Ultra Packing (Heineken Race to the Tower, Double Marathon Edition)

Let’s kick this post off by saying, I have NO IDEA what i’m doing.

To date, I have run ONE Ultra Marathon, 100km over 2 days, last July, at Race to the Stones. And you know, my comparisons of running things really are often on a parallel with MY experiences of pregnancy and childbirth. For example;

At the beginning, it seems like a good idea, exciting even!

You buy all the new gear and gadgets, clothes, sometimes even bedding.

You spend months in training, usually putting on weight due to the sheer amount of carbs you need to refuel your training runs.

Somewhere close to the end you’ll realise this IS happening and you’re going to have to put your body through some sort of sadistic experiment of pain and endurance, and it was YOUR CHOICE.

You get cross, and irritable and bloated and fearful and SO EXCITED and then SO BLOODY SCARED of what is about to happen…

But then, it happens. You rise ethereally above your own body and wonder if this may well be your last experience on earth. The all consuming pain and tiredness pulling your soul away from your exhausted body until gloriously the finish line appears! One last push and your beautiful reward awaits you!! Somehow you find the strength to haul ass over that line and you realise that you, my friend, are S U P E R W O M A N.

So in this instance, this is all for a medal…

I will be posting again on what I pack for the other two Threshold Sports ultras, as this year I thought it was important I did as many ridiculous things as possible, so i’m doing all three events in 2018. So this post will concentrate on what i’m packing for Race to the Tower, and I am doing the double marathon (52.3 miles), straight through option.

So first things first, Threshold do not have a mandatory kit list like some ultras do. Each ultra will be different and you need to make sure you find out if you have a mandatory list. They won’t let you compete if you don’t meet kit list requirements and some will even bag check you en route.

They do have a suggested list, which I haven’t followed to the letter, but last year for my virgin race I definitely took most things they suggested out of sheer fear of the unknown. I’d have packed a sink if it was on the list.

It’s also good to remember that these ultras in particular, are really well supported. The Check Point aid stations are usually no more than 8 miles apart, and they are so well stocked with foods and drinks, that vary slightly depending on where you are on the route, and what package option you are doing (eg soup and bread at later CP’s for straight through people etc).

So for this reason, I don’t pack much in the way of food for Threshold Ultra series. (You can food with you from the stations too – a good tip was take nappy/dog poo bags with you so you can fill them up and snack en route instead of waiting around at the station for ages).

I think the best way is to give you a nice list of what I bring for each part of the ultra. So what’s in my kit bag, what’s in my ‘after’ bag, what’s in my medical bag etc.

So let’s look at what I take in my Hydration vest (subject to change!).

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  1. Hydration Vest. As mentioned, these are well supported so I opted for a Salomon ADV 5 Skin set. This vest is 5l and come with two fast soft flasks for front pocket storage. After using a bladder last year, I decided i’d prefer to carry both water and electrolytes with me on the course. This option means I can do that, and also it’s easier to refill if you don’t want to keep taking your pack on and off for 50+ miles.
  2. Waterproof bag, 2l. This bag contains my change of clothes and all my medical kit. If it rains, you don’t want to be changing into wet kit. This is a little industrial for my kit to be honest, a dry bag would have been better, but I was running out of time and Amazon Prime only had this one to get to me on time…
  3. A portable battery pack. In this day and age, you’d have thought they could invent a battery that lasts for 14 hours but seems not. So this is a very important piece of kit. This one is 12,000mAh, and should have enough charge to power up my iphone 8 x3, not that i’ll need 3 charges, but i’ll also need to charge my Garmin, as the battery life is around 7/8 hours in running mode. Make sure you also bring the cables you need!
  4. The soft flasks – one I have written ‘electrolytes’ on, it might seem silly but after miles and miles the little things help the brain that’s probably clocked off out of boredom…
  5. Sunglasses. These are just from New Look, nothing fancy. I can’t really run in a cap or visor. I find it bounces in my field of vision and it makes me feel really sick. Find what works for you!
  6. Collapsable cup. Again, there’s been a big ‘Sturdy vs Collapsable’ debate over on Instagram, people you do you. If you want to take a sturdy cup with you, do it. I don’t even know if i’ll take the cup anyway! But this is important as a LOT of race organisers are now eradicating waste and getting rid of cups at events like this.
  7. Tissues. For noses. Or, emergencies….
  8. Tailwind. I discovered Tailwind while training for Brighton Marathon, and absolutely fell in love with the stuff. I do get dodgy gut with certain nutrition products, and this is perfect. No problems at all. I’ll probably go through 5 packs of Tailwind, supplemented with High 5 electrolyte tablets that are provided byt Threshold at the CP’s.
  9. Nutrition. I am bringing four gels with me this year, just for the option or to maybe break up food intake a little. I use High 5 in Mojito flavour. I’ve found they are lighter to take down, and they don’t give me any GI issues. Again gels etc is a big field and it’s important to do some trial and error on what brand and type works for you. Don’t assume one brand will work because others use it fine (like i did for ages with SIS gels…). My trusty Trek bars. If all else fails or you’re feeling a bit ropey, it’s good to have a trusted source of nutrition with you too. Trek bars do that for me. Also good in case of emergencies to have some food stashed away.
  10. Head Torch/Strobe light. Again, if you’re doing the straight through option this item is actually mandatory, complete with a spare set of batteries for it. I just bought mine from Amazon, and I also have a little clip on strobe light for the back of my pack, which is made by Nathan.
  11. Medicine. Now this obviously needs to be used at your discretion, but it is GOING TO HURT. Depending on if you already have an injury you may want to take some before you begin. Personally, I have one paracetemol and one ibuprofen every 2 hours, from around 30 miles, BUT again, it’s all to do with necessity. I also carry Immodium instants (which work quickest) in case of GI issues.
  12. Jaybird earbuds. These are the bomb. I HATE wires. Like really can’t stand them. Everything should be wireless. These are called RUN, they’re amazing and also allow me to have one ear in without the worry of the other swinging around. I was gifted these headphones, They’re a bit pricey, but I really do rate them.
  13. *Not pictured – Waterproof and windproof jacket. Mine is a Brooks LSD jacket, which folds up into itself.

 

Here’s a list of what goes into my drybag, in my vest;

  1. Fresh vest.
  2. Fresh runderwear!
  3. Long sleeve top.
  4. Fresh buff.
  5. Plasters (large plasters, small cut strips, compeed, alcohol wipes, small scissors)
  6. Spare batteries.
  7. K Tape.

 

Here’s a list of what goes into my drop bag for the end of the race;

  1. Oofos. Literally the best recovery shoe ever ever EVER. I love my Oofos. I have 4 pairs. Black, Blue and Pink flip flops and a pair of the Oomg shoe. After any race, training, and ESPECIALLY after a long ass Ultra, they go straight on my feet. Its the absolute best thing ever. Have I sold them to you yet?!
  2. Injinji. Again, I can’t big these up enough. Since wearing them after getting inter toe blisters at London marathon in 2017, I am converted and now won’t wear anything other than these for any distance over a half mara. They come in lots of styles, this year i’ve opted for a mini crew, so the trail debris is better kept out (last year i wore the trainer/no show version and i had to fish out half of the Ridgeway from in there).
  3. Hot Water Bottle. It’ll be late, and i’ll get cold quickly. I also get stomach cramps sometimes after a long distance. So this is there to help with all those things.
  4. Towel. Wipe down and clean once i’m done. It’s not a shower but it’ll help a bit.
  5. Baby wipes. Same idea as above. Get some of the grime off my face at least, and maybe the armpits get a little attention.
  6. Brooks long sleeve warm top. It’s all about staying warm at the end. Layers are where it’s at!
  7. Long sleeve base layer. Primark winner.
  8. Jogging bottoms as an extra layer to go over my compression leggings.
  9. ZeroPoint compression leggings. Same as the Oofos, ZeroPoint are my go to recovery product. Spray on some magnesium spray (not pictured) first, to avoid those leg tremors. (I have a code for 20% off using the link, ZPCHARLIE)
  10. Spare Battery, fully charged.
  11. Trek bars.
  12. Collapsable cup.
  13. Spare Jaybird headphones.
  14. For Goodness Shakes. These recovery drinks are incredible. I’ve experienced quite a few protein recovery drinks and i have to say that personally these are the best by a long way. They taste like a milkshake, not powdery at all. Thanks to FGS for sending me these for the ultras.

 

I hope that has been somewhat helpful. Even now i’m thinking of all the things i forgot to mention like the suncream (very important) or chapstick, preferably with sunscreen in it. My GO PRO!

The thing is, you can pack what you like.

Once you’ve done one, you’ll know what you want with you, what you needed and maybe also what you didn’t. Also each type of ultra will require different things too, so make sure you do your research, and you’ll be great. Now all you need to do is run the actual thing!

 

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Brooks Cascadia 12, Trail Shoe Review.

Let me give you some background.

Last year, I ran my first ultra marathon. To prepare for such an event, I thought it wise to join the ‘trail shoe gang’ and buy a pair of lugged miracle makers. 

Being a complete running gear newbie, I went for what seemed to be the popular choice and bought myself some Salomon Speedcross 4 GTX.

At this point, the most ‘trail’ I came across was a mile or so across a farmers field, which is muddy probably all of 30 days in the year (but seriously it gets super muddy) and then another few miles or so if I run out towards Reculver towers past my friends farm. That’s literally my local trail.

Anyone with half a brain would know not to buy a full trail shoe for that terrain. But they were pretty, and obviously, as I said, I had NO IDEA what I was doing!

Taking the Speedcross out, I knew immediately they were the wrong choice. They were heavy and stiff, with deep lugs for soft, wet and muddy terrain. I tried them out probably 4 or 5 times, before selling them on to my friend, who DOES frequent that sort of terrain on the South Downs!

So I was back to square one. Luckily I’d read up quite a bit of what people were suggesting as appropriate shoes for the Race to the Stones terrain. Mainly hard packed chalk, gravel paths, some road sections with a few fields and farm tracks. If the weather is good it shouldn’t be too bad underfoot, and the elevation is pretty gentle (but constant!).

There were lots of votes for road shoes, so I decided instead of spending £100 odd on an emergency pair of hybrid trail shoes with a couple of weeks until race day, I would stick with what I knew, and that was my Nike Pegasus. 

Let me just say that we were dealt a plethora of weather conditions for Day 1 of Race to the Stones, but my trusty Nike road shoes served me so well.

Anyway this is a review of BROOKS CASCADIA 12!

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Brooks kindly sent me a pair of Cascadia 12, as we find ourselves staring into the face of ultras once more, with still no actual progress on a trail shoe. Whilst I am still to sample other trail shoe delights, I have been rather pleased with the Cascadia so far.

Within the first week, I ran almost 30 miles in them. The first outing was a 25 mile country road ultra-training run, literally out of the box. The second, around the farmers field on an undulating muddy path, with plenty of technical stepping to avoid ankle destruction.

The first thing you notice about the Cascadia 12’s are the quite lively colour options. Ive noticed a few of the more ‘serious’ ultra runners have called for more subtle colour ways, but I mean, they’re gonna get trashed and covered in mud anyway, maybe just buy the least lairy option (there are some nice blues and purples if you don’t fancy the bright pinks and blues). Anyway I quite like the bright colours.

Putting them on for the first time, I was hopeful for a fit that was more like my road shoes than a trail shoe. I wasn’t disappointed. They felt comfortable and padded, with a chunky collar at the heel and cushioning along the insole. These shoes are neutral, and didn’t pinch or pull up on the side of my feet anywhere. 

In normal shoes I’m a 5, and I have been wearing 5.5 in running shoes until these. I decided it was time to go up a whole size instead (Do you know it’s literally only millimetres’s difference between shoe sizes?!)

I had some Brooks Levitates a few months before in a size 5.5, with a normal width. Whilst these pinched my right foot to begin with (which is slightly wider than my left) they loosened off and are very comfy now. However with this in mind, and knowing there wasn’t a width option in the Cascadia, I decided to go for a size 6 to allow appropriate swelling room.

It was the perfect decision. The Cascadia 12 is wider in general, with plenty of room in the toe box. I wear injinji toe socks for any long distances and the toe box more than accommodated the toe splay.

The grip on the soles is perfect for loose terrain. When I tested them around the farmers field, they handled really well, and I felt I had enough traction to boost me over the tire tracks and freshly ploughed dirt. They also felt really stable when I was running miles on  countryside back roads and handles just as well over the tarmac as they did the grass and the woodland paths. I found if stones were getting stuck I could easily kick them out without having to stop and pull them out.

The weather has been dry recently so I can’t comment at the moment on using them in wet/soft muddy conditions, but i’ll be sure to update the review once I have.

In terms of cushioning, I found them decent. Unless you go full Hoka, I think you pretty much know how much cushioning you’ll get in a trail shoe. These are reasonably cushioned, but after 25 miles, I think any footbed is going to feel a little sore. I didn’t feel sore for long though, as I can do after a long distance in a more forefoot striking shoe like the On Cloudflows, which is a good indication of their level of comfort.

I liked the fact that I could feel connection with the road, and although it’s clear you’re wearing a trail shoe and not a road shoe, there was enough movement and response from the shoe to keep me comfortable.

It didn’t feel too heavy, but just the right weight to remind me I should be running marathon/Ultra pace in these, and not 10k pace.

 

My conclusion of the Brooks Cascadia 12’s;

Style: 8/10

Comfort: 8/10

Handling: 7/10

 

Hope you found this helpful!

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(I was sent the Brooks Cascadia 12’s as a gift, and the views in this review are my own.)