We’ve compiled a bunch of tips to guide you in preparing for your first desert race or ultra.
WELL BEFORE THE RACE
- Try out your clothing and equipment on long runs – it must fit properly and be comfortable.
- Test all your gels, foodstuffs, supplements, pills, plasters too – you don’t want any surprises on race day, like an allergy to one of them
Get used to your backpack well in advance of your race.
- Make adjustments to the straps to make sure it is comfortable. Once you have a full and weighted backpack properly tested and fitted, you can cut off all the excess dangly bits (burn the cut edges so that they don’t fray).
- Walk, jog, run with it as much as possible.
- Get used to carrying the additional weight to acclimatise your body and biomechanics to the load. Don’t go from zero to hero – build up over a period of weeks to be able to run with eight to 12 kilograms (for a self-sufficient staged race / adventure race) on your back.
- Fill water bottles/reservoirs and fill the backpack with approximate weight of items you will be carrying (bags of rice and tins of beans wrapped in towels work well). Gradually build up to the weight you will be carrying.
- Remember: 1 litre water = 1kg
- If your shoulders are getting sore, you have not positioned your backpack correctly. Play around with the shoulder, hip and chest straps until you get the best fit.
- Read Lisa’s ‘Pack it up’ article for tips on packing your kit into your pack.
- Always pack your bag in the same order / put things in the same places– that way you will know where to find stuff.
- Women, a common area for chaffing is under the bra strap on your back. To prevent this, stick a strip of wide plaster on your back under the bra strap where it rubs.
- Shoulders/neck: Ensure the fabric of your shirt (higher neckline) stays under the shoulder straps of the backpack so that there is no direct skin-strap contact. Prevent chaffing by taping prone sites before you even start.
- Read Lisa’s article ‘Friction!’, which deals with chaffing. It was originally published in Go Multi magazine.
Socks are expensive so choose wisely. Ask your friends for their preferences and then start testing. Some people favour thick socks, other appreciate a cushioned socks and other prefer thin socks. Find what works for you.
Key features to look for include:
- No seam in front of the toes.
- No stitched seam on top of the toes (in the area of the back of your toenails) – it should be part of the knit of the sock.
- A fitted heel.
- No excess fabric around the arch of your foot.
- Enough space for your toes (the sock should not squeeze your toes, especially with thick and cushioned socks).
- Left and right-foot specific socks offer a great fit.
- Enough of a neck that the socks won’t slide down into your shoe.
NB: Take your favourite socks with you when you shop for shoes as the thickness of the sock affects the correct choice of shoe size.
The jury is still out on long distance running in compression socks. We favour them for post-run recovery.
- Once you’ve completed your run for the day and have cleaned up, put on your compression socks and keep them on. Yes, sleep in them too.
Remember to get pack a cheap and light pair of flip flops for walking around camp. One with an over-the-foot strap is best as they accommodate sore and swollen toes best and can be worn with socks.
FOOT CARE & BLISTERS
The most important thing on race day is not how fit you are but how your feet hold up.
So the more time you spend on your feet from now till the race, the better. Walk / run everywhere you can.
We’ve added a number of foot care-related articles to our site. Read ’em all!
Happy feet makes for happy running.
Before the race:
- Spend as much time on your feet as possible.
- Walk barefoot at home and on grass and on the beach – this strengthens your feet
- A week before the race, trim all your toenails and file them smooth.
- Make sure you don’t have callouses – blisters can form under callouses. They’re difficult to remedy and are very painful. Go for a pedicure three to four weeks before the race to file off hard skin.
During the racing:
- Look after your feet.
- If you feel a blister forming (hot spot), stop immediately and attend to it. It won’t improve unless you do something.
- When you stop, take your shoes off and give your feet a good rub to get the circulation flowing. Check for blisters and deal with any issues immediately
- Always carry a spare pair of socks in your backpack – change wet, or really sweaty put on a dry pair.
- In dry conditions, baby powder rubbed between your toes acts as a lubricant. Depending on the conditions (very hot and sweaty), an anti-chafe cream may be required.
- In wet conditions an anti-chafe / barrier cream is recommended. Rub it between your toes.
- Keep well hydrated. When you are fluid and electrolyte deficient, your skin will more readily blister.
- Carry a small foot care kit in your backpack.
Basic Foot care kit (for your backpack)
- Small container of baby powder
- Alcohol swabs (to sterilise open blisters before patching)
- A few syringe needles to drain blisters
- Tube or sachet of anti-chafe cream
- Tape, plasters and blister patches
- Small penknife (to cut the tape)
After each stage
- Check your feet for sensitive / hot spots
- If you have blisters forming, take care of them immediately (see foot care articles)
- Give your feet a good massage, even if they’re sore
- If you are in pain, take something for it before you go to bed. You will sleep better.
In addition to the race specified gear/items, we recommend that you pack the following:
- Sun block and lip balm
- Basic foot care kit and your personal medications
- Anti-chafe cream for sensitive spots
- A hat (we prefer wide-brimmed), with neck flap (as necessary). A scarf will also keep the sun off your neck
- Pain tablets/anti-inflammatory tablets: While we don’t recommend that you keep going if in severe pain and where you’re doing more damage to your body, tablets do take the edge off manageable niggles. Remember, if you have a headache, you are probably dehydrated – drink!
- Food, snacks (see below for ideas)
- Rehydration powder
- Drink small amounts frequently.
- Refill water bottles/reservoirs whenever there is a water station.
- The darker yellow your urine, the more dehydrated you are.
- Never put carbohydrate / electrolyte drinks in your reservoir. Put these in bottles. Sipping non-stop on sugary drinks is not only bad for your teeth, it will also make you nauseous. Nothing beats water for thirst and hydration.
- After the race, down a glass of an electrolyte solution. Remember to try the different flavours before the race – some are not very pleasant.
- Read the race instructions for the required calorie intake per day for the race. Typically the minimum daily intake specified for self-sufficient staged races is 2,000 calories. You will feel hungry a few days in, but you won’t do you any harm.
- Look for foods that offer the most ‘nutritional bang for your buck’ – nutrition, calories and weight.
- We pack a ‘spork’ (a fork and spoon in one utensil) to eat our meals.
- Over a few weeks, collect foods you like to eat. Check the nutritional information on the package for weight and calories per serving (if you’re OCD, like Lisa, set up a spreadsheet to calculate daily intake for food packs).
- Dehydrated meals are tasty and convenient, but they are quite pricey.
- Outdoor stores stock collapsible cups and bowls.
- Smash and Couscous are light and easy to rehydrate. Decant into small zip-seal bags for each day’s meal. You can pour hot water directly into the bag or your bowl. No pot required.
- 2-minute noodles: Crush into a zip-seal bag pre-race so that they take less space in your backpack; they can be hydrated with cold water – it takes 10-15 minutes.
- Sachets of tuna and salmon are nutritious and convenient.
- If you can’t do without, remember tea / coffee, sugar and powdered milk.
- Tiny after-dinner treat.
- Instant oats and nutritional powdered cereals just require warm/hot water
- Sweets: go low on the sugar. You’ll tire of sugar before anything else.
- Dried-fruit: doesn’t agree with everyone, check first.
- Salted nuts: always good.
- Energy bars & health bars (again, watch the sugar, especially in chocolate and yoghurt coated bars)
- Biltong (make sure its dry) and salami sticks – nutritious, salty, tasty and loaded with protein and fat.
- Crackers and salted chips – loaded with fat and salt
- Gels – if you like them.
PACKING DAILY MEALS
Label large zip-seal bags for each day. Remember to consider daily distances (more snacks for longer days). Each bag should include:
- Snacks (distribute snacks into the easy-access pouches of your backpack each day)
You should be able to get away with 2000 calories in around 400 – 600 grams of food each day.
- 1 x running shorts
- 1 x running tee
- 1 x sports bra (women)
- 1 x light-weight shell
- 1 x light-weight long-sleeved top (if conditions require)
- 2 x underpants
- 4 x pairs of socks (two pairs will see you through; but more gives you options)
- Light flip-flops
- Running shoes
- AR Gaiters
- Something to wear after the stage
- Sleepwear (depending on conditions, you can sleep in your after-stage clothing)
Wash your clothing whenever convenient and you are sure it will dry in time for the next day’s stage.
Shop around for the lightest, most compact sleeping bag for the expected conditions. In the desert environment it can get cold at night. We use a sleeping bag liner so that the inside of the sleeping bag is kept clean – they’re not easy to wash.
A wide range of light-weight, self-inflating camp mattresses are available. Cheap, foam camp rolls can be trimmed to fit your shoulders and hips. Mattresses serve as much for cushioning as insulation from the cold ground.
If it is cold at night, wear light-weight, thermal tops and tights with socks and a beanie.
- Small, light-weight, quick-dry travel towels work well. A face cloth can be used for to wipe yourself down (no showers). Hang on your backpack to dry.
- Toothbrush and small tube of tooth paste.
- Small bar of soap (lighter than shower gel) for washing yourself and your clothes.
- Antiperspirant (underarm).
- Body cream that you can use on your face and body.
- Travel tissues are great for on-the-run toilet stops. Remember to pack in a zip-seal bag in which to put the tissue / toilet paper.
- Baby wipes are great for water-less bathing and also for after-toilet clean.
- It is not a good to hold if you need to urinate. If you are running with other people, don’t feel embarrassed to say “Carry on, I have to pee”.
- Please do not leave toilet paper or wipes out in the open. Put used toilet paper and wipes into a zip-seal bag and discard when you get to camp.
- If you’re prone to constipation, pack laxatives to keep your tummy regular and keep hydrated.
- If you usually go in the morning, make sure you get up early so that you have enough time to go before the start.
- On the trail – find a spot away from the trail/road and dig a hole. Cover with sand once you’re done and remember to put your wipes / toilet paper in a zip-seal bag to discard later at camp.
Have you got any tips to add?