Packing List for an Ultra

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.

Not everyone fuels their ultras like this….

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.

All three of these are technically cups. Only one is actually of use as a cup. It’s also about £1 from Decathlon.

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 caseMandatory
Torch 75lumensMandatory
Backup torch 25lumensMandatory
Bladder / bottles 1 litre+Mandatory
Cup (some require hard and soft)Mandatory
WhistleMandatory
Emergency blanketMandatory
Rain jacket, taped seamsMandatory
Spoon/fork/sporkOften Mandatory
Waterproof trousers, taped seamsOften Mandatory
Emergency calories (often 500cal)Often Mandatory
Buff or hatMandatory
GlovesMandatory
Base layer or fleece top (not worn) in dry bagOften Mandatory
Tracker – Maps – Race numberMandatory
Suncream (if race starts at night)Medical
TissuesMedical
VaselineMedical
First aid kit Medical
Nipple tapeMedical
Salt Caps / salt tabletsMedical
Zero/sports tabsMedical
Any essential meds (insulin etc)Medical
Race vest/waist pouchGear
Emergency cash & cardGear
Arm sleevesGear
Calf guardsGear
Peaked cap for rain/sunGear
Sunglasses Gear
GPS watchGear
Headphones/iPodGear
Cliff shot blocksFood/Supplement
Caffeine Bullet of GelsFood/Supplement
Baby Food Sachets / Food of choiceFood/Supplement
Zip lock bag for food at aid stationsFood/Supplement

Drop Bag(s)

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.

Not the best photo, but throwing stuff into shoeboxes helps.

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)MandatoryBattery pack(s)Electrical 
Any additional mandatory items (hi-viz?)MandatoryVaseline for chaffingMedical
GPS watch chargerElectrical Talcum powder for feetMedical
Phone chargerElectrical Tape for feetMedical
Battery pack(s)Electrical Dry hat/buffGear
HeadphonesElectrical Dry Base Layer or TeeGear
Vaseline for chaffingMedicalChange of SocksGear
Talcum powder for feetMedicalCarrier bag for sweaty stuffGear
Tape for feetMedicalSports Drink / RedbullFood/Supplement
Poles / Cheat sticksGearBeerFood/Supplement
Dry hat/buffGearMilk ShakeFood/Supplement
Long sleeve top if expecting coldGearStarbucks Double EspressoFood/Supplement
Dry Base LayerGearCaffeine BulletFood/Supplement
Change of ShoesGearBaby Food SachetsFood/Supplement
Change of SocksGearRice PuddingFood/Supplement
Extra gloves in case of rainGearPot NoodleFood/Supplement
Carrier bag for sweaty stuffGear  
Sports Drink / RedbullFood/Supplement  
BeerFood/Supplement  
Milk ShakeFood/Supplement  
Starbucks Double EspressoFood/Supplement  
Caffeine BulletFood/Supplement  
Baby Food SachetsFood/Supplement  
Rice PuddingFood/Supplement  
Pot NoodleFood/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 
UndiesGear
SocksGear
Joggers / shortsGear
Dry topGear
HoodieGear
Rain coatGear
Shoes or flip flops (depending on weather etc)Gear
Carrier bag for sweaty stuffGear
Glasses for drive back (if contact wearer)Gear
FoodFood/Supplement
Recovery drinkFood/Supplement
Celebration drinkFood/Supplement
Phone charger (wall charger)Electrical 
Wet wipesMedical
Towel & shampoo if showersMedical
PlastersMedical
A clue how to get home/meet liftMandatory!

Book 2 for pre-order “Ducking Long Way”

Pleased to say my second book “Ducking Long Way” is now available for pre-order. Once again published by the lovely people at Sandstone Press.

Due for release in August, you can pre-order it now from Amazon here or on Waterstones here or Blackwell’s 

A sequel to “Run Like Duck” it focuses on ultra running and is a humorous mix of advice and recounting of making the transition from marathon runner to ultra runner.

Praise for “Ducking Long Way”

‘Mark clearly understands all the pain and turmoil of an ultra, and also why we keep coming back for more.’ Vassos Alexander, Radio 2 presenter, author and runner

‘A funny and level-headed insight into the crazy world of ultra marathon running.’ Simon Hollis – Race Director and Ultra Marathon Runner

‘Proper advice from a down-to-earth guy who tells it like it is. Runners like Mark are the lifeblood of the sport we all love.’ James Elson – Centurion Running Race Director & Coach

‘A compelling attempt, no doubt funded by the chafing cream industry, to promote the view that ultra running is accessible, enjoyable and achievable for all levels of runners.’ Running is BS Podcast

‘Refreshingly unpretentious, inspiring, funny.’ Paul Tonkinson – author, comedian, runner and host of Running Commentary Podcast

Repair Guide – NordicTrack C7ZL Upright Exercise Bike

If you need to manual for this then head here – https://www.iconsupport.eu/sites/default/files/NTEVEX78009.0-282316%28UK%29.pdf

These bikes are really good quality, not far off gym spec and far better than the awful unbranded items you get out of Argos etc.

I was given this free as a project. It was described as working but with a dodgy resistance adjustment. The way these work is similar to a spin bike, with a pad pushed against the flywheel to change resistance. In a spin bike it’s normally a fabric/cloth material, on this bike it’s a couple of magnets that slow the flywheel. Unlike a spin bike where adjustment is manual and adjusted with a big knob (fnar) it has an actuator that moves the resistance pad (magnets) which can either be controlled with a dial on the control panel or select one of the variable workouts that do all the adjustment for you. I presumed this actuator might be the issue as it’s moving part that is hard to service without taking the whole machine apart.

Magnets for resistance attached to the actuator by the metal arm.

First check – when I got it out the car the rubber drive belt had obviously been shaken a little loose and popped out the side. It was worn as hell so I pulled it off and ordered a new one from https://www.expertfitnessuk.com/

“NordicTrack C7ZL Upright Exercise Bike Drive Belt NTEVEX 78009.1” for £24 delivered. A little pricey considering you can get a drive belt for a car for less but the old unit was definitely  ruined and I couldn’t find cheaper elsewhere.

If the drive belt is outside the bike it may be a subtle hint of the problem.

The strip down process is detailed in the manual above. I found it easier to use a crank puller to pull the crank arms and pedals as one to save time, then it’s just lots of screws to split the two halves.

There isn’t that much to these bikes, just a sturdy frame, the belt driving the flywheel and the resistance pad and actuator. I tested the resistance adjustment and it all worked fine so (spin the adjustment dial on the control panel and watch the actuator turn and the magnets move towards the flywheel).

Bearing Change – Whilst pedalling (using the old knackered drive belt as a test) it made an alarming noise at irregular intervals.

Having a poke around and the crank bearing on the non-pulley side was fine, but it wasn’t possible to see the one on the other side as hidden behind the pulley. It felt a little hard to turn at times and there seemed to be play so I assumed the bearing had worn giving play and likely also adding to the wear on the belt.

Circlip shown outside of groove. You need to push those two holes away from each other to open the circlip and allow it to move free.

To remove the crank (the shaft the pedal crank arms attach to) you need to knock it from the free end but first the circlip/snap ring needs removing. If you don’t have proper circlip removers you can manage it with two small screwdrivers but it’s a bit fiddly. The ring is sat in a grove so you need to use the tool to open the ring and slide forward and off the crank arm. Then the crank just needs knocking through. The bearings should be tight in the frame but looser on the shaft of the crank. To avoid knackering the tapered end of the crank I’d recommend putting the crank arm back on and hitting that with a block of wood instead.

Once out I could check both bearings and as expected it had a completely worn crank bearing on the pulley end.

You shouldn’t be able to see the ball bearings inside the bearing, it should be sealed like the one above. This one is toast.

Figured it was worth replacing both bearings at same time. The part you need is in imperial dimensions and a R12-ZZ Shielded Deep Groove Ball Bearing 3/4×1.5/8×7/16 inch. I purchased two from www.bearing-king.co.uk for £9.77 delivered.

Original two bearings on top and two new ones below.

To put the bearings back in you either need to use a bearing puller or line them up with the hole and with a block of wood to protect it, slowly tap the bearings back in. They should fit flush or slightly recessed from edge of the frame. Once in, push the crank back through and you should see the small groove on the end of the crank to allow you to reinstall the circlip/snap ring. If you can’t see the groove then either the crank needs pushing in further or the bearings need seating further into the frame. Once done you should have a freely rotating pulley and pedals. Job one sorted.

Drive Belt – you’ll need to undo the bolts on the flywheel to allow you to thread the belt around the flywheel shaft and then slip over the pulley.

The manual above gives advice on how to adjust the belt but I found the drawing is incorrect as it shows the upper section of the belt being pulled down by the idler but in fact the idler pushes up on the bottom section of the belt to provide the correct tension.

Section from manual and I believe incorrect belt arrangement.
Correct belt arrangement, bottom section passes over the idler. Photo is with a spare belt, not the correct item.

Once done I put the crank arms and pedals back on and tried a test ride before putting side panels back on. Assuming all done correctly you should feel very little resistance and smooth operation on lowest resistance, and need to stand on the pedals to keep moving on the highest setting.

Another random internet example of same type of tension arrangement and again bottom of belt passes over the idler.

All done! These bikes were close to £600 new and by spending £35 and a couple of hours work I’ve replaced the main wear components and returned the bike to as new condition. Resale value on one of these is circa £150-£200 so there’s clear profit if I was intending to sell on, but I will probably keep as an exercise bike that will last many many years.

Thames Path 100 – Attempt 2 and a DNF

If you want to read about how to run Thames Path, then click here for my previous attempt.

Photo from legendary Stuart March who makes anyone look good running

Despite finding the race a struggle previously and being bullied by newfound running mate Jon for much of the back half, I was overtaken by serious race envy when a bunch of mates entered for 2021. This was back in August last year when races were coming back after Covid and I was getting some form back. Hell yes, let’s join them!

Then I had a lacklustre end of 2020 including my first proper DNF at the Track 100 when I mostly couldn’t be arsed to run in the awful weather for a medal and my 7th 100+ finish so went home for dinner. Like a boss.

Plan was to train properly from January and run the TP100 with some enthusiasm.

Then I tore my calf in January, then a knee issue in February left me with 2 months to go from zero to 100 mile ready. I nearly made it.

Easter Monday I managed a marathon, my longest run on the year. The following Saturday I finished the Rose of The Shires 54 miler, my longest run since 2019. It left precious little time to do any more training in between so managed some 20 milers and a couple of harder sessions. The Tuesday before TP100 I had my first decent ‘woah that was fast but fun’ run in months.

I stood at the start line for the TP100 in Richmond feeling damp. The weather forecast had gradually improved over the week from ‘rain forever’ to ‘rain most of Saturday’. I hate running in the rain. I’m soft.

Photo stolen from Jen

I set off with Jen and Matt and we mostly stuck together for about 10 miles before I decided to back off. They’d both had perfect training with multiple weekends of back-to-back 30 and 20 milers. I’d managed one decent week of 90 miles so staying with them any longer would be foolish.

Then I started to get passed a lot, first by the legendary Richard McDowell who went on to win in a ridiculous time of 13h42m42s and then Bad Boy Running mate Lorna who also went in a blur and didn’t stop running until she crossed the line and won her first 100 miler in 20h02m31s.

Somewhere around 30 miles after finishing off my Costa I’d purchased on route I was caught by Stuart, Spencer and Helen which was good to have company but when I learnt they started nearly an hour after me and had made that gap up in just 30 miles it’s hard not to think ‘fuck’.

Knowing I’d be on my own for a fair bit of the race (the covid-safe rolling start ensures an even more spread field than usual) I’d packed headphones but managed to flatten them by the time I rolled into Henley to be greeted by Kerry on aid station duties. Pacing wise I wasn’t doing too bad and not far off my previous TP100 go but that had been in the 2018 ‘Hot as Hades’ special edition. Spender was already out on course before I reached Henley and Helen and Stuart were both far enough ahead they headed back out whilst I was still sorting kit. I never caught any of them again.

Photo stolen from Kerry

I forced down some rice pudding, opened my cider and tried to push on but never really felt in the groove. If I pushed I managed 11-12min/mile pace but it was hard work and that section of the course is largely awful. No podcasts, few runners around, I was having dark thoughts. It’s also the section that leads into Reading which is a low point of the course.

One of the positives of the race is I’ve got much better at packing food and drink in drop boxes so was able to sail straight past the aid station at Wokingham Waterside Centre at Reading. If you’ve done TP100 or A100 before you’ll know it as the bastard aid station up a million steps. Being able to run straight past is a good mental boost and it was still daylight. When I’d last run TP100 I’d come down the steps in the dark although started later so not all that difference was performance based. This did give a perk to my spirits though and I almost looked forward to the noise of trains as I knew that meant the line was gradually converging with the Thames and I’d soon be squished into the bleak path between the two which somehow felt a lot less likely to be the scene of a murder than previously. I made it up over the railway line and into the village of Purely On Thames in daylight only needing headtorch as I dropped back onto the Thames.

Sadly this is where my race ended. Physically I was fine. At 67 odd miles I certainly had some stiffness in my legs but I could feel my eyes closing. I’ve managed multiple 100s and raced for as long as 38 hours without sleep but for some reason I was struggling to stay awake. A couple of times I closed my eyes and carried on marching, almost hoping some inbuilt defence mechanism would be awakened and jolt me alert with a blast of adrenaline. It didn’t happen, instead my brain went ‘Mmm that’s nice, let’s keep our eyes closed and have a nap’. It wasn’t even 10pm.

I resolved to push on and get a coffee at Pangbourne which is when I realised the familiar sound of my cup banging against my pack had gone. Somewhere since Henley I’d lost it and I really needed coffee. I was also conscious that the RD could impose a 1hr penalty for missing mandatory gear. Whether they would do so for someone so far down the field as a result of a genuine accident I wasn’t sure but more importantly I was now unlikely to get coffee.

I was 13 hours down, with 33 miles left. The cut off was 28 so I could pretty much stroll in a finish at a little over 2mph. If I pushed and misery marched for the next 11 hours I could probably get a sub24hr buckle. It would sit next to the sub24hr I already earnt on this race. I didn’t really need another one. I certainly didn’t want an over 24 buckle if it meant 11 hours of misery. When a marathon starts to fade you can buckle down and endure a couple of crappy hours. When you’re on a 100 and you’re looking at over a full working day of misery it’s a little harder to stomach.

I began to wonder on the logistics of dropping. One drop bag was on route from Henley to the end. I could probably get Jen or Matt to collect that and my final drop bag. I had one more drop bag at Goring. If I could make it to there I could try and bother someone for a lift home. A few texts to mates had the amazing surprise that Gary and family had come out to meet me at Pangbourne.  I resolved to make it there before making any decisions, but I think I’d mentally dropped by that point.

It was great to see them and be offered a cold beer and it did lift my spirits but I was weighing up being home in bed before midnight or a misery trudge along some of the worst parts of the course, largely on my own until I got to the new headphones at Goring. When you realise the only thing keeping you in the race is looking forward to listening to Bad Boy Running podcast in the dark and cold at 2am you question why you are there. I could get the finish but I had to want it. If I made it to Abingdon I knew Lou was on aid station duty and would bully me on to the finish. The issue was the 26ish miles in between.

So I dropped. Handed tracker and bib to the friendly marshal and headed home in the car via Goring to collect drop box 2. I was in bed by midnight where I laid awake for hours as I WASN’T TIRED AFTER ALL!!!!

Well done to all those finished, many seemed to smash PBs and achieve their goals. I had leftover pizza for breakfast so that was my goal.

Notable mates in the race –

  • Jen Sangster, 2nd 100 finish, 3rd female, 21h38
  • Matt Clements, 1st 100 finish, 21h38
  • Helen Wyatt, 5th female, 22h36m
  • Stuart McLaughlin, 22h55m

Things I learnt –

  • You probably can complete 100 on 2 months of training, but you have to REALLY want it.
  • I didn’t REALLY want it.
  • Going back to have another crack at a race you did pretty well at the previous attempt is not hugely motivational. Now I’ve got a DNF on this I can go back determined and stamp on every crappy step on the railway bridge.

Positives –

  • I’m much better at taking on food and fuel than previously. A massive benefit if you can avoid needless aid station stops.
  • Dressed better for the elements and was never cold. Whether I’d have been cold at the awful Clifton Hampden section in dead of night I don’t know but had several more layers to go if needed.
  • Much better paced with plenty of early walk or Costa breaks.
  • 68 miles on very little training is pretty good. I wasn’t even too broken the next day. If there was another 100 in a couple of weeks I’d be tempted.
  • Having previous course knowledge helps and hinders. You realise the crappy bits will pass but also know the crappy bits are coming. It does at least avoid the ultra tantrum of being stood in what is undoubtedly (at the time) the single worst square meter in the whole of the UK shouting at the moon “Why James? Why? Why here? In the name of all that is good why have you taken me here? I’ve been to sewage plants that were more welcoming.”

To improve next time –

  • Try not to get injured and take most of two months off. Duh!
  • Headphones. I’m not a fan of them when running events normally but over 100 miles with the covid-safe staggered start you will be on your own a lot with your thoughts and need something to take your mind off. Have a backup pair.
  • Given above, maybe sort some pacers as you can’t assume you’ll fall in with someone at a similar pace.
  • Not to lose my coffee mug.

Next up? Going to try a parkrun. Reckon I can finish that.