HOW TO PACK YOUR BAGS FOR AN ULTRAMARATHON
So just how do you pack your gear for races?
For multi-day stage races, it depends on what and where I am going. My favourite brand is The North Face and I use their backpacks.
This fits me perfectly and does up nicely over the chest with a velcro section so no matter your size it sits snugly. It’s also great for women as it protects the breast and stop unwanted movement there.
I also love that it has a pockets around the wide waist belt so you can always reach your snacks and electrolyte tablets which is crucial.
If it’s in your backpack you won’t eat regularly enough.
I organise the separate groups of items into separate zip lock bags and then back them in.
I have a North Face sleeping bag, which is super light and warm. I don’t carry a sleeping mat as for me weight is absolute crucial. I have a bad back so I can’t afford any luxuries and the bare minimum in food and equipment.
I break all my food rations down into daily packs.
I even cut my toothbrush in half that is how pedantic I get about weight. Every extra gram out there can be a real drag literally. So go over and over with your packing and use your full gear at least a half a dozen times when training to iron out any problems.
What top 3 things do you always bring besides the common stuff everybody bring?
Strangest thing – in the Marathon des Sables a 240km race in Morrocco I saw some strange sights. A guy running in a full rhino suit to bring attention to the plight of Rhinos. Try doing that in 40 plus degrees. Another dressed as a Waiter in a suit with a tray he carried the whole way with a coke bottle on it and two children with cerebral palsy being carried on these contraptions by 8 runners at a time. They carried them the entire way, alternating teams in order to give these kids the experience of a lifetime. It was amazing.
I have sometimes bought paper underwear that you can toss away. It’s too heavy to carry say seven pairs of normal underwear and I wouldn’t go without sterilizing hand gels as the loos can get pretty disgusting on a multi day and the bugs get passed around throughout camp so easily when you aren’t able to wash.
Things like snake kits which are often compulsory are a waste of time and just lip service to the problem. Flares I think are a good idea in case you get in serious trouble but they are heavy. For some desert races these were compulsory and I have seen them used to good effect.
Always take your own food even when the race directors say they are providing it. I had a race in Niger a 333km non stop run where the food was meant to be provided but it didn’t arrive on the plane so we only had local fare which deep in the Sahara meant canned veges and rotten goat. The food poisoning made that race hell.
What are your top tips for other ultrarunners?
Top tips for everyone – don’t just think you have to train high mileage. The actual collecting of kilometres is only half the battle and most people do too many kilometres but neglect what is absolutely crucial which is strength training at least twice a week and DAILY mobility workouts to undo the negative effects of training like shortening muscles, knotty muscles, inflammation etc.
Add on top of that THE most important part of the whole equation is your MINDSET. Even in times when I had a terrible build up to an event like during La Ultra a 222km race at extreme altitude in the Himalayas when I was facing torn ligaments on my ankle and unable to run and had a hypoxic brain concussion to boot.
I spent more time steeling my mind for the battle and focusing on all the techniques I teach to make you stronger mentally. It turned out to be one the best races I ever had despite it being my first time at altitude.
Experienced runners who have hit a plateau, do endless miles but don’t see any change or are constantly facing injuries and dealing with accumulated fatigue or adrenal exhaustion. We see this so often with new clients who are old hands at running but who have smashed their bodies into the ground going further and longer without heed to the changing needs of their body as they get older for example, or who are dealing with the affects of accumulated fatigue and adrenal burnout. These guys need a complete reset and a few health test which we do can really help them rebuild their health and break through again into new growth and better quality running. You can’t have good running performances if your health sucks no matter how long you run and running really long (believe me I know) can actually lead to hormonal imbalances, thyroid issues, kidney problems and even weight gain and muscle loss.
New runners – Get good advice form people who really know and don’t go out like a bull at a gate. Build up your running by using the run/walk system and develop a good cardio base before heading into the the higher intensity style workouts. Most new runners have trouble with two or three things – their breathing, the length of their step, and the lack of strength in crucial areas of their body’s like hips, gluts, knees, lower back. So they must do a good strength programme (not bulking up and it doesn’t have to be in a gym it can just be body weight exercises) to help the body withstand the rigours of training, if they don’t that is when injuries happen.
Their form needs to be assessed ideally, we do gait analysis for example and this can stop people making back habits and help them run more efficiently and correctly and avoid damage.
Regarding breathing. Learn diaphragmatic breathing techniques and practice nose breathing for a few minutes a day to develop a stronger connection to your diaphragm and when you start running run at a pace you can still hold a conversation at. If you are getting out of breath, walk a little. There is no shame in that and even my ultra athletes we have a built in portion of walking training for the very long races as this uses different muscles that also need training. So they are in good company.
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