Even if you’re an experienced ultra runner it’s worth having a checklist for packing. Main note should always be to have the mandatory kit. In Covid times you might not be subject to a full kit check at registration but the overall or group winners almost certainly are and a random selection of other runners. If you suddenly have the race of your life and win Western States, you don’t want to be DQd for forgetting something.
Carrying During The Race
Below is what I’d pick to carry from for a typical 80/100 miler that had aid stations and a halfway drop box.
Check what’s mandatory for your race and from what point – some will allow you to put head torches etc in your halfway drop bag since if you don’t make it to halfway before nightfall you’ll have been timed out at a previous checkpoint.
Unless going superlight for the win, even on an easy ultra on a good day I’d carry a spare long sleeve top in a ziplock bag to keep it dry. Things can go wrong and if you twist your ankle on a summers afternoon and crawl into the next aid station in a sweaty tee you’ll be getting cold.
Headtorch rules vary. Some are fine with a spare battery, some require a separate torch completely since if you fall and smash it then all the batteries in the world aren’t going to help you see.
Some may also require a red light on your rear (often in European races) – it can be acceptable to be a red light on rear of head torch, or they may require a separate one on your pack, active for duration of race (so if you fall down a mountain in daylight they can fish you out at night even if you didn’t have the presence of mind to turn it on mid-fall).
For hot weather than arm sleeves are great for wetting, protecting from the sun, or shoving ice down. If you know it’s going to get hot & bright then put on sunscreen before setting off.
The cup debate rages on. Do you need soft and hard, or does one suffice, how big should they be etc? Personally I’m a thirsty git so would rather a 1g weight penalty than carry a cup the size of a thimble.
|Carrying During The Race|
|Phone and waterproof case||Mandatory|
|Backup torch 25lumens||Mandatory|
|Bladder / bottles 1 litre+||Mandatory|
|Cup (some require hard and soft)||Mandatory|
|Rain jacket, taped seams||Mandatory|
|Waterproof trousers, taped seams||Often Mandatory|
|Emergency calories (often 500cal)||Often Mandatory|
|Buff or hat||Mandatory|
|Base layer or fleece top (not worn) in dry bag||Often Mandatory|
|Tracker – Maps – Race number||Mandatory|
|Suncream (if race starts at night)||Medical|
|First aid kit||Medical|
|Salt Caps / salt tablets||Medical|
|Any essential meds (insulin etc)||Medical|
|Race vest/waist pouch||Gear|
|Emergency cash & card||Gear|
|Peaked cap for rain/sun||Gear|
|Cliff shot blocks||Food/Supplement|
|Caffeine Bullet of Gels||Food/Supplement|
|Baby Food Sachets / Food of choice||Food/Supplement|
|Zip lock bag for food at aid stations||Food/Supplement|
What you put in drop boxes or bags will depend on race distance, weather and level of support. In Covid times you’re likely to get a lot less food options than previously at checkpoints so may want to put something relatively substantial in if that works for you.
It’s worth checking expected pace and cut offs to try and predict when you’ll get to each drop box. If it works out one before nightfall and one in the early morning you may want to have cold weather gear in first, and warmer stuff for morning as you make the final push for victory!
If you know either from experience that you’ll need poles for the second half as you fall apart over an ultra, or that the challenging climbs are only in the second half then pack them.
Likewise if you’re carrying stuff you haven’t used or won’t need further and can drop without falling foul of mandatory equipment rules then put that in the bag when you get there and lighten your load.
Don’t pack so much stuff that you piss off the aid station volunteers but also remember you don’t necessarily have to use or take everything from the box/bag – in most cases your stuff is transported to the end for you. Better to pack some spare socks and shoes and not need them than to macerate your feet in the first 50 miles and carry on in soaking shoes and socks for the rest of the race (me on Lakeland 100). I also would never even think to pack talcum powder but when I saw someone at LL100 with a ziplock bag of it, their feet inside getting beautifully dried before they left the checkpoint I was envious beyond measure.
If you’re doing a longer point to point you may get to the end before your drop bags do and need to wait around for them. If you think that might be a problem then pack more minimally and not have anything you would be sad to let go in them. For SDW100 I had shoeboxes for each point with a couple of old hats, buffs and some food items that I didn’t mind giving up so either used them or left at aid station with the volunteers to offer to anyone coming through that needed them.
Even if I don’t intend to use shoe boxes as the drop bags, I often have two open on the side and throw stuff in the week before as I find it/buy it and then transfer to small bags the night before after a final check.
The lists below are pretty extensive, if you packed all of these you’d likely get some sarcastic comments from the volunteers.
|Drop bag 1 -50 miles, 7pm||Drop bag 2 -70 miles, 11pm|
|Headtorch (if able to collect at checkpoint)||Mandatory||Battery pack(s)||Electrical|
|Any additional mandatory items (hi-viz?)||Mandatory||Vaseline for chaffing||Medical|
|GPS watch charger||Electrical||Talcum powder for feet||Medical|
|Phone charger||Electrical||Tape for feet||Medical|
|Battery pack(s)||Electrical||Dry hat/buff||Gear|
|Headphones||Electrical||Dry Base Layer or Tee||Gear|
|Vaseline for chaffing||Medical||Change of Socks||Gear|
|Talcum powder for feet||Medical||Carrier bag for sweaty stuff||Gear|
|Tape for feet||Medical||Sports Drink / Redbull||Food/Supplement|
|Poles / Cheat sticks||Gear||Beer||Food/Supplement|
|Dry hat/buff||Gear||Milk Shake||Food/Supplement|
|Long sleeve top if expecting cold||Gear||Starbucks Double Espresso||Food/Supplement|
|Dry Base Layer||Gear||Caffeine Bullet||Food/Supplement|
|Change of Shoes||Gear||Baby Food Sachets||Food/Supplement|
|Change of Socks||Gear||Rice Pudding||Food/Supplement|
|Extra gloves in case of rain||Gear||Pot Noodle||Food/Supplement|
|Carrier bag for sweaty stuff||Gear|
|Sports Drink / Redbull||Food/Supplement|
|Starbucks Double Espresso||Food/Supplement|
|Baby Food Sachets||Food/Supplement|
The End Bag
Don’t forget that after running 100 miles you will eventually finish and need to consider what to have in your end bag. Depending on facilities this may be in a fully kitted out sports hall with showers, steam room and good transport links or it could be in a muddy field, under a tree, with a 3 mile walk to the train station. Either way you need to consider keeping warm, getting out of your sweat/poo/snot covered gear and getting home. If it’s somewhere with power it’s worth having a phone charger so you can use your phone to ring the husband for a lift home after it went flat from excessive usage for selfies.
|End Drop Bag|
|Joggers / shorts||Gear|
|Shoes or flip flops (depending on weather etc)||Gear|
|Carrier bag for sweaty stuff||Gear|
|Glasses for drive back (if contact wearer)||Gear|
|Phone charger (wall charger)||Electrical|
|Towel & shampoo if showers||Medical|
|A clue how to get home/meet lift||Mandatory!|