Peak & Recover – a new look at conditioning and rest
|January 5, 2015||Posted by Melinda under Uncategorized|
Farley’s welfare is my top priority right now, and so I’ve been thinking very seriously about what I’m asking her to do and whether it is reasonable and “right” for her. As I thought back over our time together I noticed a very interesting pattern.
Farley stays the most sound and close to 100% if our time spent in competition/rest ratio is about 50/50.
This means that there is equal time ramping up, condition, and competing as compared to time spent completely off. Time off in this scenario means truly OFF. Consecutive time off – spent NOT maintaining condition, NOT riding with any goal in mind, NOT training, and NOT doing anything that could be considered work.
You know the not-so-funny joke about how long it takes for a tendon to heal? Enough time that not a shred of conditioning remains and you have to start over? Taking enough time off for rest and recovery even when the horse is not lame or healing a visible injury also means resting that loss of condition occurs. I have come to the conclusion that it is impossible to both “just do enough to maintain a 50 mile every 1-2 months” and truly give the horse the kind of rest needed for restoration and recovery. Now, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by bringing Farley back after a rest period and having a horse that could do 50 miles without much of a lead up….but the minute I have the goal in the back of my mind that I’m going to give her time off “but still maintain some fitness”, I ride or do too much.
Here’s a look at Farley’s training cycle over the years.
We spent 2 1/2 years doing heavy conditioning, training, and doing endurance rides. Yes, there were times she got a whole month or two off here and there….but not nearly as much time off as time spent DOING. Did a lot of cool sh*t.
(and then she was lame)
We spent 2 years doing NOTHING. OK fine, in the interest of full disclosure – near the end of those 2 years I did an LD. I didn’t condition for it, didn’t train for it, rode conservatively and finished it. And then we didn’t do anything else for about 3 or 4 months beyond that. So in the grand scheme of things I don’t count it OK?
We spent 6 months ramping up for Tevis. (So incredibly sound and STRONG. OMG. Way better than anything I had before).
Got 6 months off (yes, there was the ill-fated 50 that we did like 35 miles in and then pulled because of stupid rider error, but like the other LD in the previous rest period, in the grand scheme of things it really doesn’t count. Poor judgement on my part, unclear whether it was a horse lameness or a gear error.).
Ramped up for and finished another 50 miler for a total of 3 months spent conditioning and riding – again, completely blown away by how much horse I had.
3 months off
1 month ramping up and completing the ride and tie (35 miles).
5 months off
I think I either give her 50% time off or she takes it – and since I really really REALLY hate lame horses, I would much prefer to just give her the time off.
6 months of conditioning and riding deserves 6 months of being off. If I want to do Tevis, I start training in January after her being off August-January.
My previous riding/training philosophy was based more in seasons: 1-2 100’s a season, spacing 50’s 4-8 weeks apart, ride as little as possible between rides – just enough to maintain fitness – and give “x” number of weeks off post ride depending on whether it was a 50 or a 100 miler.
This is different. Effort and time is spent “peaking” the horse for a specific event or time period, and then instead of maintaining, the horse is left to
rot do whatever horses do, until it’s time to peak again.
Perhaps the former method of building and maintaining worked better for the young horse that is still building base and experience, but for an older experienced horse (or at least, specifically Farley) continuing to do that into her 8th season and beyond seems to be a recipe for subtle “offness” and overriding.
I think that the 50/50 ratio that Farley seems to fall into has a lot to do with me. Perhaps if I made less mistakes, the ratio would be more like 60/40 or 70/30. But I *do* still make mistakes and perhaps the degree or amount of mistakes I still make in this sport is what dictates the recovery time. What kind of mistakes? Sometimes I choose a ride that surprises me how hard it is. Or I ride too fast. Or too slow. Or have gear issues (which affects both of us mentally which absolutely affects our physical ride).
I think the block of time that is an appropriate on/off has a lot to do with age/personality of the horse and “rider” welfare. Maybe Farley’s ideal interval when she was younger was 12mo/12mo, but I think now she probably would do better at a 6 month interval. From a rider standpoint I don’t want to take a break from her for a whole 12 months. Instead of doing all the rides on my list in one season and then take an entire season off, I’d rather ride one or 2 big rides a season, and then return the next season to “clean up” the rest.
So after ramping up for a ride mid season, what does the rest of the “off” part of the season look like?
Does she have to sit in her pen? Can I still do stuff? Most of the time periods above she DID sit in her pen (not pasture, pen) because that’s what life threw at me. I know I can’t condition or ride with any endurance goals in mind, but can I do something else with my awesome horse and still achieve that absolute rest?
I don’t think an occasional (happens 1-2x a year) longer ride with friends is the issue. But the guilt about wanting to keep her going that drives us to get out for a longer trail ride by ourselves every 4-6 weeks has to go away. Our rest periods did not have those rides because I was too busy.
I think that the kiddie walk/trot lessons that happen up to a couple times a week are not an issue.
I think once a week short (20 min or less) dressage schooling sessions for the sake of dressage schooling (ie not trying to prepare for a show, or doing intensive 45 min lessons or clinics) aren’t an issue.
I think that trying new things – like driving aren’t an issue. As long as our new activity doesn’t turn into a way to condition. ie doing some drives that are mostly walking sight-seeing are probably fine. Setting out to do long trot miles is not.
Having a second horse will help distract me if I’m tempted to override Farley.
Coming to the above conclusions about Farley reminded me to take a look at my running schedule.
It looks a lot like Farleys – except because (especially as a teenager/early 20’s) I ran through injuries where I wouldn’t have ridden a lame horse – I tended towards very long periods of running, followed by even longer periods of burnout/healing.
The most interesting thing was how much I had improved – further AND faster – when I returned from those running breaks.
I also realized I’ve never purposefully taken a running break. I *always* wait until I’m burned out or injured.
Right now I’m neither.
And last “season” was my best ever, achieving times and distances beyond my wildest dreams (being totally serious here. I didn’t *always* know I was capable of a 50 mile trail run!), and it came after a year of very little running.
So I had a thought.
What if I purposefully took a break from running? Instead of declaring myself ready to go even further this year, what if I took a step back and did something else this year? I’ll still run – it’s too important for my mental health not to – but what if my running looked entirely different? I’ve never raced a 5k (3.1 miles). It’s short and fast and the injury rate and time commitment is very low compared to what I’m used to right now. I would have time to do some other cross-traiming strength stuff. I could prioritize ramping Farley up for this season. I could focus on writing my endurance book (it’s going to be a lighthearted look at the mistakes I’ve made in endurance so far – it’s going to be AWESOME).
It’s a bit scary. What if I lose *it*.
But my past numbers say I won’t. And what’s the point of tracking all this information if I don’t use it?????
Of course I am very curious to know what my Dear Reader does for their horses in their sport of choice. Do you do a steady maintenance? A peak and recover? Has it changed over the years? Do you do one strategy now but plan to switch in the future for particular reasons?
My conditioning is slowly changing. Griffin is slowly gaining more and more experiences and conditioning while Q started hard and heavy the first 2 years and now I’m backing off because I know her better and I’m also becoming better with my conditioning schedule/activities.
Q’s had time off since end of October essentially. We did a slow (1 mile in 30 min.) hike and a short ground driving session in December, but that was it for her “working” then. I’ve got minimal conditioning in mind until late February when I plan to really start legging her up for our end of April ride. She’ll end up with ~4 months off and ~8 months on this year *if it goes to plan*. But I’m so very willing to accept that things don’t go to plan and I’m mostly just hoping to have a happy, healthy, sound critter this year, plans be damned! And another caveat to healthy, sound, and happy is a better mental game for Q. That suffered greatly last year and it’s my biggest focus this year.
I can’t wait to ride and see what kind of horse I have after all this time off, but I think – based on the way she’s moving free lunging – Dixie is just getting sounder and sounder. She just looks really smooth and comfortable, if that makes sense. D is only a year or two younger than Farley, and she’s also a little crunchy, so you may be on to something. I’m really curious to see how fast her cardio fitness comes back. (I should really track her HR or something, when I do start riding again…)
I still feel guilty for the cramped accommodations and whether she likes/needs it or not, I’m going to drag her out regularly for leadline hike/runs.
That smooth more comfortable look is the perfect way to describe it. Its not that they were unsound before but the quality of the soundness inproved
I know Mimi seems to be doing better with extended breaks the older she gets, as well as me recognizing what sets her up for success — cloudy, damp days are now a no-go for her, but if the sun is out, all is well. When we were competing, the challenge was balancing breaks with maintaining condition, since she definitely did not hold her condition as well as an Arab.
As for myself…I inadvertently took the last two week off from running thanks to a head cold, and have a 26k trail race on Saturday. I don’t know if the break, combined with a few short tune-up runs this week will help, or if I’ll crash and burn from the time off.
I just finished my first season of distance riding so I’m still figuring things out. At the beginning of 2014 I was riding Lily 4-5 days a week and as I educated myself more, I started adding in rest days, discovering that she did best when worked only 2-3 days a week. She would get a week off after a ride that was more than 10 miles, 2 weeks off before her 50s and she’s had anywhere from 2-3 weeks off after her 50s as well, with some other “vacation time” thrown in randomly. And she did great. She’s currently had 2 months mostly off (other than 2 rides and 4 longe sessions in the last 2 weeks) because of my injury but continues to look fantastic: I think being loose on 7 acres does wonders for her retaining fitness.
I feel like this past year I was constantly re-starting Gracie. She did best with closer to 4 days of work, though we weren’t focusing so much on mileage: just getting a good, solid baseline fitness on her, which given her history I don’t think she’d ever really had. I’d been hoping to get her to an LD in 2014 but with her arthritis diagnosis I decided to wait on that another year or two. At the previous barn, where she stood around a lot more than she does now, she did not hold her fitness well. If she had two weeks off, I could see a marked negative difference in her performance. I’m hoping that she’ll be easier to bring back now that she moves more at will during resting periods.
As for myself, I do not hold fitness well. Not like I used to, at least. I still think I can go out and run 4 miles or take a 1-hour Spinning class after a month off from exercise like I did in my 20s and be fine…and I’m not. Yay 30s! Because I’m pretty active at work and thanks to riding, I have a decent baseline fitness and only need 2-3 days of cross training a week to take that baseline to the next level. But man do those 2-3 days make a difference! I can take a week or two off without backtracking fitness-wise, but no more. So I guess I’m like both of my horses at the same time?
As Farley gets more and more miles she seems to hold onto her fitness better and better, even just standing around in a paddock with no access to pasture. It’s hard to seperate out the physical from the mental in endurance riding, so it’s possible that some of the “more horse” equation at rides is mental too. It will be interesting to see if your horses go into more of a holding pattern and need less maintenance as time goes by. (if you decide to continue in distance with either of them).
We shall see what my body decides to do over the next couple of years. I definitely can’t just DO all of a sudden without at least a run in the last week or 2 – old injuries immediately start complaining and I pay for it. However, I find even if it’s been a couple of months, 1-2 weeks of some running is enough to get me back to where i was. I did a HIIT interval run a couple of days ago after not doing one structured like that for a LONG TIME – and I couldn’t actually move my legs fast enough to make it hard. My body remembered and was saying MOVE ON, you mastered this exercise months ago. But I can remember the first couple of times doing that HIIT after a long rest and it being as hard as it was at first – so I think it takes time to convince the body that YES it is WORTH it to use reserves to MAINTAIN this.
FWIW I find that being super active in every day life or at a job doesn’t help me maintain or gain me fitness. There is something different (at least for me) about being on my feet all day and moving and working versus actually training my body. The only benefit I seem to get from a very active job is the “time spent on my feet” equation that I need to condition my feet for ultras, similar to if I was on a walking desk. But for the actual cardio/strength/speed or anythign beyond feet conditioning, I don’t notice much difference. (except I’m much LESS likely to work out after the rotations that are more active because my mind is a bit more fatigued and my body seems to resist yet MORE activity, even if it didn’t get the activity it actually needs)
Gem gets a ton of time off, more time than most I believe, but it has to do with my life constraints more than anything else. I can only dedicate 1 weekend day to ride and during day light savings I can usually add in 1 or 2 weeknights without fuss. Those are only at the barn though because I get to ride at 7pm. Not enough time to trailer anywhere when the trails are all an hour away. So that means she only gets real trail time one day a week and the others are playing around on the tracks at the barn. In the winter, she gets ridden one day a week and I alternate weekends trailering out and playing at the barn.
I can get to 2-3 rides a year and tend to ramp up her conditioning with an actual planned attack about 2 months in advance with longer and harder rides and more time dedicated to her. After the ride, I need to spend more time with my family so she usually gets pretty ignored for about a month afterward with no trailering at all and some times just stopping to say hello. Then it is back to piddling around until I need to ramp it up again.
Can’t like this post enough! And I absolutely agree with the young horse versus established horse bit. Young horses I tend towards more steady maintenance: they still get a complete 3-4 month break over summer and shorter (up to 6 week) breaks during the season, but overall more consistent work. We are building tendons and bone on those horses which requires steady, consistent work, but once that tendon and bone density is there it tends to STAY there. Established horses you just need to freshen up the muscle and the cardiovascular aspect. This only takes weeks.
Joe is now 9 and is about to switch from “young” to “established”. After one completed 100 miler and one where we covered 75 of the 100 miles, plus a bunch of 50 milers, he’s established. I don’t plan on doing much at all with him until about mid Feb (by which time he will have had about 4 1/2 months completely off) then we will “peak” for a 50 miler in May. Recovery for 2 months, then peak for a defence of our State title in September. (I think that’s how it will work!).
He looks AMAZING (and fat!) at the moment. He has never been a horse to waste energy but at the moment he is the one to stir everyone up and take them for a hoon, and he can REALLY move. And buck…
Our one and only vet out for lameness has been in a season where he probably got less downtime than usual.
Good job there are a few newbies in the paddock to play with this year…
Maybe this is why all the endurance riders I know have so many horses…
Unless there is something big happening my life (vet school!) I have DEFINITELY noticed my tendancy to override my horses if I have a single endurance horse. So I think there is something to having multiple endurance horses to curb that tendency. Based on your “criteria” I should have given Farley 6-12 months down time about 9 months before I did in that big 2 1/2 year chunk of time (say…after we finally completed Tevis in 2010, which was our second successful 100 of the season, instead of going on to do a copule more 50’s and another 100). Hindsight being 20/20, some substantial downtime at that point of my then sound horse probably would have prevented the big lameness we had in early 2011. Sigh. But I might not have learned my lesson as well!
My boy is the same age as Farley, but hasn’t got nearly the miles. He’s up for six months, and out for six months (funny how that holiday coincides with winter)….When he’s up he works ~6 days a week, but if he gets a few consecutive days off (i.e. work three, rest four or vice versa) he obviously feels so much better in himself. His stifles have started to click a little, but he is otherwise sound. This is his 5th season, and he really holds his fitness so much better than when we started.
My training schedule is pretty dependent on how much time I have away from work. I’ve found that Cartman maintains fitness fairly well with only getting “worked” 1-3 times a week. He does have 24/7 turnout here though.
This year I’ll start back riding in Fed. with plans of a 50 in April and then hopefully 1 every month or so thru the summer. If all goes well I would like to attempt a 75 in Sept or Oct.
I, on the other hand, have to go to gym 3-4 times to keep myself going well! I’ve recently started dabbling in running and am using the same training strategy as I do with the horse. I do lots of HIIT training at the gym, and weights, but only run 1or at most 2 times a week. So far it is going well but I’ve only done the 5ks, I’m curious to see whether I can step up to longer distances w/o doing the 3-5 day runs a week most of the training plans recommend.
I hope so, if not I’ll stick to the short stuff as I will only run as long as it is fun, not work.
Good luck! I found that my running didn’t suffer even though I run much less than typical running plans suggest – but on the other hand I did do a lot more frequent running when I was younger so perhpas I’m like Farley in that I have a substantial base? Hard to say for sure what’s really making a difference. Still, I think HIIT makes so much of a difference.
ooo, what an interesting post! I really did read it all out loud to my non horsey, non running husband, hahaha 🙂 I was contemplating similar with Scrappy last night, that is the idea of not just blithely riding the crap out of him. I’ve always gotten the sense he was the not the horse to enjoy that anyway (versus Desire, “pick me let’sgo!” and we rode 3-4 days a week). He’s 10 this year and has a few years of LSD, the 100, few LDs, few 50s. He had a full month off after the 27 blistering miles at GRS and he came back SO much stronger when I rode him at Whiskeytown trails..then he sat a week and I rode him Sunday again..the temptation is to ride ride ride but I hear this resounding “that’s not helpful to his body OR brain.” This endurance thing is a bit more fun done with some strategy instead of bulling through to survive! So glad I have a few horses to distract me, too.
Like your beautiful girl Sheza! (who just looks more stunning in every picture I see BTW….). It’s a definite switch for me. The irony is that it took me this long to realize that an “established” horse should be different than a “up and coming” and I’ve been putting so much effort (and feeling so much guilt) based on trying to maintain that that “up and coming schedule”. it’s this HUGE sigh of relief. I’m not “half-assing it”, I’m actually doing somethign that’s totally appropriate.
Excellent thoughts. I definitely think having a certain kind-of horse that will keep a level of fitness truly helps, as you need less time to leg them up. I’ve found that Major holds fitness amazingly well, as I only ride at most once a week. I’d love to ride more, but he needs his downtime (and I can’t have another horse, damn!). I am lucky that he lives in a small quarter-acre pasture, though he thinks it too much work to self exercise, unless he’s showing off for the horses in the arena.
I do know though that in my case he can’t just hang out, he gets bored and starts being too naughty (as the recently dug-up and ripped out drainage pipe will attest to). But a hike in the forest, 20-minute bareback ride, and the change of scenery does us both good.
I’m not sure about myself though. I lose condition way faster than my horse, Though I just swam after three weeks off and it was great. I’m interested in your 5k concept: would you enter races or just do it on your own? Seems similar to the training you were doing earlier in the year with the fartlek runs.
Planning on training for and racing 5k (ie pay some money and get a tshirt and see how fast I can run that day). I think it’s important to be able to see performance on *this* time and *this* day. It’s easy to pick a perfect time and run your max. I think it’s harder to say in advance – I will peak for *this* date and then no matter the weather, or the fact life got in the way, I’m going to run fast on THAT day. It exposes training holes better. Did I run too much in the days before the race? Too little? Paying the money for specific races forces you to see the training holes and fix them.
I should add that I NEVER ride any of my horses more than three times a week. So they get “micro rests” all the time, which I think are incredibly important. It will be interesting to see how Joe feels coming back this year, as last year was his first 100 and he did more rides than any previous season. Someone commented last year that he had changed from being a “pony” to being an “athlete” (at rising 9!) so it’s physically visible as well.
And now you’ve got me thinking about all of this as applied to human running… I’ve been running for six years now. On and off… It backs right off during ride season due to time pressures. Each time I come back from a “break” my “peak” at the end of that training period is a bit longer and a bit faster than the one before. And at 47 this is not down to maturity! Iran today for the first time in three weeks and for the first time, that three weeks didn’t seem to have made a lot of difference to my fitness and I could knock out 33 minutes. Does this mean I am finally “established”? 🙂 And although I am several kilos heavier than I was 5 years ago, I haven’t had to change my clothing size!
Same here on the riding. Either by design or chance, 3x a week is the max and it’s usually closer to 2x a week.
When you do return Farley to full work, working towards that “peak”, where do you being again? I’m sure this will depend on the length of break given and her conditioning level going into and coming out of it, but are there any guidelines you follow? Ex: return at half distance or speed as prior, go back to long walks, etc…?
I ask because I find that when I give Gem off a month we can generally go right back at it physically, but mentally she needs a slower return. After 2 months off she needs a much slower return to work.
I trailer out and do “real trails” for the assessment. I usually start off with 1.5-2 hour ride and see what I’ve got. Goal is to mostly trot, and then I seen how much walking and cantering she tries /attempts. We keep it low key. I don’t push. I don’t let her go too fast and we keep it light hearted. For a horse without as much of a base, perhaps that assessment is more like an hour. The point is To go long enough that it’s a “long ride” (or rather, medium length) but not go so long that you overly fatigue either you or the horse. Farley is always ready to go mentally after really any sort of break, so easing her in mentally isn’t a concern of mine. The mental game is harder once she’s been out a couple of times, at which point she decides she has enough conditioning and further conditioning is pointless and boring.
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