Going the Distance: After you’ve gone the distance, where do you go next?

Having successfully completed her first 50 mile race, Horse Nation endurance editor Sharalyn Hay had some thinking to do. What now?

From Sharalyn:

A few weeks ago, my friend and I completed our first 50 mile race of the season. Up until now, we had only done a few LD rides (one was 25 miles and one was 32 miles). We agonized over the decision to “move up,” carefully weighing all of the pros and cons. And in the end, I felt like we made the right decision. We finished back of the pack (which we were anticipating) but we both completed and the horses handled the distance with, well not ease, but they came through it just fine.

This next race is a more technical race (i.e. it is more elevation gain and loss and way more hill work than the race we just completed) and we’ve been, again, debating on whether or not to move back down and do an LD (30 miles) or continue with the momentum and do a 50.

Here are some of the factors that I’ve been considering:

1. Fitness of the rider: After my first race of the season (which was the 32 mile race), I seriously couldn’t walk for a week. Since then, I’ve been hiking and riding more and am slowly (and I mean molasses slow here) getting in shape, and in turn each race has gotten easier. After the last race, which was 50 miles, I was body tired but other than a small rub on the back of my right knee I wasn’t sore hardly at all. The next day I actually felt pretty decent. I did sleep like the dead from 6:30 p.m. the evening after the race until around 7 a.m. the next morning. I feel like with each race I do it will only get easier. I will say that there was a stretch on this past race (from vet check #2 to vet check #3) that was only 11 miles but seriously felt like 374 miles instead. I hear from more experienced folk than myself that there is always “the lull.” I think I’m packing my iPod and headphones in my pack to get through that next time. That part totally sucked.

2. Fitness of the horse: Flash has been steadily improving with each race (just like I have). Our workouts have dropped down to maintenance type rides so as to not burn him out. After this past race he looked no worse for wear the next day. I do feel like I need to up our interval work (more canter/walk/canter/trot transitions and less trot-trot-nothing-but-trot stuff) in order to be able to do the more technical trails more effectively. I also need to consider doing more hill work but feel like Flash is in good enough fitness to handle that distance again as long as I manage my time effectively.

3. The race: I picked this past race as our first 50 of the season because it was considered one of the “easier” races (dear Lord, those words give me pause because it felt like a tough race). This upcoming race is considered to be much more technical and more taxing. This is something that definitely needs to be considered when you are deciding what distance you’ll be doing. I’ve only done the LD at this particular venue so I have been reaching out to folks who know what this race is like. Use the people in your region as a resource. They will let you know what it’s really like out there and then you can decide if you’re ready or not.

4. The weather: With an LD, you’re usually done around noon so weather really isn’t a factor. However, once you start getting into the longer distances you have to start paying attention (and also start training in those types of conditions, as well).

Having considered all of the above factors, I’ve decided to follow my gut and go for another 50 at the upcoming ride. Wish us luck.

And remember… to finish is to win (and at this point I’m only hoping for a finish).

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