So when running a 250 mile trail race across Arizona, you need a lot of gear. Some of it is mandatory gear: safety blanket, headlamp, etc, but most of what you need is up to the individual.
200 mile continuous races are like mini-expeditions and the gear associated with them can be pretty vast.
Let’s dive into what I brought along for my race and some insights on what gear worked, what didn’t, and why I went with the decisions I did when it came to my gear.
Let us start here. If there is one thing in the “gear” category that I love, it’s Apparel.
For a 250 mile foot race, your apparel needs to function like a second skin. It needs to be comfortable and having variety for the various weather conditions as well as integrating outfit changes during a race this long can often be the mental boost you need to get to the finish and avoid race-ending chafe.
I started Cocodona with my T8 apparel kit and some other items:
1 Ice Tee
1 Commando Boxer Short
1 Pair of blue Sherpa Shorts
1 Pair of Fits Socks
Rei SPF Arm Sleeves
Outdoor Research Sun Gloves
Trails Collective Buff/neck gaiter
CEP Compression Sleeves for legs
T8 Trucker Hat
So running in a hot desert environment seen in Arizona, you need to stay cool. The sun here is intense and covering-up your skin really is better than going shirtless. My T8 ice tee has cooling properties so when I would wet it at an aid station or sweat, it cools your core body temp down. This really helped me during the heat of the day.
A neck gaiter is clutch because it covers your neck from the sun but also is so versatile. It can become an ice bandana in the heat of the day, but can also cover-up on a cold ridge-line at night, to helping block out any dust that might irritate your airways.
T8 is awesome because the full kit is made of light materials–like really light and the Commando underwear is uber chafe-free with no seams and is paper thin not to mention the equally light Sherpa shorts that have a waistband I used to keep the weight of my hydration vest down-so I carried tons of gels, my headlamp, gloves, whatever I needed that I did not want in my vest. The T8 product really is ideal for hot ultras and performed like a dream out on the course.
The Sun Sleeves and sun gloves were clutch for this race. I wore these during the day and I had no issues with sunburn because I was covered up. These were also great because I could wet them and put ice in them and I would get that evaporative cooling.
I like Trucker hats for hot races because the mesh vents well and allows for you to wet the hat and not feel like its just a pile of fabric. Plus they look cool.
But this was just the kit I wore to start the race. I brought about 10 Short-Sleeved Tees, 8 Long Sleeve Tees, 3 Windbreaker jackets, 1 Water-proof jacket, 5 Thermal 1/4 zips and 1 thermal baselayer and 5 singlets. I also had 3 pairs of gloves, 3 winter beanies, 3 buffs/neck gaiters, 2 pairs of sun glasses, 2 pairs of sun sleeves, 3 pairs of run Sherpa run shorts with Commandos , 2 pairs of jogger pants and 1 pair of running tights. I also brought 14 pairs of socks in all different shapes, cuts, materials so that I could adapt if I needed to.
My plan for my Apparel was to bring more than what I needed. Having this sectioned in different bags based on category was so my crew could easily grab a style of item and provide that for me when I needed it. I changed my top or bottom part of my outfit every night with a full top and bottom change each day. This was a great move for me as it allowed me to adjust to the changes in temperature and the conditions as they go from hot to cold to hot. It also gave me a nice mental boost.
Part of why I think my feet went south was the style of sock I was wearing. In the image above, I was wearing a tight-fitting polyester compression sock. I think the compression was to my detriment as it bunched my toes together and the fabrics allowed too much dust and small debris that ultimately led to my feet problems with blisters. When I switched to a heavier “hike sock” made of merino wool blends, I faired better as they wick but also keep debris out better than a standard synthetic sock.
Overall though, what I packed for my apparel went incredibly well. For these long races, invest in those higher-quality brands. Go with your favorite apparel that is most trust-worthy. T8 is a new favorite of mine and Janji and Lululemon for Men has been a staple of mine for many years. What I love about T8 is the separate underwear from the short. The more boxer-style underwear just works better for me than the briefs we often get in running shorts. T8 in my opinion is really the best in this 2 short combo.
Hydration and Nutrition…
So this is super important. What you put into your body for these long endurance events is the gasoline to your engine. Coming from New England, I knew I would need to drink a lot of fluids both in water and electrolyte form. What I did not know was how DRY Arizona is and that at higher elevations, the dryness feels soooo much worse. I had some of the worst cotton-mouth I have ever experienced.
I carried with me 1 Hydration Vest. The Nathan Pinnacle 12 Liter. This pack did it all for me. I love carrying bottles so I would carry 5-6 Soft Flasks with me at any one time. Three of them carried water. 1 of them had my Ucan Energy Powder Drink Mix for calories and electrolytes. The other flask had Long Haul Nutrition, a mix similar to Tailwind that for me, with Ucan was the perfect combination. I had 12 ounces of Long Haul, 18 ounces of Ucan Energy, and 12 X 2 + 18= 42 ounces of just water. I also carried 1 flask of water in my Sherpa Shorts when it was really hot or would place one of the used flasks in my carry belt. And at times, I had a Nathan insulated handheld with me to drink ice cold beverages to keep me going strong.
For energy, I had pre-packs made-up for my crew of 2 Ucan Edge gels, 1 Egel, 1 Spring Energy gel, 1 Spartan Hydrate electrolyte tablet and Ucan Energy powder. This allowed me to grab and go for my quick fuel. This pack of fuel worked amazing. Ucan Edge gels I love because they keep my energy levels even and are like drinking liquid so they go down in hot conditions. The Spring Energy I used when I needed more calories, fats and proteins. The Egel was to supplement the complex carbs I would need with higher calories to the Ucan Edge and to give my palate something different.
So I had issues with my stomach on Day 1. It was an adjustment period. The heat, sun exposure, the elevation and altitude all beat me up. By Whiskey Row mile 60, I needed a reset. We introduced Ucan Protein Powder in a shake every crew aid station and that saved me. A protein shake has carbs, fats, and proteins–every essential energy style our bodies demand. I knew that no matter what, I could take down a protein shake.
My best advice is find foods that work for you and test in training. I am a more fat-adapted runner so I can often run up to a 50k distance in training 100% fasted. And for fuel I love whole foods and more savory foods rich in fats and proteins. Foods like Hummus, Avocado–Guac, Olives, Cheese slices, Oat milks are all things I crave. I do love the occasional Black Forest Gummy bear. I love these foods because they are easy to ingest and are not hard to chew or dry out your mouth. I love pizza but often the dough just dries me out and I cannot swallow.
The Aid Station food for Cocodona was unreal. I did not eat a ton of it but they had regimented meals at every station. From Quesadillas, Bacon Egg and Cheese Sandwiches, Burritos, you name it–it was pretty spectacular. I did eat a lot of ramen noodles, drank a delicious margarita post finish on Cinco de Mayo, and the watermelon slushies at Mingus Camp Aid was next level.
My best advice for food, is find things that are easy to chew, digest, and have tons of nutritional value. I do well with Complex Carbs, Fats, and Proteins and digest these better than most I think. But as the race goes beyond 100k and past 100 miles, I do better with food that is “mushy”. Like oatmeal with peanut butter, hummus, Guac, and fruit purees found in baby food.
We all love shoes right? SO on this race, I raced in three pairs of shoes. I ran in my Norda 001 Ray Zahab edition and substituted miles in the Kailas Fuga 3 Pro and Fuga EX 2. All shoes that use Vibram outsoles. I love Vibram rubber and I find they work the best for me for trail races. Having different shoes I think just like the apparel, really can help your body when it is tired and help it feel fresher.
I chose to start out with this shoe for the race. It is built like a tank. From the Vibram midsole that is durable and bouncy to the outsole that is the grippiest outsole I have ever run in to the Bio-Based Dynema Upper that is like Kevlar and does a nice job protecting your foot. It is super cushy and light weight. It is something near 8.5 ounces in my size which is unreal.
The shoe performed really well. I never worried about the technicality of the trails. My grip was always on point. I made a shoe switch on Night 1 and then back to the Nordas on Day 2 to switch again after a massive creek crossing called for time to dry out my shoes more to reduce the chance of friction. What impresses me the most is I put in about 130 miles on these shoes and they show no wear. Nordas really are designed to go long. With a nice wide footprint and unbeatable traction, these shoes really hold up better than anything I have ever used.
I split the other 120 or so odd miles in the Kailas Fuga Pro and the EX 2. I went with them as they are light weight, have the Vibram traction and were a little different. I like supporting brands that you do not see every day. Like Norda, Kailas is a brand that should be on your radar. An Asian mountaineering brand, their products represent the mountain lifestyle.
When it comes to shoes. Make sure to bring different pairs and multiple pairs. The reason being is you never know what might function better for you based on the terrain. Throughout the course of a 200 + mile race, things change and change quickly and often a sock and shoe change can be all you need to get you out of a low moment.
Let me preface this by examining “Foot Care”. Why our feet chafe when we run is something that is always hard for me to pinpoint. I have been very lucky in not really dealing with many major blisters and foot trouble in the 40+ some odd ultra marathons that I have run. If you do a Google search of some races like the Marathon Des Sables or any other desert race, you will see some blister action.
During Cocodona, I experienced my worst foot experience ever. Might as well get it out when you can right? So in terms of socks, I am left figuring out what I need for dry, sandy conditions. I started with my Fits socks and did not have any problems to start. I made a switch to a sock brand that also starts with an “F” that is more compressive and as I wore that pair from mile 60 to 120, things went south on my feet past 100 miles quickly.
I think for me not applying enough Squirrels Nut Butter frequently enough as well as wearing the wrong type of sock for me was what caused my foot trouble. I did find that when I switched to a Drymax sock, designed for heat, I had no new blisters form. The thing at this point was that I had such badly blistered feet at this point that I hope I would not gain any more new blisters as I even had some blisters form over other blisters.
In the dry-hot conditions of Cocodona, feet care and hydration/nutrition are the most crucial parts of the race.
I personally did better with thicker socks. Ones that had wool blends or something like a Drymax sock that has a layering system that keeps rocks, dust, and silt from entering the sock easily. The thing I did not do that I should have is change my socks more often. Anytime I was running in the heat of the day, I should have changed my socks at every aid station as the heat, dryness and rocks really beat me. I learned a tough lesson out there but if you can test your socks in similar conditions, DO it. It might save you in your actual race.
What else in the Gear talk would you like me to address and talk about next?