Getting Back on the Horse if You Don’t Own One

Circa 1966.  I was spending a few weeks at a Girl Scout camp outside of Prescott, Arizona.  Ten years old, ridiculously tall, gangly, and bespectacled, I had tried my best to get with the whole Girl Scout program.  I ate the cookies, memorized all of the inner workings of my GS swiss-army-style knife, and even had an official GS flashlight, which came in handy when traversing the woodsy path to the Pine-Sol-reeking outhouse in the dark.  And being girls, we all were supposed to be totally in love with horses, so the trail rides were very popular, along with The Beatles and Cheez Whiz.

I didn’t have much horseback riding experience, but I knew the basics.  I knew, for example, that I preferred the horse to walk rather than to trot, because all it seemed to do was jiggle my skinny body around.  These horses were seasoned Girl Scout transporters, and they knew it.  We weren’t there to do anything exciting.  These horses were destined for a summer life of soul-crushing boredom.

When you’re a tall girl, you get the big horse.  Period.  I wound up with a gigantic, black horse named Tony, the proverbial Italian Stallion.  Never mind the fact that I had marginal strength and riding skills, the short nag named Madge went to my miniature friend, Mindy.  I am also fairly sure that Tony, given his name, was Italian, and thus began a lifelong karmic thing between me and Italian men/horses.  But that’s a subject for another day, you’ll be pleased to hear.

This was the last trail ride of the summer for us.  Tony and I were near the front of the long line of fidgeting Girl Scouts on this wicked hot, summer day.  We meandered down a dirt road, where we could see the softball field of the nearby Boy Scout camp, verböten territory to us.  Suddenly, a stray softball pierced the outfield and flew across the road.  Tony took this to mean that this was the start of the apocalypse he’d been worrying about, and he took off like the proverbial bat-horse out of hell.  Head high, he quickly passed the horses in front of him to lead the full-on stampede, away from the stray ball’s deadly range of impact.

Tony had instantly moved from a pathetic lumber to a full-on gallop, leaving me to hang on for dear life to the reins, my skinny calves hugging the saddle as best I could.  I had no experience with this kind of situation, since the only things I had been that physically scared of up until this point of my life were Mr. Kennedy, (my fifth-grade teacher) and my father.  Physical danger of this sort was not in my lexicon.

Tony showed no signs of letting up.  I hung on for what seemed like an eternity, but was actually probably just a few minutes, and eventually ran out of adrenaline and strength.  I fell off the horse, hit my head on a rock in the road, and blacked out.

This could explain so much.

When I came to, one of the camp counselors, Finessa (her camp nickname, which came from being a good Bridge player, which we didn’t think qualified her for camp counseling, but what the hell did we know) was bent over me, asking me if I was OK.  I was rattled, bleeding, but otherwise, yes, I was OK.  After few stitches in my head, my parents were called, and I got an extra dessert that night.

Not a bad day, overall.

A few days later, I went back home and tried to put Tony behind me until the next year, at a different, co-ed camp, where horses pulled carts, which I much preferred over the unpredictability of a trail ride.  I had a crush on the cart-horse instructor, who taught us how to hook up the cart and ride in circles.

Now, there’s a life skill for you.

So, bottom line, I did not get back on the horse for a while.

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This has proven to be a problem, like for instance, now.

Because of some combination of poor planning, laziness, karma, and irrational exuberance, I injured my right hip after a half-marathon last July.  I won’t bore you with the details because you’ll probably start to cry and that would make me even more cranky.  It’s not like I’m some über-runner who freaks out if she can’t run for a day or two.  In truth, my already-waning running mojo after ten years has completely tanked, when forced to sit on the sidelines for six months.

And then we had such a ghastly winter here in Boise, that it was a blessing to be limping around for months instead of running:

  • Our driveway was so full of ice for so many weeks that only a Navy Seal could have made down it to the actual road to get the mail.

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  • The amount of snow we had to shovel was roughly equal to the McMurdo Ice Shelf in Antarctica, so who could run after shoveling all of that?

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  • Our dogs audibly sighed every time they had to go outside and navigate the feet of snow/ice that accumulated and made it impossible to find a good-smelling place to poop.

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On top of the unprecedented snowfall was an unprecedented, soul-crushing workload, which I won’t bore you with, except to say that the only exercise most of us have gotten is using a corkscrew within five minutes of arriving home.  I mean, it’s something, right?

Most of us in Boise are very tired of the word “unprecedented.”

And let’s not forget the election, Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds’ unexpected deaths, and a bad bout of the flu over New Year’s.  Even the simple and wonderful things, like meeting a good friend for lunch, became a life-threatening act, having to navigate the ice-covered parking lot.

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Long story short:  I have fallen off of a veritable stable of horses:  Running, eating well, exercising, getting enough sleep, writing, studying Italian on a regular basis, enjoying quality time with anyone except my colleagues, if that.  Life’s just been stupid for months.

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So, now it’s March.  The snow is finally off the ground, but the temperatures most days are still suspect.  It’s not like I’ve never run in the winter before.  But I found out that I really need the gradually-decreasing temperatures of fall running to make winter running tolerable.  And, alas, there were none of those.

By this time of year, I’ve usually got our plans in place to run a 62-mile relay from Stanley to Ketchum, Idaho, or at least put a half-hearted training schedule together for running a half-marathon in May or June.  But not this year.  My whole cycle is off.

Thanks to the brain surgeons who specialize in data analytics and bombard my email and Facebook accounts with tantalizing advertising, however, I’ve been able to keep up with lots of other fantastic opportunities like:

  • Groupon trips to Bermuda and Belize – the perfect ads to see when working 60-hour weeks in the dead of the worst winter on record.
  • The 21-Day Goddess Workout – really? I firmly believe it will take a bit longer than that. But maybe I should pay the $99 so I can have one more horse to fall off of?
  • The Bikini Sale at Zulily – and you are sending this to me because…?
  • The “Be Here Now” program – like I really want to be here even more than I am?

Just so you know, it’s not like I didn’t try…a little.  Before the snow fell, last fall, after I got my hip diagnosed, I decided to return to lap swimming after a 30-year hiatus.  I bought a new swim cap and goggles, had a long talk with myself, found out when the pool would be at its emptiest, and jumped in.  Once.

It wasn’t awful.  But even if I could have survived the 15 miles of icy roads to the gym and safely traversed the parking lot after winter hit, there was no way in hell I was going to remove my three permanent layers of polar fleece in a chilly locker room, struggle into my bathing suit, cap, and goggles, and jump in the pool.  Seriously?  And then I tweaked my right shoulder and haven’t been back since.

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Gary survived the winter better than I did, but only because he’s an irrationally exuberant skier if, that is, he could actually get out of our driveway.  He has no SAD tendencies, so my daily grumpiness wore on him as he realized the odds of him getting a cold salad for any meal had finally dipped to zero.  He got even by buying endless numbers of bags of tortilla chips and more phubbing.  Can’t say as I blame him.  I finally understand the whole “snowbird” mentality.  Maybe heading south with the geese is the way to go.

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But there’s a tiny smidgen of hope on the horizon.  We’ve had a few 50-degree days, always when I had to work (of course).  And then the weekends would be back in Antarctic territory which, if I wasn’t working, would mean I had time to make more heavy, caloric food to nourish my inner, cranky goddess instead of my outer one.

In a pathetic attempt at self-motivation, I fell prey to running shoe marketing from Brooks and actually bought a pair of shoes at full price, because they pay homage to the NYC Marathon – I mean, it’s something, right?  I’ve run on my treadmill twice in them to test out the ol’ hip.  I did OK, happily.  I think I’ll name my treadmill Tony.  That might help.

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In spite of my ridiculous thoughts of running in a down coat, ONCE, a few weeks ago, when the Sunday afternoon temperature topped 45, Claire and I went outside for our first run in many months.  And, again, it wasn’t awful.  Claire was thrilled, in a way that only a Border Collie can be.

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I was happy enough afterward to schedule which days I would run after work the next week…outside!  And then the weather tanked again.  More stew and pasta.  Great.

I drove by our local grade-school track the other day and saw that the snow was finally gone.  Maybe it’s time to get out there for a few laps, even if they are, as Old Broad Running would say in her blog:  Wimpervals!

Somehow, it’s now vividly clear to me that my life frays at the edges pretty badly if I’m not running, so damn it, today is the day.  Let’s check the weather, shall we?

Saturday:  A 50 percent chance of showers.
Cloudy, with a high near 56. Southeast wind 9 to 14 mph.

Not bad, all things considered.  So, this afternoon, after ingesting some magical combination of caffeine and anti-inflammatories, I’m going to lace up and head out with Claire for a couple of miles.

I’m tired of not showing up.  Time to get back on the horse.  And Tony the Treadmill just doesn’t count.  Time to hit the road.

Thanks for reading.  I know how busy you are.