Packing everything you need for a week whilst running 250k...and keeping it as light as possible... sounds easy right...well think again!
It is imperative to have ALL mandatory items and then decide on your 'optional items' in regards to what you can and can't live without for the week.
A good way to do this is to pack your bag a few weeks in advance... then revisit your pack each week and if you are packing something 'just in case' then don't take it... chances are you won't use/need it.
Will this item enhance my week? Will I enjoy myself more? Will I have a better race?
These are all questions you need to ask yourself about each and every item that is an optional.
Things that are counted as luxury items include... Ipods, Iphones, Camera, GoPros, a golf ball/trigger ball, a sleeping mat, more than 2-3 pairs of socks, any food over 2000cal per day...
Yep these are 'LUXURY ITEMS'!
So after 3 desert runs and discussing with a number of first time competitors and competitors who have done over 10 stage races about what they think is worth taking and what isn't I have put together the following blog to assist you in figuring out what works best.
I still think a lot of the small decisions are a personal choice... for instance I always make room for some extra 'FUN' snacks - these keep me sane during the week.
And I always take my GoPro and Phone for videos/photos!... yes for some reason I want to remember all the pain I go through ;) Haha kidding - the scenery is usually once in a life time!
The RacingThePlanet Photographers always get epic pictures and videos so it definitely isn't necessary.
Here is a short 3 min video! Happy reading/watching and I hope this helps.
Equipment I Used - I have added links if you click on the items.
... some standard items that are fairly generic I haven't mentioned.
Raidlight 30L Pack - if you can fit everything into a 20L pack... you are a legend!
Black Diamond Carbon Z Poles
Sea to Summit Spark III Sleep Bag
Sea to Summit Ultralight pillow
Sea to Summit Ultralight Sleeping Mat - XS size I use and then I put my backpack under my feet for slight elevation of an evening.
I highly recommend Sea to Summit - The sleeping mat, pillow and sleeping bag are ideal for having a good nights sleep in the desert. I recommend the Spark but I have also used the quilt in Race 2 which I thought was great as it keeps you fairly warm when you need and there is more room to stretch out and move.
Kathmandu Down Jacket
Kathmandu Ultra Lightweight Windproof/Rain Jacket
Kathmandu Thermal Top
Kathmandu Beanie - this is the best to wear at night over your ears (ear plugs) and eyes so you get a more sound sleep.
Thongs or I made some shoes out of a matt... lightweight thongs are most likely the easier option but my shoes were a bit of a laugh and worked well.
The Kathmandu Jackets have been versatile enough to wear through all 3 desert runs and I am also going to be wearing Kathmandu gear for Antarctica Race 4.
Lulu Lemon Free Run Tights - I keep these 'clean' for the week and just wear them at the end of each day/to sleep in
Nike Pro Shorts - I run in these
x1 Sports Bra
x1 pair of undies
Raidlight Cap with neck cover... I recently used a 2xu cap without a neck cover.. bad idea.. my ears got cooked!
Steigen Socks x3 pairs
Tifosi Sunglasses...cheap ones work too!
Black Diamond Head Torch
Petzl Ultra Light Head Torch
North Face Trail Shoes - previously just used Asics and they were great aswell...but now I am moving into Brooks as they suit me best - especially the gortex ones for Antarctica.
Raidlight Gaitors - velcro needs to be sewn on around the very edge of the shoe by a cobbler
x2 500ml Soft Flask Bottles
x1 500ml Playpus Bottle
x1 1L Platypus Bottle
- prefer this to a bladder as you can move them around to where you want them in your pack, usually only need 1L of water between each checkpoint unless it is a longer section.
Kathmandu 30L/35L Dry Bag
Pop up cup to eat/drink out of
Try to get a compass and whistle built into one... make sure mirror/little items like this are super lightweight and small.
Battery Pack - Jackery Charger 12000 MAH - this is a lot but I need it.
Jaybird wireless ear phones & old school headphones.
I like to use a variety of electrolytes so I don't feel sick from the same flavour all week. I then use a system to know I am sticking with my water/electrolytes uptake eg. make sure I finish both bottles of water/electro in-between each checkpoint.
You can easily lapse when you get tired. Same with food - although for the first 2 days in Atacama I was very nauseas and unable to eat during the race due to the altitude... I made sure I still got those calories in later in the day so that I had enough to be able to recover properly.
Survival bivy needs to be a bag and not a blanket.
I take about 10 wet wipes and also mini expanding rough country light towels - about 5 of these.
DON'T FORGET THE FOLLOWING
EAR PLUGS!! There are some very loud snorers at every camp... fingers crossed they aren't in your tent...
Vaseline - chaffing is not a fun time - don't forget this.
Sort out exactly what taping works for your feet - don't just throw in a bunch of second skin and random bandaids and wing it... learn the best way to stop your feet from getting destroyed!
To stick with 14,000 cals or to pack more?
This is something that everyone seems to have different views on... some say they perform better by carrying more food (approx. 20,000 cals) and they just suck it up that they have an extra few kgs of weight to start the race with... in the long run their energy levels are better towards the last few days. Especially if you are a 90kg guy compared to a 60kg woman you are going to need to fuel yourself differently...but packing 20,000 cals of food into a 30L bag is no easy task.
On the other hand some runners stick to the minimum 14,000 cals to keep the pack super light... yes 14,000 cals isn't sustainable for a week of this sort of exercise but it is just one week. You will survive, just might be a few kg's lighter - this is to be expected!
So once again I think this is personal preference and depends on you. Practice 2-3 big training days back to back and see how you go.
What type of food is best?
The absolute closest thing to real food is the most ideal!
It is horrible when you are dreading what you have to eat...
I found my favourite combos were the expedition spaghetti bolognese and a small satchet of instant mash potato - this combination is a winner.
Mac and Cheese is also a top pick and also just simple two minute noodles are delicious - they are high in sodium and usually you are craving salty things due to all the sweating you are doing during the day.
Favourite Expedition Meals
Mac and Cheese is my favourite, Spaghetti Bolognese, Thai Green Curry, Spaghetti Carbonara, Chicken Tikka with Rice
A day on a plate in the desert for me is just over 2000 cals.
Breakfast - approx 300cal.
1 coffee sachet - sometimes don't have this.
1 sachet oats
1 sachet carmens
Food whilst running - approx. 600 cal
1 clif bar
1 gu chews
Small bag lollies
1 Salami stick
Post Run/Recovery - approx. 600 cal
True Protein - Protein Drink for recovery
400cals of expedition meal - I split a 800-1000cal meal into 2 portions.
Dinner - approx. 400 cal
400 cals of expedition meal
Extra Snacks - approx. 300 cal
Nutella, carmen bar, hot chocolate.
Other Pack Options
Old pack - OMM Classic Mountain Marathon 25L Pack - this was awesome but I found it was better to hike with than actually run with.
Because it put too much strain on my lower back and also onto my collar bones which caused me a lot of grief.
If you plan to hike the majority of the 250km's then the OMM pack would be ideal as you can fit everything into it comfortably.
I purchased x2 drink bottle holders to put on the front straps it is easy to stay hydrated as the water bottles are right in front of you.
Train more than you think you need to! Everyone always says to me that I am over doing it... and my response is that the harder I train at home the easier the desert run is going to be. I don't want to get there and 'wing it' or be undertrained, there is nothing worse than 250k of pain because you aren't prepared. I see so many competitors rock up and they haven't done anything... they have a very very rough long week!
Push yourself with fitness challenges back home - this will build up your mental toughness... what do I mean by this???
Well for example a new burpee world record was set just 2 days ago because of new regulations of the proper technique/form - how many in 60 minutes - so I am going to give this a go and see how close I can get to it... Yes this is going to hurt... but try running 250k in 6 stages... this hurts far worse.
Get comfortable with being really uncomfortable!
BUT DON'T OVERTRAIN...KNOW THE DIFFERENCE!
Poles or no poles?
Race 1 I didn't use poles and it mean't that all the load was taken by my legs. When hiking up sand dunes or steep inclines the poles assisted a great deal. Race 2 and 3 I used poles and they helped a great deal, even when I would be struggling to run the poles would help propel me forward with some momentum from my arms.
I like to use white paper tape on my toes, I learn't very well from the doctors in Race 1 the best way to go about this.
The best second skin called Spenco.
Final Bag TIPS
Pack the lightest stuff at the bottom of your bag eg. Jackets/clothes etc. Then pack the heaviest stuff closest to your body (back of the pack) and towards the top - this will save your lower back!
If my back hurts I will sometimes pack my sleeping bag into the bottom of my backpack out of its cover to keep this section of the pack really comfortable and light. Once again you have to fiddle around with your pack and gear to find what works for you. I also take a strap or piece of material incase I am battling to fit everything into the pack so I can use it to tie items to the outside of the bag.
Prior to Race 1 I had a lot of questions which I was constantly asking other runners and the event staff. I would always get a mixed bag of answers so I hope this helps in making decisions on gear and food for those who are new to stage races.