You’ve logged the miles, you’ve practiced with your pack, nutrition strategies etc. and its finally time to run your first ultra. What do you pack? It depends on the distance, how well stocked/frequent the aid stations are, whether you will get resupply packs along the way and of course personal preference! Here is a rundown on what I packed for my first Ultra and how it worked out:
The Action Asia 50 km was my first ultramarathon trail race, and as a skyrunner world champion chip qualifier it was challenging to say the least. The instructions were clear, in its 50km distance we would endure 2500 meters of elevation gain, each runner was to be completely independent with food, a hydration system and everything they would need on the race. There would be no options to have anything “dropped” at any of the 5 checkpoints throughout the race.
- 1.5 liter minimum hydration system
- Cell phone or GPS device
- External power bank
- Light jacket, preferably waterproof
The hydration system I went for is the Nathan Intensity Race Vest at only 4.92 liter for total volume and 2 liters of taken up by the bladder itself, this is a minimalist bag for an 8 hour run and wouldn’t be doable if not for the checkpoints. Cellphone or GPS device with external power bank were mandatory as a safety precaution for runners, I didn’t have a GPS unit but took my phone and found it useful to take pictures and occasionally glance at the map. The compass and whistle stayed in my bag the whole time but the headlamp was useful as this race was set to begin before sunrise, so we used it for the first 30 minutes or so. Luckily the weather was nice so my Nike sports jacket stayed tied to the back of my pack for the duration of the race, secured in place by the bungee straps.
- Trail mix
- Dried Fruit
- Bandaids (of varying sizes)
- Gu’s , Gu chomps, energy bars
- Electrolyte salts
- Anti-chafe roll on
- Electrolyte powder for water
- As much pizza as could fit
- Spare socks
I also managed to find a spot for my MP3 player in there, but my bag was stuffed! Firstly, we decided on a variety of foods, as anyone who’s solely relied on Gu’s alone in an intense run knows, you can tire of the taste pretty quickly. The dried mangoes were sweet and prefect for chewing on, they weren’t as rich as the Gu’s and were easy to consume. We had no regrets about bringing the pizza, it was about 2 slices each, it was salty, rich and had some nice “real” food consistency for our mid-morning snack. We snacked on the energy bars throughout and at the end of the run our bags were still full of snacks. The only thing we didn’t really eat was the trail mix. It had a nice flavor of sweet and salty, although the dry texture was not made it not ideal or inviting.
The electrolyte salts, we took 10 in a small bag and they were definitely worth the space as it meant we didn’t have to spend long at the aid stations eating salty bananas. The electrolytes kept our hydration in balance and our muscles functioning well throughout the race. The anti-chafe is a life saver! But it does last the entire length of the race.
- One thing I didn’t pack, but did bring was my Garmin Forerunner 220, although reviews said that it would last at least 10 hours in GPS mode, my watch gave up after 9.5 hours on GPS mode, just failing to catch the entirety of my first 50km. I was on undecided about bringing my GPS watch charger to plug into my power bank but left it and regretted it.
- The Anti chafe was amazing, I recommend it for any runner, but it does really last the entire day, so no need to pack it in your bag, just put it on in the morning (or maybe in one of your supply packs).
- Variety is the spice of life and of ultramarathons, when it comes to food, there were times I didn’t feel like eating anything but knew it was best if I did, having a variety meant I always felt like there was something I could stomach.
- I wouldn’t recommend bringing and excessively dry foods, we barely even glanced at the trail mix it just didn’t seem attractive in our dehydrated state.
- Keep on eye on the checkpoints and your water supply! Although my bladder held 2 liters I never filled it to the top. I think that saved carrying around excessive weight, and allowed me to run faster and happier.
I packed a little too much, for my first ultra, but as I become more familiar with the distance and my body, I am sure this will be refined. Study the checkpoints and aid stations, to make sure you have enough, but don’t carry extra weight. Don’t forget a variety when it comes to food. And enjoy!
*Not available when this was originally posted, I am now a big fan of the locally produced, all natural (Runivore) chia-on-a-date bar. Check them out here.