Thursday, January 01, 1998

Endurancaholics Anonymous - Angie McGhee

My name is Angela; I am an endurancaholic. I`ve been told that once you admit your addiction, you`re halfway to conquering it. I somehow doubt that`s true. "What are the warning signs?" you ask. "How do you know when you go from just being an occasional "social" distance rider to being a full fledged endurancaholic?" There are many tell tale signs we ignore along the way, but the convicting evidence is riding in spandex.

Why are some people more likely to succumb to the lure of this often self-destructive quest for the ultimate masochistical trip? Possibly it`s genetic, but peer pressure plays a definite role. It can happen to anyone who spends too much time with "that crowd".

I began to experiment with endurance riding four years ago. My life had become monotonous. I was bored. Sure, a fifty-dollar entry fee was a lot of money, but I thought I`d get a buzz from it just once, then quit.

I sat on my big Appaloosa in my blue jeans and cowboy boots, and looked down (literally) on the other riders in their stretchy pants, and bicycle helmets, on their springy little Arabians. Never! I thought. Then on of the most terminal cases rode by and commented that she started out on a horse just like mine. I should have taken the warning, but we never think things like that can happen to us, do we?

Soon after, I made the switch to riding in running shoes. Though I couldn`t run a quarter of a mile with a pack of Rottweillers at my heels, I told myself the shock absorbency between myself and the stirrups would be beneficial. In no time, I started slipping off from home to run at the local track. It all seems so obvious now, why didn`t I see it coming?

Next came a helmet. I`d ridden for 20 years, and never felt the need for a helmet, but then I never used to trot into trees in the dark either…come to think of it, I never rode in the dark.

The half chaps came with the running shoes. It`s a snowball effect. I took a little ribbing from old friends over all these wardrobe changes, but nothing compared to the bridge I crossed when I got the "Big A," an Arabian horse.

I had been suffering from hallucinations. Every time I looked at my horse, my mind saw a Sherman tank. After a particularly bad night, I woke up with an Arabian horse. My husband was understanding, and forgave me. My Appaloosa friends never did.

I`m ashamed to describe my behavior once I completely gave in to the habit. I would have a craving to ride, and a little voice would whisper, "Just Say No", but then a louder voice would shout, "GO FOR THE GUSTO, HEAD FOR THE MOUNTAINS!" and my willpower would just disappear.

I started staying out hours after dark, leaving a husband and two small daughters at home, with no one to fix supper. I would slip out before daylight, so I wouldn`t have to listen to the pitiful pleas and see the tear filled brown eyes watching out the window as I drove away.

He`s a grown man, I thought, I wish he wouldn`t do that.

I caught myself saying, "I`ve GOT to ride." Old friends dwindled away after the tenth time we turned down an invitation because I HAD to ride. Money that used to go toward regular dental checkups ended up in trailer maintenance. When did I last cook? I don`t know. When was I last home during mealtime? It`s been a while.

One thing was a comfort to me. One small consolation that I had left…I would never ride in spandex. Then, one day I went to a yard sale with my four-year-old daughter. She found a pair of shiny bicycle pants and held them up saying, "Look Mama, I`m a `durance rider." (Yes, we do affect our children.) I gave the lady three dollars and my daughter wore them home. They were a little loose, but not too bad. A few days later I was at home alone, and ran across the pants. Hmmm, I thought, "I wonder how far these things will stretch." The little voice came back again…"This is your backside; this is your backside in spandex…STOP THE MADNESS!" Once more I ignored it. Checking to see that no one was behind the curtains or in the closet, I put one foot in, and started to S-T-R-E-T-C-h them on. Once I got them on, I did a very slow squat to see if any seams looked ready to blow. Next, I stood sideways, looking in the mirror, and tried to suck in my stomach. I considered using a hand mirror to see the rear view, but didn`t have the nerve. I peeled the pants off hurriedly, and put them back where I`d found them.

The next day, I was back. I tried them on with my half chaps. (Horses always look better in shipping boots) There, that looked better…but, "I just couldn`t," I thought, and put them away.

Two weeks later, I was packing my suitcase for a competition…blue jeans, cotton shirt, half chaps. I paused, looked both ways, and dashed to my daughter`s room, wadded up the bicycle pants in my fist, and quickly hid them in a stack of clothes. The weatherman said it might rain. Who wants to ride fifty miles in wet blue jeans?

5:30A.M. Ride morning. I hear rain on the top of the van. "It`s too bad I ate those last two doughnuts," I think, as I force myself into the shiny pants. What was once a narrow racing stripe, becomes approximately the width of a one-lane road, but the seams all appear secure. A long T-shirt should help, especially in the event of a "nylon fatigue" type disaster. I can just picture them getting snagged by a thorn, and exploding like a balloon. All I`d have left to cover myself with would be the surviving four inch square of material…a spandex fig leaf.

What will my family think? I`m so ashamed. I looked good as a barrel racer! I feel as if I just woke up in the gutter, and realized I`ve taken the final plunge. What will my two riding buddies think? We all started this sport at the same time. Will I be on the receiving end of spandex jokes all day?

I ride my horse to the starting line, and listen for my number to be called. The horses walk in slow circles, and the rain comes down. Thank goodness it`s dark. Suddenly, I see Ruth and Lynda. Each of us looks at the other`s spandex clad legs protruding beneath our raincoats. I know what they`re thinking. "I won`t tell anyone back home if you won`t." No one says anything.

I know now that I`ve hit bottom, but there`s a certain satisfaction gained from dragging my friends down with me. I realize it`s not my fault. Endurance riding is not a habit; it`s a disease. There are those of us who are apparently genetically predisposed to contracting it. I deserve pity, not condemnation.

Let`s just hope that in the future, they`ll discover a successful treatment program for us, hopefully before I start doing 100`s. Then they`ll open "Recovery Ranches" out West where our families can send us to be healed. Boy, I hope they have some good trails there!

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