What to Pack for a Multiday, Desert Ultra Marathon

I have had a lot of people ask me about Gear used in a multiday, desert running race.  I have completed the Sahara 250km footrace and the Atacama desert crossing 250km footrace. Here are some of my learns, tips and tricks to help any budding desert runner.Whether you are doing the Gobi March, Atacama Crossing, Sahara Race, Grand to Grand or the Marathon Des Sables, these learns apply to all races.

As I was running and going for a strong place, I tried to go as light as possible with very few luxury items. My pack weighed around 7kg without water.

I have broken the review into 2 sections – Wearables which includes clothes, sleeping gear, bag and hydration packs; and Race Nutrition which includes all forms of food and supplements.

Wearables.

BackPack – I used the Inov8 Race Elite 25ltr BackPack. At 358 grams, it’s light weight and the perfect size for all of your needs. The Raidlight backpacks are great too. I prefer it all on my back and not having the front pouch as I heated up too much and it was too restrictive. It comes down to personal preference

Marmot Atom Sleeping Bag. Just 610 grams! It’s light, packs small and is very comfortable.

Injinji toe socks. I double layered my socks by wearing injinjis and then putting another pair of running socks over the top. It gives extra cushioning and it also allows the injinji and over sock to rub against each other rather than your feet rubbing so, it helps to prevent blisters. Make sure you buy shoes big enough to take the two socks and allow room for your feet to swell. I only used 2 pairs of each socks for the week. It’s a bit gross but, I didn’t want the extra weight! All socks were discarded after the race!!

Dermatone Lip and Face Sunscreen. I only took a small pot ( i.e. 29ml total)  Clothing provided most of the protection.

Micropore Paper tape – Essential for taping the hot spots on your feet.

Shoes – Research and try. There are great brands out there – you need the right one for you. I raced in Salomon XT S Lab 5. I took a pair that were 2 sizes too big and they were still too small. Just remember that in the heat and with the battering your feet take because of the amount of km’s you are running, you feet will swell. For the last stage, I ran without the innersole and my feet only just fitted in the shoe. Make sure you have a ton of room in the toe box as you will loose toe nails ( I lost 5) and your feet will swell.

GaitersSalomon S Lab Trail Gaiters.

Montane Featherlite Jacket. Lightweight and warm.

Petzl e+lite Headlamp – Super Lightweight

Swisscard – Cutting and feet management tool!

2XU Compression Tights – Long. Sleep and recovery pants

2XU Compression Tights – Short. Race Wear

I would also recommend Compressport calf guards. 

Buff Cloth. It always comes in handy. Whether it’s around your neck or

Front Bottle Hydration system. They attach to the shoulder straps of your backpack. Like this one. Rough Country

Small Compass – Silva Compass is a good model.

Rough Country Ultra lite Spork. The only eating utensil you will need

Sunglasses – I used Oakley Flak Jackets and they were brilliant.

Shirt. North Face, Better than Naked shirts are brilliant. Patagonia Capilene are also great. If I was to run a desert race again, I would use X Bionic clothing.

Watch:  Is used the Polar RC3 for the Atacama. Unfortunately due to the GPS draining battery life, I didn’t use that function. I used it for timing only therefore, it doesn’t matter what type of watch you use. There are plenty of great watches out there currently. I like the Garmin Fenex 3 or the Suunto Ambit 3. There is a new one every year!!

Hat – Some people opt for the hat with the neck protection. I don’t think it’s necessary. I ran with a visor and found it to be great.

Survival BlanketAdventure Medical Kits headsheet. 

Blister Kit – A standard Blister Kit like this one from Rough Country. You will use the Alcohol wipes, Paper Micropore tape, Elastic Tape, Second Skin squares and hypodermic needles.

Vaseline – A small tin is necessary for chafe and feet management.

Feet management is key. Always dress “hotspots” with paper tape. I then rub vaseline all over my feet before putting socks on. Remember – blisters are formed from friction so, tape hotspots, vaseline your feet and wear two pairs of socks. Your feet will thank you.

N.B. Never use Compeed Pads. They are the worst thing you can use on your feet. I have seen many people use them only to have the pad melt to their skin and then have to be cut off. You end up with a wound worse than a blister if you do use it and need to have it cut off. 

Two photos below so you can see the gear in action. I perfected my gear and nutrition choices for the Atacama after my experiences in the Sahara.

 

richardcbray

Richard Bray – Sahara Race

 

RichardcBray

Richard Bray – Atacama Crossing

Race Nutrition

You need to look for food that has a calorie to gram ratio of approximately 4:1. This enables you to consume highly calorific foods to give you energy and keep your pack weight down.

You will be required to take 14,000 calories with you. The trick is to get this to be as light and as enjoyable as possible. It can be the point to look forward to in the day or the point you dread. It’s very basic out there so make sure you treat yourself once a day.  Work out your Macro’s too. I typically favoured Carbs and Fats over protein as I found it essential to give me energy. I did ensure I had ample protein intake to repair the muscles after each day but, it was certainly not like the Protein to Carb ratio I was having in training. Some staples you will need:

Freeze Dried FoodExpedition Foods are nice and fairly calorific. I would go for the Spaghetti, Chicken Korma, Chicken Tikka, Beef Hotpot, Chilli Con Carne (Favourite). The good thing about these flavours is that you can add more hot water, make them more soupy so they taste great and you up your hydration without dipping into your water rations.

Do yourself a favour and don’t take any porridge. Trust me – you will not eat it after day 2. The camp bins will have some if you feel the need to try one!

Treat ideas: Peperami, Broken up crisps i.e. Pringles; pork scratchings. Hot Chocolate sachet before bed, instant coffee for the morning. Starbucks VIA is as good as you will get for Instant coffee

Below are the 3 foods that are a must to take:

The stagerace Superfoods:

1) 2minute noodles!! They have a ton of salt / sodium to help replace sweat, you can make them into a soup with more boiling water to get hydrated whilst eating. The noodles are usually double fried which means they are high calorie and low weight. Typically around 500 calories per 100grams. The best idea is to get multiple packs, put them in a zip lock bag and crush the noodles, add the flavour sachets to the bag and seal it. During the race, you can portion our the noodles per day and lucky dip the flavour sachets.

2) Pork Scratchings! The ultimate food and the one craved by the most people during the race. With a whopping 622 calories per 100 grams, 49 grams of protein and 46 grams of fat it’s hard to beat this little beauty. No longer saved for desperate hunger pains at the pub after your 4th pint, this is the new endurance racing superfood. Below is a picture of the nutritional value on a bag of scratchings! Again, repackage in ziplock bags and smash them up to save space.

3) Parmesan cheese. For the Italians out there – bring a block of parmesan cheese in a ziplock bag and break off what you need. With 431 calories per 100grams it has a great calorie to gram ratio. With 29 grams of fat, 1500mg of sodium and 38 grams of protein, the macros make it a great race food.

Top Tip – With the searing heat, you will not want a lot of sweet food. You will crave salty goodness. You will be sick of Gu’s, shot blocks, porridge with strawberries and anything else sweet.

Pork Scratchings - Nutrituional Information

Pork Scratchings – the new Superfood 622 Kcal per 100 grams!!! Check out the Fats and Proteins!

 

Hydration:

Hammer Endurolytes – These are a must!!! easy to ingest and digest. It’s a pill form of electrolytes and will save your mouth from all of the sweetness of drinking electrolyte syrup all day.

Nuun Tablets which dissolve in a bottle of water. Easy to take and store during the race too.

Here’s how I would plan my food for the day:

Breakfast = 2x Cliff Bars. 230 calories each makes for a nice 460 calorie breakfast with no preparation needed. It means you can have breakfast in bed and stay horizontal for that little bit longer!!

Pre-Race = One Gu. Some racers prefer to go even heavier and drink a bottle of Baby formula or Ensure Plus before the race or on stage 1. It’s packed full of calories. Just make sure you can stomach it in the heat!!

Race = Endurolyte capsule every 45mins! An absolute must to keep your sodium levels in check. I would also be consuming calories from your race food every 45mins to 1hr. I had shot blocks. After Day 4, they got pretty tough to palate. Stingers are a little better.

Post Race = Peperammi or protein shake (Recoverite is great). Maybe a snack on Pork Scratchings too. Hammer Bars are good too.

Afternoon (1hr after finishing)  = Noodles. Hydration and calorie intake.

Evening – Freeze dried meal.

Nightime – On occassion my friend and I shared a hot chocolate before bed. SIS Nocte is good but not as tasty as normal Hot Chocolate. it does give you a protein kick for recovery though.

So, what does it look like all laid out – see below. Remember to repack everything! You can smash, bash or separate daily requirements to make it smaller, lighter and easier to plan your eating per day.

 

Atacama Race Food

A weeks food. 14000 calories. It includes food for during the race as well as my breakfasts, snacks and dinners.

 

My last bit if advice, try all foods and gear during or after training. Never let it be a surprise.  You also want to reduce your decision making out there. Save your head space for being zoned into the actual race or the beauty of the place you are racing in. Make a day pack for each day and that is your ration. It will also save you from over indulging on the pork scratchings on the first day!!

Enjoy and I hope this post helps a few people to prepare for their adventure.

 

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