Thursday, December 30, 2010

Equipment for Ultrarunning

There is no answer to what is the best hydration pack, headlamp, water bottle, electrolyte tablet or running shoes or any other piece of equipment for running ultras. Go to any race and look around. You will see some runners using a particular piece of equipment you like, but many will have other types or a different brand. In many cases the only way to decide what you like is to try it. These are the upcoming topics.

Clothing: Socks, Shorts, Shirts, Jackets, Sleeves, Layering
Hydration: Packs, Belts, Handheld Bottles
Trekking Poles

I will talk about some of the things I like and explain why I use them. There are a few items I will recommend to everyone. (Very Few!)

About the only critical variable here is the weather you expect to encounter. It is a good idea to anticipate the worst possible conditions you might experience. This can take a little planning. In a 50K this can be pretty simple. Check the forecast before heading to the start line and dress accordingly. If rain is a possibility, carry a jacket or stick one in a drop bag. (A Word of Warning: Occasionally drop bags get lost. Keep that in mind when stuffing the bag.) If the run is long like a 100K or 100 mile race, the planning gets a little more complicated, especially if you are an average runner and expect to be on the course for 24 hours to as much as 48 hours. And then there are the mountains. (In the Rockies, you can encounter blizzard conditions in July.)

Socks: I wear two types of socks depending on how wet I think the course to be. If I expect the trail to be dry and warm, I will usually wear “compression socks.” I use them for ultras and the run segment of Ironman events. Read about the claimed benefits and consider a pair. The other type of sock I wear is “Drymax.” They come in several weights and do a great job of keeping your foot dry in wet conditions. Last weekend I ran in wet, heavy, snow for about 4 hours of a 5 hour run. I had on a pair of Drymax Trail Running Socks and my feet were never cold.

Shorts: Take you pick. Wear what is comfortable. I like shorts with pockets. I usually wear one of two types of running shorts. One had deep side pockets much like a pair of slacks. They are great as long as you don't put too much stuff in them. When they get too full, they interfere with arm movement. The other shorts I use are called “RaceReady” shorts and have shallow pockets all across the back and side. The pair I have has 4 pockets across the back and two small ones on the side with Velcro closure.

Shirts: About the only rule here is never wear a cotton shirt. Wear a “technical” type top that wicks water away from your skin. I have several “Coolmax” shirts I like and wear most of the time. I have light weight ones for cool weather and heavy ones for cold days and nights. I also have a “Hot Chili” top that I wear in frigid conditions. If it is hot and I expect to be in the sun for hours I wear a very light weight, white, Coolmax, long sleeve top to block the sun. Although I usually wear Coolmax shirts, there are many good technical tops to choose from.

Jackets: Again, take your pick. I have three types and weights of jackets I use. I have a very light jacket that will stuff into it's pocket and compress to a size smaller than your fist. In mile weather I will carry it if there is a chance of rain. I have a medium weight jacket that is great on cold days with no chance of rain. I also have a heavy hooded jacket that I only wear if rain is expected and it is cold. I use layers under each jacket to adjust for temperature. It is better to be “over-prepared” and have to tie your jacket around your waste than to get caught in a cold rain miles from anywhere. Hypothermia can be a real threat to ultrarunners, even at fairly mild temperature.

Sleeves: By sleeves I am referring to arm warmers or arm protection sleeves that can easily be pulled on when needed. I use a pair of Pearl Izumi arm warmers I originally purchased for bike riding. Moeben sleeves are another very popular brand with ultrarunners. I use then on most winter runs.

Layering: If you run, you already know about layering, that is, unless you live in South Florida or Hawaii. The possibilities are endless but the important thing is to do it when it is cold. The key is to start with a base layer of what you expect to be wearing by the end of the run or race. Next, add enough layers to be comfortable (or a little cool) at the start .This rule only applies to runes or races that will end before the temperature begins to fall significantly in the afternoon. If you will be running over a 13,000 ft pass in route to the finish, you may need to adjust for that, too. If it is cold, don't forget the hat and gloves. 

Gaiters:This is one item I recommend to every trail runner. I wear them every time I set foot on a trail. In my opinion, there is only one gaiter suitable for ultra running and I have three pair. They are “Dirty Girl Gaiters” and they are great. Follow the link to their web site and order a couple of pair. I have never had to stop and empty trash out of my shoes when wearing them. They weigh nothing and they are “dirt” cheep.

If you cannot find the clothing or equipment you are looking for at you local running store try the ZombieRunner website.  They specialize in ultrarunning gear.

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