ASK THE GOAT: Planning for stage races

Jun. 19, 2014 @ 05:00 AM

Last week, I laid out several examples of stage races. They are the fastest growing type of ultra-marathon. Most are situated in exotic locations, such as Ecuador, Japan, Indonesia, Morocco, Madagascar and Peru. Many though, are popping up closer to home.

The VolState is in Tennessee and the Tarheel Ultra is in North Carolina. Grand to Grand winds from Utah to Arizona via the Grand Canyon and TransRockies is a series of switchbacks through the Colorado Rocky Mountains. But there are even newer, smaller events as well, such as the Chattanooga (Tenn.) two-day stage race and the Veni Vidi Vici (N.C.) two-day mountain stage race in the Pisgah Forest.

To plan for a stage race, logistics is key. Scour the site for packing requirements, daily distances and average climate/altitude/weather patterns. If you will be carrying gear every day for several days, make sure you pay the extra money for small and light gear. The training will be designed around your upcoming trek, but again, right now you should focus on minimizing weight and space.

Two issues arise when carting gear, outside of the obvious issue, expense. The first challenge is weight. The other, more overlooked challenge is size. Light isn’t always the most solid choice for all gear. In many cases, heavier takes up less space. For those of us who have tried running up a mountainside in 50 mph winds and rain, pack size made a difference. A super-light, enormous backpack is the same as a sail. I literally saw a small woman blow over and pull a “flipped turtle” during the Iceland trek. Her issue? Ultra-light pack stuffed to the brim with feather-weight gear. She only weighed 80 pounds, so her “sail” allowed the wind to throw her off balance.

Fuel is also a consideration. If you train on a particular regimen, you may find your food of choice impossible to take with you. Case in point is a high-fat diet. Most “flash-dried” meals are super-concentrated, high-carbohydrate, moderate-fat and low-protein. With luck, you may find one that has a slightly higher salt and protein composition. But most small, light-weight food options will be in the wrong macronutrient percentages. Decide how you will handle this. For a shorter race, it may not affect performance; but a six-day trek is a pretty long time to be off your primary fuelling source. Weight can exponentially jump with “wet food,” jars and squeeze packets as well. Choose wisely.

For training, you need to simulate trek conditions as best you can. Try to mimic surface types, elevation, altitude and weather. Remember to pack-train with comparable weight and practice during rain. You really cannot imagine the weight differences “wet and dry” make until you soak everything to the core. This will also afford you a testing period for all of your “waterproof” gear. Not everything works as well as the package shows. Altitude is the hardest to simulate. In most cases, going 2-4 weeks early for your race is the only way to truly adapt to the altitude differential. There are things you can do at home to simulate aspects and increase oxygen capacity, but nothing trains for altitude like training at altitude.