Friday, September 4, 2009

On Endurance

Last November, I wrote a post outlining my goals for the 2009 ride season. They were ambitious but reasonable, focused on building my horses' athletic foundations on plenty of moderately-paced miles. I remember sensing, as I gave the post a title perilously close to the famous words of Robert Burns, that my hopes for the year might be too high. I called it The Best Laid Plans.

Indeed, 2009 has proven a year of schemes gang aft agley.

One evening in March, mere hours after an exhilarating conditioning ride that left my nerves singing, I found Aaruba colicking in his paddock. Thus began a week-long ordeal that culminated in the wrenching decision to retire my young, talented partner -- the horse with whom I'd bonded deeply over years of training -- from the sport we both love.

I turned my attention to Consolation, believing that I could at least have her trained and fit for several races throughout the season. But it was slow going. Our relationship, never smooth, was further challenged by my grief over Aaruba. Switching from faithful Aaruba to willful, balky Consolation felt much like adopting a puppy too soon after Ol' Jake dies in your arms. I struggled to remain patient, consistent, and hopeful for my new endurance prospect.

And then, just as it looked like Consolation and I would be ready for her first race in May, I tore my right hamstring in a bad fall. Ten weeks, said my physical therapist. Then maybe you can ride again. And so, hours in the saddle were replaced by hours of icing and stretching, coaxing my damaged muscles back to health. Finally, at the beginning of July, I was ready to mount up. The ride season was half over and Consolation remained green and unconditioned -- but have you noticed that there's never anywhere to start but here? We began again.

Meanwhile, however, other plates were shifting in my personal life, setting off earthquakes to distract me from my goals. Most of you have either been the one, or been close to someone, to walk into the courthouse and sign the papers that say we made a mistake or I'm not who you thought I was, or even I love you enough to let you go. You know that even when the attitude is amicable, it's never easy.

No, never easy -- but sometimes, it's for the best.

One of my favorite things about endurance conditioning is that it gives a person plenty of time to think. Rhythmic hoofbeats, steady physical effort, open space and air. Endless trail spins spins out before us, mile on mile, freeing our minds to connect the dots in our lives, linking high points of pleasure and pain to form a picture worth posting on the walls of memory.

Life, after all, is not so different from endurance riding, at least for those willing to approach it with energy and enthusiasm. Most of the time, it's full of fun and companionship, brilliant with adventure, a ceaseless exploration of what it means to be alive.

But there are hard times, too. Stone bruises. Tumbles. Training problems. Mistakes. Times when, despite our best efforts, the trail just seems too long. Sometimes, the last twelve miles are almost more than we can bear. And yet, we keep going because we know the loop will end and when we finish, friends will be waiting to clap and cheer and throw their arms over our shoulders, press energy bars into our hands, to ask us how it went and what we learned.

And because the race was hard, we will have something to tell them.

Endurance is about pressing on when it would be easier to quit, when there's nothing to make you finish but sheer commitment and the knowledge that you will only be satisfied with yourself when you've done your best, and a little more, and even more than that -- whatever it takes to do what you promised. It's about remembering, when the trail seems endless and your knees ache and you swear you'll never do this again, that most of the ride is about speed and breath and bonding, spectacular vistas, thrill and timing, glistening sweat and pain that serve to sweeten the evening's rest.

Ultimately, who wants to get to the end of the trail without a story to tell? If it wasn't a challenge, it wouldn't be endurance. It wouldn't be life. I, for one, am determined to embrace the hard times. Without them, I wouldn't know what triumph really is.

Photo by East End Portrait Photography
Related Posts

Mentor in Motion
Until the Twelfth of Never
Shot in the Dark: Victory
Shot in the Dark: Achievement
Shot in the Dark: Determination

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Ashley said...

Sorry to hear about difficulties in your personal life. Thank goodness for horses and the escape and mental relief they provide. I can relate to endurance plans not going according to my whole season has been like that.

Jonna said...

You sure have a way with words Tam:) Those are all the reasons I am compelled to keep trying at this sport, keep reaching because if it was easy, why should I bother? It's all of that which you write about, the stories, the pain, the gain, the triumph and the loss... at the end of the day, knowing you just did something that very few people have the opportunity to do, experiences and adventures that can only be gained by putting on mile after mile of training. Best of luck at Old Selam. Can't wait to hear how it goes.

AareneX said...

All the stuff that you said: Yes. Absolutely. Yup. I hear you.

And beyond that: the sport of endurance will still be there when you're ready for a Big Season. I thought this might be a Big Season for me, but clearly the universe had other plans. Ah, well.

See you on the trails, someday!

Jon said...

LM -
Life happens sometimes, eh? Our spirit, our attitude - that's ours to mold as we decide. When the going gets tough . . . you know the rest. Stay tough.

Carol said...

That is a beautiful post!! As Jonna said in her comment, you DO have a way with words.

I am sitting here at work right now....done with my first job and waiting to drive over to the second and thinking about the trying day I had today --from a co-worker that made me feel bad to the pain from a pinched nerve in my leg...wondering were I am going to find the stamina get through my second job and wrap up this already not-so-great day.

Then I read your post....and almost started crying. Your words are very inspirational and made feel just a little bit better.

I don't know if you wanted to hear that or not, but it's true. Endurance applies sometimes to more than just the sport you and Aruba love, but sometimes to our everyday lives. Sometimes we all have to look for that last little bit to keep us going.

I am very sorry to hear about the personal issues you have faced and all that has happened with Aruba. I wish for you some good news in the future. I wish that though Aruba is retired, he will still live a long life and continue to be your faithful companion. I also hope that you and Consolation get the kinks worked out and your first competition is successful, whenever that may be.

Thank you for posting this post. It truly was a big inspiration to me today!

Spartacus Jones said...

Good reflections, Tamara.
I love a woman who quotes Burns properly.

I always say, if you don't have a Plan B, you don't have a plan at all.
And I know for sure that failure isn't in getting knocked down; it's in not getting back up.

Glad you're on your feet. :)


Lori Skoog said...

Tamara...well put. I hope you can hang on to your horses and everything that means so much to you. The words of Spartacus are right will get back up.

LizGoldsmith, EquineInk said...

Hugs to you for the challenges you've faced over the past year.

That you can address them with such eloquence is inspiring.

Tamara of In the Night Farm said...

Ashley -- You are so right about the horses. They're always there for us. Hope your next ride season goes better, too!

Jonna -- Thanks. :) One of these days, we'll get Consolation and JB to a race together.

AareneX -- Goodness, this year has been tough on so many of us. With luck, we'll share the trails next year. :)

Jon -- Dead on, my friend. LM

Carol -- Of course I wanted to hear it! If my experience can benefit anyone else in any way, I'm grateful. Many hugs to you, and wishes for quick healing in your leg.

SJ -- You know me, never happy until I get it right! ;) Thanks.

Lori -- All's well. Not easy, but well. Promise.

Liz -- Thanks, lady. I appreciate you.

Mena said...

Tamara... first off, yes, you are such a superbly eloquent writer. You are my favorite blogger, hands down.

Secondly... I am also going through that certain circumstance of signing papers and coming clean with the other person about who I really am. I hope you know that there are people out here in the blog-o-sphere who care about you, truly, and who are rooting for "the home team". Your life will settle again someday, and you will know you made choices that suited you and continue to suit you. If I am making any sense, good. If not, I need more coffee!

Hope you see the sunset blare brilliantly from behind the mountains. It is always a re-assuring sight.

Michelle said...

What a profound and powerful post. So sorry to hear that this year hasn't lived up to your hopes yet. But I like to believe that these trying times are those that make us evolve into stronger, better individuals. I'm so glad you have your horses to ride you through it!

Tamara of In the Night Farm said...

Mena, thanks so much...and you're making all the sense in the world. It's nice, isn't it, to know you're not alone? Hugs to you.

Thanks, Michelle. You're right -- horses can ride us through an awful lot, if we're willing to quiet ourselves and let them.