This weekend was my last long training run (24 miles) before the Little Su 50k which is now just 3 weeks away, so I thought it would fitting to do a gear check. It is not uncommon for an ultra marathon to have some sort of gear requirement, and a winter race in Alaska is no exception, even if it is only 50k (and none of the gear has anything to do with the cold). Also, like a few other Alaska distance races, this race is almost entirely self supported, so having sufficient gear and safety items for being alone for hours in the cold is important.
With that said, here is a list of the required gear plus the few additional items I plan on bringing with me.
2 quart insulated water container - I got a new Salomon pack for Christmas that I plan on using. While it is not insulated, I have insulated the tube and the bladder rests against my back so I figure my body heat keeps the bladder from freezing. I ran 24 miles yesterday in 4 1/2 hours at -5 degrees and it didn't freeze, so this set up will work just fine. I shove the valve inside my vest so it rests against my body and then blow the water back into the bladder to keep the line clear, so far this has proven effective. There is an aid station at the halfway point with water, so if I top off with water there then 2 quarts plenty of capacity.
Headlamp or flashlight - I have a Pelican headlamp that I have used for a few years now for running in the dark. While it only has 9 lumens on high mode, it is a 3 LED setup so the battery life is really good. I wouldn't use this for a 100 miler in the summer due to the low light output, it provides sufficient light for use in the winter due to snow reflection. I only plan on being the dark, if at all, for a short period of time, so this light will be sufficient.
Rear flashing light - I have a small red blinking light that I have clipped to the back of my headlamp strap, but since most of the race is on snow machine trails and this is a high snow year in Alaska, I plan on also using the larger blinker I have on my bike so I don't get squished by any snowmachines.
Additional Items I Will Carry
Wind Gear - Where the race takes place is prone to high winds, with that said I also now have a nice Brooks running jacket (5 oz) and a pair of Mont Bell ulra light pants (3 oz) that I will have in my pack should high winds occur, and they are light and small enough they are not even noticeable.
First Aid Kit - I bought a small, personal first kit at REI, mostly due to running distances in the winter and wanting to be prepared since I am out on my own for hours. I have added a heat blanket and strike anywhere matches, and this is also where I keep extra batteries for my headlamp.
Hand Warmers - Two of my long runs, including yesterday, I have had to break out the hand warmers. They last 2-4 hours so depending on the temperature I may actually schedule using them into my race day plan. These are very light so I will probably carry 4-8 in my pack, enough for my hands and feet for up to 8 hours if needed.
Clothing - Racing in sub freezing weather means your head gear freezes up for various reasons and then becomes rather uncomfortable, and since there are no drop bags allowed, any gear changes mean I will have to have the items on hand. Unless the weather is warm, I will plan on bringing a change of head gear with me, the exact combination I won't determine until I know the race day weather forecast.
Fuel - Lately my fuel of choice is Powerbar Gels, I started using these because they are thinner and don't get super thick when they freeze like Gu or other similar products, and luckily the taste has been pretty good too. I will probably carry about 8 of these and a Stinger Waffle as well.
I will go over my race day plans in a few weeks when the race is closer, but wanted to cover gear now as I have it pretty well dialed in. Part of training for ultras is simulating race day conditions on long runs, so for me that means carrying the above gear and running in the same temperature, which is important as this is a winter race. Although training on long runs has been mentally challenging if more than anything as we are having both the snowiest winter and coldest January on record here in Anchorage. Overall though the training is going well, other than some achiles pain, but I should be able to make it 31 miles regardless.
As the 2 Gomers would say, Happy Running!