How Long Does it Take to Complete A Ride?
By Deirdre C. Monroe
I used to wonder how long it would take to complete an endurance ride. Of course, it took becoming a ride manager to actually sit down and try to figure it out. I had to estimate the time it would take for riders to complete each loop on the “Ride the Caja!” competition last May. Frankly, I also wanted to get some better idea of my own riding times for training rides and competitions.
There are a couple of ways to approach the problem. First, one can do a simple predictive calculation to look at how fast one must ride (on average) to complete at different elapsed times. Alternatively, one can look at actual ride times for riders successfully completing a ride.
Taking the predictive approach, let’s look at the 25-mile distance. If you assume a single, one-hour hold, riders must average a minimum of 5 miles per hour while moving to finish within the AERC maximum time of 6 hours. This makes sense in that six hours minus a one-hold leaves five hours to complete 25 miles. Very straight forward so far.
What is surprising is what happens when we complete the calculation. As shown in Figure 1, it takes 6 mph to finish in 5 hours, 8 mph to finish in 4 hours, 12. 5 to finish in 3 hours, and a lightning fast 12.5 mph to finish in 2 hours. At least at the slower speeds (below 8 mph), increasing your average speed by one mph decreases your ride time by about one half hour. However, average speed in relation to total ride time is not linear–a rider has to increase their speed from 8 mph to 10 mph to go from a four-hour ride time to a 3.5 hour time. Finishing in 3 hours requires 12.5 mph and finishing in 2 hours requires an average 25 mph. OK, the point here is that it gets harder and harder to finish faster and faster. What we can expect then is that most people will probably finish within a fairly consistent time window.
We see the same sort of non-linear behavior for a 50-mile ride with 1-3/4 hours hold time (Figure 2). You really have to fly down the trail (at an average 16 mph) to finish in 4.5 hours. Five hours completion time would require an average speed of 12 mph. The linear portion of the curve is between about 7 and 12 hours total time; these completion times require a speed of between 9 and 5 mph. Again, it gets harder and harder to finish faster and faster. Again we can expect that most people will probably finish within a fairly consistent time window.
So how fast do riders really go? Obviously it depends on the horse and rider, the ride terrain, and weather. A mountain ride is probably lots slower than a flat tide. But by how much? Let’s consider at some ride results.
Most riders at the Ride the Caja in May, 2004 (both 55-milers and 25-milers) averaged about 7 mph. Caja front runners (pink line) in the 55-miler came in at just over 10 mph, well ahead of the remaining competitors. The bulk of the 55-mile competitors came in a between 7 and about 5mph. It is pretty apparent that small groups of people rode together on both the 25 and 55-mile distances, not a surprise to veteran riders.
The 25-milers did not show any evidence of racing–despite offering a BC for the limited distance–and all basically finished at 8mph or less. Note that the 25-mile distance only had one 3/4 hour hold so riders could legally finish with a less-than 5mph average speed.
These results were pretty surprising. Even the fastest riders were much slower than I expected. Not to say anyone was slow! 10 mph on a fairly rocky ride with 3000 feet of elevation gain was pretty amazing. It is just pretty obvious that, at least for this ride, average speeds are on the lower end of what I might have predicted. Now the question is how the Caja compares to other rides…