Equipment of a mediocre ultra-runner

Under enforced rest I was sulking about my leg and finally cleaning all the kit from last weekend's race and thought of the reasons why I had each piece of kit... and then thought it might make an interesting read. I'm probably mistaken of course.

So here's a summary of the sort of kit a mediocre ultra-runner might find useful to carry.

Having tried out various bit of kit over several years of both successful (and unsuccessful) ultra runs of various lengths I've settled on a set of equipment that I feel comfortable with and works well* (*for me, caveat runner, your mileage may vary etc etc). Most of it isn't the quite the latest and greatest technology or kit available, despite being a gadget freak I'll stick with something if it works or I can't find anything better.

Here I am kitted out at the end of NDW100. The only piece of kit that didn't seem to be living up to previous experiences was the head-torch, but that might just have been down to a dodgy set of batteries.

Will have to investigate further before starting the 'time for a new light' internet review hunt.
I'm also holding a set of running poles there, I have a love/hate relationship with them sometimes they feel like they're helping, most of the time they feel like they're slowing me down. In this case, however, I picked them up at mile 60 and they were invaluable and helped me to keep moving after I hurt my ankle.

On the wrist..

Firstly my running watch. I use an ancient Garmin 310XT.
With "smart" sampling enabled, backlight on mid, heart-rate and footpod enabled it runs for about 16 hours now, good enough for most running. When it isn't, it's easy to charge on-the-go with a portable battery, just popping it in a side-pocket until it's done. The "old fashioned" plan black and white traditional LCD screen is large and clear and excellent to view in bright sunlight, easy to read with my failing 'long sight' and lights up beautifully with the backlight at night. Fitted with a quick-release mount, for bike mounting, but also handy to clip off to recharge or adjust settings without struggling at an angle on the wrist.... and finally unlike a £300+ wrist computer I'm not terrified about scratching, breaking or losing it!

But... I do like technology and new gadgets, I really wanted new and shiny! I tried some newer versions recent but was disappointed by every one.

I tried a Fenix2... but found the GPS accuracy completely abysmal, and the inverse colour screen irritating and hard to view.
I tried a Fenix3... similarly surprisingly poor GPS compared to the 310 and the colour screen whilst pretty, difficult to view in bright sunlight conditions and harder to read the the Fenix2 and certainly harder to read than the old 310.

For a bit of fun... I tried an Epix.... I thought I might be able to merge two pieces of kit and use the wrist mapping to replace my handheld GPS.... apart from the fact that Garmin themselves clearly decided it was a mistake and abandoned the product line, it was a bit of fun. But the conclusion was, wrist worn maps just don't work, trying to twist your arm around and squint at a trail on a tiny screen was just laughable.

So back to the trusty 310.

Buddied up with a..

The footpod.... paired with the 310XT to show current pace this is really handy to keep an eye on instant pace particularly at the start or on fast flat sections of trail.
When calibrated on the particular shoes and terrain (which can be a bit of a pain) the accuracy is spot on and gives immediate and instant feedback of current running pace, rather than the rather vague oscillations you get from GPS pace readings.

Here a quick shout out to Garmin customer service... reported a broken footpod clasp to them, sent them a proof of purchase and they posted back a replacement entire pod immediately.

In the hand..

Another old bit of kit and one of the best pieces of hardware I've ever spent a considerable (that I thought at the time) amount of money on.

A Garmin GPSMap 62s. Loaded up with OS mapping for the appropriate trails. A bit heavy so I don't always start all races with it, but I almost always train with it if I'm on one of my exploring runs, or out in unknown trails, and will pick it up for night sections of running, the bright screen is welcome and familiar to use at night.

The device takes 2x standard AA batteries and with a couple of NiMH rechargables it will run for ~20 hours constant usage.

The only complaint is the screen res. is a little low, and the CPU a little slow - if Garmin make a new model with updated specs. I'll be ordering one instantly.

On the feet...

Hoka Speedgoat shoes.
I started off ultra running with a pair of totally inappropriate Asics trail shoes, but they were a failure as soon at the ground got technical or muddy. I went through a minor love affair with Speedcross trail shoes because I was familiar with them and used to winter trail racing in them.... I found them just too harsh for longer distance running on varied terrain.

I had heard good things about Hoka and various people recommended them to me, but finding a stockist was a joke and the Hoka sizing was "challenging", but several internet order and returns later. I finally found a pair that fitted and the Speedgoat felt good on off-road surfaces. I've just ordered another pair to swap between.

On the eyes..

A cheap pair of VoltX bifocal "work" glasses off Amazon. As an ageing gent with long sightedness it was becoming increasingly annoying trying to read a running watch or cycling computer... after a disappointing set of expensive bifocal cycling glasses, I discovered the cheap VoltX one's on Amazon. Tinted, clear and yellow with a range of inset magnification lenses. Watch reading problem solved.

On the head..

A lightweight Salomon running cap, keeps the glare from the sky out of the eyes, when it's raining keeps the drips off your face, sunny it gives your head and face some protection, it's thin and light doesn't feel heavy or hot.
Stops your head getting scratched by brambles.
Gives you something to rest the headtorch on without having to fasten it too tight.

On the head... at night.

An old Petzl Tikka XP headtorch. Takes 3xAAA batteries and has a runtime of up to 70 hours, although the brightness dips over time. I found it illuminating quite poorly at the NDW100 particularly noticable when other runners came past looking like something out of Close Encounters of the Third kind. Perhaps worth experimenting with some different batteries in future.

Brief mention for having a few Mojito High-5 gels in the pockets. These are just awesome, and a pleasant change from the standard flavours. One or two at different times during a run can break the monotony up.

On the back...

An old (see a pattern forming here) Salomon XA20 backpack.

I love this backpack. It has a tear on one side pocket from a nasty bramble encounter from an ill advised short cut.... I've carefully darned it back up.

I ran my first ultra using my cycling rucksack and looked on enviously as others had all sorts of specialist running bags and appeared to have pockets suitable for everything they needed with their paper maps stashed away neatly, rather than my haphazard bundle. Once I switched I just got used to using each pocket for specific tasks, my gels are here, my used gel wrappers go there, my phone in here, GPS over there and so on, when running I know where everything is and get get it straight away without fumbling or hunting.

I've since tried switching to using a running vest, but found the reduced number of smaller, tighter pockets a pain and switched back to the XA20...

Also, time for a huge shout out to Salomon customer service. I broke the clasp on the front, and used it for a while tieing a knot over the front. I dropped customer service a note about it and.... got a lovely personal response back with a replacement buckle that they'd located in Annecy in France!

I'll miss it if it wears out.

In the bag...

A military Camelbak bladder (and a bit of a minus point for Camelback here), the reason for the military version is because the plastic is harder wearing, also has a funkier drink attachment.

The standard version bag "hook" snapped, and Camelback customer service told me that the only option was to buy a whole new one (booo), but I happened to find the military version looking for a replacement and thought it worth a go since the quick-link is so good. But if another breaks I'll be switching straight over to a different manufacturer.


So there we are, other than more mundane stuff... I like to run with a T-Shirt with a collar to give my neck some protection. I like calf guards, they just 'feel right' and help avoid nasty undergrowth cuts. I used to run with an ancient "dumb phone" to not worry about battery life but switched to a waterproof Sony with a 2-day battery life and ANT+ support built in.

Tips or suggestions for other or different kit welcome.

Cheers. x.


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