WARNING: This post is a touch longer than usual and has a whiff of serious reflection nestled in between patently stupid moves on my part. In a nutshell, the purpose of this post is to share with you where I was fitness wise when I decided to attempt this journey, how I planned to condition up for the stroll, and set the stage for the predictable lunacy to come . (Have you ever wondered where the phrase ‘in a nutshell’ originates, well I did, and it is really cool. click here).
Resting right below my casual mentions of hoofing it across the grasslands of central Africa for a brilliant cause was the clear and present reality of what I was actually about to ask my body to do. And it was a conversation I would have bet against every day and twice on Sunday.(For those of you who found that last sentence awkward, what I am trying to convey is that from 2006 onward I never imagined picking up running again, ever). Besides the fact that it had been about 12 years since I attempted any prolonged effort at running for fitness, my running endorphins were no-shows a few decades ago, heaven knows what was going to propel me along when the miles started to add up on this old chassis. I must admit, in an odd way, I was a bit curious myself as to how the joints and muscles would resurrect themselves.
Perhaps some visual verbiage will bring this point home… asking this 50 plus year old body to spring back in to action should conjure up the image of finding an old tractor, covered in cobwebs and dirt, in the back of a wind-blown barn. With dreams of plowing fields and the Green Acres theme song in your head, you hop onto the dusty seat to crank her up… and all you get is that low, slow rhythm of a battery long past its useful life, content with finally releasing the last of its electrons into the ether.
Nevertheless, for the tenacious(shocked that Microsoft Word indicates tenacious is a synonym for stubborn ;-)) among us we continue to turn the key and crank the engine in hopes that the tempo will change, the pistons glide, and the power of the combustion engine will let loose. And when this does not work, we hop off – not to give up and head home – but to begin Plan B, C, and beyond. We persist because we so want that tractor to spring to life and take us down an untrod path of wonder. And this is what I hoped I could do in the Spring and Summer of 2018.
To recap – and for those who have for some reason skipped over the intro posts in this blog – since 2006 I have contently and with great delight conditioned and trained my equines for 50, 75 and 100 mile endurance competitions. I also amuse my friends with attempting the equally intimidating discipline of Dressage at the nano-knowledge position called Training Level. As an aside – and some might say a public service announcement – equestrians in general are a unique breed of humans engaged in diverse disciplines with their equine partner. Even the most elegant and expert equestrians live moment to moment in a sport like no other. See a primer here.
Well, endurance riders take equestrian sport to a realm all by itself. Endurance riding and competitive trail events can keep you occupied with physical training for several hours a day/7 days a week. Then, when you finally get to competitions they can last from 4 hours to 5 days. One can justifiably classify endurance horseback riding as a strenuous and oft crazy equine endeavor(similar to say, running across expansive savannas). For those of you not familiar with endurance equine events check out the governing body of the American Endurance Ride Conference here. And for an insightful and grin generating blog check here. (NB: in just one of the cool twists of fate in my life I learned about endurance equine riding when I was running across the Gobi Desert, go figure! And thank you Gunner)
There are two significant physical concerns I had to address in my transition back to running from riding. First, in riding one uses significantly disparate muscle and soft tissue groups from its distant cousin endurance running. Second, and the big elephant in the room, (fun pun intended) is the locomotion issue: I had become quite comfortable with having the equine create the energy to propel me over the ground. It is fair to say that endurance riding had kept me ‘mentally conditioned’ just fine!
Out of inevitability and in between bouts of denial, I started to formulate a detailed plan on how to increase my chances to not just cover the ground of the Serengeti adventure, but also maintain a sense of humour and bodily functions as I did so. And lest one of you rapt readers has yet to encounter my heightened sense of planning and stealth-like preparations, rest assured that ever since I received the gateway email in March I was approaching my training quite seriously – albeit with a large dose of perspective. The bottom line was I needed to ensure my body could efficiently turn potential energy into kinetic energy to send me across miles of trail without significant or irreversible bio-mechanical failure. And, if was not possible or wise, that I was comfortable with my plan B and C.
In order to keep this somewhat daunting effort on my part from becoming overwhelming(and start down the slippery slope of not having fun anymore) I chose three basic areas of focus to support my overall goal: 1)acquisition of physical conditioning commensurate with the conditions of the event; 2) testing and procurement of gear; 3) ensuring mental and emotional acuity for the task at hand. For each of these three areas of focus I create what some B-School professors might call a modified decision tree. (Big shout out to a favorite B-School Prof JBL! Can you believe I am doing this? Writing the blog that is 😉). I am constantly asking myself for strategy, tactic and execution for every element stemming from my overall goal. And then I simply make sure that on a daily, weekly and monthly basis small, planned acts move me towards fulfilling these areas. Simple really. Plug and play!
In this way I never felt overwhelmed or defeated or anxious by failure. If I had a horrid joggle one day and could barely make it 5 miles, all I had to do was a mental check as to what was really in the works. Was my strategy sound? Was I consistent in using the best tactics? Was I purposeful in my execution? And did I somehow, in however small a way it might be, further my chances of enjoying this road to the vast plains of Tanzania? Thank goodness for the last question because one can turn any situation into a positive if you look hard enough! Seriously though, having value producing questions to focus on when things get tough produces solution oriented answers to keep your train on the tracks. No one likes going off the rails, so why create the opportunity?
Now, take a moment to congratulate yourself as you are half-way through this particular post! See, the serious stuff is not so bad, and now you have a glimpse into how I mentally tackle adventures (and some might say work and life in general). Well, let’s just see how my fancy plans turned out once the rubber hit the road! (At the risk of using cool metaphors and missing a teachable moment, it is interesting to note that the soles of running shoes are not made of rubber, but ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA), polyurethane, and various other man-made compounds).
1. Acquisition of physical conditioning commensurate with the conditions of the event
I know the importance of stretching- everyone tells you to do it, shoot, I told my athletes non-stop for years to do it. Hundreds of practices started with pretzel poses and dynamic stretching contortions. However, and I know it is a strong word, I-h-a-t-e-s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g. Yet, in a half-hearted nod to Father Time I knew stretching and warming up would greatly increase my chances of freeing this semi-seized body and significantly decrease my chances of a self-inflicted and senseless injury. I figured before I even tried to trot down the driveway and recapture my physical fitness of yester-decade I better plan on a stretching regime.
In a moment of caffeinated euphoria, I hit upon an idea to make stretching ‘fun’ and different – something I could embrace and look forward to. I would use everyday implements from around the farm to stretch and build strength. Although I had never seen or researched cross-fit, I figured I was doing some rural form of the popular fitness craze. I cast my gaze around the farm and my eyes rested on the 3 board fence that surrounds my pastures. (for those of you who are not familiar with three board fence it is a fence made of 3 boards roughly 18 inches, 3 feet and 5 feet off of the ground).
The plan was to loop my ankles and similar joints around and through the fence to stretch- sort of like channeling Mr. Miagi from the Karate Kid to help me ‘be one’ with stretching. (wax on, wax off and such).
I chirpily approached the fence with visions of gazelles and vast grasslands in my mind and with my back to the fence and Pruf, I looped my ankle over the first board and leaned forward striking that ‘runners on your mark’ pose. I had one leg on the ground and streeetched my body forward, allowing my looped leg to hold my cantilevered body over the earth. For a moment I felt the hamstring begrudgingly give, then all at once release, let out a pop, and ‘poof’ I was in the push-up position. I had officially launched my stretching routine and induced my first injury in less than 3 seconds. Awesome!
My training regime hit a snag before I even gained forward motion – amazing really if you think about it. As I gingerly walked back to the house I mentally skipped from berating myself for my alternative stretching idea to congratulating myself for wisely avoiding the dangers of stretching all these years. Once seated on an ice pack, I began to assess the situation – my strategy for building strength in my muscle groups was sound, the tactic(stretching) was sound… however, the execution was perhaps a bit ambitious and not age appropriate. Not only did I think a more sedate stretching regime was warranted, I also thought that I needed a footnote to my general strategy… just arrive in the Serengeti without a self-inflicted injury.
The real bonus here though is that my equine medical skills kicked right in to mitigate any damage. As horse people are want to do, I treated my three board hamstring injury with the equine modalities at my disposal. Ice, laser, NSAID’s, ther-a-plate, PEMF, and the dreaded r-e-s-t. After a few days there was minimal pain – provided my motion was a straight line and speed was limited to a fobble pace (fast-hobble). So, it was officially on day 5 of training for this adventure that I actually made noticeable forward motion in an upright manner. And just like that I started my trek towards the vast plains of the Serengeti – fobbling out of my driveway, along the limerock road, and into the Goethe Forest.(Check out the Goethe Forest here and the sundry other natural wonders of Florida – we are way more than South Beach and Disney World.)
In fact, it was on one of my wanders in the Goethe that I came upon my avatar, not once, but repeatedly. It reminded me of Aesop’s fable of the tortoise and the hare. I took this as a terribly obvious sign… slow and steady with the body and with a bit of good fortune the adventure just might happen. You know, I might be the last one to finish the day’s journey out there with the gnus and gazelles, but I’ll be darned if I don’t find something cool in just about every step, hobble or fobble I take. Onward. (Queue music)
And a HUGE congratulations for those of you that made it to this point, you DID it! Finished the longest post yet. And for that I have linked some silly videos of conditioning horses in the Goethe in the summer (the videos of me running are underwhelming to say the least).
And wait, there is more! Another video of my time saving landscape trick… this running necessitates other time saving measures be implemented 😉