Rock/Creek Race Team member Matt Karzen recently completed the Leadville Trail 100, so we asked him to reflect on his experience there and share some gear recommendations with us. Please leave comments if you have experience with running ultras and have any other gear suggestions.
If you are thinking about doing a trail 100, especially one in remote mountain terrain at altitude, you need to think hard about gear. Having the right, or wrong, gear can make or break your event. Obviously, there is nothing like experience to tell you what works, and everyone has different needs, but in the end you need to be prepared. Based on 100 miles at Leadville, here is a list of items you might want to consider:
Light: You need a quality LED headlamp, minimum 4 bulbs, regulated, and an extra set of batteries. I used a Petzl headlamp with a single head strap and had no bounce, plenty of light and good comfort. You should also have a backup handheld light. I had the headlamp with me from the beginning, and the handheld and extra batteries I picked up at the last aid station before dark or had waiting for me in drop bags. I never used the handheld, but it was good to have.
Top Layers: The Patagonia Airus short sleeve shirt is the best running shirt I�ve ever worn. It was my base layer for all 100 miles and never soaked. Zero chafing problems. I also used an old Patagonia long-sleeve (cold weather zip neck) � this was in a drop bag at mile 40 and then on or around my waist as the elevation and dark came in earnest. If you are at altitude at night, it could get into the 30�s or 20�s like it did at Leadville. For that I recommend a nice cozy lightweight Patagonia fleece pullover as a third layer, and perhaps your rain jacket.
Gloves/Hats: Something in between knit and full winter gear. I used a mid-weight poly glove that worked in all conditions. Visor � keep the sun and hail out of your eyes, and besides, your hair is gonna look really bad. I had a winter hat with me from mile 60 on, and I might have put it on once for a few minutes. Its worth having in case you really get chilly.
Rain/Weather: A good rain jacket is crucial. It needs to be hooded � a hat is fine for cold, but if it rains/hails/snows hard, you are gonna have a wet melon and that is a problem. I used a full zip jacket with hood � it worked for both moisture protection and to take the edge off the cold night air. If there is one thing besides hand-held water bottles that I would tie around my waist and carry the whole way, it�s a good rain jacket. Don�t worry too much about breathable fabric vs. full seal gore-tex � you are gonna sweat anyway, and you can unzip to de-fog.
Bottom Layers: You could probably do the entire thing in shorts, but I am a cold guy, so I had a pair of high-quality, loose fitting running pants waiting for me when it got dark at 60 miles. Shorts were fine throughout, including at altitude and in the hail, but the night cold is prolonged, and these pants kept me cozy. No tights�. I recommend a good pair of lightweight shorts with pockets and no liner � use compression shorts underneath to prevent chafing and maintain �organization�.
Shoes & Socks: These are the crucial items. Do not underestimate the trauma to your feet from doing a trail 100 in the mountains. SmartWool socks are the greatest foot covering ever invented. I ran 60 miles in the same shoes and socks, 20 miles of which were with wet feet, and while my feet suffered, they never really bothered me too much. DEFINITELY have extra socks in all your drop bags, and at least one pair of extra shoes � if you can get into dry stuff late in the race, before it gets dark, you will be much happier. Also, unless you are used to it, do not use road shoes � too light and not enough protection and support. A pretty beefy trail shoe is what you need for 100, so try a few kinds out in training � remember, what seems too much for a 20 mile training run may be just what you need for 40-50-100 miles.
Food/Hydration: Two handheld water bottles with straps are mandatory. Some run with a backpack hydration system, as did I for about 47 miles. The advantage of the backpack is the storage space, but if I had it do over again, I would not have used it: My shoulders took a beating over time, and I did not need the stuff I packed � although my CamelBak Octane 14 was definitely up to the task. If you go without a hydration backpack, be diligent about drinking your bottles empty between every aid station. Have some of your favorite energy drink in powder form at all aid station drop bags, unless you like what the race is serving. The aid station food is excellent, so you can count on that, but you should also carry some back up: Hammer Gel etc. � whatever works. Warning � nausea is common, so keep it bland. Also, your late night pacer should have at least one yummy straight up candy bar � a Snickers saved my life.
Critical KnickKnacks: Vaseline. Smother your feet before the start and at least once more when you change shoes, or everytime you have your shoes off � aid stations often have a supply, but you need your own tub of it at th. Nipguards � nothing spells �pain induced DNF� like bleeding nipples. Tums or other stomach settler � you will suffer some nausea, and if you don�t consume calories, you don�t move forward- always have them with you. A pocket-knife is not a bad idea, to deal with knotted laces etc. in case it comes up, but keep it small. Keep a small map of the course if you can � it can help if you lose your way. Also, a sheet with goal times to reach each aid station keeps you on pace, but you need to also put on there the drop-dead cutoff times: There will be moments when you are behind the eight-ball on the clock, so you need to know.
Trail Running Gear Guide >
Read about Matt’s Leadville Run >
Meet the rest of our Race Team >
Read about the Rock/Creek StumpJump 50K >