The crap we carry whilst running

I wrote this article for http://www.ultratales.co.uk a UK based ultra running e-zine that I enjoy. Then I thought I might as well post it here as well.

First a quick update – I am recovering well , but still don’t have the energy to try running. I discussed this with the cardiologist and he suggested that I stop taking the beta blockers (my heart rate was only 50, and my blood pressure is fine). Hopefully I will have the energy for a run next week. Watch this space.

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I am having an enforced break from running after my heart attack, so I took the opportunity to sort through my box of running kit. It made me realise just how much stuff I carry with me when I go for a run, and I thought it might be interesting to document it all.

I don’t carry all of this gear for every run, so I will include what I take for an unsupported run of around 4 hours on reasonably remote/isolated trails. Note that this is what I carry on a training run, it is not necessarily the minimum gear required by any specific race. And it is NOT intended as a gear review, so I won’t get into the pros and cons of various brands or models.

Technology – The first items are always my phone and earphones. The phone does multi duty as an MP3 player, camera, GPS logger and GPS live tracker. Sometimes I even use it to send texts or make phone calls. If it is raining the phone goes in a small waterproof map pouch.

 I don’t listen to music if I have company, but I enjoy it on a solo run. The music is mostly rock, with a lot of that being ‘80s hair bands. I have 21 hours of music on board, and don’t bother with playlists. I simply let it cycle through from A to Z then start again.

The GPS logger started out as a means of finding out where I had been, but I will confess that I quickly become addicted to recording my distance. It has been useful to plan subsequent runs, as in “OK, it is 16 km round that hill, then I can do 10km over this hill, and link up with that 12km track…”

The live tracker app was a recent addition, mostly as a safety precaution. If I become overdue on a bush track somewhere in the back of beyond, it will be useful to give the Search and Rescue crew an idea of where I was. It only updates when it has a cell phone signal, but it is better than nothing. It has been interesting to review the files and see where the pockets of cell phone coverage are.

With the cell phone doing all this multi-tasking, the next item is a USB battery backup pack. It can double the battery life of the phone, which should be enough for any mis-adventures that I get into.

The final bit of electronics is a wristwatch. It is handy to be able to check and see whether I am going to be home in time for lunch. Or know whether I have to stop next time I am in cell phone range and send an apologetic/reassuring “a bit slower than expected but still OK and moving forward’ text.

Clothing accessories – On a hot day I will wear a running cap to stop my bald patch getting burnt, and to keep me from overheating. On sunny days I also take a pair of light weight cycling glasses to stop frying my eyeballs.

On a frosty day I wear a thin merino “skull cap” type beanie and silk gloves. If it is mid-winter and I am going to be well away from civilisation I will take a thermal base layer top and bottom along with a waterproof jacket. I don’t often to run in a jacket, even if it is raining – my skin is waterproof and I won’t rust or shrink – but I carry it as a safety measure in case I have an injury or accident and stop generating body heat.

And I find myself increasingly in need of my discount store reading glasses so I can read the cell phone.

Food and drink –older readers will remember what this is. The younger readers will know it as “Nutrition and Hydration”.

I am fairly cheap, so I make my own electrolyte replacement gel by buying sports drink powder and mixing it to the consistency of goo with just a little water. I have two small squeezie bottles that each hold 3 shots of this.

For solid food I take a couple of peanut butter and jam sandwiches, a banana and a commercial energy bar. I will usually carry a few gummy snakes in a zip lock bag; these are good for the odd sugar rush, or just to reward myself for making it to the top of an 8 kilometre long hill.

Water is usually carried in 4×230 ml bottles on a “fuel belt”.  On a cool day this will usually see me through 4 hours, on a warm day I try to plan a route that takes me past a creek that I can refill from. I was once caught out halfway up the previously mentioned 8 kilometre hill on a hot summer day when I discovered that the creek was dry. That made the second half of the run quite a challenge. If I know I will need more water I will take a bladder in a backpack. I don’t put energy drink in the bottles or bladder, to avoid tainting them. Instead I get all my electrolytes from the gel shots.

Other stuff – I always have anti chafe goo in a pump bottle, and the tail end (pun intended) of a roll of toilet paper. 

Depending on the particular track, I often carry a rudimentary first aid kit – sticking plasters, strapping tape, scissors, whistle, bandage. Essentially the mandatory kit from the Coast to Coast multi-sport race. And a survival blanket in case thing get really serious.

If I am going to be running along roads with no footpaths I will wear a hi-viz vest. This is quite effective at retaining a bit of body heat on a cold day, but even better than that it is a none-size-fits-all vest that hides all of the gear I am carrying. It can be amusing to see people’s reactions when I reach under my vest and pull out a gel bottle. Then a bit later some anti-chafe. Followed by a peanut butter sandwich and a bottle of water.

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All this, plus 4 hours of food

Where does it all go? – Surprisingly, most of this stuff fits in the pockets on my running shirt.

A large zipped pocket on the lower back takes the first aid kit, survival bag and battery unit.  There is a smaller pocket on each hip, which share between them the two gel squeezies, the anti-chafe bottle, the solid food and glasses. If I am wearing a hat and gloves, they usually go in a hip pocket once I warm up, although they also sit comfortably in the waistband of my shorts.

The phone sits in a cheap cell phone pouch that I hang on the fuel belt. The rear pocket on the fuel belt will have some toilet paper and the smaller front pouch takes a handful of gummy snakes.

If I am taking the extra clothing I will carry it in a small backpack, which then allows me to use a 1.5 litre water bladder instead of the fuel belt. It also means I can take some of the heavier items out of the rear pocket of my shirt.

I don’t travel light – I realise that this is a lot more than other people carry, but I eat and drink a lot on a long run, and I like the peace of mind of knowing that I have some safety gear if something goes wrong when I am a few hours away from civilisation.

I have done a few runs where I knew I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) stop to refill my water, so started out with a staggering (almost literally) 3 litres on my back. That is 3kg of water, before all the other bits. If nothing else it serves as great resistance training.

It would be interesting to hear what approach other runners take.

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Picture courtesy of Scott B Wesley. The inspiration sign was NOT part of the design brief

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