Preparing for a self-supported, multi-stage ultra-marathon can be overwhelming.
• How many miles should I run each week during my training?
• Should I walk during training?
• When should I start training with my pack?
• How heavy should my pack weigh?
• How much food should I take and what type?
• Do I need to take care of my electrolytes?
• How warm should my sleeping bag be?
• How many clothes do I need to pack?
1. Physical Condition
You need to be in reasonable physical condition. Stage racing is hard, and you need to be up to the challenge. Chronic medical conditions need to be under control.
You should also be as injury free as possible and your core strength good to go. Your first goal should be to get to the starting line healthy. Finishing is all the sweeter when you realize you have done something amazing and that you are not a DNF statistic!
2. Mental Condition
Your mind needs to be in the right place. You need to be able to let go of the daily issues that clutter our minds and focus on the task at hand. One also needs to be able to commit to training in a psychologically optimistic way. Do not fear the unknown but look forward to it as an adventure! Your life will be so much better with a positive mental attitude!
Your training plan is personal and should be designed for you. It should be based on your abilities and expectations. What others do may be a guide but should not dictate your approach. Sufficient mileage, core training and time with your pack are all important. Do not forget adequate rest!
Photo courtesy of Trail Toes
The choice of gear stresses many runners. True, there is a lot to worry about, but it is finite and controllable. Be sure you have what you need, including all the pieces of mandatory equipment and that it is robust and in good repair. You should also know how to use all of these items – don’t open the box for the first time at Race Check-in!
Focus on your pack and sleeping system (sleeping bag and pad) since these two will dictate much of your comfort over the course of the event. Everything else is minor compared to these.
Whilst the ideal pack weight at the starting line on Day 1 will depend on your size, experience, speed and strength, a good guide would be a maximum of between 10 and 11 kgs (excluding water), with roughly 50% being food.
You are going to have a limited amount of clothing so plan on selecting the lightest, most functional items that will allow you to operate comfortably in the expected environments.
Typically, most stage racers bring very little clothing, since it is basically dead weight. Conversely, one should not skimp too much, especially if cold temperatures are expected. Mandatory race equipment or weather may dictate some of your choices. Since recovery each day after reaching camp is a key element of success, you need to ensure that you can stay warm and dry.
6. Socks and Shoes
These warrant special consideration. Having appropriate footwear is critical in stage racing since you spend so much time on your feet. Just like your sleeping system, your socks and shoes are a system. Shoes should fit well and be broken in (but not worn out).
A variety of socks should be at your disposal, preferably new. At a minimum, you should have at least two spare pairs (more is a luxury to seriously consider) since rinsing out socks is typically not an option.
Fueling yourself for an entire week of racing is a huge challenge. Sufficient calories must be available along with a proper balance of carbohydrates, fats and protein. Do not forget the electrolytes too!
Trying your selections before the race is important to understand how you tolerate (or don’t) some non-typical foods, which you may be consuming. Your body will not be used to consuming dehydrated meals, which is why you need to have eaten these same foods during your training. The minimum race requirement of two thousand calories a day is not a lot of food and is considered sufficient for a sedentary lifestyle. Seriously, consider more. Having a well thought out and tested nutrition plan is key to successful recovery each day.
This is important. Are you capable of taking care of yourself? Can you get into dry clothes, fix your food and take care of your feet, after a long hard wet stage when you are physically and mentally exhausted? Or, do you need someone to take off your shoes, fix you a warm tea and give you a foot massage? You will have tent mates and they may help but you could be on your own or you may need to be helping someone else out.
These are all the little details that you must worry about and form part of your plan. Entry forms, payments, medical forms, passports/visas, flights, ground transportation, lodging, insurance etc. Having all these squared away makes for a more pleasant experience.
If you have questions, contact the race officials and get them cleared up early. Be sure your travel arrangements are solid and give you some margin due to unexpected delays. Arrive as early as possible to acclimatize to the heat and altitude and recover from jet lag.
Beware of the JICs! JIC stands for “Just in case”. You can second-guess everything and if you try to plan for every contingency, your pack will quickly become untenable. Many stage racers learn this the hard way the first time out and when it comes to their second race, packs are much lighter.
A lot of newcomers also consider many luxury items as a necessity, so be ruthless here. You can get by with very little!
To ensure a successful and enjoyable experience, attention should be given to all of the above. There is just too much that can happen in a stage race and being well prepared, will provide you with the best chance for success.
This article was created to help competitors complete America’s toughest self-supported ultra-marathon stage foot races, the Grand to Grand Ultra and the Mauna to Mauna Ultra