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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Training tips: distance versus time

During conditioning rides, do you ride for time or distance?

When I was training for marathons (before I got smart and realized I could do this from the back of a horse....) I followed a program that believed that time spent hitting the road mattered more than the actual distance that you did.  Galloway said that the mileage of 26.2 miles isn't hard - it's the 4 hours or so you spend on your feet moving.  To condition for this, he suggested spending more effort getting the time in instead of focusing on the miles.

This worked well for me for several reasons.  I was running without a GPS or mapped/measured course, and which wasn't a huge set back -  I did enough miles on the track that I got a good sense of my pacing (even if I was run/walking).  However, planning for time rather than distance was an advantage mentally.   I planned my long runs for the time it should take to complete them - for example, 11 min/mile pace wasn't unreasonable for a 10-15 mile run.  If I needed a 10 mile run, I would plan a 2 hour run - if I needed 15 miles, I knew I would be out there for 3 hours.  In most cases, it didn't matter whether I was running for time or distance - both got accomplished.  However, if something went terribly wrong I didn't worry that I was going too slow to get in the miles - I just knew I had to suck it up for "x" number of minutes.  And somehow, it's easier to say "I can walk for another hour and be done", then to say "I have 5 more miles to go - and so that's 1-6 hours depending on whether I run it or crawl it...".  It gave me the freedom to not push past that margin of safety that kept me from getting hurt, because I was running for time, not distance and could go as slow as I needed to get that time in without the pressure of getting the miles in.

Usually every 3rd long run or so, I would completely hit the wall and do significantly less miles than planned, but still got the time in.  It never hurt me and my next long run always went well - but more importantly, my motivation remained high and I didn't get mentally burnt out. 

The other training philosophy I followed once I had a few completions and I was interested in going faster, was: you train for speed, and you train for distance - but you don't combine the two until race day.  ie - I never ran a certain number of miles in a certain amount of time.  I either did speed runs that had a specific time and reptitions associated with them, OR I did long runs of a certain number of miles.  Only on race day did I try to run X miles in X time.  Done improperly, this can be a recipe for injury and disaster.....You have to be damn sure that your speed and distance work is preparing you for your goal distance and time, and that your goal is reasonable considering your base and past history.  As confidence boosters and "check points", I ran several races before the "big one".  For example, if I was training for a marathon, I would run a 10K or a 1/2 marathon throughout my training program to see how close to my target I was, and how I felt at those distances at speed.  Based on the results, I would adjust my training program.

Humans and Equines are very different species and it is NOT a good idea to extrapolate too heavily from a human performance program to condition the endurance equine.  However, I think there are several concepts in my running background that have helped me when preparing Farley for an endurance ride.

1.  Focus on time in the saddle rather than distance during a conditioning ride.  Often the trail doesn't turn out to be as "ridable" as I thought, or weather makes the footing icky, or I need to work through some training issues, or the trail is too steep/rocky to go at an endurance pace.  I may have an idea of the number of miles I would like to get in a particular ride (15, 20 miles), but I'll plan for a 3 or 4 hour ride.  This is why I rarely use my GPS during conditioning rides and don't regular report my average speed, or distance.  I mostly use the GPS to track speed - I don't want to go over 10 mph at this stage and Farley has a "sneaky" trot that is 12mph before I realize it.  Focusing on time helps me not push Farley or myself too fast or too far in a situation that is unrealistic to get in the time/miles that I want.  Developing this philosophy during training is essential once I get to a ride (see point number 4 below). 

2.  On shorter rides ("tune up" rides) that usually happen around home and are usually 30-60 minutes long, I do go endurance pace, or even a bit faster (for example, if I'm working a dressage canter).

3.  At some point during the training, usually once she can go on a 4 hour ride at a walk/trot on a decent trail that allows for a significant amount of trotting, I make an effort to either set up a "fake" LD, or go to a real LD.  Depending on her performance, I adjust my training and my goals. 

4.  During a ride, similar to the conditioning ride, I'm out there for a certain number of hours (whether that is 6 hours for an LD, 12 hours for a 50, etc).  Whatever miles we accomplish in those hours depends on how rideable the trail is - if the trail conditions are really tough, we may come in overtime What matters is the training and conditioning - not the completion.

The important thing to remember when I train using this philosophy is that during a ride, if the terrain is much more "ridable" than what I train on at home (and that is usually the case), thus the trail is capable of greater speeds than the normal walk/trot I have to do at home - I do NOT take opportunity to go faster.  

2 things can go wrong at a ride (my personal experience/fallacies)
1.  When I have come to a ride with a horse unprepared for the rigors of the trail, it's usually because I've focused on miles, rather than time in the saddle - and thus chosen easier trails that I can go endurance pace without a ton of foundation/base work, and thus when I get to a ride I can't navigate the trails at an appropriate speed.  

2.  When my horse gets injured at a ride or before a ride, it's usually because I've focused on miles, rather than time in the saddle - and tried to go faster on trails than I should have, in order to try and get a certain amount of miles in a certain amount of time. 

Your mileage may vary :)


  1. So I am looking at maybe doing an LD in the fall with my event horse. I know that's not "real endurance" but it would be our first, etc. This post is encouraging! I know a zillion eventers, and am trying to educate myself re: distance riders...but I think you're the only person i've "found" thus far who's mixing/matching endurance with another horse sport. I don't suppose you could point me in direction of any info/resources about the compatibility of baby-level distance training with active participation in another sport? Sorry to hijack, and of course I understand if you din't have the time or inclination to humor me!

  2. I loved this post and have is scheduled as the Post of the Week over on my blog for Monday. =) I tend to use a bit of both methods. I guess I'll more often ride for miles though, or rather a specific trail loop I have in mind. I tend to do my long rides slower than endurance pace (around 4.8 - 5 mph overall). I don't like riding out-and-backs, so being able to go ride xxx specific loop, I know that I'll be getting in that set number of miles. I do firmly believe in short sessions of speed work, although I may incorporate that as part of a long ride (i.e. work this uphill particularly hard). Hhhmmm.... I have a lot to say on this and may segue into a full post. ;)

  3. Great post,'s very similar to the legging-up training strategy I use and write about in Endurance 101. A major component of distance riding (or running, or walking) is, as you mentioned, the mental piece.

    My former endurance mount (Toad) would hit a mental block at the 6-hour mark, no matter how far/fast we were travelling. He would just sandbag me for 30-45 minutes. Frustrating! Training by time has helped me bypass a lot of those doldrums, because I've learned that I need to train with some "long hours" sessions, not just "long distance."

  4. That's strange - AareneX commented but now her comment isn't here anymore...

    Hannah - Since I've always done it from the other direction - non-endurance sports to improve my endurance, I'm not sure of the implications of endurance on another sport like eventing. I think in general, for LD's the training would be really similar - dressage and trotting miles on the trail should be sufficient to finish an LD, and you probably would see a benefit in fitness for the eventing work. At distances longer than an LD, I think that you start walking the line between jumping enough to be a good eventer....and trying to get enough trail miles/hours in to be able to nicely finish a 50 - and you may be setting yourself up for injury. I think that's part of what happened to me - I was training for 100's, AND competitive Dressage, and then I started low level jumping. If I'm putting enough trail hours in to do dressage and 100's (or perhaps even 50s) I'm crossing the line into a high risk of injury by jumping.

    I hope that helps. I don't have any specific resources on conditioning for eventers doing LD's or the other way around. By the time I did dressage or jumping I was doing 100's, so had a good fittness base already. I did review a horse book that was focused on eventing fittness/conditioning etc and it had some excellent advice that pertained to both conditioning the endurance horse and the eventer, so if you wanted, you could check it out. It was called "fit to ride" and the review is on my website here:

  5. Mel,

    Love this stuff. Especially coming from a 100 mile rider. Good stuff! ~E.G.

  6. Hi again Mel, I'm not sure what happened to my other comment...?!

    I do train and recommend in Endurance 101 that riders legging up an endurance horse begin with time rather than distance . My old endurance horse ("the Toad") would hit the doldrums at 7 hours, no matter how fast/long we were going...possibly because with him, I trained for distance. Even when we did the 100-miler at Mt Adams in 2007, he hit the doldrums and sandbagged me only once...for 45 the 7-hour mark. The rest of the day and night, he was forward and silly, which was normal for him.

    With Fiddle, I keep track of mileage when toning up after winter, but I plan my training rides for time. If we are going slower than planned, I'll shortcut to keep the time schedule rather than the mileage. If we're going faster than usual, I'll add a loop.

    Hannah: gold-medal Olympic eventer Denny Emerson has also finished Tevis. He famously remarked that he used to think that eventing horses were "fit"...until he met endurance horses. Now he recommends that eventers at least train for an endurance event, even if they never compete, in order to learn the strategies that successful endurance riders use to leg up a horse.

    p.s. the new "prove you're not a robot" is really difficult to read...even when I am NOT a robot...

  7. That's so weird about your comment it showing up because it came to my email.

    I can't wait for your endurance book! It's about time there was a good endurance book..

    I do the same thing with tracking mileage - its fun and fulfilling in some way to watch the miles rack up even if that's not the point of the training rides.

    I think that the successful eventers in the long format that competed the same horse over time have a very similar legging up system to endurance training - however, from what I hear the trend towards short format eventing has changed it somewhat, as has the shift from thoroughbreds to warmbloods. Still, a good base is a good base and as long as you have an eye towards staying away from the line that seperates fit from over fit and injuried, I think cross training and a foundation of fitness based on long hours of trot/walk is the best there is!

    Aarene-did you get my tendon article references? We're they what you were looking for? If not, let me know and I'll spend some more time in the search engines.

  8. Thanks, folks! I will check out the book. My instinct was that a "real" endurance ride on top of an active event season would be too much in too many directions, but I think part of what I was hoping for was just to either hear, "An LD sounds reasonable," or else, "You are batshit insane to even consider it."

    The steed in question is a narrow little guy, mostly TB with a bit of Paint and Arab, and has (for my purposes thus far) been very easy to get and keep fit in terms of wind and stamina (and knock wood, he's been quite sound). We did run a long-format Training last season, and he's fit enough at this point in the off-season to mostly trot/canter for an hour and then go mostly-walk the trails for another, then come back and do it again the next day.

    So -- here's to further research, then! Thank you. I will cease hijacking now.

  9. Mel, blogger has some new "improvements" up its nose lately, maybe my other comment will come back someday? Wherever it's gone, I hope it will send word if it gets work....

    The tendon article citations are good--and interesting. I need to spend more time with them. (not this week--this week I'm working on the "other book").

    Hannah: Endurance 101 isn't published yet, but there are some (rough) introductory articles that form some of the backbone for the book posted here:

  10. I think I need to take this post to heart. With Dazzby I tended to focus on getting a certain distance accomplished and I think this may have contributed to her getting so antsy and forward!

    The goal with Cartman is to start out slow. I am going to try and set up our spring training with this idea in mind.

    Thank you!!

  11. Oh forgot this, Aarene mentioned Denny Emerson, he actually has a blog and posts some good stuff. For anyone interested in checking it out-

  12. I added the blog to my google reader - looks like really interesting reading. I especially like his tag line as I agree with it completely. Your ability as a rider, or having the dog of your dreams is a direct sum of the choices you make on a daily basis. I actually have a blog post in draft for tess's blog on that subject!

  13. AareneX, I have read those! Didn't realize that was you. Thank you; I really enjoyed 'em and found them interesting.

    (Very familiar with Denny; he is in the family, as it were.)

  14. Yall have totally freaked me out and I'm quite sure I'm doing it completely wrong now. I always ride at home for mileage. When I trailer out I ride for time, but I do 80% of my training at home.

  15. Funder - you are only freaked out because you are so close to your first ride back :) If you weren't freaking out you would be able to give me 20 reasons why the training program you do works for you and Dixie and you would be totally right. When doing LD's I don't think I take the mileage versus time thing as seriously - it's mostly when I start thinking about 50's and 100's - then it's impractical to do the mileage and time is what you are left with between rides :)


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