This Mongol Derby Blog by Sally Toye shares the story and preparations of well-known British Endurance rider Sally Toye. Aloeride is very proud to have Sally as one of our sponsored riders! The Mongol Derby is the longest and toughest horse race in the world. The 1,000km course recreates Chinggis Khaan’s legendary empire-busting postal system. Riders change horses every 40km and stay with the local herders or camp under the stars. Every year 40 professional, semi-professional and enthusiastic amateur riders compete for the derby crown. To stand a chance of finishing, riders must balance survival skills and horsemanship. They must endure the elements, semi-wild horses as well as unfamiliar food and terrain. Completing the World’s longest horse race is an achievement few can boast.
The 2017 Derby will run from 6th – 19th August
6th August: Pre-race Training in Ulaanbaatar
The rules of the race, the crew and weigh-in.
7th -8th August: Pre-race training on the Steppe
Navigation, survival and meet the Mongolian Horses
9th August: Start gun fires
18th August: Final race day
19th August: Return to Ulaanbaatar for Finish Party
Mongol Derby Blog by Sally Toye 2017 January
Adventures with the Mongol Derby or lunacy on the Steppes…
The Mongol Derby is a ride I have fancied doing for about 5 years. It excites and frightens me in the same moment and last year I decided the time had come. With great trepidation I applied for one of the coveted 40 places. I knew about 200 people from all over the planet would be doing the same. I waited. Then it got really scary as I was accepted, omg! Since then I have had the calm moments of thinking it will be ok and also the other moments of wondering what on earth am I thinking? How do you prepare mentally, physically and emotionally for a 1000km horse race on semi feral ponies? How will I cope riding dawn until dusk for as many days as it takes? And what was I thinking? And how much is this going to hurt? Finally I came up with the answer that solved it all… I don’t know! This is a magnificent place to start from as I am going to learn so much and a host of stuff I have no clue about now and hence this blog. This is going to be one helluva journey and I hope you will join me on it…
So last year I did lots of thinking and denting my credit cards. At “Your House Live” I met Nick on his Musto stand and we shared a very challenging time discussing and trying on various bits of clothing! I need jackets that are light weight, can breathe but can help with minus 1c to plus 35c, and are waterproof! He duly helped hugely and I have been testing them this winter, so far so good and I am very impressed with the clothing.
Next I decided to up the amount of yoga and core work I was doing. This has really helped with flexibility and Shaun T’s T25 core DVDs are really good and thankfully only last 25 minutes. I started walking with a weighted rucksack, I have always found walking really helps with both core and cardiovascular fitness and is a good precursor to running and cycling…
January was more hitting the ground with a plan and I spent time with Han to discuss and tweak my diet and health. Han has been kind enough to sponsor my two endurance horses with Aloeride and I have seen how it has helped them. They have amazing coats, the absorption of food is obviously better, they are more content and Mia my 100 mile horse is just getting a better and better condition. Her recovery from tough rides improves all the time. So I tried Aloeride Extra Strong and started on kefir smoothies. I am feeling better, I have more energy and the best news is that I have less belly fat! I can’t say my coat has improved but several people have said that my skin looks clearer.
Next, other Mongol Derby experts have recommended I ride lots of different ponies. The most badly behaved are best and if they buck and are unruly even better!! So tomorrow I am starting at a local stable where there are two slightly feisty ponies that need exercise! I will let you know how that goes. The advantage of the little ones is that it’s not so far to the ground however you dismount!! So if you are in south Hampshire and have something unruly or with attitude please get in touch!
Mongol Derby Blog by Sally Toye 2017 February
Yes it’s a bit late this month and that is because so much has been happening! It has flown by…
Last month I left you with the news that I was off to ride a little semi feral mare locally. It turns out she can bronk and buck, I was overjoyed! A group of people watched me on the common as I was smiling as the bronks carried on! In the interests of staying alive though, I did long rein her for a bit which has helped with my fitness and now we are onto solo riding. Her first solo was easy and yesterday she discovered some bucking skills when there was stuff she didn’t like, progress although I am not sure whom for!!
Next I put my name down for one of the MD saddles. These are shipped out from Franco Saddlery in South Africa to riders who can ride in them and take them to Mongolia to use where they will stay. They have amazing fenders and I am getting used to it, more next month along with pictures.
The amazing discovery of the month is RiderCise®. This is the brain child of Clare Gangadeen, a Personal Trainer, Functional Coach and Soft Tissue Therapist with over 12 years experience in the Fitness industry and over 20 years of riding experience. Clare is a rider herself who bought a Friesian horse and then realised she needed to revolutionise her riding for a 50:50 partnership with her horse. RiderCise® Conditioning Clinics and Training Programmes are specifically designed to improve rider fitness, mobility, agility, coordination, flexibility, strength and improve movement patterns. The six-week Conditioning Clinics are being announced now and training programmes can be purchased and followed via the RiderCise® Mobile App – this is what I am doing!
I have competed in endurance since the 1990s and I now realise why I have had the sometime problems I have had. The muscles I need to use just haven’t been strong enough to do the job I want, leading to others muscles compensating for the ones that should have done the work. It has led to post-ride soreness and looking at it now, this probably was avoidable. After about day 3, I started to wonder as I was a bit (training) sore and tired and then I noticed my riding was better, then my core was stronger and in just a week I have noticeable changes (good ones) and I can eat more!!! How amazing is this. I have taken a before photo of me but I think a week is unfair to show so standby this post!! This I think will revolutionise my competing and give me the confidence to ride 1,000km. It is such a relief to work with someone who doesn’t think I am totally nuts and can see my goal!!
I am very excited. Meanwhile my own mare has had a tooth out (Chris Pearce MRCVS at The Equine Dental Clinic in Witchampton) and thank goodness, she is supported by Aloeride. It is known to help the healing process and when the vet said “give her a month off”, I did say this may be too much! We hope to go to Tilford this weekend for a 66k but if this is too soon, I am considering running the 16k route, I just hope no one sloshes me!!
Mongol Derby Blog by Sally Toye 2017 March
Somehow March passed us by and we’re in April already… Training and preparing continues and this month I bought the Garmin GPS that I will be using in Mongolia. Mongolia not being the kindest place to lose your bearings! The Garmin is a beautiful little thing and now I’m going to work out how to use it! That could take some time and some miles.
I am riding with my new saddle that comes to Mongolia with me and I have put the ‘fenders’ on which changed my position quite a bit and I am adapting. Fenders are much more supportive than stirrups. I am also working on what I think I will need in that 5kg bag of stuff (it includes my sleeping bag). More will follow in May…
This month I wanted to share with you what I have learnt about the gut and endurance athletes (horse, runner or rider). Useful knowledge from the ultra-running community. My vet and I know what Aloeride does for Mia and Elvis but now I have been using Aloeride Extra Strong and Milk Kefir smoothies myself since January to get my gut as robust as possible in preparation for the onslaught it will have in August: unusual foods, long all day riding exercise and sleeping probably on mats. So far I have definitely had a more settled gut and it seems I am absorbing nutrients better as I am definitely feeling healthier and seemingly have more energy. Bearing in mind that the Mongol Derby is a multi-day ride of long days of 12+ hours, I am still learning how to train for it. You don’t train for a marathon by running a marathon! The ultra-running community tells me that ‘you can only train so much’. You need to balance training, harming your body and rest… hmmmph! Alas, the adage ‘no pain no gain’ is true when you want to become stronger and fitter.
Next to the ridercise training, I run and cycle to improve my cardio-respiratory fitness. Then there is the body. The ultra-running community taught me is that during an endurance race, 88% of the athlete’s blood shunts away from the gut to the muscles. That means that the gut can suffer a lack of blood (relative ischaemia). With ischaemia comes lots of stress hormones which are inflammatory, as if your body isn’t busy enough feeding the muscles already without the need to clean up stress hormones and lactic acid from exercise! This means nutrients may not be absorbed and the gut cannot produce the anti-inflammatory molecules that it would do normally which help the body do what is being asked of it. I know myself, I have to eat during endurance, I just have had to work out by trial and error what I can eat without feeling cramps or sick! And if that means crisps or bananas or gu blocks it is whatever I can eat! So I have been preparing for rides by eating light before and since Aloeride I seem to be able to handle food during a ride much better which is a joyous thing (after years of not being able to eat much and ride 50 miles) And I thought training was about physical stuff! Apparently it’s not, it’s also about nutrient intake, nutrient uptake and nutrient expenditure… so much to learn…
I have also started using homemade electrolytes with a little bit of fruit juice in it to sweeten. Grey salt de Guérande has a broad electrolyte spectrum and a quarter tsp in one litre is enough for me and it seems my brain can still function during a long ride with this mix. I find it amazing that after all these years of competing only now am I seemingly learning the good stuff. The help that is really making an impact, I hope it helps you too in whatever way it can.
Mongol Derby Blog by Sally Toye 2017 April
April has been a bit of a full steam ahead month and now only 3 months to that start line in the Mongolian Steppes. I am still rather daunted although I think I have accepted it now!! My fitness training continues with up to 7 hours a week of walk/cycle/run and the famous RiderCise program. I am now on my third group of exercises and they are getting harder and I think my core is much stronger (in between wobbling in various types of plank) Tomorrow is a half marathon so that will provide feedback!
Mia is back in full work with Elvis and the lovely Olive. Olive has stopped bronking which I miss, she is turning out quite nice as they say. In May there is a 80k endurance ride I am off to Suffolk then if that is good a 160k in June which will help my rider fitness no end. My MD saddle has been used on all 3 horses and I am getting used to it. It comes from Franco saddlery in South Africa and was shipped to me in February. Franco have been making and designing saddles for over 20 years and believe in adapting the saddle to the individual. Mostly of their saddles end up in endurance and polo and nicely they ride endurance themselves so they know what they are about. I have found it gives me a very secure seat, something I feel sure I will need! It has “fenders” which are the stirrup leathers. I can see that these will reduce the rubbing you can get from stirrups although I am still planning to wear chaps!! The photos show how supportive it is and I have a saddle bag for the back of it where my kit will go…
As part of this adventure I have pledged to raise £500 for Cool Earth. This is a very cool company who raise money to save rainforest and put the locals back in control. They are doing this in Peru, the Congo and Papua New Guinea. So far 600,000 acres of forest have been saved from burning and I want to help make that a bigger number. If you would like to help to please go to my page at www.coolearth.org and join in the fun. All cards accepted so there are no excuses!! And thank you if you do contribute. If you do and you want a public speaker to talk about my experience at the Derby I would love to come and entertain you..
This month is shopping month. I have a lightweight sleeping bag to organise and I thought I would start playing with the 5kg of kit I am allowed to take with me. Plus I have a riding lesson at the Centre of Horseback Combat! They teach you how to fall off and hopefully get on again plus some trick riding, I’m quite excited about that!!
Mongol Derby Blog by Sally Toye 2017 May
Shopping is one of the many themes of this month and I gave in to consumerism as I needed flights and hotels. Also the insurance quest has started and this on two counts. I need insurance for the entry fee and insurance while I am riding! I have sorted hotel and insurance for during the ride plus flights. I’m making steady progress… Let’s face it, as outdoor people we do love our gear. I love the research too. I’m learning so much about stuff I never even knew existed! (I have just bought a bivi bag that weighs 432g… well exactly!!)
Shopping has been a 400g Sea and Summit sleeping bag that is the size of a large costa coffee and rates from -5 to +12c… impressive. I’ve slept in it on the floor it’s very impressive. I have bought gu blocks (cyclists use these) and Elivar endure mix in melon flavour (very yum and I discovered a couple of years ago in Yorkshire!) and I eventually gave in and bought the orange and mango flavour as well. Elivar are specialists in nutrition for the athlete over 35 and I am now proud to now be one of their sponsored athletes. They have runners and swimmers and triathletes and I am the first foray they have into equestrian sport, whoopee. I want to take this yum stuff to Mongolia!! It has carbohydrates with sustained energy release, protein and vitamins. It means you don’t get that sugar high or at the other end of the spectrum the crash that follows it, it’s good.
Next I need new Ariat running trainers, awwwww… and the clothing and waistcoat debate is on and I think it will be a small ultimate direction ultra runners camelback and a photographers waistcoat (thank you Richard Allen for that and how did you do the MD with just 2 months notice and training… wow and respect) along with the “hydration vest” there is also a new bladder to get and spare mouthpiece etc. I may well need a new bladder myself as one of Richards words of advice was to not ever get off a Derby horse to pee as getting on might well be harder than can be imagined!! Something to look forward to…
Training continues unabated with yummy protein powder as it turns out I can’t get enough protein in!! I have found one I like yummy vanilla flavour and 40g of protein. RiderCise is now 5 times a week and the core exercises are getting hard and some days my stomach muscles just ache!! There is also running, cycling and now there is the step machine in the gym (something I always found useful to do in previous Tevis Cup rides) I recently weighed myself and I’m a lightweight 70kg, when did that happen? My clothes are looser and ironically with the exercises I am doing, my own body weight is more so the exercises are harder!!
The 80k ride over 2 days with Mia was fab with a nice speed and a grade 1, so it is full steam ahead to the 160k at 3 rivers with her in June. She is looking fab and I am riding so much better now I am stronger, funny that! My better core is helping her so much and we are more balanced and together. It’s very satisfying. My trainer has said I look a little more upright but most of all at speed my legs are stiller as my bum is stronger!! Good and certainly this is what I have been finding when moving at speed.
I spent some time with the amazing Horse Combat people and I am going back for a confidence course where I will be taught how to come off and protect myself and be safe. They run about three of these courses a month and I can’t wait. Why on earth didn’t I do this when I learnt to ride? They also teach trick riding and how to ride like a Cossack. I have a new found respect for Cossacks now having had a lesson on these techniques!! It is so cool and extremely difficult… a lot of fun is being had and thank you Karen Greig for the suggestion from a previous Derbyist. Meanwhile I think I may not give up the day job yet!
Next month I need a visa so that’s a trip up to London and I will start the process of deciding what will come in my 5kg of stuff!! I think jelly babies may well be my luxury and a down jacket to keep me warm at night! Plus there is another half marathon over the South Downs and that will be tougher than Bracknell which was an easy 2 hours 48, I feel this will be slower as there are 1500 feet in climbs… and the best of all a 160k ride at Three Rivers next weekend YAY!!
Next month I will tell you all about Mongol Derby training with Maggie Pattinson and two other mad fools er sorry Derbyists… plus more on kit and what will be in the 5kg of kit I can take with me for up to 10 days riding… plus Olive’s first EGB pleasure riding with no bronking, bucking or even a baby rear! She was just a little superstar!!
Happy trails people…
This month has been busy. Earlier in the month I met up with Paul Richards and Louisa Ball, fellow Derbyists. We had a day with Maggie Pattinson of On The Hoof Training. This was a day of ridden navigation all over Albury Heath in Surrey. We were given a next waypoint which would be a car park and then we would have to find it. Here we would meet Maggie and crew the horses, then we would be given our next waypoint. This gradually got more interesting as the car parks seemed to get closer together! At the last car park we used a Police Land Rover for re-mounting “it’s what it was built for love” and from here somehow we found our way back to the start point. Here was tea and cake!!
Maggie is involved in training many equestrian disciplines and is the Mongol Derby’s endurance guru. She has been my trainer for years and I have learnt much from her. Having the right trainer is key in any competitive sport. For me the Derby is a giant “I don’t know” as there are so many things that can either go right or wrong and so I have been getting as much help as I can find!!
Back to my season of endurance and this was a 160 km ride (100 miles for old school) at the Three Rivers Ride near Salisbury. This is a local ride to me and a most welcome one hour journey with at the venue great people and a fabulous well marked route. Gemma Sant came and crewed us both and we rode solidly over two days to finish first at 12kph. The vets were complimenting both Mia and me for looking good at the final vetting! A very happy team. The next day was a batch of 4 vaccinations for Mongolia (both arms) and the nurse said I would hurt later. I explained that I had ridden 100 miles over the weekend so I probably wouldn’t hurt anymore, I was about right!
Absolutely the most fun I had this month was a trip to the Centre of Horseback Combat and Stampede Stunt Company again! Set in the beautiful 2000 acre Gaddesden Estate in Hertfordshire this is the most amazing setting for horseback archery, unique rider confidence courses, stunt riding, Cossack trick riding and weapons skills, WOW! They compete in Russia at the world championships, wow… I came for the rider confidence course. A previous Mongol Derby rider had done it and said it had helped her a lot and I can see why. They have taught 750 riders this course, the oldest being 75 years old. It’s the stuff I wish I had learnt years ago, it would have saved a lot of bruises.
The course is a combination of how the brain works and how to get our bodies and brain to work together in a crisis when it goes wrong! And all in little bite size pieces. Plus lots of practical arena sessions with a horse and with the wooden horse aka Nellie onto crash mats. Again all in bite size pieces. The crash mat stuff taught me how to fall and what to do with my body so it would be in one piece!! In just a day we covered rearing, loosing your seat, bolting and bucking. The horse falling over and how to properly dismount. This was all about having your feet facing forward on dismount just in case the horse takes off when you get to the ground. To finish off we had some great sports hypnotherapy and I came away very chilled indeed…
Next was a bigger challenge of the South Downs Half Marathon. I knew I could do the distance but I wasn’t sure about the 1500′ of climbs/descents! Also it was on that very hot 34℃ day when sunlight reflects well off chalk!! Fortunately I had my ultra runner backpack which meant I was carrying 3 litres of fluid. I used all of it. The best bit was that it was Elivar’s rightly named “endure drink”. As the strap line said “sustain your effort during your endurance sessions”. I love this stuff it works, it tastes nice (watermelon or orange mango flavour, yummy) and I don’t get that sugar crash at any stage. This has been designed for the over 35 years age group athlete (in my case well over!) and if I read the back of the tin, I can see it does not just energy release but has fuel for the immune system, muscle mass and bones… yes please! I took it slowly and completed in 3 hours and 7 minutes and wasn’t quite as low down the field as my last half!! My recovery though was much improved which showed me I am fitter and using better fluids 🙂 I am rather proud to tell you I am one of their “featured athletes”.
And then there is more! This months RiderCise is 5 days a week training plus running and yoga, it feels quite the step up. I am also getting better at letting Clare have my food intake, fortunately I have an app with a bar code scanner which makes life easier! The exercises are definitely harder! Clare has banned me doing another half marathon before August which means it is getting closer! Scary… One night I decided to test some gear so I slept in the bivi bag during that hot weather and had the lovely feeling of being cold! Note to self is to be farther away from the birdbath as the morning starts early in that part of the garden!! And although the shopping has continued unabated, I think I have all the gear I need and in July I can test it all at the Cairngorm ride along with my Garmin GPS, fingers xx
Finally it is one week to go to being in Mongolia and this month has been about taper. No half marathons no new exercises that make me groan and in general wrapping myself a bit in cotton wool! Race day is 9th August and I can’t wait!My visa arrived and it’s pretty and I tested myself to some wonderful sports massages and taping advice from Louise Oram. She is a local therapist who really knows her stuff and from her time in the Navy understands challenges and that it is normal wanting to do this crazy stuff!
And then there is pain. Riding this long and so many days is going to produce some sore stiff muscles and it’s going to hurt! What is pain? For me it is a sensation. This 1,000 km race is going to hurt! There are sensations that hurt but these aren’t the brain. Our brain makes up a response to that pain which is the emotion. Research has shown that this can put you on the self doubt/ it’s too hard/I can’t path and response which is another piece of fear. Then there is fear of failure, fear of success and fear of pain! So if you just split endurance up into little bite size pieces you can tell your brain that this is just a response which will probably pass. It will pass more quickly if I can remind myself that the body is strong and the mind is just trying to help and that most of all take it in the moment and be present. Over that next hill is a costa coffee and a warm duvet etc etc… well ok probably a ger and a bowl of noodles! It sounds good on paper…
Some people focus on the finishing line and visualise the whole race piece by piece, each vetting going well and calmly with low heart rates. You do need also to focus on now this moment. Being in the present moment according to the google research I have done helps you make better decisions for a better race and great strategy. Being in now can help with performance anxiety to improve performance. Also with this lot in mind you can then have something left to cope with the inevitable curved balls that will happen, we shall see. I have been visualising a perfect Derby being strong and confident and staying on the horses.
I have thought about the many curved balls- cramp, bruises, lost horse, broken kit, tiredness, needing cake and food, being smelly, too hot, too cold, wet, and so on. I have been working out what I will do and how I will get through these challenges visualising them objectively not emotionally. The brain has a Y connector in it one way goes to emotion and one way goes to logic and we cannot use both at once. Ask someone something when they are cross won’t work as they are in the emotion of the moment you have to let the emotion subside and then go in for logic!
Also you are what you think! I am going to need a great self talk. One technique says you can come up with three positive things which should help your brain flip back into a happier place. I know there will be some dark moments but I also know these will pass like clouds or waves or whatever my brain can come up with at that moment!
This has been an amazing journey just to get to here prior to the Derby. I have had some of the best advice and help and I have tested all the kit. This is the moment to just get my head down go and get on with it. I will report back and if you would like to follow the email reports from the organisers you can sign up to email updates from www.mongolderby.com if you want to stalk my blip you can go to https://tracking.theadventurists.com/#mongolderby/mongolderby17.
Thank you for reading and onto the next stage :)) Thank you for the many good wishes from people and encouragement I have received and it you would like to sponsor me I am raising money for Cool Earth. This is a charity who help the rainforests and they do it by helping the people around the rainforest which does seem to be a better place to start. Anyway here is the link and see you on the other side of the Derby!!
Mongol Derby Blog by Sally Toye 2017 August
Hello people, I have been back home a couple of weeks and now am I beginning to feel I can sort my head out with the awesome and epic experience of my Derby. It seems all the riders go for a multitude of reasons. We all had different fears and ambitions and now I am recovering from 7am to 8:30pm riding for many days, roughing it with a lack of food and the lack of sleep plus the hidden whammy of jet lag. I think I have my head around some of it. Maybe! Time will tell…
So how did it go? It went very well and I had luck. I wanted to finish in the top ten and I shared joint 11th with fellow Brit Ceri Putman. I can so live with that! More than that, I learnt about myself and that preparation I did although it was at times meticulous and a pain in the arse, it made my Derby a better experience. I loved my kit and I was very glad I put in the fitness work
I learnt much about the incredible Mongolian horses as they are just unique!
I have learnt that, if you want to perform well at anything, preparation is it for me and another big thing, you have to want it. You have to want it so much you will work at it and when you get to whatever you have worked for it is reasonably straight forward and jolly good fun! Homework is completed and time to play!
I loved being away from the white noise of life; the phone, the iPad, the emails, the day to day trash of life and in general the noise of life. I got to experience the “no thing” of life on the expansive Steppes otherwise known as “nothing” it was bliss and it was beautiful. Life seemed raw and simple.
It was great to be an observer of another culture where family and nature work together for survival. The Mongol nomads I met seemed happier than many people I know in the West and they were not surrounded by the trappings of materialism. I can see why we call them trappings now. They seemed happier for that with their generous smiles and attitudes. The nomadic Mongols are in tune with the seasons and their animals and work together for survival and to prosper, they made this tough existence look easy.
Without doubt the Mongol Derby has been the craziest thing I have ever done. Riding semi feral different horses at speeds from 6kph to 35kph (clocked on my gps in a out of control moment) over a wilderness I did not know and I am not in my 40s anymore!! It used all my Horsemanship skills to tack up and get on these tough little characters. And then ride 1,020kms. The years of natural selection through tough long winters have produced amazing horses that demanded you be in the moment with them as you were never sure what they would do next or which marmot hole had your name on it.
My favourite memory was watching the shooting stars from the inside of a very cosy bivi bag. It felt like I could touch them as they lite up the whole sky. My own movie show on the side of a mountain with a herd of wild horses sharing the nearby spring as they snuffled, drank and whickered before moving on into the dark. Awesome!
I learnt that it was ok to have no steering or brakes. At some stage these added skills would appear and we would work together. I also had the privilege to ride with a like minded rider and we rode as a team. For me being a team is more to me than riding alone or winning. As Ceri taught me “if you want to ride fast ride alone, if you want to ride far ride together”