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  • Heather Lawson

ULTRA RUNNING GEAR

(Or running is supposed to be a cheap sport isn't it?!)


Running. You need a pair of trainers and somewhere to run, and there you have it, your sport is ready made.


Admittedly as you work up from couch to 5K, or maybe enter your first race you might invest in a proper pair of running shoes, but running isn’t like golf where you need to invest in lots of equipment before you go out and play … or is it?


If you are an Ultra Marathon Runner then you are probably going to need a bit more kit than just a good pair of trainers. When completing distances of over 50 miles or more you need to carry water, food, and other essentials like a first aid kit, and a survival blanket as you never know what mother nature is going to throw at you! So alongside your running shoes you will at least need a running backpack to transport your essentials with you, but lockdown gave the Ultra Marathon Runner (UMR) of the household time to assess his kit, and the results were quite astonishing considering the UMR HATES shopping.


DO YOU LIKE THIS?

When we first got together, we had an outing to Bluewater as I need to buy some new work clothes. The UMR only came because I bribed him with food. ‘Come shopping and I will buy us dinner’ was the only thing that worked.


In one store I picked out several dresses and turned around the get the UMR’s opinion – he was outside the store checking on the football results and wasn’t interested in the slightest. Well, I tell a lie, he was interested in me shopping very quickly so that he could get dinner but couldn’t have cared less if I had bought a canary yellow mini dress with pink flamingos on it (I didn’t by the way!).


Anyway, I digress, but the point has hopefully been made that shopping is not a UMR thing… until lockdown.


At the time of writing this the UMR had 8 ultra marathons planned between August and November, four 50 mile races, and four 100 mile races (that is now 7 races, as one was completed on the 8th August, a very hot and sweaty 100 miles on the North Downs Way), so having time to get your kit in order was a good thing. Over the last 4 months we have had more flat lays on the bed than we have had cups of tea!


PURCHASE NUMBER ONE

The first item of clothing to be purchased was a new running jacket. These have to have sealed seams, be light, and easily packable, and the one owned by the UMR had seen better days. Also, back at the beginning of lockdown in March the weather wasn’t too great, so this purchase made sense. After a week of deliberation a decision was made to buy a Montane Minimus Jacket in bright red (the UMR is an Arsenal supporter after all) and like an excited child at Christmas he was eagerly anticipating its arrival so that he could try it out … not knowing that very soon the lock down weather would give way to a heatwave and the jacket would be relegated for a while.


PURCHASE NUMBER TWO Do you know what cheat sticks are? Cheat sticks are the UMR’s name for trekking poles that most ultra runners use over rocky, uneven and hilly terrain. They are scientifically proven to help with descents, which are often physically more difficult than ascents, as the forces on the knees and hips are up to four times higher than the forces on level ground.


If you are a bit of a geek like me and want to know the why and how, or have never used poles before and want to see what all the fuss is about then here are a couple of articles that might help.


Harvard Health and How to run with poles


Anyhow, when the UMR announced that he was going to buy ‘cheat sticks’ I was a little surprised, he had always been a little disparaging of those that use them, hence his nickname for them, but a few bounces down the stairs at home during lockdown soon changed his mind, and so Black Diamond trekking Poles... or Cheat Sticks were the next purchase of lockdown.


(Just in case you are interested the UMR is now a complete convert, and doesn’t understand why he didn’t use them earlier in his running career!)



PURCHASE NUMBER 3

“Do you mind if I use your headphones?” said the UMR never ever!


But these words were uttered back in April and I was taken by surprise. Due to social distancing the UMR had been running on his own, and he is known to be a bit of a chatterbox, so having no company for his runs was beginning to get a little boring – he was boring himself with his own internal chatter (Arsenal’s bad form and running!) and wanted some distraction.


I handed over my headphones, and then didn’t see then again for about 2 weeks, when the UMR announced “They make me run faster”.


He had been a little sceptical at first, and the bone conducting headphones take a bit of getting used to (but are allowed to be used in races unlike normal headphones that slot in your ear), so AfterShokz AeroPex Bone Conduction Headphones were purchased, and I was now becoming on first name terms with the Amazon delivery driver!


OH NO MY SUNNTO HAS DIED!

Well, the Suunto Ambit 3 didn't die, but the strap did, and trying to buy a new strap caused the UMR to swear a lot!


Firstly a strap arrived, but no screws so he couldn't attach the new strap. We then tried to source screws, but didn't have the right screwdriver. In the middle of lockdown we couldn't just go to the local jewellers for help so what did the UMR decide to do - invest in a completely new watch as to opposed to just buying a new strap - that makes sense doesn't it!


So there was much too-ing and fro-ing with running friends -

'Should I just get a a new Suunto, as the battery life is great?'

'But the GPA mapping side of Su

unto isn't that great is it? (and the UMR does get lost alot!)'

'Everyone is suggesting a Garmin Fenix 5 or 6, but yours looks a bit girly Heather'(funny that as a i am girl!)

'I want something substantial that can take a few whacks if I fall over'


OK, Got it - a Garmin Forerunner 945 is on it's way!





Cue lots of swearing, as the set up of a Garmin couldn't be more different to a Suunto, and the UMR would be the first to admit that patience isn't necessarily one of his top virtues - luckily he has good IT support in the shape of one of his ultra running buddies, who also isn't aware that he probably saved our relationship as I was close to charging for my Garmin tutorials!




REPLACING OLD KIT

During Lockdown, running was the UMR’s only option for fitness and mental health, and if he was given an opportunity to get outside and run, then he took it. This meant, that quite soon, there were holes in places where there shouldn’t be! Think, shorts (!), trainers and socks.


The next shopping spree surprised even me, considering the UMR HATES shopping… (in fact as I write this, he is grumbling about having to go shopping to M&S Food to stock up on some supplies!)


In just one week, all of the following were delivered!

2 pairs of Salomon twinskin running shorts

Salomon belt to hold trekking poles

1000 mile trail socks

Higher State Freedom Running Socks

Injinji Toe Socks


How much kit?

DON'T YOU JUST NEED A PAIR OF TRAINERS TO RUN ?

Shopping for trainers started as soon as lockdown began. The weather was pretty grim and wet - the UMR’s Salomon Speedcross were split so after much deliberation with members of his running club, (the UMR does like to get other people to do the research for him!) La Sportiva Mutant Trail Running Shoes were bought.


They have a great grip, but are lightweight at the same time and are good for quite unpredictable ground. A couple of runs at Joydens Wood proved that they were the perfect until it started to warm up. As the days got warmer and the ground got harder, the UMRs feet were beginning to feel the effect of the rigid sole… you guessed it, shopping time again!

The UMR has always wanted a pair of HOKA’s. To me they look like you are running with a cushion tied to your foot! … Well that is the point I suppose, as the cushioning of this make of trail shoe is superb.


After fairly little debate, a purchase was made and Hoka One One Speedgoat 4 were on their way to Blackheath, and no time was wasted once they arrived n taking them for a test spin around Blackheath and then up into Oxted Woods – just to make sure!


“Wow, they are super bouncy” was the verdict!


Now the only problem was that these were trail shoes and due to lockdown restrictions, most of the UMRs running was being done on the road. Either a 10 mile loop out to wave at his daughters in Sidcup and back, or heading out to the Thames Barrier and running back home along the Thames Path had been favourite routes, so now new road shoes were in order. This was probably the quickest piece of shopping ever – replacement Brooks Adrenaline GTS 20 were on order and delivered before I could say “are you hungry?” .


RACES ARE BACK ON!

By now there was light at the end of the tunnel – there might be a race on the horizon! The UMR couldn’t have been happier. Centurion Running had advised that British Athletics had given the green light for racing as long as strict COVID protocols were put in place. The thought of actually running an Ultra Marathon rather than the suburban streets of SE3 put a massive smile on the UMRs face.


Now more shopping was on the cards!


Planning started in earnest, and although the UMRs kit had been reviewed on virtually a daily basis (as there wasn’t much else to do!) things now moved into a different league.


Running 103 miles nonstop requires more than just a pair of trainers, and the first bit of kit to be upgraded was the UMRs headtorch.


Blinded by the Petzl!

Some night runs had proved to the UMR that something brighter was needed – primarily because he had ended up on the floor a few times by kicking tree roots that he hadn’t seen, so days were spent pouring over a list of Petzl head torches; lumens were discussed (brightness), fit was discussed, weight was discussed and then the decision was made a Petzl Nao+ headlamp (750 lumen) was in the basket, and payment had been made.




Many night runs were then arranged, and I was regaled with stories of “there were 100 pairs of sheep’s eyes looking at me” … “I was dive bombed by a bat” … the UMR was in his happy place.


By now the heat wave had hit the UK and it was obvious that we had to plan for scorching weather for the UMRs’ ultra.


RUNNING NUTRITION

Next on the list was electrolytes - his favoured option is Tailwind. There are so many gel options on the market, and you need to try them to see how your body reacts to them (some can have you running to the loo sooner that you might want!). Tailwind is a stalwart in the UMRs armoury when it comes to nutrition for ultra’s, so a multi pack was soon on its way to us.


An issue with running for so long, in the baking sun, is that the body loses salt quickly, and although we are told to lower our salt intake for health reasons, that is not what the body wants on an ultra marathon. There are several options to replace the salt lost to sweat and metabolic functions of the body – salty snacks (pretzels, hula hoops, salty potatoes) & electrolyte gels and powders, but you can also supplement with salt tablets too. Luckily these do not just taste of salt – they are often lemon flavoured and dissolve on the tongue Saltsticks capsules were soon in the Amazon basket , and just as well as the forecast for race day was showing temperatures of 33 degrees.


RUNNING OFF TO THE FOREIGN LEGION

This meant that head wear had to be looked at too. Normally the UMR wears a white baseball cap to reflect the heat, but with the temperatures climbing daily, he looked at foreign legion type options to shade his neck. What arrived in the post wasn’t what I had expected – but it was going to do the job! So a Quick drying UV protection sun hat arrived and the UMR suddenly had a Crocodile Dundee look about him!


Surely the anti-shopper couldn’t buy anything else. I was beginning to wonder if he had developed a secret addiction during lock down!


IS HE ADDICTED TO SHOPPING?

The UMR suddenly admits that he might buy a new running vest/backpack for the race. He liked the look of mine, and the fact that it had easily accessible pockets at the front (which his one has), that it had a big compartment at the back for essential kit (which his one has), that it could carry a bladder as well as water bottles (which his one can do too!) Wandering around the house wearing my Salomon ADV Skin 12 he announced he was going to buy one.



Hmm… have you thought about the fact it is black? It will attract the sun during the race, not reflect it. Have you thought about the fact you might not get time to run in it, so it might chaff?


In my head I was actually saying - haven’t you bought enough!!!


The decision was made NOT to buy the vest. “I’ll look to replace the Ultimate Direction one later on”



His shopping bonanza was over!


I have not, nor will I tot up what the lockdown shopping spree came to – it is all ‘stuff’ that he uses every week, it is kit that he ‘needs’, so no money has gone to waste anywhere.


So, if you are a golfer, or play a sport that has expensive equipment and thought that running was a cheap sport – Derek the Amazon delivery guy, and I can both confirm IT IS NOT!


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