Some notes on trail running gear

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I'm planning on doing some more ultras this year and I thought it might be a good idea if I actually trained for them. Triathlon experience indicates you should train the way you plan to race, so I'm trying some new stuff this time:

Hydration pack: support in tris and road races is pretty good, but with trail ultras, the distance between aid stations is a lot longer, both in time and distance. Road races typically have aid stations at between 1-3 miles apart; for trail races it's more like every 5 miles, and because there's a lot more climbing, that's something like every 30-60 minutes apart, so you need to carry fluid. You've basically got four options: (1) carry bottles (2) wear a bottle in a waist pack (3) wear a fuel belt, and (4) wear a hydration pack. I don't like to carry stuff in my hands, and all the bottle on belt schemes seem to max out at about 30-40 ounces, which isn't really enough and you also have to fumble with the bottles, which is a pain. I thought this time I'd try a hydration pack, and after reading a bunch of reviews I settled on the Patagonia Houdini (no longer available it seems).

So far, I'm pretty pleased. It takes a bit of getting used to initially, since the weight on your shoulders is different and it seems like it's going to rub on your neck or clavicle. The natural thing for a backpacker to do is to try to take the weight off with the hip belt, but it actually wants to ride higher up on your waist, which is initially a bit odd, but not uncomfortable, really. I only have two small complaints: the drinking tube (I went with a Platypus) tends to slip down a bit and I had to keep readjusting it back into the pack. I think I can fix this with a little adjustment inside the pack. The other problem is that it tends to pull your shirt/jersey up a bit, so I'll want something a bit longer in the future.

PowerGel (new): I used to race with Powergel exclusively, but then Powerfood reformulated it with 300% more sodium and it just seemed too salty, at least the chocolate version [*]. Two weeks ago, though, I was out running and really noticed I wanted more salt, so laast weekend I gave it another try with the raspberry cream and strawberry-banana flavors. It's still too salty, but not quite as disgusting somehow and with the hydration pack you can wash it down quickly. I think I'll be using it more on long runs.

Running with music: Last few races I did I noticed a lot more people wearing headsets. This seemed kind of odd to me—don't you want to focus on the race?—but after reading this post by Scott Dunlap, I thought I'd give it a shot. I have an old iPod nano with a broken display, but it's almost unnoticeable in the pocket of my Race Readys. The only problem I had was that the headphone cord kept pulling out, until I turned it the other way up so that the cord exits at the bottomw, at which point everything was fine. It's hard to evaluate whether music actually makes a difference in your performance, but it certainly decreases the boredom level, which starts to get significant after 2 hours. It's probably worth spending some time tuning the music to the right inspiring level, but that seems like it should be easy enough.


One other hydration option that you don't mention: wear a water bottle strapped to your arm. Sounds counterintuitive, but is actually one of the most comfortable options (for me). The only such product out there is the Body Bottle ( and I developed it because of the uncomfortable aspects of the other products. If you check it out, let me know what you think.

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