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Monday, March 1, 2010

20 MT - 2010

The full story (ie the ever popular "lessons learned" posts that everyone finds so entertaining) will come in a couple of days, but to satisfy everyone's curiosity, here's the basic plot of my first 100 mile completion.  (Sorry – it got kind of long, so it's less basic and more....comprehensive)


Ah yes, it was a completion!  Whoo hoo!


OK – as I reread this, I realize most of it sounds really negative and un-fun.  Let me start off by saying that this was one of the most emotional, rewarding, taxing, painful, fulfilling event in my life.  This event fulfills a long-held dream and is why I started in endurance – to ride 100 miles in 24 hours.  Very few things in life are really really hard and rarely have I been challenged and pushed to the limit like I was on Saturday.  As I write this, I am re-living the pain of the event, but I'm also re-living the in-describle joy of having accomplished something so….(can't think of a word that describes the feeling I have).


Typical of most newbie 100 mile riders, I took care of my horse to the detriment of myself.  As a result, my horse is great and I'm here, almost 24 hours later, sitting in my chair trying to pretend I'm not STILL nauseous when focusing on anything further than about 10 feet from me, and ignoring the bloody painful scabs on the inside of my knees and calves. 


My biggest problem was food.  I usually eat every 2-3 hours. If I don't, I tend to get sick.  My boyfriend found this out the hard way (Me: Dear, we need to find some place to eat very soon".  Thirty minutes later.  Me: If I don't get something to eat right now, I'm going to throw up. 20 minutes later after finally seeing how white I looked….pulled into Long John Silvers as I ran and puked in the alley while he's ordering food….).


Unfortunately, by the time I got done caring for my horse, there was never enough time to get my stomach to settle down enough to actually be able to get anything down, especially as most of the holds were shortened or eliminated because the weather was so cold and awful.  As result….the sum total of my food for the ENTIRE day (4:30am – 6:30pm) as I left for the last 35 mile loop was:


4 poptarts

Hand full of red vine candy

Egg salad Sandwich (thanks to Karen's husband Dave!)

Bottle of Gatorade

2 Granola bars


Obviously, there was room for improvement….


So I get out on the trail, and the lack of calories, coupled with the lack of sleep, make it IMPOSSIBLE to ride at a walk without getting very very sick.  However, at a trot everything was FINE.  Too bad there was this really long hill that Farley wanted to walk…..I managed to hold it together, mostly thanks to Dave Rabe who let me ride behind him for the last 20 miles or so.  (Yes, I pretended everything was fine, but I'm pretty sure he saw I was struggling). 


Of course, I should mention that I had to take a Vicodan (it's probably a good thing I don't even know how to spell that word!) to even go out on the last 35 mile loop.  Sixty-Five miles of rain and HAIL and WIND took its toll on my body.  I was THIS close to rider optioning at the 65 mile hold.  The inside of my legs were bleeding, I could no longer trot because my back and knees hurt so bad.  My legs were so stiff because I kept getting wet and cold.  I was almost crying in pain.  I actually let her canter the last 2 miles in because she wouldn't walk and I couldn't trot. 


The footing was TERRIBLE.  In addition to the physical pain, I was mentally tired too.  I had led at least one other person for the entire first 35 miles which taxed both me and the pony (but was good Tevis training) and I was tired of worrying about her slipping and sliding and trying to kill herself in the deep mud with hidden rocks. I had ridden her exactly ONCE in muddy conditions before this ride, and never in boots, so I had to carefully micro manage her until she understood how to handle mud.


At the trailer I decided I HAD to go out on the last loop if I passed the vet check.  This would be the THIRD time we had gone 65 miles and from her behavior I really really needed to move her up the distance if I could.  She's a smart horsey and figures out the ride distances really quickly.  If I keep her at one distance too long, it's hard to transition her up. 


We passed the vet check with flying colors except…..the vet thought he might have seen "something" on the left hind.  She had felt fine on the trail, I couldn't see it when she was trotting out AND the vet said he wasn't concerned.  I decided to go back out and realized that it was probably my poor riding that was causing any problems with Farley.  Last year at this ride (is the first ride of the season always this tough?) I had the same problem and Farley suffered.  I had to get my act together. 


I decided that I didn't have any real injuries that would be covered up by taking a painkiller so off I went to scrounge up SOMETHING.  Dressed in (yet another) set of dry clothes (my FOURTH that day) I mounted up feeling good and determined to give my best effort.


We did the typical new-100-mile-horse spook at the glow bars and then settled into a nice trot. I felt I had made the right decision.  Farley felt WONDERFUL and had the same spring in her step that we had started the ride with almost 12 hours ago.  After ~2 glorious hours on the trail (just me, Farley and a full moon in a clear sky!) I started having trouble focusing on the landscape and noticed that unless we trotted, I got very sick.  Unfortunately, about that time Farley hit the proverbial wall.  She wanted to walk and I NEEDED to trot.  (which is strangely ironic as only 10 miles ago, I NEEDED to walk and she wanted to trot….).  I knew she would eventually work through it (every time I have transitioned her up a distance, she hits this "wall" ~10-20 miles past whatever the longest distance she has done up to that point), but in the meantime we were going to have to go slowly. 


To tell you the truth – looking back it's obvious to me that it was the wall and not "exhausted horse syndrome", but when I'm are in the middle of it, I'm constantly second-guessing myself and wondering if I've pushed her too far too fast and whether I have brought irreparable harm to my precious pony.  Coupled with the fact she might have had a hind limb lameness AND dealing with my own growing nausea and exhaustion, it was a very trying couple of hours.  I got off and walked for a while and that seemed to help both of us. 


I knew Dave Rabe was behind me somewhere.  I had considered waiting to start the 35 mile loop until he went out, but decided I wanted to spend some time alone on my very first at night endurance ride (I'll remember those hours for the rest of my life and it ranks as one of the most euphoric experiences of my life).  However, I was never so happy as when I saw glowbars moving towards me in the darkness. 


The rest of the mileage was spent behind Dave and Connie – trotting when they trotted, walking when they walked, following in their path.  Farley behaved herself perfectly (except she had a tendency to rudely barge into water troughs, dunk her head up to her eyeballs and proceed to blow bubbles through her nose while drinking FERIOUSLY).  I was still nauseous when we walked, but as I no longer had to make footing and speed decisions (I know I know I know – IDEALLY I would have, except I wasn't exactly in ideal condition to make decisions and did the best I could), I allowed myself to zone out and I noticed my brain was starting to take little "mini" naps.  Very weird.  As soon as we started trotting I would "wake up".  Unfortunately I had gotten very little sleep the entire week before the race and it was taking its toll. 


I worried that Farley was getting pulled along and was actually not doing good as she was pretending.  I realized that as long as she was moving sound, had a good attitude, and was continuing to eat and drink I didn't have much choice – I just needed to get to the finish, pass the vet (or not) and go to bed.  On we went.


By the end of the race I had turned into the flopping, leaning forward, leg swinging rider that has you sympathizing with the poor mount.  I had one goal – to keep balanced and not interfere with Farley – to hell with what my dressage trainer would say if she saw me.


The last 10 miles were the longest 10 miles of my life.  I started randomly counting in my head - reaching a random number and then starting over - in order to deal with the pain. 


We walked up to the vet immediately, and he pulsed her in at 54 (OMG! Really?  I trot the last 20 miles of a 100 mile ride and she STILL pulses in right away?  I've never NOT had her pulse in right away to a check, including Tevis, but I was still SHOCKED).  All parameters were A's and she trotted out perfectly sound.  The vet confirmed he no longer saw whatever caught his eye at the 65 mile point.  In fact she looked BETTER at 100 miles than she did at 65!  Is that even possible?!


Farley is not particularly herd bound, especially because we do all our training solo.  Time and time again during rides she has been willing to leave a crowd of horses if the pace does not suit her – both faster and slower.  I need to start trusting my horse.  As long as the pace is reasonable - such as the pace Dave was setting - if Farley seems to be happy, she probably is. 


I woke up in the morning to a happy, affectionate pony who nickered anytime I approached her – a deep soft nicker that's different from her "you have a bucket and it's for ME" nicker.  Almost as gratifying was the fact her legs were absolutely cold and tight and she was sound with little or no stiffness. 


Ironically, I top 10'ed at this ride.  The first time I have ever been in the top ten. 


In conclusion, I'm not sure whether I have a 100 miler horse, or a horse that does 100's, but she finished so strong, and she was SO HAPPY in the morning that we are definitely going to try again.  Physically, I feel about the same as I did after my first 50, only this ride came with a completion!  Fifties are (relatively) easy for me now physically so there's hope that it gets better.  My goal for our next 100, is to catch up to Farley's level of fitness! (Again….How is it that I can be in such GREAT shape during the summer, only to blow it during the winter?)


I learned a lot at this ride and over the next few days I'm going to post some "lessons" learned that I hope will be useful to someone else…I made some really good decisions, and I made some decisions that based on the known facts at the time were good decisions…..but could have been better decisions knowing what I know now (Of course!  Hindsight and over-analyzing is almost a requirement in endurance right??)….


Oh – and this ride means I get my 500 mileage patch!  Whoo hoo!


  1. Congratulations! Sounds like you learned a lot and I can't wait to hear more stories! It is incredible how something so difficult and painful can be so rewarding- thats how I felt after our first 50!

  2. WOW! This is so awesome! What an incredible experience. :-)

  3. Mel, I'm so thrilled for you and Farley--congratulations!

    Sounds like you've definitely identified some places where you can improve your routine (uhhh, hanging out with Dave Rabe should help, the guy knows how to do 100s fer shore!).

    Here's something for you: during the daylight hours, the rider is in charge. After dark, however, the horse takes the wheel...and most of them do a better job choosing the pace/path than we do! Sounds like your mare was doing that--hurrah.

    For recovery, I recommend as much sleep as you can manage, and DRINK WATER. Your muscles are full of sludge. Your brain is overloaded. Water and rest will fix you better than you can ever know.

    And once again: Congratulations! You did it!

  4. Congratulations!! Can't wait to hear more of the story. And hey, now that you've made it through one 100, the next will be that much easier! :D

  5. *Oh* I'm tearing up! *blinking furiously*

    Deep breath!

    I'm so happy for you :)

    Will look forward to reading your further thoughts on the experience.

    Long distance "granny hug".


  6. All I have to say is that I am totally in awe of you and Farley. And a top 10 finish to boot! Amazing!

  7. Congrats! That sounds horrible and wonderful, all at once!

    My husband has also learned the hard way that once I offhandedly mention I'm a wee bit hungry, he has an hour to feed me or I start crying. I have resorted to high-protein powerbar type energy bars - they don't taste horrible and they are pretty easy to choke down, even if you're already mounted again.

  8. I'm so proud of you and Farley!

  9. First, congratulations!!! That first 100 is a huge milestone and you should be proud of your accomplishments.

    Second, eat, eat, eat. I know how it is, I have trouble with it during a ride too. But I'd bet that most of your problem with feeling fatigued, naseaous, and generally "not well" the second part of the ride was due in large part to lack of calories. YOU are an athlete in this endeavor too, and you can't expect your body to perform if you don't provide it with fuel.

    We've got a lot of good suggestions on the 100-miler list, but a few things I would personally recommend:
    - Make sure you keep several packs of Gu or somesuch in your saddle packs, AND TAKE THEM. When you start to feel punky, that means you should have had one about 30 minutes ago. ;)
    - Have some sort of nutricious drink at EVERY vet check. I prefer the lactose-free meal replacement type drinks or a V8 (either the classic or a fruit blend). These are quick and easy calories to get down and the V8s are packed full of natural elytes. On a cold ride, these do okay in the saddle bags as well.
    - Trail snacks or other foods. Find something you can stomach and EAT it (don't just carry it all day - classic mistake). You might find you feel a lot better getting away from some of the high fructose stuff like the Poptarts. Things like nuts, fruits, cheeses (I love the little plastic fruit cups, string cheese or the little circle Babybel cheeses for rides). Have food in the vet checks easily available (ie READY TO EAT with no prep) in **little sized portions**. Convince yourself to eat at least a few bites.

    Also, good WATERPROOF clothing will make a huge difference. Find some good quality Gortex gear, a full jacket and PANTS. I prefer a light weight, something that I can layer as needed for warmth under. You also expended a lot of energy keeping your body warm.

    The next one will be easier, I promise. =)

  10. Congratulations, Mel! It sounds like you and Farley learned a lot from this experience and you both made it through in [mostly] on piece! I'm looking forward to the full story.


  11. Yeah Mel and Farley! How exciting! I thought of you several times on Saturday, espeshally while I was out riding and go rained on and soaked (mostly I was mad about my new saddle getting wet!).

    It sounds like you need a crew for 100s. In other words someone to stuff food down your throat! If you want a crew and can't find anyone else, I would love to crew for you sometime! What better way for me to learn more about taking care of your horse at an endurance ride.

    Mud sucks! I am lucky (or wait, do I mean horribly unlucky?) that my horses are very used to mud. Even though I don't ride in it often, Lucy has perfected running up, down and across very muddy hills without taking a wrong step.

    Anyway, I am so glad that you finished and that Farley did well! Now you need to start worrying less about her and a little more about yourself, you want to be doing this until a ripe old age so take care of yourself now!

    (I'll send you an e-mail later about riding at Fort Ord)


  12. Yep, I should have been there to spoon puddings and macaroni salad down you.

    Sounds amazing! I really do wish I'd a' been there.

  13. Congratulations!! Seriously you are an inspiration to newbs like me :) What a fantastic accomplishment!! Your horse sounds amazing!

  14. that sounded both awful and awesome - you are tough! congratulations!
    - The Equestrian Vagabond


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