An Honest Assessment
|April 18, 2017
|Posted by Melinda under Equine Endurance, Training journal, Ultra Running
When it’s raining (again) and you can’t get on the trails, there are two choices: eat brownies or think too hard about what is a very simple sport (get on trail, go far).
I’ve written about conditioning plans and why it’s so essential to not blindly follow a generic x weeks to get to x miles type of plan. It’s far better to understand the basic logic of what training elements should be in a plan, and then tweak and adjust one as you go along that fits you (and your horse) because you created it for you. (In fact, I get the question “can you give me a conditioning program?” so often I addressed it in my FAQs)
Creating a race-day strategy is as important as a good conditioning program.
There’s a lot of conflicting race-day strategy advice. That’s because each of us has a different set of strengths and weaknesses that we are maximizing and minimizing on race day. Ultimately your race strategy (and conditioning plan) has to reflect that.
When was the last time you did an honest assessment of your strengths and weaknesses either as a runner or a rider? It’s been a while for me.
Here’s my list for running
1. I’m slow. There’s no way around it.
2. I’m prone to injuries if I run more than a couple times a week
3. I don’t like stopping to fix small problems or do self care stuff during races.
4. I have zero motivation to significantly cross train.
1. I know how to pace myself and how to gut it out. I don’t slow down (much) and I keep going.
2. I’m efficient getting in and out of aid stations
3. I’m organized
4. I have a GI tract of iron and a solid re-fueling plan.
5. I have good feet
There’s a bunch of other things I can list that I’m neither bad nor good at. For example my hiking speed on flats and my hiking speed going up hill.
Now it’s your turn.
Grab a pen and a piece of paper and list your weaknesses and strengths as a runner or an endurance rider.
Incorporate from both training, and race day. Is your time limited for training or do you have the freedom to get on the trails whenever you want? How efficient are you at getting in and out of holds or through aid stations? Are you injury prone? Do you hate a particular aspect of training and avoid it? Are you constantly late getting to the events? Do you have a hard time eating during events?
We didn’t just do this to make our selves feel good (or bad). There’s 2 things I do with these lists.
Pick a weakness (or something that is neutral) and change my behavior or attitude to make it a strength. You might think this list represents “traits” that are fixed in stone and are “just the way things are” but that isn’t true.
Two years ago re-fueling during a running race would have been a weakness, now it’s one of my strengths. It was actually a very simple fix that only required me to identify there was a a problem, and decide to change something.
If I had the money and time to go to PT (or time, you-tube, and the guidance of some friends), I bet I could fix number 2 on my “bad” list – it just takes dedication and focus.
An experienced ultrarunner commented at Rio that I had a pretty good uphill hiking pace. It’s one of the things I consider “neutral” but I’ve been working on it and it’s improved. Some day maybe I’ll be able to put hiking speed uphill as a strength if I keep working and focusing on it.
Creating a Race or Ride Strategy
Before a race I create a plan for the big day based on my current strengths and weaknesses. The longer or more the race is worth to me, the more detailed my plan is and the more time I spend tweaking and refining it.
For some weaknesses, I minimize them through planning. Let’s say that getting out of holds at endurance rides is a consistent problem. Organize yourself and make a plan to get out on time.
Other weaknesses can’t be fixed for the race, but they can be managed. For example, I’m slow. Here’s how my list dictates my race strategy to minimize the impact of that weakness.
“I’m slow and can easily end up chasing cut-offs.” Therefore I need to….
- Spend the minimum of time in aid stations
- Have my drop bags organized and clearly marked.
- Train crew ahead of time
- Re-fuel on the trail as I go
- Have an aid station plan before I get to the aid station
- Consistently and relentlessly move forward.
- Walk where I can’t run. Shuffle when I can’t walk.
- Run the flats and down hills, hike the uphills
- Pace myself so that I don’t crash and burn at the end.
- Don’t get lost
- Have a pacer familiar with the course if possible.
- Spend time being familiar with the trails if possible.
- Watch for trail markings like a hawk
- Pause at intersections or other tricky spots and double check
- Have a copy of the cut-offs with me.
- For confidence and decrease in mental stress that I am ahead of them.
- Because sometimes volunteers make mistakes and are wrong about the cut offs and having the published cut offs with you can make a difference of being able to continue.
That’s a pretty good race-strategy!
Being slow dictates what I need to do during the race and helps me decide what advice I should take and what advice might work later when I’m faster because right now they will cost me too much time.
Eventually focusing on increasing my speed during training might make enough of a difference that “being slow” no longer dictates the majority of my race strategy for race day, but for now when I toe the start line it’s a factor I absolutely have to plan for.
I’m going to quickly do this exercise for my endurance riding, since there’s some important differences between that and ultrarunning for me. I know that for the reader this is probably boring and repetitive, so I no hurt feelings if you sign off…..going through this exercise will help me, and it might help some of you.
Farley is my current endurance horse so some elements of the list are specific to her. The list changes a bit depending on what horse I’m riding.
1. I’m very good at getting out of checks on time. I can get through gate-and-goes as quickly as I need to.
2. I can get off and run down hills or tail up hills efficiently.
3. Farley can scuttle down hill like no one’s business
4. Farley is an excellent eater from start to finish
5. Farley and I both handle heat without even noticing.
6. Farley is a been there done that horse and I’m not likely to get thrown into a situation that she can’t handle.
7. She has a BIG trot and we can make up lots of time just trotting the flat stuff even if we walk all the iffy footing and the uphills.
8. Absolutely knows her job and what is expected at endurance rides – She pulses, and eats, and drinks, and trots out, and knows what a vet check looks like. Also a bonus is that I’ve been doing this for 10 years. I’m familiar with the rules, how vet checks are likely to be organized, have my camping set up figured out, and can generally focus on the ride instead of all the *other* stuff.
9. Trailers well.
10. In general, gives zero fucks about the herd and will “ride her own ride” according to her abilities. Way more motivated to keep horses from passing her than keeping up with horses ahead of her.
1. Previous tendon injuries in Farley
2. I have a hard time eating and drinking while riding and am very sensitive to calf cramps and it’s really hard to manage my electrolytes.
3. Stopping on the trail for any length of time is dicey – Farley has a limited amount of patience for it.
4. Cold is hard on me and Farley. She shivers and cramps. I get stiff and grumpy.
5. I have a very hard time riding “well” near the end of a 100 and can/did sore my horse. I ride OK but I’m definitely not top tier.
6. Farley’s 18 years old.
7. We live in a flat valley so uphills during a ride faster than a walk make me nervous in terms of muscle fatigue.
8. Me dismounted and running anything flat is relatively slow and inefficient.
9. Better at passing than being passed (but this is such a small difference now that maybe I should move it off this list and onto the “neutral” list. )
10. Is very sensitive to being conditioned on the same trails over and over – extremely difficult to motivate
What we work on in training
- Standing on the trail and chilling
- As many uphills at a trot as we can manage.
- Having fun
- Practicing my fueling and working on a system that makes eating/drinking/elyting myself easy in the saddle.
- Minimizing riding that puts additional wear and tear on the tendons.
Typical ride strategy
- Walk the sketchy footing and keep theuphills down to a dull roar. Trot all the reasonable down hill and flat good footing trail.
- Get off when needed, but don’t fight her if she doesn’t want me dismounted.
- Minimize trail stops (except for grazing or breaks by her choice).
- Start in the back in a “hole” where I can ride by myself and minimize my chances of needing to stop for someone else.
- If I end up going a couple minutes over on my hold time it’s worth it if I can get something done or double check something that minimizes the chances I’ll have to stop on the trail.
The above two strategies usually results in a well paced ride for us. I’ll usually finish mid pack or top third and rarely chase cut offs.
- Vet her right away at checks to minimize stiffness related to being an older (but sound enough) horse
- Over dress both of us for the weather. Rump rug, jackets, wool, lots of coolers.
- Pay more attention to *my* refueling and self care and LESS time worrying about her an the what-ifs because historically she isn’t the problem.
Again, this race strategy would have looked different in 2008 or 2009 at the beginning of Farley’s endurance career – different lists of strengths of weaknesses resulted in a different race strategy.
Looks like the weather is improving and I’m going to get some sunshine finally!