In less than 2 weeks, the clouds of dust will be kicking up along a trail winding in and out of the mountains.
By the time the day reaches evening, those who are still going will be reaching the Forest Hill vet check; tired riders and sweaty horses will file in to get their metabolics and movement evaluated. They will receive the chance to replenish and rest before heading out into the California Loop, the darkest part of the race. At this point, they will have passed 68 miles and literally, the ride is all downhill from there.
Here at home, excitement builds as we wind down the last few days prior to making the pilgrimage West. As I spoke before, I’m making last minute preparations with packing and organizing and getting the last few easy rides in on Rio before the big day.
This will be our second attempt–even with our completion last year, the path holds no guarantees! Personally I try not to get too emotionally attached to a finish–instead my goal is to do the trail that Rio is capable of. I have had lessons in endurance and competitive trail where I did not 100% listen to my horse; fortunately thus far we have not had severe consequences from this. I tend to ride conservatively at this stage in the game–I think that helps to minimize the exacerbation of any problems that might arise.
The time we spend preparing for the ride also helps. My conditioning program this year was similar to last; we did lots of long slow distance. Not only is LSD the foundation of distance sports, it’s the house and the roof! Prior to last year’s ride, I had gleaned advice from a number of experience 100 mile riders. The biggest theme I got was that you can over condition, rest is important and the slow stuff counts!
I have joked around that I’m going to become a professional turtle (hey, they give great awards for turtles!!). I was turtle at Old Glory in TX for the 50 in January. Rio got to host a brand new endurance rider on her very first 50 in May at Kanopolis–she was turtle there as well! We competed at the Owl Hoot Ride at the Frank’s June 23rd and guess what? Turtle.
One of the pieces of advice I have had as I mentioned was that the slow stuff counts–one rider told me that having the horse out on the trail for nearly the whole time on a 50 gives the horse the idea that they are going to be out for an extended period of time. I’m not sure how true that is, but I do completely buy in on slow miles.
I also believe strongly in letting the horses rest after a major event. Typically I won’t even touch Rio after a 50 for 2 weeks, other than to walk for a short while. After strenuous exercise muscle, bone and ligament need the time to repair–it’s the repetitive breakdown and buildup of these tissues that build their strength. Rest is important equally in the mental field; Julie Suhr, grand dame of endurance, says that you can easily ruin a horse with too many miles and not listening to what they want. I think she is one of the wisest people I have had the privilege of meeting!
I did quite a few conditioning rides in between competitions at Sand Hills State Park. I have some nice deep sand there that is a blessing in disguise. I get my concussive work on the roads and other trails where we condition and compete. I spent time letting her rest. The 3-50s I mentioned were the only competitive rides we did this year so far. I will do a few more slow rides before we leave and that’s basically my conditioning program in a nutshell. In the early months we did mostly trotting and some cantering; now that we are down to the wire, I am only walking her (again based off of experienced rider’s advice).
I don’t get into a lot of planning, details, nit-picking. I don’t use a GPS typically, nor do I use a heart rate monitor. I am a very “feel” kind of person–this stems from my career in anesthesia. I look at the patient first–you can tell a lot from looking at what you’re working on before you look at the numbers. If you spend the time to get to know your horse, you’re going to know what they’re handling well and when you need to cut back based on respiration, effort, attitude and impulsion. I like simple, I like not obsessing over some of the details that I feel don’t impact the overall scenario. I don’t have a problem with people who use all of the electronics in the world–go to it! Do what makes you comfortable and what works for you! It comes down to this–you either finish or you don’t. Sometimes your biggest lessons come from the times you don’t.
In addition to being excited about the ride itself–I’m super excited about rejoining the people involved in the ride. I met some really incredible folks last year and look forward to meeting up again and learning about new friends as well. I’m not the only rider going out from the central states–join me again for the next post for an update on those riders!