Last Updated on February 1, 2017 by Heather Hart, ACSM EP, CSCS
If memory serves me correct, I was about seven when my family first decided to go camping. I remember taking a car trip to what may or may not have been Jewett City, Connecticut, to an outdoor sporting goods store. I’m not sure why, but that town is deeply woven to this particular memory…I’m certain mom and dad can correct me if I’m wrong. Anyway, I remember walking around with my parents and younger sister through the store, looking at the many tents that were assembled for display, and feeling both excited and anxious for what this future endeavor may hold. At the time we lived in classic 1980’s Connecticut suburbia…my idea of “nature” was roaming around the edge of the soccer fields at Leary Park, just down the road from our house. Camping was a terrifying and exciting concept.
We ended up buying a massive 7 foot tall Eureka! brand tent that connected to the back of my parents Suburban, allowing my sister and I to sleep in the back of the SUV, while my parents slept in the tent. The campsite of the very first campground we stayed in is etched clearly in my mind. It sat on a high cliff over a pond, at the end of a long row of campsites. The site was also the home to the end of a hiking trail, so occasionally random people would pop out of the woods and say hello as they headed towards the campground road. I remember taking numerous pictures of chipmunks with my Kodak camera that required the disc film (cue “Kodachrome” sing along). We fished, we swam, and we played. We learned to not leave your food unattended overnight, or the raccoons would eat it all..newbie mistake #1.
And from that point on, we were a camping family. Almost all of our family vacations were planned around camping, whether it was a week in Acadia National Park or just a weekend at local camp ground. My dad always insisted that “real camping” meant you slept in a tent, NOT an RV. That said, we were anything but outdoor minimalists. For the majority of my childhood, our garage was always jam packed with camping gear. Campmor and L.L. Bean catalogs littered our coffee table. My dad gave the Boy Scouts a run for their money with the saying “always be prepared”. If you needed it, he had it, from the camp stove coffee percolator to the emergency heat blanket and SOS mirror…even though the car was parked 5 feet away and we were less than a mile from civilization.
This “always be prepared” technique is exactly how I approach packing for an Ultra. (I bet you were wondering where I was going with this story). It’s pretty funny that in my day-to-day life, I take a very minimalist approach. We drive one car. Live in a small apartment. Sleep on the floor (true story). But when comes to running…I’ll be the first to admit my style is the complete antithesis of minimal.
At best guess, I bring 5 times as much stuff as I’ll actually need, because I have this deep rooted fear that the lack of one specific item, be it a certain pair of socks or maybe that one extra bra waffle, will be the downfall to my entire race. Forget adequate training, forget perfect race day conditions, my DNF will be because I suddenly needed to change my sports bra 4 times during 24 hours, and I only brought 3 bras.
I’m kidding, of course, but this doesn’t stop me from packing a lot.
The other day a friend / co-worker / soon to be first time ultra runners said to me “How do I pack for an ultra? I bet I could go back to your blog and find a post on packing for an ultra marathon”. To which I responded “actually, no…I haven’t written about that one yet”. So here were are. For those of you who have wondered what *I* pack for an ultra, and what’s more, have always wanted to see detailed photos featuring my industrial apartment floor carpeting, look no further.
1. Food. Lots and lots of food. The race email included a list of meals that will be provided, every single one of which contained some sort of meat product. I’m not sure how you guys take in so much protein while running so far, but I digress. Geoff and I are on our own for this one. Regardless of the carnivore friendly meals that won’t work for us, I believe that in a race of this magnitude you should never rely solely on what the RD is providing…just in case. I’d rather leave the race with a cooler full of food rather than show up and have nothing to eat during the race because of unforeseen circumstances.
For me, race calories include tailwind (orange and caffeinated tropical buzz) as well as the ever popular “bra waffle”. Geoff prefers sport beans. Plus a handful of chews and gels that were in our closet. I also love Hammer Endurolytes for electrolytes later in the race when I’m not taking in Tailwind as quickly and frequently as I should. Note: I will NOT be eating all of this. See above statement: always be prepared.
While the sports nutrition is great (and I really have had great luck with tailwind) there always comes a point where I want actual, real, food. Real (though “real” is questionable on some of these) food includes:
Baked (I prefer over boiled) potato chunks + a tub of salt to go on the potatoes
Potato Chips (#FueledByPotatoChips)
Fruit puree (think: applesauce and baby food)
Sugar cookies. The ridiculously horrible kind with neon frosting. And sprinkles.
Grilled cheese sandwiches (or at least the ingredients for my awesome friends to make them for me while I run…)
I don’t have a picture of these because their are in the fridge or not purchased yet. Also not pictured: two hand held water bottles and my hydration pack.
2. Shoes. Three pairs I love, plus what we call at work a “wild card”. A pair that I don’t immediately want to run in, but might be EXACTLY what my feet crave 50 miles in. My current go-to shoes are: Hoka Challenger ATR 2, Saucony Peregrine , Altra Superior, and my wild card is going to be the Brooks Caldera. I’ve only put a few miles in this shoe, it feels too wide for my foot. But this might be EXACTLY what my swollen sore feet need 20+ hours into the race. Oh, and I’m brining my old ATR 2’s that are literally busting at the seams…I’m not above cutting out toe holes if I need to in this pair. The ultimate ultra sacrifice. (So that is five pairs of shoes. I told you I go overboard.) Oh and oofos, for post race. 6 pairs of shoes.
3. Clothing. Is it going to be 95 degrees? -5 below zero? Your guess is as good as mine. Of course, I could look at the weather forecast, but I probably won’t trust it…especially four days out. As a perpetually cold person who has a hell of a time maintaining body temperature, I’d rather go through the struggle of brining far too many clothes, than not enough. Keep in mind, this list includes staying warm in my tent on Friday night, the entire duration of the 24 hour race, and something to change into for the drive home on Sunday.
Sports bras -3
Shorts – 3
Tights – 2
Sweat pants -1
Tank top -2
Tech tee -1
Wool performance top – 1
Long sleeve tech tee – 1
Performance 1/4 zip – 1
Shell – 1
3A. Accessories. Socks, buffs, hats, gloves, mom-mittens, gaiters, compression socks, compression sleeves, arm warmers, trucker hats. As you can probably tell, I’m perpetually cold.
4. Medical supplies/ foot care /hygiene supplies. This category also includes the “don’t get blisters” department. Body glide, Tri-Slide, anti-monkey butt powder, tape, KT tape, Tums, Biofreeze, bug spray, sunscreen, lip balm, caffeine pills (Geoff’s, they make me crazy), Tylenol PM (for Friday night), hand sanitizer, ibuprofen, a partridge in the pear tree. Missing from the photo: small first aid kit, personal hygiene stuff (deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste, you get the idea). I definitely did not go overboard on this one this time, as I’m riding to the race with medical professional who always has bandaids for me when I fall. Though he claims if I ever get bit by venomous snake, I’m on my own.
4. Tech stuff. Because it’s 2017 and we (convince ourselves that we) need it. What kind of blogger would I be without photos of the entire event (said in my most sarcastic voice)? Phone, camera, Garmin, charging cords for all of that, battery packs to charge them with. Rumor is the Garmin 235 will charge on the go. We’ll see about that.
5. Night gear. Headlamps. Knuckle lights. Some flashy bits. Spare batteries (not pictured). Glow sticks. Hand warmers to go in those sweet mittens my mom knit for me.
6. All of the camping stuff. Since we are staying overnight Friday, we’re brining our tent, sleeping bags, lantern, and all of the other “stuff” that comes along with sleeping in the woods. I’d take a picture of it for you, but I don’t know where most of it is. Geoff is in charge of this department.
7. Everything else I forgot to list but will cram into my bag at 2:25 pm Friday afternoon before Paul picks us up at 2:30 PM. Because it’s bound to happen.
So there you go, ultra marathon packing, Heather style. This sport is a never ending learning experience, so I’m almost certain that I’m missing something critical.
If you run really long distances for fun, what are some of your must have items?
Heather Hart is an ACSM certified Exercise Physiologist, NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), UESCA certified Ultrarunning Coach, RRCA certified Running Coach, co-founder of Hart Strength and Endurance Coaching, and creator of this site, Relentless Forward Commotion. She is a mom of two teen boys, and has been running and racing distances of 5K to 100+ miles for over a decade. Heather has been writing and encouraging others to find a love for fitness and movement since 2009.