Random thoughts around gear and techniques

In a sport like trail running we pay a weight penalty for every extra tool we carry with us, so getting kit that really works is critical! (a fantastic headlamp that turns the darkest night into day will require a prohibitive battery pack, whereas a lighter option may save you on weight and therefore energy expenditure and therefore might actually make you run faster)
In my build up to the UTMB I have thought of many different angles of how I can optimise my performance. I have always been a bit of a gear head and love kit that really works! Here are some random thoughts which I would like your comments on. If you have somethng to add please do so in the comments below.

I have been looking at other sports for inspiration for an extra edge.
Why? Quite simply there is way more money in cycling and triathlon than in trail running. Money = innovation. So what do cyclists or triathletes do that we could try or copy to our advantage?

Besides looking particularly nice on the female form, lycra does have performance advantages. I have only recently bought a pair of tight shorts (or short tights- not sure which) to run in. It did take several weeks of window shopping and then many hours out on my first run to not feel like I was totally exposed. Lycra dries much quicker than loose fitting running shorts! Quicker drying means not loosing excess heat in a wind chill situation. (I suspect that it may also cool you down quicker when wet due to evaporative cooling in the heat-maybe somebody can give some more scientific insight here). For a running top I will certainly consider a close fitting top to get the added benefit too for the future. Even with quick drying fabrics I still finish a run with my shirt damp from perspiration.

Shedding Heat:
The latest Bicycling Magazine has an article on Allen Lim in it and I read it with interest. One of the big things he talks about is shedding extra heat. From my own experience and confirmed now from the Lim article: Keeping your core temperature down is critical. I have always favoured waist belts rather than backpacks for this reason. I sweat less while running with my back uncovered. This will not be the case at Mont Blanc where I simply cannot fit all the stuff into a bum bag!

Every now and again you see triathletes running with a sponge tucked in to their running top. Think of a mountain stream as the trail running equivalent. In fact I did exactly that on the last leg of the Hout Bay Tripple Trouble last year in the blazing heat. The day was hot and I realised that hydration and spending as little time in the heat as possible would be key. I came to a stream and drenched my Buff in it before wearing it around my neck. It was not long before it was dry. I did the same on the way back! I think this helped a great deal with my race. I ended up feeling strong all the way through to the end and not getting too fried out there.

A little while ago I was reminded by a friend of mine who is new to the trail: Weather changes are amplified tenfold when on a mountain trail compared to when exercising in urban surroundings. So we should pay even closer attention to the detail. This is especially true for getting too cold.

A couple of weekends ago I went to cheer on friends at the HBTC. I am always amazed at the contrast of front runners to the back markers. The top guys run in short sleeves and then the back markers come along with full waterproofs-drenched in sweat. I wonder what comes first: going too slow so that you need a waterproof to keep the elements off or putting a waterproof on and then sweating so much that performance grinds down to a super slow pace? I was on Mount Rainier a few years ago and noticed how my partner was wearing full Gore-Tex. I wore a wind breaker while active and then put on extra layers over the top when we stopped for the occasional break. My partner instantly froze when we stopped not because he wore too little but because he wore too much, perspired and then cooled down too much.

Thinking back to trail running. The more you perspire, the more you need to drink, the more water you need to carry per hour on the trail. The vicious circle continues! In fact the less weight you can carry on a trail, the more efficient you will be and the less energy you will require and the faster you will run. Here is a way to turn that vicious circle around! I have never had to run wearing a waterproof to fend off the rain. I hate getting too hot when I run. This of course is different to running in the heat. When you run in the heat you just have to slow down a bit and try to cool down as much as you can.

In fact when I start a race I try to anticipate what I will feel like 20 mins into the event. When in doubt I shed another layer- at least that is what I try to do, sometimes I chicken out and carry the extra security blanket.

This is a topic for a seperate post sometime soon but for now just some thoughts.
I believe not nearly enough athletes give enough thought to this. You can get by with a hand full of gels for a half or full marathon but when trying to race for 5 plus hours nutrition becomes an important issue. I believe that is why so many runners struggle on leg 3 of the HBTC (heat and low energy). And consuming things that you like (or don’t dislike too much) is key. Yesterday Mel has reminded me that you can run 28+ km of trail with a cut up banana as your fuel! How much more natural can you get?

During the Skyrun last year Andre, Roger and I had a standing joke of eating every half hour. For 18+hours of effort even the best gels become tedious! I am fortunate to have Mule Bar on board who supply me with a whole mixture of great flavoured bars. I actually look forward to the bars on a run. They taste like real food. They are also pretty natural and don’t contain too much extra stuff that does nothing for you. (read the nutritional splurb on the wrapper if you want details) See the Sunday Times article on Lim articel here for his famous rice cakes he made for team Garmin in the 2009 Tour de France.


The ideal pair of shoes should give you loads of protection for minimal weight. I do a stride drill once a week (Joe Friel’s barefoot strides: 8 – 10 X 20 second repeats where I try to get my cadence up high. For me that is about 33 to 34 strides per 20s interval.) I have been doing this drill for 6 months and have noticed that my cadence on the road has gone from 78 – 79 range to in the mid 80’s!! Over the winter I tried to do this drill in my super light-weight Asics DS trainers. The effect was dramatic! It was really hard to hit my target of 33 footfalls in the 20s. I was a full one to two strides behind! Heavier shoes do have their drawbacks in that they will require more energy to pick them up with every step!

What ideas have you thought or wondered about?

3 thoughts on “Random thoughts around gear and techniques

  1. I'm an ultra-distance triathlete who’s always on the look-out for anything that will add speed and/or reduce effort, thereby improving performance. This would include everything from improvements in training techniques to technological advancements in equipment, clothing and so on. When it comes to clothing, I have forever dressed in spandex/nylon/polyester composites. And, the advancements over the years in the utility and the durability of this type of clothing has been enormous.

    I’m also a novice trail runner who’s recently hit the trail in search of new experiences and skills, and I must add, I’m especially thankful to Leo without whose help I would neither have discovered nor navigated some truly breathtaking running experiences. Nonetheless, at the outset I simply dressed as I would for a typical run, i.e. spandex/nylon/polyester composites, plus a shiny new pair of trail shoes. Soon thereafter, other essentials were added, i.e. hydration pack, helium jacket and buff. I’ve experienced an assortment of weather conditions over the past few months, and, frankly I don’t have good reason to change my fundamental dress code.

    On a recent run I experienced a near freezing 2°C on the top of Table Mountain followed shortly by a sweltering 28°C on the contour path that traverses the face of the mountain. And, through all this the only item I donned & removed was the helium jacket. My close-fitting composites provided both the necessary warmth by trapping the heat my body generated and the necessary coolness by wicking away the perspiration that flowed, while the buff transformed from beanie to sweatband. The buff is a real gem; it weighs nothing, packs to nothing and is truly multi-functional.

    I like to carry the minimum amount of everything, including food, so stuff I take along has to be functional and featherweight. Except for trail shoes, since the featherweight models, which provide the best running sensation, offer little protection from rugged terrain. So I’ve learned (somewhat painfully) to trade between speed and comfort. Perhaps as I gain more trail skill I may require less protection, but right now I’m more concerned about protection and comfort and will accordingly do without featherweight.

  2. One piece of kit I forgot but have found to be super usefull is a running cap. Wear it during the day to keep the sun off, wear it in the rain under your waterproof jacket to stop the rain dripping on your nose!

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