October 26, 2014

The First Long Loop

The Universe has perfect timing.


Right before I sped off to TN, Endurance News showed up at my door. I leafed through it looking to see if the articles had any pertinent information and low and behold one article screamed out at me. I read it closely and spent some time mulling it over before I put it away for another day, preferably after the 50.


The article was about the apparently new trend to put long loops (defined in the article as 20 or more miles) at the beginning of 50s. Since I knew that my ride had a beginning 20 mile loop, this caught my attention. The article was very biased, as most non scientific non peer reviewed articles tend to be, against this new trend and laid out a nice argument.


Basically it pointed the finger at RMs and riders wanting the ride to be easier, have no or less away checks and be cheaper to boot. It went on to detail how it was extremely detrimental to the horses themselves. The most poignant remark they made, or at least the one that hit me the hardest, was pointing out that in a 25 you have a hold in the middle and didn't expect the horse to do the entire thing. So why make the horse basically do an entire LD before the first check?


When I read it, I found myself nodding in agreement eventhough I had no experience with loops of this length. Unfortunately, it added another layer of pre ride stress to my already pretty fried brain. I even nearly wrote a post about it, lamenting about how cruel it was to continue putting on rides this way.


But, I stopped myself and instead focused on the task at hand and rode those long loops.


And you know what? Now, with a tiny bit of experience behind me, I don't find myself agreeing so whole heartedly after all.


There were some pretty good arguments in the article and I'm not saying that I love these long loops, but it did work out very well for Gem. Having such a long first loop was best for us for several reasons:


  1. It allowed us to get the kinks of ride excitement out of our system and calmly go down the trail, getting into a lovely groove. Had the loop been only 10 miles we might have come in still anxious and hot, not settled well at the hold thus not eating or drinking and getting even more out of control. Gem eats and drinks splendidly after 20 miles, but doesn't feel the need after only 10-15 and sitting at camp not watching her eat is very stressful.
  2. Less holds. For me the holds are stressful. I'm on my own and for those who always have help, please take the time to thank those wonderful people. Maybe do a ride without so you can fully realize what it is they do for you. Less holds meant less time scrambling around, fewer vet checks so more gauranteed miles as we made if through (even had we got pulled after the second hold, we still would have gotten 40 miles in), and a more relaxed atmosphere.
  3. I know the article did its best to kill this one off to, but I liked the longer distance because it did separate the group better. A 10 mile loop will still see a lot of horses bunched up and this kills your hold time pretty substantially. Prior to this ride, I had not ever experienced a line at vetting and so when I had 10 minutes eaten away standing in line, I was quickly growing worrisome. The second loop had a barren vet check and the end? No one else was in sight.
  4. On that note, less checks also means more time available for forward motion. We had two 50 minute holds and so that left 10 hours and 20 minutes for motion. If we had had shorter, more numerous loops with 50 minute holds, less time overall would be available to move down the trail. The pace would have to be faster to make up for it. Yes, you could probably withstand a faster pace because you were out there for less periods and had more forced rest breaks, but for us having the time to spend on the trail was nice.
  5. It taught Gem to just keep moving. When the loop is shorter there is a tendency, at least for me, to mentally break down easier. Counter intuitive I know, but hear me out on this one. When I have 20 miles to go, I mentally kick myself in gear to put the miles behind us as quickly as possible. That large distance is looming ahead of us and so, while I give Gem time to eat and drink on trail, I am always keeping up the pace. Gem seemed to blossom under the steady pace. On shorter loops, it would be easy to mentally slow down because "it's only 10 miles"
  6. And finally, it was less saddling up. Each time we came into camp, Gem thought we were done. She has no clue if be are doing one, two, three etc loops that day. When she rests, it could be for the day or for a short time. Then I re tack and we head out and she starts slow and sluggish. With less holds, it meant more time with her locked into the task at hand: move down the trail. It was less risk of her shutting down and giving up for the day.
Now, I don't think the longer loops are all sunshine and roses. If your horse isn't doing so well, it is a long time to be out and about. If your horse isn't eating or drinking well, you are spending far more time away from the amenities of your crew/camp.


Gem was behind in hydration from the get go. No water was specifically placed on trail, but it wasn't needed. The creek was never far away and the recent rain had left large and very frequent puddles along the trail. In fact I dont think a single mile went by without the chance for a good hearty drink. Gem drank heartily the entire first loop beginning at mile 3 or 4 and didn't slow down the entire time. And yet we still came in with a B for skin tenting and I watched it plummet with each hold thereafter. The question is why and would it have been different had we come into camp and hour to hour and a half sooner?


I don't know the answer, but I suspect it wouldn't have made a difference. I think she was behind from the trailer ride and overnight. She finished a bucket over night, but that isn't all that much and I would have been happier had she finished a second one. I also believe that my elytes were useless. She never drinks before 10-12 miles, so the fact that she started at mile 4 showed me started thirsty and we weren't going to catch up.

Had we been shooting for a 75 or 100 we would have never finished.


But I don't agree with the article saying that a shorter first loop would have helped. Like I said, she drank very well and frequently. An additional hold wouldn't have helped much.


So those are my thoughts. For those of you who are experienced in endurance, what are you experiences and thoughts? Do you like shorter, more numerous loops or longer and fewer?




  1. While I've experienced longer loops at the beginning, never has it been more than 18 miles. At VA Highlands/Iron Mountain the middle loop is 23 miles with a 10 minute gate and go. It really wasn't so bad at all!! The trails were fabulous and we were able to do all of the things you mention about being positive with a longer loop.

    I suppose what I would like most about a long first one is just getting the damn thing out of the way. For me, the first loop goes so fast and the others seem to drag on forever. To get more mileage out of the way first thing and then get to relax because it's like coasting downhill (shorter and shorter loops), that sounds great to me.

    What I HATE is when I have to do the EXACT same loop multiple times. My first 50 had us doing the same 12 an 13 mile loops TWICE EACH. OMG. I wanted to DIE by the end of it.

    1. I hear you on that!!! Even the horses get bored going around and around. Just doing a loop backwards makes a big difference rather than the same way all the time. I think I need more experience to determine my favorite: short loops, long loops, same ones etc... but I generally like point to point races. That way I know I have to keep moving forward to reach the end.