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Distance & Marathon Pigeon Racing - Some Considerations

By Liam O Comain

(1)  Distance     

One thousand, seven hundred and sixty yards is a distance, and this distance is traditionally referred to as a mile. So distance can be defined as a measured length between two points. Or within the sport of pigeon racing the measurement in miles or metres between the pigeons' point of release and their home lofts.

Distance traditionally within the sport has been broken down into three strands namely short, middle and long. Of course as the distance was extended the word 'marathon' became more and more a part of pigeon racing parlance.

There is no universal agreement what miles or metres constitutes the three or indeed the additional fourth strand. But it could be in the miles category as follows:

          Short Distance: 0 to 200 miles.
          Middle Distance: 201- 400 miles.
          Long Distance : 401 - 600 miles.
          Marathon Distance: 601 plus.

In normal flying conditions the latter definitions are acceptable as long as we acknowledge that weather for example can intervene and turn a middle distance race into something akin to a marathon. We need however a workable definition and I believe the above are fair as long as we consider the many factors that can effect the velocity of the racing birds. So here I refer to the distance between 401 and 601 miles plus.

(2) Requirements Of The Long And Marathon Distance Racer

When reading about fanciers who have excelled at the distances beyond the short and middle strands there will be references to families or strains that claim winners at all distances but just as there are good and not so good or bad in all strains perhaps what is required when we approach this belief is that there are individual differences to the norm. There is no doubt that there have been in the history of the sport outstanding all rounders but whether there exists or has existed an all round strain is questionable.

Speed is a necessary ingredient in the short and middle distance races but it is also necessary in the long and marathon distances, allied with an abundance of will power and endurance. In negative or bad weather conditions the most important requirements are those of will power and endurance but speed could come into play when the pigeon enters its home ground and makes that extra effort to reach its loft.

I am of the opinion that intensive breeding over the last 100 years but especially during the last 40 to 50 years has produced a racing pigeon of a high degree of animal intelligence. Mental capabilities are of more importance than the physical. Even if a pigeon was superb physically, if it lacked the right mental capabilities i.e. a clear grasp of homeward direction and the strongest of desires to get home it would be useless, as confirmed by the well built strays which litter our racing and training routes.

Yes, a high degree of homing ability, super sight, a strong will, and a strong endurance against the background of a high degree of animal intelligence is what is required. In fact that is what champions are made of! And it is to be found in the right pedigree, one in which the racing and breeding achievements of the immediate ancestry are recorded as good. For the chances of repeating the referred to successes amongst the latest generation are high in those circumstances.

(3) Training For The Ultimate Endurance  

Youngsters of the type required for this form of racing must be healthy and from early as possible receive training that will, as well as enlarging their hearts and enhancing the development of muscles, etc., help to imprint in their minds the areas into which they will have to fly. In other words they must learn the experience of their physical neighbourhoods. The latter will grow from their first take off through the daily flights around the loft area and by increasing training tosses along the line of flight. After about twenty miles they can be taken from the line of flight and tossed from the other three areas of the compass. Thus ensuring if effected by the weather and put off course they can arrive safely through the nurtured imprint of their home territory. Twenty miles in the other three directions are sufficient for our purposes but it is not required to toss them the same number of times that they were along the line of flight. The latter being approximately six tosses if the youngsters have been flying well and roaming around their own territory. In this matter some recommend that for the first half a dozen tosses along the line of flight 2 or 3 experienced non youngsters should accompany them to show what is expected of them. They then should be tossed by stages upto approximately 50 miles as the latter amount of training is sufficient. An important aspect of young bird training is regularity - once you start keep them at it. Some like to ensure that the youngsters receive race experience although there have been outstanding birds who were never raced as youngsters. If one races young birds one our two races is sufficient then they should be left to develop. As yearlings the  tosses should be single up along the line of flight until about 50 miles. The experience will stick to them when they ultimately have to fly with only the flap of their wings as a companion.

As for yearling racing the latter should be no more than approximately 150 miles for in reality they are no more than overgrown babies. In fact look at the strays and one will find that the yearling numbers are in the majority. Yes there are always exceptions to the rule but to nurture long distance and marathon pigeons one has to be careful in their handling otherwise a youngster or a yearling of tremendous potential could spend its life in the company of feral pigeons on some street because of down right bad management. 

As for two year olds the latter will not put up with high powered training. More so if it is dished out early in the year. Better to give this category a few 50 mile tosses in late May and June and then lift them into the race which they have been selected for. Bring them in after 200 miles but then stop them at 350. As for the three year old plus a few tosses of 50/70 miles prior too and then into the chosen event. For pedigreed racing pigeons of three plus years experience of the latter system should be capable of covering the ultra distances.

(4) In Conclusion

Many roads lead to Rome as they say and perhaps this is one, if not, at least for your consideration for the disciplines of long distance and marathon pigeon racing must be looked at seriously. For the 100 yds sprint at the Olympic Games is far removed from the marathon of 26 miles plus of the same games.We owe it to our thoroughbreds.


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