So what does one take to survive a week long 250 km footrace across a desert? Answer: Not much...
As my departure draws near, I've begun to finalize my gear for the soon-to-begin Gobi March. What makes this type of racing unique is that competitors are required to tote all of their essentials on their backs for the entire week: food, clothing, emergency equipment, and all of the race required kit. This is where you can either make or break yourself. The trick is to travel as light as possible, while still possessing the needed gear to get you to the finishing line. I put a lot of thought and research into my first such stage race in South America, a little over a year ago. While many of the choices I blindly made ended-up being spot on, many were overkill, unnecessary, or just plain wrong. I took those lessons, as well as a healthy helping of observation and conversation with racers more experienced than I, and boiled off some of the fat for my following effort in Egypt later that year. In my third effort, I'm hoping to really nail this aspect of the self-supported stage race.
As you can see from the pictures, I race with only the essentials (with the exception of a couple of luxuries). At all 4 Deserts events, there is a list of required gear that all competitors must possess, like sleeping bag, headlamps, medical kit, and emergency gear, just to name a few. I've tuned these required items down to the lightest and most compact versions I can, beefing-up some that are more needed and adding a few items that I've found crucial to success. I mean, why carry a full-sized compass when a small, dime-sized one will do?! The list is endless. It's really quite amazing how you can shave off this, leave that out, resist taking 3 when 2 will do, and still have enough to survive the week...and all stuffed into a backpack not much larger than what a kid would stick his Trapper Keeper in for a day at school!
I would say that nutrition and food cause the biggest problems when trying to prep for a self-supported race. There aren't any aid stations stocked with boiled potatoes, PB&J's, and pretzels out in the desert...though I've often prayed for a few! What you have in your pack at the start is what you'll have for the week. Wise choices and a good dose of rationing go a very long way. Competitors are required to start the race with a minimum of 14,000 kcals. How you choose to account for those calories is entirely up to you. This is where many racers, including myself, have lost the plot and been ready to start chewing their own hands by day 3. My philosophy is to take calorie dense yet lightweight foods in a variety of types and a variety of flavors. You guessed it...variety is key! Everyone is different so there's no magic grocery list that can be used by every runner. I pack only the foods that I know I can stomach and that work for me (that includes lots of FIG BARS!!).
So, what's in my bag? Here's what I'll be taking along...
- Raidlight Evo Pack w/Front Pack
- Lafuma Extreme Sleeping Bag, Hyperlite Inflatable Pillow, Therm-a-rest Pad (This is key for sleep. Pads me from shoulders to hips.)
- Compass, Knife, Whistle, Mirror, Safety Pins, Survival Bivy Bag
- Blister Kit, E-Bandage, E-Light, Headlamps x 2
- Toilet Paper (vital!), Alcohol Gel, Sunscreen, Toothbrush, Titanium Spork
- Hyperlite REI Jacket, Knit Hat, Gloves, 1 Pair Swiftwick Pursuit Socks, Foldable Slippers
- Outdoor Tech Buff, Extra Race Shirt, Smith Optics Sunglasses
- Camera, iPod, External Battery Charger (Luxury items)
- 2 Soft Flasks, Platypus Collapsible Reservoir (2.5 liter total carry capacity), Saltstick Pills
Everything in the above list is required kit with the exception of the pillow, pad, camera, and ipod w/charger. Comfortable sleep is so necessary for recovering between stages so I try to maximize this with adding a 1 oz inflatable pillow and a cutdown pad so the rocks don't get me. For me, the camera and ipod are non-negotiable extras. The few ounces these cost me are well worth the weight.
And as for my food...
- 7 Freeze Dried Meals
- 8 Fig Bars
- 4 Endurox Recovery Packs
- 8 Accelerade Packs
- 18 PowerGels
- 6 Gatorade Satchets
- 4 Jerky Strips
- 4 Packets Haribo Gummys
- 2 Peanut Bars
- 4 Packets Granola
- 12 Jolly Ranchers (A must!!)
Well, that's it! It's inevitable that a few bits of food will find their way into my pack before the start, last minute cravings and all. It may not seem like much food for a week of hard racing, but these events aren't meant to be comfortable. That's one aspect of the race, being able to press-on through hunger, sleep-deprivation, dehydration, and malnutrition. This was essentially my exact kit in Egypt and it served me well there. I'm hoping for an equally successful result in the Chinese high-country next month.
Thanks for reading!