There are basically two schools of thought when assembling a kit for an ultramarathon, and they’re about the same as any sort of race, hike or expedition: comprehensive preparation and more weight, or as minimalist as possible. The decision gets easier for experienced racers who know how to measure their needs versus what’s available on the course and what they can leave at drop stations, but for first-time ultra-distance runners, the decision can be a little confounding. You want to be very prepared and very light. This setup for the Vermont 50 — a trail run — reflects a good balance of preparedness and weight, with a bias toward the former in the choice of a hydration pack.
Geigerrig Rig 500
We tested several hydration packs this season, from minimalist running vests like the Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra Vest to commuter bags to hydration-equipped backpacks for all kinds of adventures. Geigerrig’s pressurized hydration and in-line filtration makes it a perennial favorite of ours. The Rig 500 carries 70 ounces (2L) of water and has a dry capacity of 500 cubic inches (11.47L), plenty of room for some stored nutrition, a jacket and a small first-aid kit. The back panels are ample and comfortable, though some chafing is inevitable. Overkill? Sure. But it sure is nice to be able to spray down your face during a long run or wash out a cut should you stumble over a root miles from civilization.
Gore X-Running Light Windstopper Active Shell Jacket
Want to save weight and be prepared for weather? This jacket is as light as a handful of unused fancy tissues (88 grams) and packs down to fit in virtually any pocket or around a belt loop. It’s 100% nylon with a Windstopper Active Shell construction, which uses an inner membrane to block wind chill and keep water out while remaining light and breathable when your core temp rises. Bonus points for a comfortable, athletic fit and good looks that can pass for everyday wear…well, maybe in Boulder.
Gore Magnitude 2.0 Split Shorts
We’re fans of products from W.L. Gore & Associates, of which Gore-Tex is just one of many. Like the jacket, these shorts are super lightweight at 80 grams and made of highly breathable microfiber with a mesh inner lining. They’re short, shorter indeed than you think they’ll be. So for reasons of decency and chafe-prevention, wear tights or compression underneath.
Opedix CORE-Tec Shorts
Speaking of tights or compression, there’s actually a third option: Opedix CORE-Tec. Anyone who runs long distance knows that one of the largest fatigue-related challenges is keeping good posture and proper alignment, and the goal of Opedix is to bolster just that. The underlying science behind the brand is that the body’s kinetic chain — “the sequencing of multiple joint motions and muscle activations to produce purposeful movement or posture”, according to the brand — doesn’t function perfectly if we’re injured or tired. This is where the shorts come in. They use a 27-panel construction of stretch and non-stretch fabrics to keep the pelvic region aligned, encouraging core stability. We wore them for a few days after the race, too.
The North Face Kilowatt Short Sleeve
For their Athletics collection The North face collaborated with the Mountain Athlete gym in Jackson, WY, a conditioning facility specializing in training plans for elite athletes who compete in outdoor sports. The resulting gear is tough and driven by performance. The Kilowatt shirt uses abrasion-resistant fabric with TNF’s quick-drying FlashDry-XD, stretch paneling and stitch-free seam construction. The overall fit is roomier than a typical running shirt, which we liked for an all-day affair.
The North Face Single-Track Hayasa II
We’ve logged hundreds of miles in trail shoes ranging from pure expressions of minimalism (New Balance Minimus Hi-Rez) to experiments in maximum cushioning (Hoka One One Rapa Nui 2). One of our favorites was The North Face Single-Track Hayasa II, designed in collaboration with ultra runner Tsuyoshi Kaburaki. They feel super light (9 ounces) and unobtrusive, especially in the toebox, but they provide ample protection with TNF’s cradle cushioning technology, which lessens the blow of heel strikes. Shoes are the most personal of running gear, but these were good for 50 miles without pain or blisters, an experienced we’ve rarely had for half that distance.
GoMotion Sternum Light Kit
Training for an ultra more than likely means training when it’s dark. Rather than a headlamp, we opted to retrofit the Geigerrig with the GoMotion Fusion (formerly the Sternum Light Kit), which attaches at chest level with velcro straps. It has a high-output LED with adjustable beam angle, beam width control and three brightness settings. GoMotion also makes a vest and a belt specifically for their light kits. Since it was only dark for the first hour of the Vermont 50, we didn’t race with this — but it’s a great training partner in the early morning or after work.
Soleus GPS Fit
A GPS running watch for $100 caught our attention. Soleus formerly made watches for Nike, but now the Austin-based brand makes GPS-equipped running watches and cycling computers that don’t cost as much as an entry-level bike. The GPS Fit tracks speed, pace and distance, and had no problem picking up a signal in Vermont. For our money, it’s a steal.
INFINIT Nutrition Custom Blend
Sports nutrition has come a long way from Gatorade and PowerBars, and endurance sports are fertile ground for new products. As always, the goal is to get enough — and the correct composition of — nutrition to perform well without GI distress, but the solutions have changed. The term de rigueur is osmolality, which refers to the concentration of particles dissolved in a solute; sports nutrition drinks with an optimal osmolality are most easily absorbed by the body. INFINIT makes custom nutrition that accounts for osmolality, body weight, climate and personal preferences, adjusting levels of ingredients (carbs, protein, electrolytes, amino acids, caffeine) based on those needs.
Short of publishing a photo of our unchafed nipples, we can’t say enough good things about Body Glide. In our experience, it’s the best and cleanest-feeling anti-chafe on the market and works significantly better than covering problem areas with band-aids or other adhesives. One application usually does the trick, but we usually stash an extra stick in a backpack or drop bag.
The best advice is often given in the field from other athletes who’ve been in your tired shoes before. On the advice of a top American ultra runner we packed some duct tape — not the whole roll, just a few feet wrapped around a stick — in case blisters became a problem or we needed to wrap a toe or two to make it across the finish line. Fortunately, we didn’t, because that sounds painful.
METHODOLOGY Limits Editor Jeremy Berger tested the gear in this Kit while training for, and racing in, the Vermont 50.