Things that Work (for me)
I still consider myself a beginner in endurance. If all goes well this weekend I’ll boost my total to AERC miles 675 (plus 140 LD). That’s not many, but it has been enough to help me refine a few details that make my rides easier and more comfortable:
Feldenkrais ~ Raise your hand if you’ve heard of it. The Feldenkrais method of creating “awareness through movement” was introduced to me by Naomi Preston and Karen Bumgarner during the Connected Riding seminar they offered last spring. Feldenkrais lessons, or “floor exercises,” talk practitioners through a series of movements intended to break down the mental barriers that we unconsciously set up as we progress through a life of repetative motion, injury, etc. You’d be amazed at how addressing the brain can free the body to move as it should. You have to try this! Ancestral health experts like Chris Kresser also note that Feldenkrais offers the same set of benefits as do other mind/body practices like yoga, meditation, and prayer. My favorite set of Feldenkrais lessons is this vintage collection by Bruce Holmes.
Strength Training ~ I got serious about strength training about 3 years ago. By “serious,” I mean the regular lifting of increasingly heavy weights. Real weights. As in barbells and plates, not pink-plastic-swathed dumbbells or little iron bricks hung on cables. I can’t tell you how much chronic pain –particularly back pain — disappeared when I started lifting. Over the summer months, when I lift less because I focus my time on working with horses, the pain creeps back. (I think my lighter lifting schedule of late is a major factor in the low back pain I experienced at Pink Flamingo. Hello, dummy, do we see a solution here?) Aside from giving you a sexy butt and arms, classic lifts such as backsquats and bench presses are fantastic for building core strength, which is critical to good riding. They also build bone density, which comes in handy when you fall off. 😉
Paleo Nutrition ~ A few years ago, after extensive reading on the subject, I took a sharp turn off the vegan highway and headed down the road to paleo. Dumping grain from my diet (especially gluten grains) and remaining clear of all processed foods and sugars dramatically improved my leanness, strength, and overall feeling of well-being. My metabolism is now conditioned to run primarly on fat rather than carbohydrate, which means that I don’t experience hunger crashes. I can comfortably go 20 hours or more without eating, and nearly always fast for 14-16 hours between dinner and breakfast.
It also makes packing ride food quite easy: Pre-cooked meat (for Old Selam, it’s roast leg of lamb — yum!); clotted cream (an English product similar to butter, but nicer to eat right off the spoon); nuts (raw macadamias when I can get them); home-dried fruit (in limited quantity — too much sugar otherwise!); coconut water (natural electrolyte source); and canned fish (tuna, salmon, and kippered herring). Simple. I especially appreciate the calorie density of the clotted cream and nuts during holds, because riding with too much volume on my stomach is no fun. I don’t recommend trying to get through an endurance ride on mostly protein and fat until you’re accustomed to it, though! It does take 2-4 weeks for most people to adjust to eating less carbohydrate. If you want to learn more about paleo eating, check out the links provided here. Trust me, paleo meals made at home are much more exciting than the ones I take to rides.
Coconut Water ~ I mentioned this above, but it deserves more attention. The pure products (just coconut water, without additives or sweeteners) provide an astonishing electrolyte whack, and they taste great. I consume them only at rides because I don’t need that kind of support for my daily activity (or even tough heavy-lifting workouts), and they surely help me recover from long, sweaty days on the trail. I drink about 1/3 of a bottle during the ride and save the rest for afterwards; too much during the ride seems to upset my stomach.
Chocolate Covered Espresso Beans ~ I usually ride cavalry (without crew), and there’s not time to make coffee in the morning. Besides, coffee = having to pee on the trail. What’s a girl to do for her caffeine fix? Eat a handful of the espresso beans from her Christmas stocking, of course!
Magnesium and Potassium ~ I’m not a huge fan of isolated nutritional supplements, but I do pay attention to this pair. Magnesium helps prevent muscle cramping and fatigue (among other things, such as aiding with sleep quality), and potassium is part of the electrolyte mix that contributes to hydration, proper muscle function, and more. I drink Natural Calm nightly for magnesium, and include potassium salt (aka “lite salt) in my cooking.
Advil ~ I rarely take drugs, even over-the-counter NSAIDS. (They’re proven to compromise the gut lining, which leads to all sorts of complications over time.) However, pre-loading with a couple Advil tabs before a 50 does cut down on inflammation and discomfort. So I do it. But only at rides.
Long Sleeves ~ I’m not in the sun-coward camp. I firmly believe that sunlight — unhampered by chemical sunblocks — is extremely good for us. However, sunburning is not. I consciously work on graduated sun exposure in order to get a protective tan, without burning, throughout each spring and summer. Even so, an endurance ride puts me out in the sun all day. That’s bit much. So, I wear lightweight, longsleeved shirts with mock turtlenecks. Voila! No need for sunscreen. No sunburn. Earlier this year, I found some good shirts made by 10,000 Feet Above Sea Level in the bargin barn at Sierra Trading Post. Can’t beat that!
Handwarmer Packets ~ The days might be hot, but Northwest nights are often quite cold. (Someone posted on Facebook that it was 26 degrees at the Old Selam ridecamp last night. Ack!) Those of us without generator-warmed living quarters in our horse trailers have to get creative to stay warm. My favorite method is to wear double socks to bed, with those shake-to-activate handwarmer packets stashed between the layers. On really cold nights, I wear a fleece vest with more handwarmers in the pockets to keep my core warm. Works great.
Ok, your turn. How do you take care of yourself at rides?