomed!

But as you know from my race report, the leg wasn't a factor during the race.

But it's back and bothering me again. I'm not sure but I think it's a muscle knot. The pain is not on the shin (fortunately! I don't need a stress fracture right now...knock on wood!); instead it seems to rove around in the calf. One day it'll be on one side of the calf, the next day it'll be on the other side.


But if I were to become injured, this would be the best time. My 10k is over and my official marathon training doesn't start until April 18th (18 weeks and one day prior to the marathon, in case you're counting).

So now you see why I am so frustrated. I cannot run, I cannot ride. I try to look on the bright side of things, though. That's all I can do.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Lisle Chamber Run for Education 10k

My first race was yesterday morning. It was scheduled to begin at 8:30am but I awoke at 5:30. I wanted to be well-prepared and, most importantly, make sure I wasn't late. If you know me well enough then you know that I take forever and a day to get ready for things.

Due to a sore calf and the heart monitor I had to tote (ah, that is a post for another day!), I was convinced that I wouldn't do well. Originally, my goal was to run the 10k in 49 minutes. Sadly, I had bumped that up to 60 minutes.

I gulped down three cups of coffee and tried to eat a small breakfast. I could only choke down a third of it. I showered (yeah, I was going to get sweaty but it felt right) and got dressed. I rubbed some Ben Gay on my calf and wrapped the leg in self-sticking athlete's tape. I hoped, hoped, hoped that my leg didn't bother me. If it did, I was done. I would finish the race--my determination wouldn't allow for anything else--but I would finish it defeated and miserable.

I slipped my heart monitor into a small Aquapod waistband clip.

I was as ready as I could be.

When my husband and I arrived at the park, we quickly found my co-workers. A bunch of them were walking/running the 5k. The anxiety was overwhelming. After using the bathroom in the park's locker room, I milled about impatiently until it was time to line up.

We lined up at a stop sign. I was near the front but knew I would be starting slow, so I moved all the way over to one side to allow runners to pass me. Some guy talked in front of us. I looked at my husband questioningly. He stood off to the side and mouthed what I thought was "start". Yeah, we're at the start, what about it? I waited impatiently, not knowing what the hold-up was yet familiar with the situation.

I've been in it dozens, hundreds of times in my life. Something is happening, something that requires your ears to fully understand, and I can only wait for it to be over.

I looked at my husband again. Again, he mouthed "start". Huh? He did it again and finally he mouthed, "that song they play at sports events." OH! The Star Spangled Banner. It honestly never crossed my mind that they'd play the national anthem at a local footrace.

Hundreds of years later the starter finally raised his gun and fired it. That, I heard. I began running and like a wave, dozens of runners washed by me. The front runners for the 5k disappeared way ahead of me. I stayed off to the side until everyone around me was running at my pace.

I looked at my Garmin. It told me I was going at a 9:15 pace. That was OK for now. We moved off the road and onto an asphalt path. My Garmin said 8:45.

The first mile marker came up. A digital clock stood next to it. 9:01. I checked my Garmin. Yup, right on time.

I was running easily. My leg felt good--I hardly felt it. I felt the wrap more than anything else. I decided to try for my original goal of 49 minutes, or for as long as my leg would let me, anyway. It was time to move up. I began passing people. The path was crowded so I ran on the soft grass next to the path, mindful of lumps and bumps in the soil. It wouldn't do to fall flat on my face!

I passed dozens of people. I recognized several that had surged ahead of me at the start of the race. I am slow in my first mile and I had decided to use that to my advantage. I would conserve my energy and try to run each mile faster than the last. So far it was working.

8:10 pace. That was good for now. Mile marker two came up, and then mile marker three. The 5k runners branched off towards the finish line and the 10k runners ran on for another lap.

If I wanted to make 49 minutes, I would really need to push it now. I moved forward. 7:40 pace. I looked for another runner going the pace I wanted and found one. A girl with a long brunette ponytail. I settled in a few strides behind her, checking my Garmin every now and then to ensure I was going the pace that I wanted. Mile marker four came up. It was time to move faster.

I passed Brunette Ponytail. The runners were pretty spaced out by now. I was running easily. I glanced at the Garmin--8:30 pace. Oh, I better go quicker--what had happened? I focused on a man ahead of me. When he heard me approaching, he went faster but I was still able to pass him.

I checked my Garmin--7:15. I realized that it had said 7:30 before, not 8:30. The morning sun was casting long shadows. Or maybe my brain was tired and seeing things.

Probably the latter.

One by one, I focused on people running ahead of me and passed them. They were sometimes a dozen feet away, sometimes hundreds of yards. Each time, my determination carried me past them.

I stayed at the 7:30-7:40 pace. I was astonished that I could do it. Never before in any of my training runs had I run so hard for so long. My head buzzed with exertion. I was blowing hard. Like a racehorse.

I did a quick mental checklist of my body. Everything felt good. My legs felt good. They could go further than my lungs, it seemed.

I passed the five mile marker. Almost there. I thought about stopping. A short walk--just a few steps. It would feel good, it would refresh me. No! I wasn't going to walk. I recognized the wall before me and I pushed on, pushed through. My head sang and I felt loopy. I passed walkers from the 5k.

I got to the branch off towards the finish line. Yes! I ran harder; renewed energy coursed through my legs and I ran harder. Yes! Almost done! Yes!

I got ready to sprint.

But where exactly was the finish line? I knew, thought, it was off to the right. My husband had told me it was over there...somewhere. But here was this race official pointing to my left! Where do I go? I raised my hands as I ran, giving the universal signal of "I don't know".

I went to the left but just as I did, I saw a couple of my coworkers off to the side.

No, no, go right! they said. They pointed to my right.

I stopped, turned on my toes, and sprinted. It was so hard to resume running again after stopping but once I saw the


it was easy, oh so easy. I sprinted as fast as my tired legs would allow.

48:13 flashed the clock as I passed the finish line.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

When two worlds merge....

The other evening, I was in a Walgreens drugstore. I had on my brown barn jacket, black riding breeches, and navy blue muck boots. All of these items were (are) far from clean and somehow, everything seemed dirtier beneath the fluorescent lights of the drugstore.

And of course, nothing matched!

I piled the items in my arms on the cash register counter. Isopropyl alcohol, Betadine, moleskin and blister bandages. Already at home was the sewing needle, Neosporin, and paper towels.

I had a massive blister between my big toe and the toe next to it and an extra-long run planned the next day. I wasn't going to let this blister stop me from running, much less walking (and indeed, at home twenty minutes later and ten minutes before lancing the blister, I was hopping about on one foot).

$23 and change.

I opened my wallet and flakes and leaves of hay fell out and onto the clean white tile floor.

Friday, March 13, 2009

A bumpy road

The road to the show has been bumpy so far—both literally and figuratively!

On Monday I decided to try the first Green as Grass dressage test. Armed with a print-out of the test, I groomed Lim and tacked her up. She seemed to be fairly quiet and I (wrongly) assumed she would behave herself once I was in the saddle.

She was okay at the walk, pretty normal. But as soon as I asked for a trot, she shook her head hard from side to side and did a goofy little jump, then promptly stumbled on the horrible footing in the indoor arena. Right away, I halted her sharply. I was not going to tolerate any clownish behavior from her!

I walked her over to the short arena wall, dismounted, twisted her reins and wove the bridle throatlatch through them, then left her standing like that while I retrieved the lunge line. She watched me with a questioning gaze.

I lunged her for twenty minutes. She cantered hard, on and on and on. She truly had a lot of excessive energy to burn off. I generally don’t like lunging a horse at the canter for so long because I think it’s hard on the legs, but I wasn’t comfortable free-lunging her with her tack on. At a free lunge, she can let loose with spectacular, spine-twisting, hair-raising moves that would make a bucking bronco weep with shame and I wasn’t sure what my tack would do in that situation!

Finally, I stopped her. She took a deep breath and that was it. No hard breathing, no sweat. But I knew she was finally calm enough to ride without being silly.

We performed the dressage test a couple times at a posting trot and a couple times at a sitting trot. Both felt pretty good; I’m not sure yet which option I will go with.

On Wednesday I rode with Steph, the fellow boarder I’m going to the show with. She rode a third boarder’s horse and we both practiced the same dressage test. As a precaution, I lunged Limerick for about ten minutes before getting on her. She shook her head in a silly way once but was otherwise good.

Other than dodging the big craters that have been opening up lately in the arena floor (I guess riding arenas are not exempt from pothole season!), the tests went well. I need to work on picking up my reins from the free walk on a long rein; it is kind of a clumsy maneuver for me and Limerick gets excited when I do so because she knows I will ask her to do something at any second.

She was a very good girl!

Yesterday I had a casual ride—no dressage intended. Note that I used the word “intended”. Limerick was not spooky or silly but she was a little rebel! She let loose with a good solid buck (I clearly felt both hind legs leave the ground) and I was shocked that she didn’t kick the arena wall. It almost made me laugh because when Lim was young and I would ask her to canter, she often nail the arena wall with a strong buck. The crash of her hooves hitting that wooden wall became a familiar sound to me!

(And as a plus, I became very good at riding a strong buck!)

She bucked a couple other times during the canter, and threw in a baby buck whenever the other horse in the arena went near us.

My typical solution to this kind of behavior is to let the reins go loose and encourage Lim to canter at a good, strong pace on her own around the entire arena a few times. This usually eliminates any “vertical” movement (AKA bucking) and allows her to settle into a nice forward pace once I ask her to work again. But unfortunately, for some reason the other rider in the arena always seemed to be right in front of me, or approaching us right from the side, or right behind us. People, please, if you’re riding near a horse that is bucking and pinning his/her ears, keep away!

In the end I gave up, brought Lim down to a trot, and (since she kept throwing her nose in the air), gently worked her into a collected frame and asked her to move forward. This did an alright job of settling her down, but really nothing would have been better than a good strong canter.

I’ll take it over a spooky attitude, however! At least I know that, no matter how badly Limerick bucks, I can stay with her and ride her through it. With her anxious nature, it’s not quite so easy to do that when she is frightened or on edge.

On a side note, I emailed the barn owner about the arena potholes. Hopefully they will be covered and the arena dragged before someone gets seriously hurt.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Catching up

I am way behind! I have a lot to write about but so little time. I will divide each section up for easy reading!


I saw a doctor on Monday for a routine physical. I jokingly told the nurse that I wanted to make sure I wasn't going to kneel over during marathon training.

Well, I shouldn't have said that!

When the doctor asked if I had any special concerns, I mentioned that I have heart palpitations once every week or so, most likely due to anxiety. I also said that at the end of my runs, it seems like my heart skips a beat--or two!--then plummets down to a normal rate, even as I am walking quickly to cool off.

She ran an EKG as a precaution and it was abnormal. When she sat down with me and told me she had faxed a referral to a cardiologist and that I was to make an appointment with him as soon as possible, I felt like a deer caught in headlights.

I quit smoking for good last August, have been getting 8 or more hours of sleep a night, eat better than anyone I know, and have maybe two glasses of wine a month, and this is what I get?

Once home, I immediately made an appointment with the cardiologist. He was fully booked until March 18th. Great! I need to wait that long? I am not one to sit on my hands and patiently await information. First, my husband called my doctor to see if I could keep running.

I have a 10k--my first race!--coming up and my training for it had been going very well. No way did I want to suddenly stop running.

Next I took a closer look at the EKG. It says sinus bradycardia at the top but I paid that no heed. I looked at the squiggly lines carefully. I couldn't see anything wrong, but what did I know? My husband took a photograph of the EKG, leaving out all the text at the top. I knew a couple nurses so I figured I could ask them to take a look.

Long story short, a nurse and a former paramedic each confirmed the sinus bradycardia--slow heartbeat--and also noted that it looked like a chamber of my heart was trying to throw in an extra beat in between the regular beats. It is not a big deal; athletes often have abnormally slow heartbeats.

The palpitations are probably genuinely anxiety-related, as I had suspected, and the skipped beats at the end of runs are probably due to inadequately cooling down. My doctor got back to us and said yes, you can run, I am just sending you to a cardiologist as a precautionary measure since you are training for a high-altitude marathon.

And so, I had a joyous three-mile easy run, then a wonderful 8.3-mile run on Thursday. After each run I did my best to monitor my heart. If it began to skip a beat, I would break into an incredibly slow jog and that did the trick. Two minutes after each run, I checked my heart rate and each time it was in the mid-80's.

I think everything will be okay. Hey, better this than a heart rate that is too fast!

The Show

There is a very good possibility (forecast says 90% chance) that I will be showing Limerick on April 5th!

I was definitely not expecting to show her so soon. However, another boarder at the barn--whom I was planning to go to shows with--told me about a laid-back schooling dressage show, in an indoor arena, at Fields and Fences in Wadsworth.

I think it would be a perfect opportunity to see how Limerick is at a show environment. Being in an outdoor show is a whole other ballgame; there are many more places for the boogeyman to hide, after all! So this would allow both Lim and I to become accustomed to a show environment without the added stress of outdoor distractions.

On Wednesday we plan to ride the dressage test patterns for the first time! I really have no idea how Lim will do. I haven't been able to ride her much lately (today included, due to nonstop heavy rains and the subsequent flooding) but I had a wonderful ride on her last Wednesday. She was energetic but not spooky and carried herself in a nice, collected frame even though I was not asking for one.

The only way I would not show Limerick if she becomes injured (knock wood!) or behaves so badly during the month that showing is hopeless. But from what I saw last week, I doubt that will be the case.

The Group Run

A couple weeks ago the local running store sent out a mass email inviting women to a "Women's Fun Run". I am not a social creature and almost passed but had to take a second look. A goody bag was being offered as well as coffee and bagels post-run. Hmmm! I am a sucker for free things so that did me in.

The run was yesterday morning. I drove to the store and parked. There were what seemed like hundreds of women (probably only a couple dozen) milling about outside the store. Yikes. I went into the store and walked towards the back and pretended to look at the shoes on the shoe wall. There must have been 50 women and everyone seemed to know someone else. Many of the women seemed to know entire groups of a dozen or so.

It was utterly nerve-wracking!

At one point one of the store employees stood on a chair and spoke but I had no idea whatsoever what she said. I figured I'd just do what I always did in situations like that--follow the crowd.

After what seemed like an eternity of pretending to be interested in shoes and lycra clothing, I realized I had to use the bathroom. I asked the woman immediately behind me where it was and she pointed to the back with a smile.

When I emerged, everyone was beginning to file out the store for the run. Good timing! Eager to get moving, I slipped outside and found myself in the middle of the pack. The sky was heavy with clouds but I had checked the radar earlier and doubted it would rain much.

I was wrong! Five minutes into the run, it began to pour. And hard! Many women were not dressed for the conditions and quickly became soaked. But as one that loathes treadmills and runs outside whenever possible, day or night, rain or shine, I had put on a lightweight jacket and a baseball cap just in case it rained. I was happy in the rain but hoped that it let up soon.

My hearing aid is OK in rain for a few moments but thirty moments of torrential rains could damage it.

I ran around clusters of women and found myself between the two packs at the front. In front of me was a woman in a Boston Marathon '07 jacket. She was wearing shorts and I could only admire her calves, which were enormous and strong. No kidding! You need to qualify in a qualifying marathon before being able to run the Boston Marathon. She looked to be twenty years my senior and it gave me hope for my future as a runner.

The further we ran, the harder it rained. I finished at a sprint, exhilarated by running among others, by the rain. We went up some stairs to a room above the running store. I was soaked to the skin.

Then my hearing aid began to beep weakly. I recognized the beep--it wasn't a dead battery warning beep, it was a Help me, I'm wet and about to malfunction beep. I looked around the room. Bagels and coffee were on a folding table at one end, and chairs were everywhere with coupons and freebies. The wet runners were chattering and taking off their wet outer layers and shoes. More wet runners were tromping and squishing up the stairs to the room.

I saw no point of staying, so I left. Once a lone wolf, always a lone wolf, I guess. It was not a good social experience but it was a fantastic run, and that's what was most important!