Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Self-Doubt & Loathing

I had a bit of a meltdown in my jumping lesson last week. I'm still not even quite sure what happened. I do know that I was nervous all day for the impending lesson, but that's not anything new. I just started riding and I felt like I couldn't ride to save my life. I was full of self-doubt, convinced that I just Cant. Do. This. I'm not really sure where that was coming from.

When we started jumping I just felt so unfocused, not sharp and questioned every tiny decision I was making. I also was sort of hyperventilating a little bit and was light-headed. I was riding a jump course, generally about the height that I have been competing at, with one or two jumps maybe a smidge higher (but not by much). I had jumped half the course, had just finished a line down the long side, when I pulled up and said that I just couldn't do it anymore that day. I really kind of lost it and a week later, I'm still not really sure why. Nothing bad had happened, Ruby was acting fine. I just suddenly had a real loss of confidence for some reason. I don't know, I'm a bit of a freak, I guess.

This sort of illustrates a general on-going refrain in my life overall. Self-doubt, self-loathing, insecurity, lack of confidence that I can accomplish ___ (fill in the blank with whatever I'm worried about at any given point). With my new running program, it's more of the same thing. I am filled with thoughts of 'who do you think you are ... '. As I struggle to complete whatever running intervals that are on the schedule for any give day, I am completely self-conscious and mortified to see other people while I'm out trying to struggle through. It can totally get into my head and kill any ability to continue running. With work? Well, I don't even want to talk about work.

I have to figure out how to create more self-confidence in my life. This really affects everything from, being successful in my job, to feeling like I am able to have the lifestyle that I want to have. I am such a head case, it's just so strange how cyclical this can be. I can be going along, everything is fine and crash! I'm just a mess of doubt and self-loathing. Of course allowing the self-doubt to cause a meltdown such as with the jumping last week breeds even more self-loathing and utter disappointment in myself. It's just a vicious, ugly circle.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Running Program: Week 1

Scheduled: 1 minute running, alternated with 2 minutes walking, x10 -- 30 minutes total.
Actual: 1 minute running, alternated with 2 minutes walking, x10 -- probably a little more than 30 minutes, maybe 40. *

This ended up being harder than I expected it to be, especially after the class on Saturday where, instead of alternating 1 min. running to 2 mins of walking, we alternated laps of the indoor track, so our running intervals ended up being longer than one minute each. By the end of each minute of running on Monday, I was really looking at my watch for the count-down of the last few seconds. I'm not sure if maybe I was running a little faster than we had for the class, if it was the effects of running out on the road, or maybe the humidity (because, even though it was fairly cool, it was also humid), but it was definitely harder on me than I had expected. I was glad to have the plan though that forced me to do this ten times, it definitely pushed me a bit. In order to complete it, I had to overlap the neighborhood loop, but I got it done.

Scheduled: 30 minutes easy walk.
Actual: 1 hour trail walk with some longer (longer than 1 minute) running intervals.

The pressure was off for running since the schedule only called for an "easy" walk. Not sure what they mean by that, but it didn't sound too interesting, nor did it sound like there was much benefit to it, so I figured the least I could do was some good trail walking with some steep bits. I wasn't sure if I was actually going to also do some running until I was out there, but once I was on the trails I did feel somewhat inspired to run. What I did was first run the entire Beaver Path. I had not run this in its entirety in about two years or so, so it was definitely a challenge to me. But managed to do it. Barely. Total running interval was 2 minutes, 30 seconds. Not really all that long, but it was hard for me, I really had to push myself to keep running. Now, there is a fair amount of uphill to this path, particularly in this direction, but still, having this much trouble with 2.5 minutes of running does not bode well for my success with this program. After the Beaver Path, it was some road walking to get to the North East Trail Loop. Some steep and technical walking to the top of that trail and then a lovely, lovely long running interval down the other side. I think this is my favorite place to run on all the trails at work. There is such a nice, long downhill, and then you hit a relatively level part of the trail for a good piece, but because you've got the momentum and rhythmn of the sweeping downhill established that it carries over for a good while on the level parts. This long patch of trail can actually bring me back and remind me of what it feels like to be able to run. I don't like to do it too often because I feel like it will lull me into some kind of complacency, but it sure does feel great when I allow myself this indulgence. I wish I had timed this section, but I didn't think of it in time and so I don't know how long this running interval was. It was longer than the 2.5 minutes though. From there I got on the Rock Ledge trail, technical, rocky & rooty for most of it with lots of steep parts, so I walked it all. And then the fire road where I threw in three more shorter running intervals (1-1.5 minutes each).

Scheduled: 1 minute running, alternated with 2 minutes walking, x10 -- 30 minutes total.
Actual: 1 minute running, alternated with 2 minutes walking, x10 -- probably around 40 minutes. *

It was a perfect day for running, cool & crisp with no humidity at all. I found the running intervals easier to do than they were on Monday, hmmmm, interesting. The time also seemed to go much more quickly overall. I chose a running route around the paved roads on the company campus, with one section on a fire road. It was almost completely flat. I did not want to venture onto the trails as I didn't want terrain or hills or anything else to interfere with the intervals. It worked out very well and actually ended up being enjoyable. Imagine that?

Scheduled: 30 minutes easy walk.
Actual: 40 minutes of trail running & walking (appx. 2.5 miles).

Work was a little crazy, so I didn't have as much time as I wanted. I decided to do the "Duck Pond" trail loop, I haven't been out there for about two years. It was quite pleasant and I even ran up a bunch of the hills. I also saw a big snake along the way and wished that I had a camera with me. It was a gorgeous day, and a particularly nice one for running. Cool & crisp & clear.

Scheduled: 1 minute running, alternated with 2 minutes walking, x10 -- 30 minutes total.
Actual: 1 minute running, alternated with 2 minutes walking, x10 -- 40 minutes? *

I had a real struggle with myself to get out for this one. I had had a crazy, insane Thursday and so spent most of the day pretty exhausted. Plus it was a dreary, rainy, cold-ish, gray day, the kind of day where it's very nice to cuddle with a few dogs on the couch. I work from home most Fridays, so I went out on my lunch hour back to my neighborhood loop and I brought Tig with me. The intervals seemed to go pretty uneventfully, but again I felt that that the running parts were harder than I would have liked. Tig was great, I can run with him holding the leash with one finger and he'll just stick with me, no problem. Of course, he probably wishes we would run more, and faster.

I'm pretty happy that I managed to do everything that was on the schedule for this program. It was particularly tough this week because I was on-call for work, so that did throw a few complications my way. I felt that the run intervals for week 1 were completely doable and I felt good enough that I even did some trail running on the days I was supposed to just do an "easy walk". I actually managed to cover a total of 17 miles this week!

I'm concerned, however. Tomorrow we bump up to intervals of 4 minutes running / 1 minute walking. To me, this seems like a huge leap from 1 minute walking / 2 minutes running. After doing my running sessions this week, I am having a hard time believing that I will be able to run for intervals that long. I don't even want to think about the 15 minute intervals that are on the schedule for a couple weeks from now (I guess I'll worry about that when I get to that week). So, we'll see. I'm sure we will doing the longer intervals in class tomorrow morning, so I'll see how doable it really is.

Most of all, I'm proud that I didn't blow anything off. This is why I need this program right now, it gives me that extra push to get out the door. I'm happy that I could do the assigned running intervals and didn't need longer recovery times. At least I know I can continue doing that, if the next step proves to be impossible for me.

(*Note: The time added to the 30 minute interval days was added walking time before and after each workout).

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Structuring a Running Program

So, I've been thinking that I have to take this running thing (and cross-training, in general) more seriously. Running is my main focus in this for a lot of reasons: it's an activity that can be done without too much logistical worry, if I can't make it to a gym, I can go out the door at work on a lunch hour, I can use the treadmill at home, or whatever. I feel that it can have a high return of benefit for not a huge investment of time. In other words, you can get a lot out of running for a half an hour. It makes your legs strong and is one of the best things for cardiovascular/aerobic conditioning. And mostly, I really like how I feel when I'm running consistently.

One of my big problems is motivation. I've always struggled with this and getting geared up into a running program for me is particularly tough because it takes me a long time before I am able to run an interval of more than a minute or so at a time. Getting to a point where I can run, say, five miles will take months. Maybe a year. At least historically that's been my experience and that was when I was starting out in reasonable shape. So, the fall-out factor for me is high, it's easy to get discouraged and give up. It also takes me a long time before I'm mostly enjoying the running, I may have a moment of bliss here & there, but runner's high? Nope. That's months & months or work and pain down the road. The only runner's high I'll be feeling is the rush of euphoria once the run is over, although sometimes that is enough of a payoff to keep me going.

So, overall, I like the idea of running, I like the potential benefits, I like the way it makes me feel (both physically & mentally), it is the activity that is probably the easiest to insert into my busy schedule. But I recognize that it is going to take more commitment, planning and mental toughness than I've been expending thus far. So, when I saw that the Y was offering an intro running class ("Run a 5K in 8 Weeks"), I thought that maybe this would help put some structure around my desire.

Today was the first class and I feel like it went pretty well. It's a bit tough to commit to be be at the Y every Saturday morning by 8 AM, but once I was out and about, I actually preferred the early hour. Most of all I liked the company and the camaraderie of the other women in the class (interesting that there were no men). There were about 10-11 of us in varying states of fitness. I would say that I am at the lower end of the scale, although, at each run interval, I was always one of the runners at the front (competitiveness maybe?) For today it was fine, but as we progress through the weeks, I'm sure the disparity in fitness levels will sort the group out more. The goal for today was to run one interval (one lap) around the indoor track alternated with an interval of two walking laps, x 10. When it was finished, we had covered a total of three miles. This was easy, so that was a relief, but I know that it is going to get progressively harder each week and if I'm not doing the necessary work during the week, I'll fall behind very quickly. I am hoping that this will help motivate me to keep going during the week on my own. I want to feel confident going into each class that I'll be able to keep up!

Anyway, so I'm encouraged so far. I hope I can keep my enthusiasm going. I'm also hoping to have a decent enough running program established that I can carry it through the Winter a little more easily. January is a tough month to be kicking off a brand new running program, after all. I am also hoping at some point that it will help me start to lose some weight and that it will also benefit my riding.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Am I ready to move up?

(the answer is "no", by the way)

Alison (my trainer) recently sent out the new lesson schedule for Fall and I noticed that she had moved some people around so that now my Wednesday night lesson is comprised of three girls who are competing at a level above me and, well, me. Gulp. I would say that this caused me some concern. Yep, that would be pretty accurate.

So, this week was my first jumping lesson with the new group and I can say that I spent a lot of the day leading up to the lesson somewhat anxious and tense. It worked out pretty well, though, after all that worry. After our warm-ups she had a course set more or less max for BN level (my level) with a couple of jumps at N level (next level up), so I didn't end up doing a whole course at the higher level, but did the few bigger jumps sprinkled in as part of my jump courses. I'm a little proud of myself because I didn't allow myself to get too freaked out and the bigger fences actually ended up jumping rather nicely, I didn't seem to have any problem at all. Perhaps this is part of Alison's Evil Plan, sneak these bigger jumps in on me one at a time until one day I look around and realize that I'm doing whole courses of them. We'll see how this goes, I definitely feel like I'm going to be somewhat out of my comfort zone on the weeks I have a Wednesday jumping lesson, but perhaps that is a good thing. Am I ready to move up? No. But I feel like I am taking the right steps to maybe do so next season. If I had been more aggressive about my show schedule this Summer maybe I could have tried this Fall, but I'm in no hurry after all.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Valinor Farm HT: 8.29.2010

I have not signed up for a lot of competitions this season. There are a number of factors affecting this: first, I lost a bit of confidence with some of my riding mishaps earlier in the year. Even though the Groton House Summer Classic ended up working out pretty well, I still came away from that event feeling like I had ridden very poorly, most of that was related to soreness and minor injury resulting from a fall a few days before, but the bottom-line was, I sucked and almost felt like I didn’t belong there. My schedule has been a real challenge this year. Now that I am part of our operations on-call rotation, I don’t feel like I can sign up for a competition that follows an on-call week, since I can’t guarantee that I’ll have the prep time available to me during the week. Also, it’s expensive! My budget has been pretty tight, and I’m finding it hard to justify the cost. Still, I’m an eventer (I like saying that) and eventers compete in events, so I could not let the season go without competing in at least ONE sanctioned event. So, I signed up for the Valinor Farm Horse Trials.

It’s funny, but, despite my issues with lack of confidence, overall I feel that my riding this Summer has been going pretty well. Ruby and I have established a strong partnership, I feel that our flatwork has really turned a corner, I’m much braver jumping and definitely am better (but nowhere near perfect) at the balance + forward thing. We have been hacking out a lot more this year, both in company and on our own. Our bond is stronger, Ruby can no longer truly be called “green”, I’m a little more solid in my skills, in general I really SHOULD be in a good position to move forward and be a relatively strong competitor. However, when it comes to participating in an actual competition, I kind of fall apart. I guess it’s all nerves and it could be argued that if I went to more horse trials, the nerves wouldn’t be nearly so bad. Yeah, I know, I know. But between the nerves and knowing what an exhausting, marathon weekend each competition will be, I just DREAD it when I know something is coming up. On the flip-side of that is the fact that I always (with maybe the very rare exception) walk away from a competition on a total, glowing high, completely thrilled with my horse and so very, very happy that I did it. Conflicted much?

As has become the routine for going to a HT, I got up around 3:30 AM. What I did differently this time was take an Ambien before going to bed, so I actually had managed to have some amount of sleep. The pill had worn off before 3:30 and I woke up before my alarm, so it really seemed to work out well. With a show, it is expected that it is going to be an incredibly long day, what was different for me this time was that I had actually had some sleep, so I did not feel quite as horrible as I have for some of the others that I’ve been to. Another thing that is typical for me with these competitions is I always seem to have late ride times which leaves me with a lot of time to sit around and contemplate my rides, and thus become increasingly nervous.

My ride time for dressage was 11:20 AM and the day had heated up quite a lot by the time I was on the horse. There is nothing quite like riding a steaming horse, on a steaming hot day, in a high collar, stock tie and black wool dressage coat. After about twenty minutes or so of warm-up, I thought that I was going to expire on the spot. Anyway, otherwise warm-up was relatively uneventful. I felt that Ruby was nicely focused on the work, not too distracted by the goings on. I did have a bit of a struggle getting a good forward pace out of her though. Who could blame her with it being in the mid-90s and all? The warm-up areas were not at all crowded and were actually very pleasant, which one doesn’t always find at these events. Overall, I have to say that my dressage warm-up was not a bad experience at all.

My dressage test, however? Well, that is another story. Let me just say that I was incredibly tense from the get-go. My tension translated down to Ruby and we really ended up fighting each other for most of the test. I look back on our Groton House test with such fondness, because in that one there was such nice rhythmic harmony. This test just did not flow, Ruby and I kind of muscled each other around the ring and basically just got through it. Some of the comments include, “fussy in the bridle”, “needs longer steps”, “swinging head”, “fussy, tossing head”, “could be more accepting”. I am a tiny bit proud about the comment for our left lead canter however, “fairly round” is a big compliment (and represents a HUGE improvement) for us. Even the right lead canter didn’t have any real terrible comment, “above the bit” is actually not too bad considering where we came from. But overall, the test was not very good. I still feel that it’s an improvement over last year, but not truly representative of the work we are currently doing. Still, a dressage test is only, and can only be, a snapshot of a moment of time and in this moment, Ruby and I were not working together, but against each other and it really is all my fault. Her warm-up was nice, but then I lost it in the test by being a tense wreck.

My time for stadium jumping was not until 1:46 pm, so this gave me plenty of time to walk the cross-country course a couple of times. Nothing on the course alarmed me. Actually, I can’t remember the last time I saw anything on a BN course that made me goggle, but one thing I did note was that there was A LOT of terrain involved with this course. It looked to be a constant roller coaster of up and down hills and I wondered how that would affect my ride. The stadium course also had a terrain element. It was in a field and there was one hill in particular that you had ride up and down a number of times during the course that I knew was going to be a factor in my ride.

It was such a hot day. I really dreaded putting that (black wool) dressage coat and stock tie back on. DREADED IT. I watched others warming up for stadium and noted that there seemed to be half-and-half people in show coats vs those in white collared tech shirts. I stood there for about ten minutes waffling but then decided that I was going to go the tech shirt route. I mean, it was about 95 with the sun just beating down. I could not face that coat again.

Decision made, I got Ruby and myself ready and over to the warm-up. Again I was pleased with the warm-up situation. Stadium was crazier than the dressage warm-up had been, but there was adequate room for the most part. I was not as overwhelmed as I can get in these situations. Our warm-up canter and jumps went pretty well and very soon I was waiting for my turn at the In Gate. I generally get pretty nervous for stadium, but I felt relatively okay, considering, and all too soon I was on course. Alison has been trying to beat into my head the forward + balance concept. Most times I seem to be able to carry it off, but I’m not completely consistent yet. We started off nicely over fence #1 and then it was a turn down the significant down hill on the course. You had to do some good balancing at the bottom as you turned the corner and then head up a hill to #2. Watching other stadium rounds, I had noticed that this had been a problem fence for a lot of people, lots of rails were brought down. You had to get your horse back enough after that down hill, you needed to do some good balancing work in the corner and then needed some good forward to power up the hill to that fence. And being #2 on the course, it was easy to not yet have that good, rollicking momentum and rhythm going that was needed to ride that jump correctly. I had this in mind as I rode and I can say that it rode very well for us. Most of the course went that way. I can say that some of the bending lines I took were maybe a bit questionable, there were maybe two jumps that were a little stickier that I would have liked (I did not have the right amount of forward to those), but overall I would say that our course was pretty steady, consistent and good. I think we rode the terrain well and for the most part had the exact right pace. We got the desired two strides at the in-and-out at the end and were through the finish flags and were double clear! As always after a course like this, I felt this rush of pride for Ruby. She is such a star!

Unfortunately, coming out of the stadium ring, it was quickly apparent that Ruby was suddenly lame. I jumped off and we saw that she had somewhere and somehow thrown a front shoe. Luckily there was a farrier on the grounds and he was able to fix her up and, after walking it off and resting a bit, she was completely fine and sound again. But that was a pretty scary moment.

Unlike many of the other events that I have done, this was arranged with three distinct ride times, so there was no going directly to cross-country after my stadium round. In this case it obviously worked to my advantage as otherwise I would have had to scratch with Ruby’s shoe issue. Luckily for us, our XC was not scheduled until 4:46 PM which gave a good amount of time for Ruby to recover. Normally I would hate all that waiting around (and it had it’s element of stress), but this time that wait was pretty welcome as it gave Ruby the recovery time needed from the bobble.

One thing I dislike about not being able to go straight to XC from stadium is the necessity to go through another warm-up situation. But the XC warm-up at Valinor was pretty laid-back and relatively stress-free, well, except for horses galloping up the hill to the XC finish behind the warm-up ring which sent Ruby into a bit of a spin. But by then I think she was just getting a bit hyped up for her turn. Very soon it was our turn to head to the start box.

After the start it was a short gallop across a field to (what I considered) a pretty max size (for the level) stone wall with a tree trunk/log on top. We got a really nice pace established and it rode beautifully. From there, it was a turn back the other way and then up a very steep hill to a black log at the top. Then a blue bench and then it was a turn into the woods. Then it was a nice gallop through the woods until the path took a turn down a hill. The last downhill bit I trotted as I felt it was a bit steep and the footing had been chewed up a bit at this point. It was a turn around some trees, reestablishing a canter and head for the #4 jump, a moss-covered cordwood pile. Ruby was a little squirrelly here as it was sort of a spooky spot. But I firmly put my leg on, and she was over it without any real hesitation.


After the cordwood, you followed the trail back up a hill. It was a good gallop up a hill and into a new field. Once you entered this field, it was a turn up an even steeper hill to a jump made of tires at the very top. I remember thinking that jump looked big when walking the course, but a lot of that was because you are mostly looking at it from the bottom of this very steep hill. Riding it, you really had to push the momentum up this hill. We rode it well enough, but it was definitely a sitting back on the hocks kind of jump. From here it was a rolling down hill, around a turn and back up a hill to a log that was set into the hill that jumped almost like an up bank (although, it was not technically a bank). Farther up the hill was a log pile and then it was a turn across the field and to the water complex. Alison had advised I trot this as the last time she had galloped Ruby through water, she had been so into it, she had launched herself into the complex. So, I managed to get her down and then it was a strong, bouncy trot through the long water feature. Picked up a gallop on the other side, it was down a hill, up another hill and then to a pyramid of rail ties at the top of that hill.



Down a hill directly after the rail ties, across a field and back UP a hill (see what I mean about the terrain element?) to a hanging log combination at the top of the hill. Jump in, four comfortable strides and then jump out. A turn to the left, down a hill and to a tiny ditch. Now the thing with the ditch ... when we were walking the course, the jump itself was not worrisome, but the question was whether the horses would even SEE it, and especially at this point in the course where presumably you’re rolling along pretty strongly, particularly after flying down that hill. Yeah. So, Ruby and I are flying down the hill and I’m reeling her in and bring her back, getting her off her forehand and paying attention to me and what was coming. When walking the course I had thought that maybe we would come back to a trot there to pop over the ditch, but once we were on course our pace was so nice and she was so in the zone that I just didn’t want to do it. I needn’t have worried, however, as she listened to me nicely, saw the ditch and just flew over it.

Red House:

A gallop across the field, up another good hill and then over a red house jump at the top of it. Another jump that had looked relatively large when walking the course since it was sitting at the top of the hill. A turn across the rest of the field, and then exiting the field down another wooded path. Now, I have to admit, in other cross-country runs, this would be exactly the type of spot that I would use to trot a bit to catch my breath, to reel myself in, to get a handle on my adrenalin and the rushing “OMG OMG” emotions. It was tempting, but this time I kept the pace. Ruby was ON, we were so in sync, our pace just felt wonderful and we were both having such a blast. So we kept going, I suppressed my usual need to get a grip on myself. Through the woods, down another hill (kept the pace this time) and over a narrow coop out of the tree line. A turn to the left, down a wooded road, a little detour up into a wooded patch to a jump that looked kind of like wood sled with a pile of rocks. Back out of the woods, a turn across the road, yet another steep hill, sharp turn and over the last jump, whiskey barrels, and a gallop through the finish flags. Of course I forgot to stop my XC watch, but I had checked it at the second to last jump and we had had 1:05 left there, so I knew that we were good on time -- turns out we were something like 43 seconds under the optimum time, which is a serious accomplishment for me!

We both finished the course on a high. Ruby just strutted and pranced and wanted to know if there was more (probably disappointed that there wasn’t). I hadn’t done a cross-country course in a long time, so I was pretty much on cloud 9. I was very proud of Ruby (as always), but I was also proud of my willingness to keep the good pace going throughout the entire course and finishing with that good time cushion. It turns out that this paid off for me as I managed to break a tie for 8th place with my time, earning myself the ribbon.

Overall it was a fabulous day and I ended the experience on a real high and completely thrilled with my horse. I have been reliving that awesome XC run in my head ever since! Things that I learned:

* Find a way to relax for Dressage. Your horse is learning her job and is quite capable of a respectable test. Trust her.
* Don’t let stadium freak you out. Establish a good pace and know that this will bring the jumps to you.
* Think about the quality of the canter, balance in between the jumps and especially in the corners.
* Be more careful about the lines you plot (stadium).
* On cross-country, don’t be afraid to gallop, gallop, gallop!
* Remember that Ruby loves this and is more than game & willing for the job.
* Relax and enjoy yourself.