Sarah Lavender Smith June 30, 2012 TWEET COMMENTS 4

Training For a Self-Supported Stage Race - Page 2

I now need to condition my body and mind to run consecutive long days on challenging terrain while carrying a well-stocked pack, because on September 23, I plan to be on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon with some 70 other participants at the inaugural Grand to Grand Ultra (see previous post for event details). The race directors provide water, communal tents and salt tablets, but participants are on their own for food and gear.

We’ll cross remote desert and forest lands, climbing in and out of canyons on footing ranging from soft sand to rocky hard-pack, until we summit the pink cliffs of the Grand Staircase formation in the Escalante National Monument area of Southern Utah. The seven days are divided into six stages with the following mileages: 31, 28, 44, 24, 26 and 15. The elevation profile indicates a total ascent of nearly 22,000 feet and total descent of nearly 18,000 feet.


To start seriously training, I had to pick a pack. For advice and recommendations, I turned to an experienced stage racer, Trail Runner Contributing Editor Meghan Hicks, who carried her food and gear for a week all three times she raced the Marathon des Sables in the Sahara Desert of Morocco.

Choosing the right pack, she told me, should be an experiment of one. In other words, figure out what works for you, and no one else. To do so means practicing running with various models fully loaded.

Hicks said one member of a men's team at the Marathon des Sables, for example, suffered mightily because he insisted on using the same pack as the rest of his team even though it wasn’t right for him. “There are horror stories about people whose backs rub off during these races,” Hicks said.

The pack's fit, size, weight and hydration system are main factors to consider. Research led me to conclude I’d need a pack between 20 to 30 liters (L) in volume, with some combination of bottles on my hips, front or held by hand. I was advised to avoid using a bladder in the pack for water, because they’re difficult to fit into a stuffed pack and refill; plus, it’s hard to gauge how much you have left.

These packs look ridiculously small—about the size of my kids’ school backpacks—and can weigh less than a pound. But they’re enough to carry up to 20 pounds of food and gear, which is about the most I’ll want to carry on Day One. (The pack will lighten as the food supply is consumed.) Elite racers sacrifice comforts such as extra food, a sleeping pad and a camera to save several pounds.

I tried two packs: the Terra Nova Laser 20L and the Inov-8 Race Elite 25L, both weighing about 12 ounces. I liked the fit of the Terra Nova, but didn’t like its bottle-holder placement on the hips, where the bottles felt difficult to grab and bumped into my elbows.

Then a friend who’s done several 250K desert crossings with the Racing the Planet series turned me on to extra-large (750-milliliter) bottles with built-in straws that attach to the front of shoulder straps, on the chest. I ordered a couple of those holders from Inov-8 along with the bottles from RaidLight, and I added an Amphipod pocket attachment to the waist strap for extra carrying space.


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