We have long been awaiting this day – the day we attempted our first 50. We have gotten lots of advice from many many sources… some conflicting but all sage knowledge. I developed my strategy to complete as this:
Walk first 1/2 mile to 1 mile and allow Bentley to see the front runners take off – I am expecting a fight but I feel its important for us to school through this.
Trot loops 1-3 as much as I can, allowing walk wherever the footing deems it necessary, or if I feel Bentley getting tired. Attempt to get slightly faster (about 5% faster) each loop.
Canter the last 3-4 miles of the last loop where possible to test how much horse I have left and ensure I didn’t overwork him.
So bright and early Sunday morning, we started! The sun was rising and making the sky a beautiful golden orange colour as we started out around the tree farm fields. Bentley was quite upset that he didn’t get to trot/canter with the rest of the pack, so we argued for several minutes, several times I would stop him completely and turn him backwards on trail and stand until I got the tiniest bit of relaxation (or back up). I knew I couldn’t change my plan and trot at the start as his head was with the other horses, and not with me. So if I let him have an inch, he would take a mile and then more! I would rather fight for half a mile than for 50! Once the horses were out of sight, we had a slightly more relaxed walk, and I enjoyed a beautiful full rainbow over the fields in the golden sunrise. So happy I walked it and wasn’t in the forest for this! If only I had my GoPro on for this!
Once I was satisfied that the group was far enough ahead of me, I let him trot – the big 12mph trot (ok we can go up to about 14.2 mph – but this is never allowed in my books!) We snaked our way through forest and field without seeing a single soul until just before the end of the 2-track trail at the quarry. There we saw the frontrunners coming back from about a 4.5 mile loop – yes they were that far ahead of me. Of course, that didn’t bother me at all, but they did ask if I was ok to which of course I grinned and said “of course!” How they made it through the loop that fast however, I will never know!
Just after I got in the forest, it started POURING rain. That wasn’t on the forecast! Sunday was supposed to be the NICE day! It ended up raining right through loops 1, 2 and some of 3. There were some nasty mud parts we had to walk – I tell you its hard to walk in the freezing rain, you just want to get moving to be warm and finish the damn thing. Somewhere in that loop we passed a group of 3 horses (and I knew there was one that came out even later than me) so that put me in 5th last position. We continued trotting along our merry way and as we finished the 2-track trail heading back, we saw some of the set speed riders starting out. I told them I shook the water off the trees as best I could for them.
After that, we just trotted along, never running into any other riders or horses. Just enjoying each others company despite the freezing cold and rain. Here is the garmin data from our loop:
We came into our hold, and pulsed down right away. Linda was already vetting when we came in and I think she was about 7 minutes ahead of us. Heather had woke just in time to help me in the hold by keeping a blanket on him and offering snacks. At that point, I decided to change out of my wet breeches and into some dry ones, and try my new rain riding pants on. They totally made me look like a jockey – but spoiler alert: they kept me so dry! I highly recommend these despite the fact they are white. They arent slippery in the saddle and I was cozy for the next 2 loops where I rode them. They are also on clearance sale right now. http://www.bahrsaddlery.com/ariat-apex-3-4-rain-breech.html
We went into loop 2 which was on the green trail. We remained alone for almost the whole loop but caught up to Linda riding with Pat just before the end. This loop included “mud puddle road” where you can get caught in some pretty deep puddles, we dropped into one hole that was belly deep and Bentley had a good lift out of it onto the bank. By the end of it, he was almost a little TOO confident with the puddles and tried to trot some of them – where was this puddle lover on short course day? Not too much to report for this loop, it was still rainy and nasty but we enjoyed every minute together, and pretty much kept that steady trot the entire way.
Here is loop 2: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/380643805
We followed Linda past the timers and actually pulsed down a minute before her. I chose to take that minute and head out on our own on loop 3. This is when the sun started to show some interest on shining its light on us, and fortunately that was also when I planned on putting on my GoPro. So I have a ton of video including some of the best parts of the trail.
Here we are going out through the girl guide camp (spooking at the hissing coming from that shed – some sort of gas) Waving hi to Wendy and picking up a short canter for a photo. Then doing some twisty trail through the forest.
Linda caught up to us maybe 10 minutes into it and continued on with us through the rest of the ride. Here is a video of us taking on mud puddle road:
There was a bit of an incident along mud puddle road. We took a bank to the side of a “puddle” that was quite steep. I was in the lead, and turned around when I heard yells and splashes behind me: Sable had fallen down the bank and into the water. Fortunately she only went down to her knees and was able to scramble up. I looked back forward and realised I was coming right for a tree to my knee – one that was about a foot in diameter and would certainly not bend for me! With no time to safely maneuver Bentley down into the water, I swung my leg quickly over the back of my saddle – hoping to hold it back there and recover after the tree – nope, I swung too hard, came off balance, caught my foot in the stirrups just long enough to clear the water, and fall into the soft dirt on my right knee. I wasn’t hurt (ok my muscles tightened real quick and hurt quite a bit for only a minute) but it was embarrassing – a really lame fall for me. Worst part was I was munching down on a tasty snack, and lost it in the fall, I was very hungry! Could have been worse though – I could have been hurt, Bentley could have ran, or I could have ended up in the water – embarrassingly pathetic isn’t so bad.
At another puddle, Sable fell into a deep hole again but managed to stay upright still. When you get into the water, you really cant tell the depth anywhere. Shes ok, but will have some chiro this week to fix a slight off-ness (not lame, just a tiny bit crooked).
Here’s the garmin data: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/380643790
We finished loop 3 together and pulsed in together also. By this point it was warm so I was able to remove my sweater and go in just my wind jacket. We were floored on our way out when the timer said to us “not to put on any pressure, but you are currently running in 6th and 7th” What? Woah! How did that happen! I guess due to conditions and a few riders going off trail, a lot of the leaders had been pulled from the competition.
At that point, Linda’s strategy turned to preservation – no risks to be taken now! I still wanted to stick with my plan for doing each loop a little faster than the last, so we agreed that should we feel the need, there would be no hard feelings about separating. Well it turned out the horses had other ideas, and they wanted to stay together. Any time we would get a little ahead, Bentley would slow down and let Sable catch up, and anytime Bentley got out of sight, Sable would meltdown and surge forward to catch up. So we just rode together.
Here’s the garmin for the last 8 mile loop (what I called our victory lap – by that point it felt super short!): http://connect.garmin.com/activity/380643771
I still did my long canter. Bentley was super happy to be allowed to canter, and it was so quiet and calm at only about 10.5 mph – Sable had no trouble keeping up at the trot. So both horses got to do their happiest gait at the end. We still ended up doing the last loop the slowest (despite my plan) largely because they were so chill and there were a lot of mucky fields where the horses had really chewed it up all day. No sense pushing it now!
We crossed the bridge and through the muckiest mud part on the whole trail (it was up past Bentley’s knees) and cantered over the finish line cheering! My parents had been able to make it out to see us go out on the last loop, and finish also. Here is the video of the last 20 minutes of our ride
We pulsed down quickly and went to vet. Since both Linda and I finished in the top 10, we were eligible to stand for best condition. Linda chose to stand, I didnt due to a small scare we had when vetting. Bentleys gut sounds were very diminished. The instructions were to get some food into him fast and report back in 20 minutes. Bentley chowed down an entire bucket of carrots and a big mixture of his dinner grain and beet pulp. We went back and gut sounds were much improved. We were told we would get our completion and I was ecstatic! He ate some more and another 20 minutes we were back to perfect gut sounds. Usually the hungry eyes are just greedy eyes, but now I know to just feed feed feed next time! Hungry eyes are not a lie (this time) I may even start carrying some mash on the trail with me to give at troughs as what he gets on the holds seems to go through him too fast, and he is not yet chill enough to eat well on trail. It will come, but for now I know where our weakness is and I will learn from it.
We did end up coming 6th and 7th – a fantastic showing. The vets told us that of 18 starters, only 9 finished. I largely account our success to our slow and steady approach, and not trying to win anything. In this sense, our newbie-ness worked in our favor!
More pictures to come as I compile everything from the different cameras. Lots more helmet cam videos on my youtube account: http://www.youtube.com/user/UsarahNCIC