Saturday, April 25, 2015: Race Day
4:45am: I am not freezing. In fact I’m snugly warm in my cocoon. The first time I woke up was 1:20am. I think there was a loose horse stampeding around outside. I have always heard you don’t get much sleep before your ride. That seems like it would make it even more challenging for 50 and 100 rides.
Written on Sunday, April 26, 2015
The first announcements through camp came about 5:30am.
GOOOD MORNING Star Tannery. Official race clock is 5:32am. Coffee is available in the farm house. Check in for the 55 begins at 6am at the start. 55 start time is 7am, 30 start time is 8:30.
I decided to make my own cup of coffee and start kicking around even though I had “plenty” of time. Somehow that’s when things go wrong for me- when I feel like I have “plenty of time”. That’s when I usually run out of time. So it couldn’t hurt to get everything sorted out sooner.
Faygo was happy. I started out with breakfast for her as it’s not great to have a big meal and then ride hard. She got electrolytes, cough free, Springtime, applesauce and a small amount of water. She doesn’t love the soupy mash I’d been trying to get her to eat all week to increase her water intake. She’s started leaving some of it behind at the end. Since she drank almost her whole bucket of water through the night I went easy on the water. She left some supplement granules behind so I’d add a few more handfuls of grain until she’d licked the bowl clean.
I knew the rain was coming at some point today- so I tried to organize and break down camp as much as possible while it was still dry, and help me pull out that evening if we were healthy enough.
Walked up to the farmhouse to see what they had for breakfast- just some granola bars and the coffee was ok. The farmhouse itself was a falling down old house that had been turned into the shop/storage/greaseroom and though farmhouse sounded to me like a bed and breakfast scene, it was nothing that nice (this is the no frills you know!).
I thought “No Frills” was just a ride name, but actually, it’s a kind of ride.
A “No Frills” ride is one with a focus on the fundamentals – well-marked and accurately measured trail, good vetting, enough horse water to be safe, and that is about it! All you really have to have for base camp is a large area for people to safely park. (I’d add “flat” to that sentence, but having camped in many, many less than flat fields over the years, I can attest that that is not a necessity.) Even water is negotiable. We all agree that you have to have a minimum amount of horse water available to make a ride safe and successful, but many riders haul their own [This ride we did have to haul water].
Technically offering coffee at all is a “frill” but as some folks said at the ride meeting: “this is the frilliest no frills ride in the region.”
I headed back to start grooming Faygo and chat with my neighbor who was tacking up for the 55 mile start time. I took my time grooming, braided her mane (to keep her neck cool- she has thick hair). And yes- by the time I was tacking up all that time was sifting away and though I didn’t need to rush, I was not tacked up 30 minutes prior to start time! That’s ok with me though because of a few things unique to us that day: #1 we were NOT here to be competitive, as our first ride on a horse with mild heaves we needed to go EASY. #2 that means we don’t need to run out at exactly the start time. While others are charging out the gate we needed to be walking around camp a few times ignoring the fact that a horse herd was leaving getting Faygo’s adrenaline up. #3 all that also meant to me that our “warm up” would be ON the trail. We didn’t need to add 30 minutes of riding around to warm up so we could safely start up the road at a fast gait.
Time is 8:13. 30 mile start at 8:30. Needing to check in: number 7, number 15, number 10, number 22.
OK OK… we’re coming… we still have at least 10 minutes!
All tacked up and ready to go. Packs had only necessities. Water full and ready… heart rate monitor watch on…. wait. I put the wristwatch on early to watch the time and to remind myself to put the heart rate monitor ON the horse. It didn’t work.
Time is 8:19. numbers 7 and 10 don’t forget to check in before you leave camp.
Well, we’re riding without the monitor. We’ve used it in training. I know what to look for, and Martha and Stephanie helped me with checking for pulse by hand for the vet stations. We’re not putting it on now. Time to go!
I checked in at the desk and we turned back to camp and walked around between the campers a bit as the announcement came: Course open for 30 mile. Ride Safe! Have fun!
We stalled a minute or two and walked out the last ones out of camp. VERY EXCITED to be doing this!
The first loop is what they call the ride before the first vet check (it is not actually a loop, it is a climb to a ridge trail to an “away” vet check). They told us it was about 12 miles, but my GPS said we got there around 9 miles. I caught up quickly to the “two Marys” from Ohio. They had been doing this a long time and one of the Marys had completed some 100s, but today was training a 6 year old new horse in the 30. They said they planned to take it “ultra conservative” and I said I’d love to ride with them a while. We walked the first long hill out of camp which was also paved, and then did some light intervals, gaiting (them trotting) a bit then walking a bit, then gaiting a bit, then walking a bit. Once we hit some nice ground and were warmed up we basically stayed at a gait as much as possible. I rode behind them and got to know them a bit. They were jealous of anyone who lived in terrain like this (which is about the same as where I live) because it’s so good for training in. Lots of hills/mountains, rocks, forrest, streams… There were lots of places where the footing was very rocky and rough- often rocks hardened into the trail that stuck up making it hard to pick through. We always walked these parts.
A few early lessons I learned: I decided last minute to leave my vest at camp. I was cold the whole first loop (not freezing, but I would not have taken it off had I had it with me). I hate having too much bulk, and was warm while at camp. I thought “it’s only going to get warmer- it’s a thick vest for tying on my saddle…. I’ll leave it. My rain jacket had gone ahead in my crew bag the night before as the rain wasn’t supposed to come in until later in the afternoon. Even though I had peed RIGHT before mounting up and walking out- early on I was cold and had to pee. Then it started hail/sleeting on us. THANKFULLY it wasn’t cold rain because though you could hear the sleet, and it was chilly out, it didn’t make my outer layer wet. That would have been bad. I thought weather report be damned ALWAYS have your rain jacket on you. I worried I’d made a pretty big mistake and would either get sick the next day from the chill, or that I wouldn’t be able to warm up and would be miserable all day. I tried to keep my mind off it by thinking about what a beautiful Looking back a day later… it really wasn’t that bad. I never got wet, and I did warm up.
About half a mile before the vet check was a nice stream. We had been doing downhill switchbacks with decent footing and the Marys on the Arabians from flat Ohio were being extra careful. Faygo is a fast downhill horse even in tricky terrain and I wanted to let her move so I asked them if it was ok for us to move ahead of them and they said of course. We hit the bottom of the hill right were the group ahead of us were finishing a drink so I decided to walk her in to see if she might get water and she took a great long drink (thank God for electolytes- I am certain she drank more than usual on this ride and figure it’s probably because of them). While we were drinking the Marys caught up and I waited for them while they tried to get their horses to drink. We could see trucks parked and knew the vet check was close, so we walked in from there together.
We pulled into the vet check last but still in good time, and the vets were very helpful. As soon as we walked through and said our “time-in” numbers:
Do you want to pulse now?
I don’t know… I’m new to this.. [I understand if you ask for a vet and your pulse isn’t down you waste everyone’s time and they ‘penalize’ you by making you wait for another check]
Well let me check her for you, [puts stethoscope to Faygo’s chest] ok… she’s at about 64 [we had to pulse down to 60 to pass, and you have 30 minutes to do so if you need it] … take a deep slow breath… that’s it… ok… [to the vet assistant] NUMBER 10, PULSE IN AT 60- GIVE OUT TIME 45 FROM NOW. [to me] ok- head over there where they’ll do the exam and watch for lameness.
The vet we got was the same really nice one who vetted us in and he asked how our first ride was going, said Faygo looked great and happy. We jogged out and back, they checked her over and she got all As again as we passed the “gate” into our “hold”.
The vet checks/holds are there for the horse to get a mandatory break. Otherwise endurance riding would be rewarding people who finish first because they didn’t rest their horse, so there is an agreed upon “hold” that changes depending on the race. Our (30 miler) hold was on 45 minutes (the 50 miler had 3 of these I believe) and then at the final 1/3 one “gate and go” which was 10 minutes.
The “gate” is pulsing down to 60bpm then passing your vet check. At that point they write your time on your vet card and you can’t leave for 45 minutes. Thus, if you come running into the vet check and it takes your horse 10 minutes to pulse down to 60, you will have had to stop for 55 minutes instead of 45 like people who walked in. So when you know your horse well and do this enough- you have a good feel for how long in what weather your horse takes to pulse down, and if it makes sense for you to push moving into the vet checks or if you really will be better walking in and being pulsed down upon arrival.
We headed to the crew bag area and there were volunteers to help hold your horse while you used the porta potty, and bring you and your horse a snack. PB&Js, granola bars, people and horse water, senior feed, wet beet pulp, flakes of hay, everyone had a bucket of water. The feed was all donated by the local Southern States (you guys are AWESOME). Again- the frilliest no frills ride in the region.
At the vet check I thought “45 minutes… that’s a long time… i could take a nap…” I took off Faygo’s saddle, made sure she had snack- tried to keep her from eating all her neighbor’s snacks (to a mare, everything within smelling distance is “mine”), went pee and put on my rain jacket, ate a granola bar, prepared an electrolyte for Faygo, drank a vitamin water… and WHOA, seriously, 5 minutes to go… I still need to re-tack! The Marys (with the same exit time as me) were walking to mount and asked if I’d like them to wait for me. HOW NICE PEOPLE ARE!
I said no way- we just weren’t quite ready but Faygo would be fine, and they should go on- we will catch up I’m sure.
They said “With that horse, no doubt you will!” and headed out.
In the end my 45 minute hold was closer to 55 minutes, but it’s ok. It’s a learning experience not a “race” for us today.
As we left the “out-timer” and called our number the guy (more lighthearted than mean) said “we know- you were ‘out’ ten minutes ago” We were the last in- we had to be the last out… but that’s ok!
Leaving vet check Faygo was fresh and a little peeved at me for letting us be LAST and LEFT BEHIND. It was a beautiful wide grass road mostly flat with small inclines- we gaited along about 10mph smiling ear to ear. THIS IS THE MOST FUN WE’VE EVER HAD!
After a few minutes riding alone we caught up to some the Marys again and Faygo called out to their horses like a wild woman “We’re COMING hold up… I can smell you” she seemed to yell as we got closer. We said hi and passed them as they were trotting easy and we had a good faster pace going and caught up to some younger riders who were moving faster. They asked if we’d like to pass and I said no-thank you, and we stayed a bit behind them for a while. Once the trail left the ‘road’ and went back up the mountain, the footing got rough again and everyone slowed down. The younger girls were a ways ahead, the marys caught up; I asked if they wanted to pass and they said no- they wouldn’t go any faster than we were through this footing, and they were assured that if any horse was going to hold them up it wasn’t going to be Faygo.
This was what April told me later was the most “demoralizing” part of the no frills. Actually I thought it was fun, but we had to slow down and the ground got rougher and rockier. Faygo is a champ at what they call “technical” riding, it’s her strong suit. She is surefooted and can navigate pretty hard terrain and her walk is really fast. So we led the middle pack through the worst of it… and then it got worse yet! We headed down into the bottom where this creek ran and much of the trail was along (in) the creek. I would look for the next white ribbons and think “Seriously? IS that trail?” considering over 50 riders had already come through here it seems like it would be more obvious. This part was some of the roughest riding I’ve done with the exception of places I’ve wandered exploring with my GPS and prayed to God my horse made it out ok. I did not fish out my camera for pictures here- but we were on large rock stairs in the creek beds with sections where there was no where for a hoof to go. This is the “middle loop” and it was something!
Quick shout out to Brandon my amazing farrier! We had no problem with our shoes on this really rough ride, and my horses feet were in good shape. I know some people did not complete this ride due to shoes and hoof issues. Not surprising- in fact it’s almost surprising more people didn’t have issues!
When we finally came out of that bottom (by the way it WAS beautiful down there!) we started going back up with the embedded rough rocks, so mostly still walking. By the time we popped back out onto a decent road my horse was still fresh (that was slow going) and cheered for some easy terrain and trot/gaited for a few more miles into the “gate and go” around mile 18.
Back at vet check station (same one) you call your number as you approach and you get your out time (10 minutes later) automatically. There is no pulse down here. You have to jog by the vets to leave to be sure you don’t have any leg lameness. I stopped at my bag, electrolyted Faygo one more time, she ate some hay, I had a cheese sandwich (thanks No Frills) and took a quick pee. I walked her to the water trough and she took a big long drink (yeah again!) At 10 minutes exactly we were gaiting past the vets and had a “good to go #10” as we headed out for the “final loop”.
This was the infamous hard packed road. It goes on about 7 miles and is mostly flat. We trotted along with the Marys but they wanted to do some walking and as another pair of riders, April & Griffin, asked to pass I said “I think I’m going to join them” so we parted ways to move out a bit faster. We had a good speed and after a couple miles dropped into the creek for another drink (YES! she drank again!) we walked once in a while just to break it up, but mostly we moved out. Once we were within a couple miles of the finish I felt like I couldn’t believe we had gone almost 30 miles. April said she had been watching us on and off through the day and was so impressed with Faygo. First of all she said “I’m jealous- you don’t even MOVE when you guys go” (the beauty of a gaited horse!) and second she said, “She doesn’t look like she just did 20 miles, she looks like you guys just left the barn!” I was SO proud of my horse. She was doing fantastic.
We went through the finish line together at almost 29 miles. I think the finish line is more for the 50 mile folks because though there was a tent set up and streamers- no one was there for us!! With an LD (limited distance) ride you don’t actually get a finish time until your pulse down to 60. The vets were about a mile away at camp, so after the finish line we all dropped back to walk and I “timed in” at 2:58pm. The vet asked if I wanted to pulse and I said I didn’t know for sure… she said “I can check you, we’re not too busy”. we were staying at 64bpm. She said go take off your saddle and give her a minute and come back.
So we untacked in the grass and moved slow-she took a long drink, she looked great. We pulsed in at 3:06pm and headed for final vet. They check for saddle sore spots, heat in legs, dehydration, gut sounds, and CRI which is a recovery index. Basically they take heart rate (60bpm now) and send you to jog out and back, watching that you are sound on all 4 legs, then in a certain number of seconds they test for heart rate again and you have to have recovered back to 60 or lower heart rate to pass). We got all A+ on our rider card. We COMPLETED! I was ecstatic, she was happy and healthy!
We headed back to camp for a post-race meal of applesauce, grain and hay stretcher and a butte (can’t hurt!). I gave her a rub and put a towel over her to keep from chill. What a great day! I never took off my raincoat. It never warmed up- but the weather was perfect for her.
I packed up camp slowly (she needed a break before we hit the road- trailering is work for a horse as they have to balance on twisty roads). Between breaking down camp I hand walked her around for more water and grass. I put on her light blanket and we hit the road as it began to really rain about 5:30 and it rained the whole drive home.
The drive took almost exactly 3 hours and we got in after dark to Khaleesi who was SO glad to see us. I walked in the door to Ed frying up some yummy bear nuggets and satueeing veggies in case I was hungry (what a guy!). A cold dreary rain outside I took a hot shower and took out my contact lenses (my eyes were dry, my hands were dry and scratchy) and then we talked about our days. I looked at myself in the mirror before bed and thought “You are a sight” red eyes, my hair a half-braided mess.. I was exhausted and fell into bed. Happy.
Reflecting back, a few things I came away with…
I loved this and I can’t wait to do more! The people are fantastic and the horses are amazing.
Faygo did really really really really well. I could not have asked for better weather for her, and she never had breathing issues at all. She didn’t breathe any harder than any horse we rode with, and we did not stop except for the vet checks. No “rest” breaks, only occasional walks to give short rest from a hill or long jog. Her ears were forward and her step was light- she had fun. She was game. We were a great team! I believe she could do a 50 if the circumstances were good, but I’m not sure if I care to do that with her or not. We’ll see. It’s not the extended time or distances that I worry about with her, it’s only the speed and hills in heat. As Judy says “That girl is one tough mountain goat!”
The most obvious difference between endurance riding and trail riding with friends for me broke down into what is assumed. In trail riding walking is assumed unless someone “asks” if it’s ok to go faster. When you are with a group in endurance a trot/gait speed is assumed unless you have to slow down for footing. We “never” canter (ok… on that one pretty grassy trail where we were alone… yes… I’ll admit it, we cantered for a short time.. we couldn’t help it!). Also- that doesn’t mean no one canters- I didn’t ride with any top 10 finishers. Who knows what they do… they came in at least 2 hours before I did!
The trails are not perfect. We rode some gnarly sections today. Endurance horses and people are definitely not sissies running fast through manicured roads. That ride was pretty hard core in the middle loop. Also- much of it was absolutely beautiful, ridge views and the worst of the rocky valley was a little paradise if you could look up from the death trap you were walking through.
Limited Distance rides really are attainable by anyone and any horse with some preparation. We had tons of support and though I’ve ridden 30 miles in the past and been exhausted- there’s something in the air of an AERC event that we finished feeling like we could have done another 25! But the trick really is moving with some speed. It would have killed me to walk 30 miles.
Ride and Tie. I am GOING to do this. One horse, two riders, one tough race. I didn’t understand what this was until I met someone there who’d entered that event. This could be an AERC future for Faygo in hotter months… You have two people at the start, one person running (on foot!) and one riding. At an agreed upon distance the rider ties up the horse and the runner when she gets to the horse hops on and rides… to the next agreed upon distance where the same thing happens. YOU RUN AND RIDE. Yeah. I’m going to have to try that- and Faygo is so good at being tied. Supposedly it’s really good for a horse not quite in shape because it gets lots of rest breaks while the people run. Who thought of this!? Brilliant!
My “next step” goal is to see how Khaleesi does this summer with training. I would love to try a late fall LD ride and get someone to come ride Faygo while I ride Khaleesi and see how she does. This would mean I have to get her camping this summer, and continue her trail work. She’s a great age, and going along with Faygo would be a great training entry to the AERC world. Madison……… you would love this 🙂
Today… unpacking… relaxing… reflecting…