Saturday, April 9, 2011

Equipment for Ultrarunning Revisited

This was on of the first posts I wrote back in 2010.  I thought I would add a few additional comments.

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 runners wearing every type of trail shoe made and even a few wearing road shoes.  You may even see a pair if "Vibram Five Fingers."  Some will be carrying water bottles, some will have on water belts and some hydration packs.  The list could go on for half a page.  So how do you decide what works best? In many cases the only way to decide what you like is to try it.  You may even find that you like to train with one item but actually race with another as I often do in long training runs.  Hand held water bottles hold a maximum of 20 oz.  Two bottles will only give you 40 oz.  That doesn't last very long in hot weather.  My Nathan 3Liter X-Treme hydration pack holds 100 oz.  I also use it in longer races if I intend to use trekking poles as I did at Wasatch and will at Tahoe.

Clothing:  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.  Many race websites will give you the average conditions on race date.  Some races list the conditions on race day for past years.  The wisest thing to do is look at on the internet and find what range of conditions you might expect at the race location.  Check out the Record High and Record Low for the days around the race date.  This can be a little scary sometimes.  I read an article in Ultrarunning Magazine last night about a 100 mile race in Florida this January.  The temperatures at the start were in the 60s but during the race a front came through and dropped the overnight lows to 32 deg.  That is pretty cold for Florida.

50K are pretty simple to plan for.  Check the weather the night before and and you will know what to expect, probably.  If conditions are a little questionable, take an extra heavier jacket.  I have a Brooks "Shelter" jacket that is made out of material similar to the lightest spinnaker cloth.  The entire jacket can be wadded up in the palm of you hand and almost nothing shows.  I carry it if I think rain is likely and the temperatures are in the 50s or 60s.  Running in 65 deg temps in driving rain and wind can be really miserable without a jacket.  If rain is a possibility you might want to stick a jacket in a drop bag just in case. (A Word of Warning: Occasionally drop bags get lost. Keep that in mind when stuffing the bag.)  If the race is long like a 100K or 100 mile race, the planning gets a little more complicated, especially if you are an average runner or even a really slow one like me, and expect to be on the course for 24 hours to as much as 48 hours, you have to use  your own judgement.  Weather forecasters just aren't that accurate, and the higher the terrain, well, who knows. (In the Rockies, you can encounter blizzard conditions in July.)

If the race is in the mountains, east or west, you have to be prepared for serious extremes.  The first year I ran the Imogene Pass Run in Colorado, the race route was changed the night before the race because the snow was too deep over Imogene Pass and "whiteout" conditions were expected during the race.  The race takes place the weekend after Labor Day.  I have mentioned the 100K I ran in Utah, the Katcina Mosa, where the temperatures hit 100 deg. as I was on the climb up to Windy Pass.  The high temperatures had been in the low to mid 80s for a month before the race.  They only hit 100 race day, then right back to the 80s.

In 2008, the Leadville 100 was hit by some of the worst weather the history of the race. Here is the description of the weather from someone that was there On race day, Mother Nature decided that a 100-mile run between 9,000-12,600 feet was not tough enough and unleashed a weather system more indicative of October than mid-August.  Temperatures fluctuated from the high 30s to the mid 50s and racers experienced everything from bright sunshine to driving rain, thunder, lightning, hail, and even snow.  The point is, just be prepared for really bad conditions, and if it turns out to be beautifully, great. 

Jackets: Jackets come in a variety of types and if you intend to be running 100 mile races you will need several types available to you.  Primarily, a light, wind resistant and water repellent jacket for cool or damp and cool conditions.  A medium weight wind and water repellent jacket for cold conditions and cold, damp weather.  You will also need a "Monsoon" jacket, preferably with a hood for hard rain in cool or cold conditions.  Hypothermia can occur at temperatures as warm as 50 deg. F.  A twenty mile per hour wind at 50 deg can have the same effect on your skin as 32 deg.  If you are soaked, 50 deg and a strong wind can be dangerous.

I have Six different running jackets that I use regularly.  I have two light jackets, one for races and one for training runs.  Two medium jackets, a Pearl Izumi bike jacket and a medium weight Brooks (Thank you Mallory, my daughter.  It was my Christmas present from her.)  I have two heavy jackets with hoods,  a Lowe Alpine and a Marmot.  The are just about waterproof and wind proof and work great in really bad conditions.  I use one of them several year ago at the Mt Mitchell Challenge.  Mitchell is a race run in late February from Black Mountain, North Carolina to the top of Mt Mitchell, the highest pint  in the eastern United States.  The run is 20 miles up and 20 miles down and gains 4,324 feet on the climb up.  The run stared in steady rain at about 50 deg.  A lot of runners were wearing light jackets or no jackets.  I was wearing a toboggan,  warm gloves and my Marmot Jacket with a hood.  By the Blue Ridge Parkway the temperature was near freezing.  Steady rain was still falling and we had been running up the trail in ankle deep water flowing over ice.  The park service closed the top of the mountain due to "whiteout" conditions on the climb above the parkway and turned everyone around except the first 50 or 60 runners.  I missed by about 5 minutes and was perfectly comfortable while other runners around me were complaining about being very cold.  Seven runners made it to the top and had to be brought down with hypothermia.  Most of the rest that make it to the top opted to get a ride back down.  I think I would have been fine going to the top and running back down.  I was prepared.

I take all six jackets to races in the Rockies.  Drop bags are usually dropped of at the prerace meeting so I can wait till the last minute to decide what I will need in which drop bag on the course.  If the weather is uncertain, I can start with what ever seems appropriate and Marye Jo can keep backups in her aid station bag.  

Next I will talk about layering, socks, shorts, and so on.

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