Endurance Racing, Just for Fun, Rider - Sarah

What Happens When an Endurance Rider Runs a Marathon

Anytime I try to explain my sport to a non-horsey person (hell, sometimes even to horsey people too), the go-to line is that Endurance is like Marathon on horseback.

Of course, as anyone in the horsey group understands, the response from the non-horseys is generally “oh but the horse does the work, so its not really that hard”

Bahahaha.  Yeah.  Right.

So to really put it to the test, I decided I would run a marathon.

I have never even run a 5k competitively (although I have done some Ride N Ties up to 20kms total distance running and ridden).  I had every intention of training for the marathon like I would train my horse for an endurance competition: record my daily miles and calculate weekly averages, do a depletion ride 2 weeks before (50% of the race distance), and strategize my speeds and crew points during the race like I would in riding competition.  Well… I did the first one at least.  We had a massive ice storm 2 weeks before the race and I decided that it was safer for me to not kill myself by running 21kms in freezing rain. I figured I had a great baseline by doing OrangeTheory 4-5 times a week (about 5k of running a day) and years of endurance riding.  Besides, I figured it would be largely a mental challenge above all else – and if I can get through 3 days of bleeding legs and saltwater in Race the Wild Coast, I can get through one measly marathon.

Before the race:

People who know me – You are running a marathon with zero experience? oh cool.  Have fun!

People who know me less well – *eyes bulge* (generally speechless).  Air of confusion.

Then I managed to get a good clocking to the face when I adjusted my office chair, spending a day in walk-in clinics and getting my nose x-rayed.  Trouble breathing for several days afterward.  “You sure you want to do this?” Yeah sure, what else am I going to do on Sunday? More of above reactions.

2 days before the race, a horrible gym class getting the spins throughout (lack of oxygen due to nose maybe?) has me discouraged – Trainer to me: “Its not like you have been preparing for this, for a lot of people this is what they have been working for all year”  Its no big loss for me.  Shoot, sudden realization that I should be taking this more seriously and I feel shameful.  Madly scribbles together the math, rations and crew instructions for my big day.  Of course, way too much food is listed and I still think I will be downing a Guinness every hold… err checkpoint (hey… I have been anemic, its an iron supplement!).  In a desperate attempt to over-compensate, I photocopy several extra lists and maps to give to everyone who MAY show up to cheer me on.

Somehow I seem to be both cavalier and anal all in one package

Day before the race – lots more of my “iron supplement”, trains a few horses because “I can’t let a little thing like a marathon get in the way of my RUS goals”.

Morning of the race – snow on the ground – ugh, but hey! No pesky animal that has used his poop as a pillow and is currently tearing down his camping paddock in attempt to further punish my decision to compete.  That’s kind of nice actually!  No horse, no gear, no waking up at 3am to feed a crabby monster who is banging on the side of the trailer because his neighbor got food at an “optimized” time for blood sugar spikes vs racing (and I just want to say F**K it, you eat all day anyway, why would I disturb my sleep?).  Oh and even better, I slept in my OWN BED… not a cold, dripping tent.  Ok, maybe I should just do foot races.  Screw riding.

Race starts:

Look at me run!  I love this!  Yay!  Wow I am going way faster than I expected too.  Good for me!  Though, I should do negative splits like I practice with Bentley… yeah I could probably keep this up.  Feeling great!  These runners don’t even know that I am not one of their kind.

2.5km in, someone asks me “Water or Gatorade?”  WHAT?  I HAVE A CHOICE?  AND YOU ARE JUST HERE WITH IT?  Tries to drink Gatorade while running… bad plan.  Coughs up lemon lime for next 2 km.  At least it tastes good.  Next time water stations are an opportunity to walk.  Looks for a trash can but apparently the way to go is ditch it on the road for volunteers to pick up.  That doesn’t feel right to me… they are already so helpful and nice!  Ok, I will try it.  I make sure to thank literally every single person I pass at a water station, road crossing, or just those cheering us on.  I wish we had volunteerism like this in our sport!

Run takes us through horse and Amish country – largely the appeal of this particular marathon.  I slow a little to take selfies with the carriage horses because I am geeking out a little.  I see a deer bounding through a field and squeal about it to anyone around me who will listen – they are not as amused as I am.  As if I don’t see deer ALL THE TIME.  This time I am not on my horse fearing the spook. Therefore its not weird for me to be thrilled over a common deer.  All the local farmers are turning their horses out and they start bucking.  Squeal and laugh again.  Child sprints after a naughty pony, trying desperately to catch him.  More squealing and laughing.

My pace car.

All of a sudden its 11km in!  Where did that go?!  Cool, that was easy.  Where is my crew? Damnit, the same thing happens when I ride, I always beat them to the checkpoints.  Guess I have to carry my hoodie for another 10k (while the weight of it tied around my waist pulls down my tights to plumber height – maybe next time I run in breeches, at least those have belt loops).

Suddenly I notice that I am running into a very strong headwind… mostly because my pace drops but effort remains.  Why does it feel like I am going nowhere?  Has this been here all along?  Someone passes me and shouts “sorry for drafting off you all this time” Apparently yes, it was there all along.  I was just too distracted by ponies to notice or care.  Ok, its getting tough now.  I am mad at the wind and start punching it, because screw being rational.  Bicep flashes with nerve pain and I am rewarded with soreness in the bicep for the rest of my run (seriously, shouldn’t my legs hurt first?)

The next 10k isn’t totally agonizing, but the wind is still pissing me off, running at a 45 degree vertical or so it seems.  I finish the half marathon feeling pretty good and vacuum up the fruit that my crew offers me.  No hands… gloves have too many boogers on it from the wind in my face.  Thank goodness I wore them, even if it were only for something to wipe.  Yeah, I am disgusting, but probably still way cleaner than I would be at this point if I were riding (another bonus!).

I pop into the portapotty and come to the decision that Women’s marathon times are slower than men because we cant just whip “it” out at the side of the road on course.  Even though I did debate dropping trou enroute to make a point (beside some poor fellow) and assert my dominance. I decided against it.  Runners might not be quite as shameless as equestrians and I was blending in so nicely.

Re-energized from a face full of melon and bladder relief, I was able to pick it up again despite the howling wind, still in my face.  We are more than halfway now, shouldn’t we receive a tail wind?  Aren’t we heading home now?  I pass a garden centre sign that reads “PANSIES” in big bold letters.  Oh don’t you even!  Yeah, I am starting to get grumpy – but in an endurance ride I generally hit the wall between the half and three quarter mark.  I remind myself of this and have a laugh.  Its all very normal.

Only noticing now that right beside PANSIES, it also says Wieners. Take from that what you will.

About 26km in we get a brief respite from the wind as we pass through a small town, winding along a river.  This is where my throat tightens and I know I am going to cry – another thing that happens between the half and three quarter mark of pretty much every endurance ride I do.   Can’t quite explain it, but its a magical combination of delirium, beautiful scenery, and unfettered optimism that I am more than halfway through the race.  I try to hold it in but my breathing gets laboured so I take a moment to walk, cry real good (nobody was around thank goodness), look around and appreciate everything about the day, then suck it up and move on.

I hit another water station right before the covered bridge over the river.  They have blue Gatorade. “OMG BLUE IS MY FAVOURITE” There is a roar of laughter among the volunteers.  That may be even better than the thankyous I have been doling out like Oprah giving cars to her studio audience.  Noted, I am now going to amuse all volunteers with my diminishing mental capacities.

now THATS the sign I wanted to see!

Back into a headwind.  Would it stop? Seriously?!  I have settled into a shuffle and am noticing my hips are pretty tight – likely no thanks to my riding like a jockey the day before, but also the general bow-leggedness that comes with the riding territory.  Time to start power walking up hills instead of jogging… give them a good stretch (just like I would do when Bentley needs to switch up his gaits to save muscle soreness).  I pat myself on the back for being so clever as to use my riding know-how on my own body.

About 31kms down, there are my crew! Screaming and cheering for me. I am so hungry.  “BANANA” is all that came out of my mouth.  “BANANA BANANA BANANA.”  I got melons.  Close enough.  Wonder what Bentley is screaming when he is hungry vs what I actually give him.  Hmmm. That’s food for thought.

I move along and catch up to someone who paces well with me.  We start chatting and motivating each other – misery loves company.  We end up moving faster than we expected we would alone and come to agreements like “lets walk up all the hills” and “Lets run until that post over there.”  It was his first marathon too.  My knee is now killing me and I have a good hobble going on and make some incredible groans and swears each time I pick up the jog from the walk.  At least because of my fast first half, I know I could likely walk the entire remainder at this point and finish within completion time.  Doesn’t mean we stopped trying though!

The wind turned, the hills picked up, and with company, the next 8kms or so flew by like a snail on rollerskates.  We hit the last water station and I took the opportunity for another bathroom break (sending my companion on to finish… see woman problems above), drank a lot, and spent a little extra time with the volunteers – making sure they knew how much I appreciated them.  I guess I wasn’t quite ready for it to be over (another thing I tend to do near the end of an endurance ride, take some time to relish the journey).  My short break lifted my energy and I picked it up for the last few kms, eventually sprinting into the finish line (you know, once people were watching!)

Time to put on a show.

The Finish

Despite my gimpy knee, everyone remarked how good I looked.  Hm, I must have an ingrained habit of achieving “Fit to Continue.”  Apparently that’s not the case for other distance runners.  I received a medal the moment I crossed, bowing like I was meeting the Prime Minister or something. Someone handed me a brown bag lunch… seriously?  More people taking care of me?!  Then I was directed into the building where I got a free massage.  Damn!  That’s service!

And again, no horse to attend to (or apologize for), no gear to pack up.  Just straight to the pub for lunch and a beer.  Sweet.

Day after

I was surprisingly bright.  Lots of energy and had no problem waking up before my alarm.  The knee was a problem – definitely.  Overall, I determined that the marathon was no harder than an 80km endurance ride – thus proves what I tell everyone – riding is FREAKING HARD.  Nonbelievers, take note.  Also, the skills and traits that get me through endurance rides were very transferable to marathon running – baseline fitness, ability to make a training plan (even if I didn’t really this time around), executing a race plan, sheer determination to push through when it is tough, even some mad leg wrapping skills honed from years of wrapping cannons (and the help of some liniments borrowed from my grooming kit).

Damn that’s a fine wrap job.

Would I do it again?  While the personal attention from my adoring fans (ok just volunteers who had no idea who I was but were perky and encouraging anyway) and the lack of a giant grey pest made the logistical side easier, the concussion from the road running was rough (rougher even than posting trot for 6 hours) and the effort was about equivalent to riding.  So if I am going to put that much wear and tear on my body, I should be doing what I love the most.  Don’t expect me to run any more marathons soon.  I think I proved my point.

Oh and BTW, I was back in the saddle with only one day off between.  Although the knees complained, I just took the opportunity to work on my no-stirrup work.  Again, I can’t let a silly thing like a marathon get in the way of me living my life!


5 thoughts on “What Happens When an Endurance Rider Runs a Marathon”

  1. I love this. As a rider and marathon runner, I use my running experience all the time with my horse. It gives me a better idea of what he’s feeling when I ask/push him to do something challenging. Plus, if I’m asking him to go 10, 20 or more miles, shouldn’t I be able to do the same? Yes, I use horse liniment on myself and my wrapping technique is on point. There’s so much crossover, I think doing both makes me both a better runner and a better rider. Next on my list, do an ultra! And keep my old pony sound and fit (his competition days are over I think).


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