October 18 2011
I have to write about Raptor Run this weekend just because I want to gush some more about how great the ride was. Soooo great! Alabama the Beautiful baby!
If you don't know us, Mike rides Ender & I ride Bird. I've been wanting to try a 100, but not on Bird. Mike wants to try Ender in a 100, but doesn't want to ride it. We're so smart we figured out that I could ride Ender in the 100, problem solved. So this weekend we were testing a ride start strategy that I'm calling Operation Keep Susan Alive because my big fear of riding Ender is that he has a lot of eagerness for the sport & can get, um, revved up at the start. Mike uses Bird's rear end to control Ender in these situations. He sticks Ender's nose into Bird's hind end & doesn't let him see daylight until things have calmed down a bit. Well, I won't have a Bird, & I don't want to die, so I decided that we needed to find a strategy to get me through that first loop by myself. (yes, 100-milers have all told me that 100-mile starts aren't as energetic, but still... this is about me being scared.)
So, to Raptor Run we go, with our strategy. We spent the warm-up way back on a grass hill by the pond waiting for everyone to leave. Lucky for us, it was a controlled start, so our horses didn't hear thundering hooves leaving them, either. Even though we were all alone, we still did a walking start down the paved road & past the steep gravel downhill. Worked like a charm. Ender was a perfect gentleman, calmer than Bird even. We were planning to slowly pick horses off on our way to our favorite spots. (Bird's is mid-pack, Ender's... well Ender wants to keep picking off horses to infinity. He's always looking for the next one & if he thinks he's run out of them, he pouts.)
The first loop was slow, but awesome. (Our start strategy worked, but it might not be the best idea on a ride with lots of riders & lots of single track. We found ourselves at the back of a long, slow line we couldn't get around. waah) But such nice forest, nice trail. I loved it! My horse loved it! We learned later that Jody (ride manager) thought it was the "bad loop." Well, I swear we must have inhaled some sort of pre-historic raptor pixie dust back in those woods that confused our thinking, because we couldn't find any fault in it & I came out loving me some Alabama, even though we made a stupid rookie mistake & added 4 miles to the loop backtracking. I came out saying, "Oh it was just so nice out there, 16, 20, who cares?" (later, when the GPS said 50 miles & I should have been finished, I was a little less pleased. haha)
The second loop was fun, too. We saw a lot of day riders. They were all so nice & some of them we saw over & over & over. I don't know how that was happening exactly, but it was pretty comical. Mike would jokingly say, "There's only one or two ahead of us, right?" & they'd answer, "Oh, no, there's a ton ahead of you! You'd better kick 'em if you wanna catch 'em." haha One of them asked me about the trail, if I knew whether it was "about an hour" back to their camp. I thought how funny that question was because that all depends on how fast you're going! I told him I thought it was about 8 miles & I heard him say to his friends as we trotted away, "She doesn't know." hahaha
Before we had left home, Mike & I had decided we were going to this race to test our strategy (Operation K.S.A.), then otherwise just ride our ride & depending on how things "shaked down" during the race, if we got close to Top Ten in the last loop, I would drop back & he would go for it. Bird had a quiet gut after our last race, so I was giving probiotics a try & wanted to take it easy. We were going to carry radios & I was going to call him & tell him if someone was coming up behind him. haha Like Nascar. Well, we forgot the radios, but when we left out on that last loop, we asked Lance (timer) where we were & he said 11th & 12th! What?! I had no idea we had moved up like that. I was clueless. I know we went straight in to p/r every check, but still....
Sure enough, as we got into that loop, faster riders (the Texans) came up from behind & we had to execute our "shuttle separation" so that Bird could drop back & Ender could go for the gold! I was worried that I would have a problem with Bird when Ender left him, but it worked out ok. I guess he was tired by then & didn't care. We found a place to scoot over & didn't see Mike & Ender again.
At one point when we were alone, my heart rate monitor started beeping at me & it said Bird's heart had spiked to 220 bpm! What? I slowed down to a walk & worried about my horse for a long way. It slowly came down, but was still high, then (too much later) I looked down & the contact pad had slipped around facing the air! Dang it! Why on earth would a HRM spike when it loses contact with the heart?? Why wouldn't it drop to zero? What is up with that?! Anyway, I don't suppose Bird minded the break. I know better than to rely solely on HRM to know how my horse is doing, so that was sort of a dumb mistake. I turned it off.
We ended up Ender squeaked into the 10th place spot & got to stand for BC. He got high vet score! Yaay! (Mike noticed that he maxed out on the weight portion of the scoring - heehee - my 100-miler horse is being conditioned heavy weight. He & I are gonna soar!!) Bird & I got in about an hour later, 17th. Mike had a run-in with his big (heavy >g<) western saddle, so he was hurting. Somewhere on one of the steep parts, he leaned up over the horn & Ender did a hop to get up the step & drove that horn up under Mike's ribcage & it got stuck! He had to lean up to "unhook" it. Ouch! He's heading to the doctor as I write this, so let's hope that turns out ok.... [[update: He'll live. It's only a cracked rib.]] Oh yeah, & Mike is saddle shopping. Endurance style.
For a first time managing, Jody Buttram sure did seem like she knew what she was doing. She did a great job, prayed up some great weather, & surrounded herself with great help. (I haven't competed in any other region, but I swear we must have the best & nicest group of people working endurance rides anywhere. It's hard to even describe how good they all are, in every way.) Everything was just great! Jody had awards for everything you can imagine, this ridiculously tasty Flintstones-looking slab of meat on a bun for dinner, a perfectly Alabaman guitar player, & lots of dancing under a big tent under a big moon with coyotes singing background. Love.
If you live anywhere even remotely close to north Alabama & didn't make it to the ride, I'm sad for you & hope that Jody does it again so you can do it next year. The trail is technical. Strangely, I didn't realize it at the time, even when I was taking all day to complete it. I heard people talking about it being technical, but I thought they were exaggerating. At the awards ceremony, I was stunned at the ride times. (almost 7 hours for the 50-mile winner?) I thought they were accidentally reading off the total times with holds included. I still didn't believe it until I read my card the next morning & sure enough, I had been out there on trail almost 9 hours! Really? (Bird says, "Yes, really.") There were several steep, deep-step, rock "staircases." I remember saying, "Uuugh" a lot going down them, but they were neat. (Bird says "neat" is not the right word.) Anyway, it's difficult without seeming difficult. Or maybe I was just mesmerized by that forest & everything seemed fun to me. Or maybe it was the raptor dust? Either way, next year, y'all all need to come!! Bring a tough horse, do a tough ride, and maybe it will cast a spell on you like it did me, & you'll have a good, relaxing, fun time, too!