Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Low Mileage Training
I'll admit it. I don't ride nearly as often as I should. In the three month's before the 50 at Rides of March, Diego had 74 training miles. In the three month's before the 50/30 at Cooley, we had 138. There was also the 50 at Rides of March, and a 25 ride as well that I didn't count in the interim. But still, very low mileage. I'd like to say this hasn't always been the case, but in reality it often has. My life was very full when I was competing my first horse several years ago. My saving grace, and the ability to move up to and successfully complete 100-mile rides, was based on the simple fact that I used the rides themselves for training and conditioning.
I also know I'm not alone in this, shameful as it may be. :) So how do we do it? How are we able to successfully COMPLETE rides (note: I would NOT recommend COMPETING on this type of a schedule) with low-mileage training? Here are some tips:
1. Specificity of training. Pick an event that you intend to ride, and tailor your training as much as possible to simulate the ride conditions (surface type, elevation, elevation change, temperature, etc.). If you're not sure what the ride conditions are like, ask the ride manager, or someone who has attended in the past. If you're still not sure, it's best to "plan for the worst" and try to pick a more difficult training environment (hills, sand, etc). Be aware, however, that if you train in the mountains, and the ride is flat footing, that it may actually be more difficult for your horse. The same is true if you train in the sand, and then encounter hard-packed footing, or visa versa.
2. Long training ride. Do at least half, and honestly - I've done ALL, of your weekly mileage in one long training ride. If you know that you only have time to ride once a week, work up to doing 1/3 to 1/2 of your goal distance on your one long ride. This means if you want to ride 50's, then work up to doing a 25-mile ride once a week or so.
3. Cross-training. Difficult if you're limited in your saddle time, but squeezing in an hour of arena work, or even putting your horse on a lunge (or free lunging) occasionally can help to increase and/or maintain fitness. Taking a lesson will benefit both the horse and the rider. Chances are, you'll both work muscles you don't use on a daily basis. Horses kept in a large enclosure are better off than those kept in a small one. Horses kept in an enclosure with hills, rocks, and other natural obstacles are better off than those kept without. That being said, my horse lives at home in a flat 24x36 ft corral. Just make the best of what you can.
4. Vary weekly mileage. Start at least 12 weeks before the intended ride and gradually increase mileage to a level that is about 20%-50% higher than your average miles per week (mpw). For example, if your annual average is 20 mpw, try to build up to at least 25 mpw during your training before the ride. Ideally, my mpw would be at or near my goal distance, but since I know that's not feasible for me, I like to aim for 50-60% of my goal distance, or 25-30 mpw to complete a 50 mile ride. To increase this before an event, I can add one or two shorter rides during the week to ramp up to around 40 miles before I taper. A "high mileage" week, 2-3 weeks before a 50, might look like this: Thurs: 8-10 Sat: 20-25. If I can, I'll do one other shorter ride of around 5 miles mid-week sometime.
5. Peak and taper. Peak your weekly mileage two or three weeks before the ride, if possible, aim for around your goal distance as your mpw. Then taper your mileage down for the last 2-3 weeks. Your horse will feel rested and ready for action on ride morning. If your goal distance is 100 miles, I like to start my taper earlier and will generally ride a 50 mile ride, or even two back-to-back, about 4-6 weeks before a 100.
6. Rest. The rule of thumb I've heard and like to follow is to give one day of rest for every 10 miles you cover in training. This means that if I do a 50, I will not ride at all that following week. I do try to get my horse out and take him for long walks and lots of grazing by hand. I may go on an easy ride that weekend, but nothing fast or strenuous. There are a lot of horses going, that are ridden only at actual rides. If you live in a region where you can manage a ride every 2-3 weeks, or a multiday once a month or so, then this is possible. However, if you only plan on doing one or two events a year, this obviously is not the schedule to use.
7. Pace. Ride at as close to a constant pace as you can during the event. This means going out at the start much slower than your horse will want to. It also means keeping your moving speed fairly low. Remember, this is not the type of training you want to do if you intend to finish above mid-pack. Keep your trotting speed around 7-9 mph and walking around 3-5 mph. Your overall moving mph will be somewhere around 6 mph or so depending upon footing and terrain.
8. Ride your own ride. Is your horse an uphill horse or a downhill horse? Can she keep up a steady pace on a winding trail, or are long straight stretches her forte? Is he happiest with a buddy along or does he work best alone? Take advantage of their strengths and do your best to mitigate their weaknesses.
9. Stopping and vet checks. Since you will not be going very fast, make sure you do your best to use your allotted trail time, actually going down the trail. Do not dilly-dally around too much at water stops. Have your horse drink, cool them if needed, and then get going. Watch your time at the vet checks and try to leave on time. If you're travelling at a 6 mph average, you cost yourself a 1/2 mile for every 5 minutes you are late leaving a vet check.
10. Navigation. Attend the ride meeting and bring the ride map and/or course description provided. Make note of mileages between main landmarks, such as the vet checks and water stops. Listen carefully for if there are any technical sections that are going to slow you down more than normal (overly rocky, steep, lots of roots, etc). You will need to take advantage of the other sections to compensate for this. Pay attention to the trail markings, you do not want to go off course. If you get lost, the best general rule is to go back the way you came until you know where you are on the course.
11. Post-race. After the ride, ensure your horse has plenty to eat and drink at the trailer. Walk around smiling, socializing with the other riders, and savoring your accomplishment. Go back and take your horse for a short walk every hour or so before you leave. Do not immediately pack up to go home, as problems are just as likely to occur in the few hours following an event as they are during. Keep an eye on your horse's appetite and comfort level. Best to stay and enjoy the meal and relax for a bit before trailering home. If you traveled more than a few hours to the ride, it is even better to stay overnight before going home. Walk your horse again before trailering home.
12. Post your experiences. As soon as possible after the ride, be sure to write an e-mail story about your experiences. Share it on public endurance forums, your blog, etc. We all need to learn from each other as much as possible. It's also valuable to look back at later and recall some of the details of what did or did not work for you that particular day.
13. Ask veterans for advice. My favorite place to do this is to ride with them at the actual rides. There is often a huge wealth of knowledge, happily trolling along at the back of the pack. Some of the highest mileage riders and horses are back there, quite successfully doing their thing. Subscribe to E-mail lists, read blogs, surf the web, train with them, subscribe to Endurance News magazine.
14. The "experts" say that you should be able to complete a distance 3 times that of your *normal* long ride (single ride, not mpw). For an LD (25-30 miles), that means an 8-10 mile training ride. For 50's, that's about a 17 mile ride. I personally like to round up and do at least 20. For 100-milers, that means a 33 mi.+ training ride (approximately). I prefer to use 50 mile events to achieve this goal.