Rock The Ridge Training Tips: GEAR
By Dr. Jason Friedman, Rock The Ridge Committee Member
As the big day approaches, it’s time to start making some decisions on what gear you’ll be using to tackle the Rock The Ridge 50-mile challenge. Whether you’re a novice on the trails or an experienced ultramarathoner, it’s important to spend some time selecting, testing, and practicing with some of the equipment that you’ll need.
The most crucial piece of advice I can give you is: do not use any new gear on race day!
It’s absolutely essential that you try out each piece of equipment in advance, to make sure that there are no issues with fit or function. Small problems with new gear can get magnified over the course of many hours on the trail, and if you don’t sort these things out beforehand, you run the risk of a minor issue derailing your race. Make sure everything is broken in and fits comfortably. Comfortable fit and ease of use should take precedence over other factors.
Obviously, footwear is going to be the most important decision you’ll have to make in terms of equipment. Choose a pair of shoes that best matches your goals for the event. Are you trying to run a 50-mile best? Choose a pair of running shoes with a decent amount of traction; they should be shoes you’ve run a decent amount of miles in already, so that you know your feet will be comfortable. Trail shoes are great, but our trails are smooth enough that a pair of cushioned road shoes will do just as well. Are you planning on a long hike? Use a pair of breathable, lightweight trekking shoes with some cushioning; again, make sure they’re nice and broken in. You can leave your mountaineering boots at home!
Test out all the clothing you’ll wear in advance. Make sure there are no issues with chafing or fit. Plan for changing weather conditions: pack a pair of arm sleeves or a lightweight long sleeve outer layer, a water-resistant rain shell, and a warm hat and gloves for the nighttime hours. A moisture-wicking cap can help keep the sun off your face and the sweat out of your eyes during the day. You’ll want a headlamp as well, and maybe a handheld flashlight for emergencies. Don’t forget extra batteries! Having your phone with you in case of an emergency is probably a good idea as well. If you want you use hiking poles, that’s great; but make sure you’ve had some practice and you’re comfortable using them. In reality, none of the terrain at Rock The Ridge is difficult enough to require poles. One thing not to skimp on, though, is lubrication. Use petroleum jelly, or an anti-chafing product like Body Glide or Squirrel’s Nut Butter, on susceptible areas like your armpits, groin, and between your toes. And consider carrying a small packet or applicator with you, to address any problems that might arise later on.
A lightweight hydration vest or pack, either with a bladder system or bottles, can be an excellent addition to your gear arsenal. Try out a few different models to see what feels most comfortable; some have bottles on the front, which can take a little getting used to. Use the vest on some training runs to make sure the fit is dialed in. You should be able to carry enough water to sustain yourself for at least a couple of hours between aid stations. Nutrition is a very personal choice. You’ll need to experiment with a variety of different foods and/or supplements to determine what works for you.
Resist the urge to overstuff your pack; too many non-essential items will only annoy you in the later stages. For this reason, choose the smallest, lightest pack you feel comfortable with; it will force you to limit yourself to only the bare essentials. You can use aid station drop bags for things you don’t want to carry like jackets, a change of shoes, or extra nutrition. The aid stations will help resupply a lot of your nutritional needs as well. Figuring out how to cover long distances efficiently is part of the joy and challenge of ultrarunning.
Spend some time now planning what you’ll need to make your goals a reality, and you’ll reap the benefits on race day!
Jason is an emergency medicine physician and an exercise physiologist in the Sports Cardiology department at the Heart Center. He’s completed over thirty ultramarathons, and has placed in the top 10 at national championship races from 50K to 24 hours. Find information on his testing and coaching services, his blog, and his podcast here.