Running your first ultra can be quite daunting. Chances are, you'll have lots of questions from what it'll feel like to what kit you need! We've chatted to our partners at Apex Sports, the running specialists, to get some top tips on kit for your first time going 'long'.
Going long, and off-road
Hopefully, you'll have gone long a few times before your first ultra event. Chances are, you'll have tested out a few raod events, but how much experience do you have with going off-road? In the ultra world, most of the running is off road, either on trails or mixed terrain. This adds in new kit complexity with what trainers to weather, how to carry water compfortably and how to stay safe once it gets dark.
Some events will have a mandatory kit list. For example XNRG always send out an email with a kit list before every event to help you prepare. Here, Apex Sport go into the classic off-road kit list in a little more detail.
When you’re out in the elements for a long time you may well want to wear something on your head, even if you don’t on shorter events. If it’s a warm day, a lightweight cap or visor works well. We like the Inov-8 Race Elite Peak and All Terrain Visor. The Raidlight Sahara Cap has a neck protector. Alternatively, you can use a Buff, which is a very versatile item for head or neckwear. On colder days, a beanie hat helps to keep you feeling more comfortable. The Ronhill Merino 200 Beanie is warm enough for most conditions without being too bulky. Sunglasses are certainly worth considering on bright days, even in winter, to stop you squinting.
On warmer days we’d suggest a short-sleeved t-shirt rather than a vest. This helps to keep the sun off your shoulders and is more comfortable when wearing a backpack. A ½ zip tee like the Ronhill Trail Zip Tee or Salomon Fast Wing Tee works well because you can undo the zip if you’re hot and it has backpack grippers across the shoulders. On colder days you’ll probably want to wear a long-sleeved top. We particularly like merino wool. It gives good temperature control without being too bulky and has a natural anti-odour property so you don’t stink half way round! The Inov-8 AT/C Merino or Ronhill Merino 200 ½ Zip are both good choices. The X-Bionic “The Trick” is a very technical fitted top. Ladies should also think about a good sports bra: The Shock Absorber Ultimate Run Bra is a popular choice. A waterproof jacket is often part of a mandatory kit list. If this is the case, make sure yours meets the specification requirements, which often means taped seams and water resistance over 10,000mm hydrostatic head. This is for a good reason, to make sure you have adequate protection. Once you get cold and wet, especially if you’re having to walk, you can get very uncomfortable very quickly. We particularly recommend the OMM Kamleika Race Jacket or Phantom Hoodie. There is also the Gore Fusion WS Jacket.
Shorts / Tights
On summer days you’ll probably just want to wear your favourite race shorts or lycra shorts (or capris for ladies). We particularly like twin shorts, such as the Ronhill Stride Twin Short or Asics Woven 2-in-1 Short. They’re good for reducing chafing on long runs. On colder days you may want to wear tights. Either your favourite ones or something like the 2XU Compression Tights for extra support. Some people like to wear specific sports underwear, such as X-Bionic Summerlight Boxer. It’s all about what you’re comfortable in on long runs.
There are so many good technical running socks. Some people like double-layer socks, such as Hilly TwinSkins. Others prefer more padded socks like the Thorlos LRMX or long compression socks like the X-Socks Run Energizer. Long socks also give some protection against stinging nettles. Others like to wear compression calfguards. It’s very much personal preference. Debris gaiters are also worth considering.
Shoe choice very much depends on expected terrain and conditions. On predominantly road courses or drier terrains, you may want to wear your regular road trainers. Many ultras are predominantly off-road, so trail shoes will probably be more appropriate. We particularly like the Saucony Peregrine and Brooks Caldera. They offer a good combination of grip on a variety of surfaces along with cushioning. For more demanding conditions the Inov-8 Roclite 295, Scott Kinabalu Supertrac or Salomon Speedcross are well worth considering. Shoe choice is an even more personal thing than with socks. It’s as much about what is a good fit on your foot as it is about what the shoe is technically.
You will probably need a small backpack, with a capacity of 3 to 8L, for your ultra, depending on the event requirements. You will probably need to carry up to 1L of water, along with some nutritional items and other kit. Don’t be tempted to bring the kitchen sink with you! Vest-style packs, which are more fitted like a waistcoat, are now very popular. They hold things more securely so they don’t bounce around. The Raidlight Olmo5, Inov-8 Race Elite Vest, OMM Ultra8, Scott Trail RC TR4 and Salomon S-LAB Sense Ultra are all worth considering, depending on your specific needs. Most are one size fits all with a fair bit of adjustment, but ideally you should try a few different ones on, particularly for more petite ladies or larger guys.
You’ll find that some small details just make you feel better on the day. For instance, we like the X-Bionic Wallaby wristbands. Anti-chafe products like Chafe-Ease or RunGuard can help. Depending on the nature of the event, you may also need to carry safety-related items such as a space blanket or a headtorch. Most ultra events have well-stocked feed stations but you will still want to carry a small amount of your preferred nutritional items (gels, bars, etc.). A lot of ultra runners use GPS watches. These can give you a lot of useful information “on-the-fly” including time, speed, distance and heart rate. They can also be used for navigation. The Garmin Fenix and TomTom Adventurer are good choices.
We hope this gives you a few pointers about what you should wear to help keep you comfortable during your first ultra. The details do make a difference when you’re on your feet for a long time. We would suggest making sure that you’re confident that everything fits properly during training before the big day. Don’t try anything new on race day and don’t over-complicate things. Enjoy!
More blogs on kit - see you on the trails soon!