The North Face 50 Mile Championship is now just three days away. I began thinking about the clothing, footwear, and equipment that I would use months ago, giving me ample time to obtain, test, and familiarize myself with different options during my ultra running training. And now that I have a good sense for race day course conditions and weather, it’s time to finalize my gear list.
The race starts at 5 AM on Saturday, December 6.
The point-forecast for the Marin Headlands from the National Weather Service has been fairly consistent over the last few days:
I retrieved sun and moon data from the US Naval Observatory for Mill Valley:
Civil twilight, which is about the time that you can see without another light source (e.g. headlamp, light pollution, moon), starts about 1:45 into the race, by which time I’ll be around Muir Beach (mi 12.7). The moon will be full, but I’m not planning to rely on it exclusively: there probably will be too much cloud cover and it does not throw enough light for efficient running anyway. Besides, race regulations require every runner to have an operating light until 1 hour after sunrise.
A series of recent storms have dropped inches of rain in the San Francisco Bay Area. In fact, on Tuesday the National Weather Service issued a regional flood advisory through today/Wednesday afternoon.
I’m expecting the course to be wet and muddy, with ample puddles and occasional standing water. Thankfully there is minimal clay in the soil and clumping is rarely a problem. The notable exception is just south of Muir Beach (Mi 12.7 and 39.9), where there is a slippery and sticky 400-foot descent on the way out and a 900-foot climb on the way back.
The course is mostly on wide jeep roads; the remainder is mostly singletrack.
Top| Salomon Trail Tank. With temperatures in the 50’s and 60’s and high humidity, anything more than a singlet will be too warm when running at race pace, thus affecting my hydration. Polyester fabrics smell horribly, but they wick moisture and dry faster than wool, making them preferred for a done-in-a-day high-intensity effort like this one. Beware of “silky” polyesters — they cling when wet; look for a textured fabric. With any shirt, nipple chafing and bleeding can occur over 50 miles, so I’ll protect mine with some medical tape.
Bottoms| R-Gear Speed Pro Compression 7-in Shorts. For shorter runs, I normally wear conventional running shorts like The North Face Better Than Naked Shorts. But for longer outings, especially those during which my shorts will likely become saturated with perspiration or precipitation, I prefer compression shorts due to the lower risk of chafing. These “compression” shorts, like most, are really just short running tights; I think marketers must think men are scared by the category name of “tights.” My backup choice were the Under Armour Heatgear Sonic Compression Short but the Speed Pro have two backside pockets at the waistband, giving me some additional storage. Besides, they are slightly thicker and thus less revealing.
Headwear | Headsweats SuperVisor. A brim helps to keep sun and precipitation out of my eyes; I also clip my Fenix LD02 Flashlight to it. I prefer a visor over a cap because it ventilates better, though I don’t have to be concerned about sunburn up there.
Shoes | Salomon Sense Pro. Despite its extreme vertical profile, the course is still highly runable since much of it is on wide, smooth jeep roads. The course does feature some technical singletrack and it will generally be wet and sloppy, but even so it favors strong road runners and fast trail runners over mountain runners. The Sense Pro fits this profile well: a minimal upper with a moderate outsole. Equally important, it’s proven to be compatible with my feet. I also may bring to California the Salomon Fellraiser, the aggressive outsole of which might be an advantage if the course is muddier than I expect.
Socks | DeFeet Wool-E-Ator. I have put tens of thousands of miles on these socks. They fit well and they are extraordinarily durable — some of the pairs in my drawer are from my Alaska-Yukon Expedition in 2010! I prefer the wool version over the polyester version because they are warmer when wet, smell less, and feel better when full of sand.
Light | Fenix LD02 Flashlight. For nearly the first 2 hours of the race I will need a light. But I won’t need much: the early miles are not technically challenging; adjacent runners will help illuminate the trail; and there will be a full moon. The LD02 weighs just 1 oz (including 1 x AAA alkaline battery) and for over 4 hours can throw 25 lumens, which is just enough light for this application. If it’s not, on High mode it can throw 100 lumens for 30 minutes; maybe I’ll pack an extra battery.
Pack | Ultimate Direction Jurek Endure Hydration Waistpack. My average duration between aid stations will be less than 40 minutes, and the maximum will be about 60. In that hour, I only need 10-20 oz of water and 100-150 calories of food. The Endure has enough capacity for this race: 2 x 10-oz bottles plus two small pockets where I can keep calories, salt tablets, and caffeine. Consider too that my R-Gear compression shorts have additional pockets. Because of the favorable weather forecast, I expect to run start-to-finish in my shorts and singlet. If at the start I need my Smartwool Headband or DeFeet Wool Duragloves, I can temporarily store those in my shorts.
For races and training sessions with longer unsupported stretches and/or with harsher conditions demanding more equipment, I have been using the Ultimate Direction AK Race Hydration Vest. I’m sure a lot of other runners will be using it, but I think it’s overkill.
Watch | Suunto Ambit2 + Heart Rate Monitor. In a race setting, I don’t obsess too much about the readings on my watch — gut instinct is important. But especially early in the race it will be useful to know my pace and splits so that I can start to plan mid- and late-race moves. The heart rate monitor is new to me and I’m not yet sure if I will wear it, because its data doesn’t yet mean much to me. But I probably will — it weighs just 2 oz and it provides a lot of data that I can incorporate into my training.