So you’ve decided to run your first ultra marathon? Congratulations! Choosing to take the plunge into the world of ultra marathon running is an achievement all on its own. Now that the hard part is done, it’s time to get down to some planning. One of the most frequently asked questions for first time ultra runners is, “What in the world should I pack?” As race day quickly comes upon you it will be useful to understand what items are worth bringing and what items are essential to bring while also taking over-packing into consideration.
Here’s what you need to know: it’s going to be an exceedingly long day and anything is possible. Ultra marathons typically consist of extremes. Extreme distances, extreme elevations, or extreme weather conditions. During your first race, you typically learn the hard way in regards to the importance of just-in-case packing and the utilization of a drop bag. Well, luckily for you, stumbling across this article will provide you with your very own ultra marathon packing list. So be prepared, be ready, and let’s get to packing!
When running ultra distances, the days can certainly be long, therefore the weather is subject to change. Various weather conditions are especially common in ultra marathons, so be sure to pack extra clothing. Expect to face anything from extreme heat to the frigid cold, as well as snow, sleet, rain, or plummeting temperatures at night, not to mention prolonged sun exposure and intense humidity. Sometimes you’re fortunate enough to catch a perfect day; however, you never really know until the race begins. Make sure to bring a raincoat, a hat to block the sun, an extra pair of shoes and socks, and a change of running clothes. Also, if you’re not doing so already, you may want to consider compression clothing. It promotes an increase in blood flow and helps prevent chaffing and blistering. During the race, be sure to take off layers as needed; you can drop them off at any aid station. Also, you can add extra clothes or any other supplies in a drop bag. This bag will then be dropped off at a particular mile marker that you will have access to later in the race. Have your drop bag prepared, hand it in before your pre-race meeting, and get ready to run!
When out on a trail or road for hours and hours on end, expect to be exposed to hours and hours of adversity. Extreme weather conditions mixed with a single continuous motion can lead to various bodily irritations. Most of these irritations can be avoided with a little preventative maintenance. First, consider sun exposure. Pack a container of sunblock and consider carrying a small amount with you on race day to reapply as needed. Also, take into account the amount of friction your body will experience. Anywhere that your body is rubbing up against itself is vulnerable to chaffing. Continuous running during an ultra marathon causes intense friction in particular spots of the body. Be sure to pack an anti-chaffing product to apply at the start and periodically throughout the race. Anti-chaffing products can also aid in the prevention of blistering. Another issue you may run across will be from rocks finding their way into your shoes. Running on even the smallest of pebbles will eventually pierce your skin. To avoid painful feet, bring along a pair of trail running gaiters. They attach to your shoes and sit right above your ankles, providing a shield from any kind of debris. Remember, prolonged minor irritations at the beginning of a race can eventually turn into a race-ending complication. No runner wants to receive a DNF during their first ultra marathon. So be conscious of your body, take the overall distance into consideration, and pack for prevention. Preparation is the key to a successful race.
There are various electronics to consider as you prepare for an ultra marathon. If you enjoy listening to music while running, be sure to pack your MP3 player and a set of headphones. Depending on the length of the race, you may want to consider bringing backups. However, some ultra marathons do not allow headphones. Be sure to check the race website for details. Here you may find a disclaimer on headphones for safety purposes but although they are “discouraged”, they are still allowed. Also, look out for the section on headlamp. If a race starts early (before the sunrises) or if it’s expected to last through the night, particularly for a 100 mile event, headlamps will be mandatory when the sun is down. Other electronics to consider are a gps watch, heart rate monitor, or cellphone. Furthermore, with different electronics remember to bring their proper chargers and extra batteries! Check all power levels before leaving on race day morning. Finding yourself in the middle of the woods in the middle of the night with a powerless headlamp will leave you up the creek without a paddle. We all run differently, so bring what works best for you, consider the amount of time you will be running, and pack your electronics accordingly.
Finally, you will want to consider your fueling technique as well as what fuel to pack. Find out what’s going to be provided at the aid stations. If your fuel of choice will not be available, then pack your preferred gels, bars, or electrolytes. Aid stations are typically filled with gels, sport drinks, water, potatoes, fruits, nuts, salt, candy, etc. With that being said, you’ll want to pack your hydration gear. Typically, it will be a handheld water bottle or some type of hydration backpack. Each unit consists of containers for fluids and pockets for your fuel or supplies. Consider the quality of your hydration gear; you must rely on it to fuel you through many miles, so make sure to bring one you can count on.
When running ultra marathons, you learn a lot about running and, at the same time, you learn a lot about yourself and what body requires. While spending so much time on long runs, you will begin to notice what is beneficial for you, not just for your next race but for your long-term strategy as well. With each new race, you can take this packing list and fine-tune it to meet your own personal needs. Work in congruence with your crew or with your pacer and pack for an incredible day of running, a day that will be transformative, a day where you will surpass your limits and come to realize what you are truly capable of: anything that you set your mind to…and anything you pack for!