Your first race has been entered, and you have done some training, but you may be worried about whether or not your kit is up to the minimum standard necessary to perform well in the event. Worry not: it is likely that the kit you have already been using in your running and biking training will get you through your first few races, so you shouldn’t need to spend too much money – at least at first! The few key items you may not have are trail shoes, a head torch, a small running backpack, a hydration system, and a buff. Someone within your team will also need a compass, but it doesn’t have to be you. To see what you can get away with and what you should consider buying, read on.
1: Trail Shoes
If your background is in road running, then trail running shoes are arguably the most important investment before your first race. They differ from road shoes by having better grip on both wet and dry rock and grassy slopes and they are ideally lower to the ground (even if that means that they forsake some cushioning) to avoid the risk of you twisting your ankle on rough terrain. They also tend to provide greater lateral stability, which helps when it comes to contouring on very steep ground.
Inno8, Salomon, and Montrail all make excellent trail shoes suitable for the most demanding adventure races. They vary only slightly, so your choice comes down to which suit your feet and your activity best. Top end Salomon XA-Pros have wire draw strings instead of laces so they don’t come undone so easily.
Montrail make a number of excellent models offering a variety of support and motion control, with the Continental Divide a favourite among many seasoned racers. However, if you don’t have quite that much money in your pockets, Asics do a fairly decent off road shoe from their normal high street range for £30 - £40 which is totally fine as a starting shoe. Just remember - what you are being asked to do could be a world away from running down your local high street – so some form of off-road shoe is definitely a worthwhile investment!
For those of you heading more towards ultra running than adventure racing, sole cushioning probably becomes relatively more important than stability, since the terrain you will encounter is generally not so severe. The BBC once took a complete novice out to run the Atacama race with two experienced UK athletes. All three wore Nike Thielsons and X Socks, and amazingly returned blister free!
If your target is mountain marathons, then you won’t require as much cushioning as the trail or adventure runners (even though a 70km elite class in the KIMM may sound a lot, it isn’t much compared to a 1000km Raid Gauloises). The correct footwear for this type of race is a pair of dedicated mountain running shoes. Stability and being low to the ground becomes key and some of the well known brands like VJs even have metal studs in the sole for added traction. Also, check out the new Inov-8 shoe models. The Mudclaw 270 in particular may be a better option than traditional fell shoes for those of you who weren’t born with Walsh shoes on their feet - since they are maybe slightly easier going on your Achilles.
Some people argue that you should wear thin socks to allow your feet to breathe. Others argue that thick socks provide cushioning. For now, go with what you are used to so long as you don’t generally get blisters on longer training runs using what you already own. Most top adventure racers nowadays trend more towards using thin well wicking socks which they change as frequently as possible to reduce the build up of debris and sweat. Click here for the full range of adventure racing socks available from planetFear.
Good accessories really make a difference to your overall comfort within a race. Buffs are wonderful pieces of kit and can be worn as a hat, under your bike helmet, to keep the draught off your neck or sweat out of your eyes or even as a bandage when things go wrong!
Other useful accessories are a powerstretch type hat and thin quick-drying gloves (e.g. polypropaline thermolite). Click here to find out about the AR-specific hats and gloves available from planetFear. When you are on the bike in particular, pulling up arm warmers is a very simple and quick way of feeling warmer without having to stop and pull on a whole extra layer, when the temperature drops a degree or two.
If you are setting out to buy a headtorch then you can’t go far wrong by buying something like a Petzl Myo XP. Most experienced racers use a combination of this type of light and tiny headtorches like the Petzl E+lite or the Black Diamond Ion, but a Myo should see you through most initial needs. Click here for the complete range of adventure racing headtorches available from planetFear.
If you are just planning to do one or two day races then you only need a small backpack (e.g. 20 – 30 litres). Ensure that your pack has waist and chest straps, so it stays in place when running. OMM do a great range of running sacks: click here to find out more. The Lowe Alpine Rush 25 is another classic adventure racing pack. Salomon, Karrimor, and Golite also do a good range of running sacks which are slightly lighter but less durable. Remember that you will be using the same backpack for both running and biking in the short UK races, as you will for trekking enormous distances in the international races, so buying one to suit all races is always a good bet.
6: Hydration Systems
The final purchase you need to consider is a water bottle or drinking system. It is worth trying both to see which you prefer (many experienced racers will only use one system) but bladders such as those made by Camelbak or Platypus are generally a good option since they can be easier to drink from, especially whilst biking or kayaking. In UK races in particular, stages tend to be relatively short so there is no time cost involved in refilling them. In longer races, it is worth using both bladders and bottles simultaneously since you can grab water on the move more easily using a bottle – especially when on foot. Click here for the full range of hydration and nutrition systems available from planetFear.
7: Bike Requirements
A lot of people worry about whether their bikes are good enough but you definitely don’t need a super expensive bike to start with. If need be you can even hire one for a race (but check its weight first). NB: if it is a choice between a lightweight but pretty decent rigid bike or an extremely heavy downhill bike, go for the first option every time. A lightweight cross country bike may be ideal, but is not the defacto norm: Anna McCormack, for instance, did all her first races on a fully rigid bike – including even the Raid Gauloises in Tibet. Regardless, the quality of your bike shouldn’t be the limiting factor when it comes to you heading out to have some fun. Similarly, the bike saddle below went through over 2000km training rides, two Raid Gauloises, two Adrenalin Rushes and one Eco Challenge before finally being put to bed!
Although there is bound to be a lot of brand new shiny expensive kit at every race, everyone knows that it isn’t necessarily linked to how good the people are who are using it. The old saying ‘All the gear and no idea’ is heard quite a bit in AR. Hence, stick with what you know works and make sure you are really committed to the sport before spending lots of money.
When you finally do decide to part with some cash, it is worth getting as good a bike as you can afford since that way it will last you longer as you get increasingly hooked on the sport! Don’t worry about buying SPDs and bike shoes at this point. Even top racers sometimes use powerstraps and trail shoes rather than taking the time to swap shoes. You don’t loose a huge amount of efficiency with this system, and it is probably far safer than trying to use SPDs until you are used to them. If you have bike shorts, however, it is worth using them, especially if the section is longer than you are used to. They ease the pressure on that area of your anatomy quite a bit and in the long races in particular, it is an area that can get raw quite quickly! If you leave them on too long, however, the moisture building up inside them can cause excessive rubbing and a painful conclusion.
8: Bike Helmet
You probably already own a bike helmet, and this is essential - you will not be allowed to race without one. Click here for the full range of bike helmets available from planetFear. You can generally start out by just using a bike helmet but as you start to enter longer races, you will soon have to consider a climbing helmet too. If you haven’t already got one and really don’t want to purchase two different helmets at this point then both Kong and Salewa make helmets which meet safety regulations across a number of sports including biking, horse riding, inline skating and climbing. They are definitely a cheaper option long-term, but you have to consider that their smaller vents mean reduced temperature ventilation. However this is not generally an issue in the British climate.
9: Water Gear
Luckily you don’t need to worry about canoe or kayak kit for your first few races. Whatever you need will be provided and you can wear your normal waterproof tops in the water sections if the weather is bad (but remember to bring a spare!). Even though you don’t need any kit, it is still worth going along to a kayak club and spending some time on the water and simply getting used to the gear. For those of you who live in London, Richmond canoe club (www.richmondcanoeclub.com) run special courses for beginner and intermediate adventure racers. If you explain why and what you need to learn to other clubs, someone is bound to help.
10: Shorts / Tights / Base Layers
Whatever you normally choose to go running in is likely to be fine – especially if you have changes with you in case you get wet and it becomes uncomfortable. Orienteers have a fashion code of their own and are pretty unmistakable on the hills. Their kit is incredibly light weight, baggy and comfortable to race in but isn’t very durable. Most adventure racers in the UK race tend rather to use tighter fitting lycra-type tights or shorts since they are harder wearing and appropriate for everything from swimming to horseback riding. For the longer hot races, clothes like those made by the American brand Railriders tend to be popular since these are ultra fast drying and provide both sun and wind protection. Ultra-runners too race in accordance with the temperatures they are racing in. Some even devise amazing clothing made of parachute silk but that probably isn’t necessary when starting out. Be sure that you can run / walk in your leg wear for an extended period of time without it chaffing, and without it allowing your legs to chaff together, even when you are soaking wet. Remember too, to bring a comfortable pair of trousers for going home in too since you may be feeling rather delicate! Click here for the full range of base-layers, shorts and tights available from planetFear.
Again the key thing is to make sure that the tops you normally train in will keep you warm when wet, will prevent chaffing (e.g. under your arms) and will dry quickly. Tops that are good for 1 – 2 hour training runs sometimes have a higher lycra content than the wicking tops that are good for racing in and they can take far longer to dry. Even if you bring lots of changes of clothes, you may be out on a section of the race course for up to 5 hours (in the uk) or 3 days (abroad) so tops have to be pretty multifunctional.
The crucial point to bear in mind here is that AR hard shells are for protection against the wind as much as from the rain. A hood on the jacket is a pretty good start, although some top teams will forgo this for reduced weight in warmer climates. A jacket like the Haglofs Oz Pullover is a classic hooded AR hard shell, and the Montane Featherlite Velo H20 is a good example of an ultralite AR shell without a hood.
How many changes of clothes will you need?
That depends largely on the weather and the length of the race you are entering: If you can guarantee that the conditions will be hot and dry, then you obviously need little clothing and any that gets wet will dry quickly. Such conditions are pretty rare in the UK so it is best to basically take as many changes of clothes as there are sections in your race so that you can change out of cold wet clothes whenever possible. One of the biggest reasons why beginners fail to complete races is simply because they allow themselves to get too cold. If you plan to change often you can also get away with using less technical (generally less expensive and less quick drying) clothes from the wardrobe you already own.
Don’t forget that at least one person within your team will need to bring a fast-setting compass like the Silva Expedition 54 and some waterproof permanent marker pens, for marking the course on the maps you will be given. One final thing for everyone to remember is an old bag to put all your dirty wet kit in for the journey home!