Going the Distance: My first 50

Fifty miles on a horse is a loooonng waaayyyy. Horse Nation endurance editor Sharalyn Hay takes us along on her most epic journey yet.

From Sharalyn:

We did it!!

Flash and I did it!! We finished a 50 mile race and didn’t die!!

You may be wondering at my extreme pleasure at finishing what seems like a fairly small distance when you consider that there are those that do 100 miles in only a few hours more than it took us to do 50. Well, moving up in distances is a big step. One that must be thoroughly considered (and something I’ll touch base on next time).

So, let me recap the race for you…

Three weeks before the race, Wendy and I were going back and forth on whether we wanted to race a competitive 30 miles at Sunriver or if we wanted to try and go for our first 50 instead. We were leaning towards the LD race until we did a 20-mile training ride the week before and it seemed like it went by too fast. We decided we were ready. Well, that, and the fact that we kept hearing that the Sunriver ride was a good ride to move up on because it is considered to be “fairly easy.”

Flash and I arrived at the Sunriver ride camp at around 1 p.m. on Friday. We found a lovely little place to set up camp under a tree (and with plenty of space for the others that would be coming later that day) and I went down to the registration table to get us signed up and vetted in. Flash was cool as a cucumber through the whole thing. We were assigned the number 109. Our first number in the 100s (if you’re doing an LD race you get a number less than 100. If you are doing a 75/80 you get a 200 number. If you’re doing 100 miles you get a 300 number. Remember this for later…)

That night I was a little freaked out about the next day but just kept telling myself that we would be just fine.

At 3 a.m. I woke up to go to the bathroom (too much water right before bed) and joined Shawna (our awesome crew person) while she gave Leo and Flash their mash. Giving the horses their mash three hours before the start of the race helps get the guts moving when you need it most. After that it was back to bed until 5 a.m. Then I got Flash saddled up and were ready to roll.

The race was broken down into four legs with three vet checks. It was 14 miles to VC #1, which was an in-and-out vet check (basically, no mandatory hold time and as soon as you pulsed down and were cleared by the vet you could leave again right away). It was then 16 miles to VC #2 where there would be a mandatory one-hour hold. Then it was 11 miles to VC #3, with a 30-minute hold and then only nine miles in to camp and the finish line. Easy-peasy, right?

The first leg of the race went well. We were on pace (racing at about 10MPH) and both horses were fresh and ready to go. About a 1/4 mile out from VC #1 we got off and walked in. The water tanks were at the pulse down area so we let the horses drink, pulsed down, did a trot out to the vet and then let the horses grab a bite to eat before heading off for VC #2.

The next leg also went pretty well. We did get passed by a few people when we stopped to walk the horses a few times, but I wasn’t concerned. I knew we were going to be at the back of the pack. Flash, on the other hand, was not OK with all of the horses passing us. He wanted to catch up to them right now. But we kept on pace and both Flash and Leo were running well within themselves. I’m sure they were confused as to why we were going so slow, but Wendy and I knew it was going to be a long day. Right before we came into VC #2 we hit the “trail? what trail?” trail. Apparently, the trail they used last year was no longer there and we were basically following ribbons on random trees because you couldn’t actually see the trail (even though many horses had passed that way before us). We slowed to a crawl so as to not end up with any injuries.

At VC #2 both Wendy and I were feeling pretty good. We got some food, fed and watered the horses, and relaxed a little before heading back out. Once our hour hold was up the trouble began. As I climbed on Flash to head back out he gave me the look of WTF and dug in all four feet and refused to move. He thought we were done. After all, we had gone 30 miles. It took several minutes to convince him that we needed to keep going. Wendy and Leo were also having problems. Wendy was not ready to go. Leo was ready to go… and go now. We looked quite the site heading back out onto the trail.

The next few miles were spent with Wendy holding Leo back and me peddling Flash down the trail. After a few miles, Flash finally decided that I wasn’t going to turn back around and he started to pick up the pace. By that time Leo and Wendy had both hit a wall and were not doing very well. The next 11 miles felt like 482 miles and it took us almost 2 1/2 hours to go just from VC #2 to VC #3. I hear that this is called “the lull” and happens to most racers doing 50 miles or more. Whatever it was, it sucked… badly. I seriously thought we were never. going. to. make. it. to the next vet check (OMG, are we there yet? Seriously?). This is where having a GPS unit with you can actually be detrimental. Because it was 11 miles of “How far have we gone now?” and “What about now?”. That, my friends, is not a good way to race. Plus it was all uphill. That seriously dampened how fast we could go.

And then *poof* we were magically at VC #3 (I’m pretty sure I blacked out for about four miles of that third leg). Flash perked up. Wendy perked up. I perked up, kinda. Leo, however, wasn’t doing very well. His gut was kind of quiet and so we stayed pass the hold time and let him eat and drink and make sure the guts were moving before heading back out again. The very nice volunteers at VC #3 also gave us a rally cry and got us pumped up and moving again. We left VC #3 with our hair on fire.

The last nine miles actually went pretty quickly. We got a lot of good trotting in (even though both Wendy and I never wanted to trot again in our lives) and before we knew it we could hear the horses down at ride camp. That lit a fire under both Flash’s and Leo’s butt and we were cantering in to the finish line to wild clapping from our crew person, Shawna, and a few volunteers. It. Was. Awesome. And my first thought upon crossing the finish line was Never Again!!

However, not a 1/2 hour later, I was contemplating whether or not Flash was ready to do that distance again. Let me just say, those are the thoughts of a true addict. But what they say is true… to finish is to win.

Photo: Wendy and Leo (left) with Flash and I finishing our first 50.

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