Sunday, 25 March 2018

Ultra Running on a budget - its not cheap even then


“Winning isn't about finishing in first place. It isn't about beating the others. It is about overcoming yourself. Overcoming your body, your limitations, and your fears. Winning means surpassing yourself and turning your dreams into reality.”  Kilian Jornet

This blog is aimed at runners with little or no experience of ultrarunning, it is not supposed to be patronising nor am I trying to teach anyone how to "suck eggs".  

Running is not cheap, that myth is expelled within 10 seconds of walking into a "running shop", and seeing the average price of the shoes on display.  For the average road runner shoes are the biggest layout, for an ultra runner it's an average cost.  Depending on the races you intend to enter, the equipment list (and costs) can rise at an exponential rate!

The price of an ultra race can heavily depend on the number of runners, feed stations and logistics.  Waiting for someone to sell their race number cheap due to injury nearer the race date is an option, but there is no guarantee you'll be on the start line.  The multi-day events start to creep up into the hundreds of pounds, and a few multi-day events can end up with you digging into the offshore accounts! 

Volunteer! A great way to get a free ticket to a race is to volunteer to help on a race, not all organisers do this but most do.  It also gives you time to talk to other runners and do your homework on which kit works. 

So, you've completed a marathon and thought "meh, bring on more pain and suffering".  After seeing that most races beyond a marathon require a kit list and either include running hills that mountain goats refuse to climb or take you through the worst God-forsaken lands in the kingdom.  And, it's gonna be cold, windy and raining because it's the UK! 

Shoes
Trail running shoes should be the first consideration, cheap Lidl, Karrimor or Aldi specials can get you through a race but be very aware that they may also cripple you within 10 miles.  They are normally cheaply made, have little stability and don't go through the quality testing most trusted brand shoes do.  That doesn't mean you need to pay full price for the latest iteration of your favourite shoe, you can often get last year's model at a reduced rate, wait for sales and get two pairs, shop around the bargain bucket online shops or, my preference, support your local independent running shop.  The more you support them the more they are likely to help you when you need it most, you're not just another online order.

Understand what your needs are, decide if the shoes are for winter running in mud, hardened summer trails, soft grassy routes, multi-terrain, rocky paths or just the odd puddle! Then look at the available shoes.  Most shoes with the best grip do not have much cushioning, so using them on some multi-terrain races without bag drops, like the Imber Ultra, could leave you with sore feet by the end of the race.

Talk to other runners!  Ultra runners love to talk and will offload all their experience on to you with little prompting.  Once you've asked a few runners you learn to narrow the questions for a more useful answer.  The guys wearing the 100 Marathon Club shirts didn't get them for running 10 Parkrun's, again, they are a font of knowledge.  This goes for all types of equipment.

For some races, no shoe is the right shoe.

Try the shoes, don't buy just because the size tells you it's similar to yours and ensure there is enough toe space, plus a little.  Your feet will expand and your toes need to spread as you run longer distances, be prepared for it or have plenty of blister plasters available and wave goodbye to your toenails!

Clothing
In summer the considerations are slightly less, as you don't have (as many) issues of rain or low temperatures.  I have fallen in love with seamless clothes all year round, those seams can rub you raw without you even realising.

As with all equipment and shoes, shop around.  Decathlon has a wealth of quality running clothes at good prices and can be delivered to Asda stores.

For the winter look at a quality base layer, something that wicks the moisture away but still insulates.  Also look for long sleeve warmer tops with a zip up neck, as you sometimes need to undo it to cool down.  Winter ultrarunning is all about layers.

Socks can be as important a choice as shoes, your feet are your "tools of the trade" and need serious care and attention.  I prefer to run in toe socks, they stop my toes from rubbing and reduce blisters, but they are not everyone's choice and aren't cheap.  Shop around and find what works for you.

Waterproof jackets
A lot of winter (and summer) races insist runners carry taped seamed waterproof tops at the very least.  If you only run ultra distances in the summer months (you are not an ultra runner) then you really only need a soft shell waterproof.  For the winter months, you'll need to add a hard shell to your arsenal.

The soft shell should be lightweight, waterproof and windproof, but possibly with some ventilation as these jackets can quickly become boil-in-bag tops, leaving you damper inside than out!  These tops are designed to be worn in short showers.

The hard shell is designed to be heavier wearing and keep you dry through sustained rainfall.  Again, ventilation is important, as important as the waterproofing and strength.  You'll need to wear the jacket for long periods with a hydration vest so it needs to be strong.

Hardshell waterproof must be tough enough for a hydration vest to wear it throughout a long race.

Regardless of the jacket, if the rain is persistent or you are using the jacket for warmth you'll be soaked inside soon enough.

Hydration Vests
There are more hydration vests available than you could ever dream about.  Most are aimed at different types of events and the runner's personal preferences.  They come in all sizes and configurations so the best approach is to decide what it is you intend to use it for.

A vest with bottle holders and space for a water bladder is the most flexible approach, allowing the runner to choose their method of hydration for the race.  Ensure the vest is big enough to carry the essentials plus a little more.  For winter races the mandatory kit lists often specify double the amount required for a summer race.  I have two hydration vests, a 17-litre capacity vest for winter and 12-litre capacity vest for summer races (overall capacity - not to be confused with the amount of liquid carried).

Once you have worked out your needs then start shopping, last year's model is often as good as this years!  Look for sale bargains or end of line models.  Call the shops and see if they have any display models.  Visit the shops and try the vest on, there can be a good reason it's cheap and you may be running 60 miles in it.  A good hydration vest is not cheap so invest your time and money wisely.

My Hoka hydration vest with multiple internal pockets and velcro sides, so the vest can be swivelled around on the body without taking it off.

Watch
Unfortunately, if you want a GPS watch for ultra running there are few alternatives that will fit the bill and none that are cheap.  A great comparison can be found here so I won't try to rewrite it.

Shop around, but if you buy second hand it may be worth getting the battery changed as soon as possible.

Other Kit
Headtorch - On the kit list for many races, including summer races.  Like most bits of equipment, there are lots of deciding factors.  I have fallen out of love with USB charge only torches as they can die rapidly and have a tendency to lose their charge after a while. If you are doing serious night running then spend the money, on a budget look at the Alpkit range.

Drybags - Regardless where you run there will be rain or your pack will be get soaked in sweat. Drybags are the answer and can be purchased at a reasonable price through the likes of Amazon.  My phone sits in a small bag with a mini towel, spare clothes in one and first aid kit in another. 

Gaiters -  I love the Dirty Girl gaiters, they won't keep you dry but they will keep the stones and debris out of your shoes.  Not a major investment but worthwhile having.

Gloves - I get cold hands and now possess 5 pairs of running gloves for various times of the year and temperatures,  I even have a pair of "waterproof" gloves that I end up sweating in.  In winter you are better off with an inner glove and an outer, waterproof, mitt.  Names and makes don't matter, find something that works for you.

Anti-chafing - this affects men and women  I've been informed.  After trying many products to protect against chafing I've found three products, the first being seamless base layers.  The less rubbing of seams the better, Decathlon sell a range at a reasonable price and the men's underwear, at least, is extremely comfortable.

The next protection for me is 2Toms Anti Chafing which is sold in a roll-on or towelette.  Liberally apply it to all areas needing protection and forget it.  It leaves a fine sheen on the body and is waterproof.  I have run an ultra, showered, and still not fully been able to remove it

Lastly, 2Toms Anti Blister powder looks like talc but when rubbed into the feet and toes leaves a protective coating that helps prevent blisters.
Each of these is seriously worth the investment.


In reflection

You have to balance price against quality and local knowledge/prices/support against mail/online order and returns.  I tend to shop local now, I pay a little more but I know the people who are selling to me are experienced runners and won't try to sell rubbish.  Deka, I love you.

Deka in Frome, my spiritual home

If you are trialling ultra marathons or just planning to run the one (you won't) then either consider eBay or borrowing some equipment, beyond that get it fitted or you could be paying twice.

Last big thing - train in the equipment.  Load the vest to race weight while doing the long runs so your body is used to the weight and test everything, many times until it feels second nature.  Don't introduce new equipment on race day or buy replacements without fully testing.  Know which pockets contain what and repeat it for each run so it becomes second nature, when you are tired and cold it will be easier to find what you need. 

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