October 2014

T184: kit

Overall my plan was to try to not carry too much weight, while taking enough clothes and sleeping equipment to avoid getting too cold. (I get cold fairly easily, especially on multi-day events if I’m moving slowly). I wasn’t completely successful on the later count, but would have struggled to run with a heavier pack.

I’m a bit of a gear junkie, so already had all of the kit apart from the lightweight sleeping bag and the front pack.


3 x Drymax socks
Brooks Cascadia shoes (in a half size larger than usual)
Dirty Girl hot purple gaiters

My feet did blister, but not too badly. Given the distance, pack weight and wet grass, avoiding blisters was difficult (unless your feet are bomb proof). My feet get sweaty, so in hot weather SealSkinz create more problems than they solve.

Terra Nova Discovery light bivy bag
A lightweight hoop-less bivy. Got cheap (significantly less than RRP at least) from Field and Trek. Not a good option in hot wet weather (as I found out in July...): you’ve got a choice between getting drenched by rain or drenched by condensation. But it was fine for this years T184 weather. You can only lie out flat in it if you’re short though.

PHD racer down sleeping bag, short
This was one of PHD’s Summer Special’s. The temperatures at night were in the single digits and this (+ the liner below) wasn’t warm enough for me. It became apparent a couple of days before that it was going to be cold at night, for late August at least. So I should have taken my RAB neutrino 400 instead. A lightweight synthetic bag (if such a thing exists...) might be a better choice if the weather is very wet, and you’re not carrying a tent or hooped bivy.

Sea to summit reactor plus thermolite liner-compact plus
A last minute addition, to try and cope with the low overnight temperatures. See above.

I didn’t bother with a sleeping mat. I don’t mind sleeping on hard/rough surfaces and in August the ground temperature is high enough that heat loss in that direction isn’t a problem. And my rucksack had one built in if I’d needed it.

I had difficulty sleeping. But (apart from the sleeping bag temperature issue) the problem was my head not my kit.


OMM Adventure Light 20 litre sack and Salomon Custom Front Pocket
An old pack that I used to use for events with long kit lists (e.g. Fellsman and UTMB) in the days pre race vests. Was comfy and had a little bit of room to spare. The one plus side of having broad shoulders is that unisex packs fit me OK. The only problem was that it was on its last legs, which I only noticed as I was on my way down to London. Thankfully my last minute bodge job repairs with super glue and duck tape held...
A front pack is really useful for carrying snacks, phone, maps etc. In the past I’ve used a OMM front pack with a larger OMM Jirishanca sack. But that bounced around too much with the smaller sack, so I got a Salomon one, and sewed/glued the connecting bits to my sack. The side pockets were useful for additional water carrying capacity for stage 1, and the top strap handy for stashing the maps.

Petzl Myo RXP
Workhorse headtorch. Good compromise between brightness, weight and battery life. A decent head torch is useful for spotting signs.

Petzl e-lite

2 x Camelbak 750ml bottle

2 x Ultimate Direction 420ml Body Bottle
For extra capacity during stage 1 (when water sources were sparse).

UVEX Active Vario Sunglasses

Got these after the epic 2012 Fellsman. Protect against the wind in overcast conditions, as well as the Sun.

Harvey’s Thames Path map
Took this as a backup to the official maps, in case I lost them or needed to look up a grid reference. In retrospect 1:25 000 scale OS maps would have been useful for the start and finish.
Didn’t take a GPS. I did get lost once, but the time I lost then was probably off-set by the weight saved and the time I’d have wasted checking a GPS unnecessarily if I’d had one.

Blister kit
Swiss credit card, moleskin, k-tape, wound dressing, zinc oxide tape, plasters, wipes, bandage (the last 3 were just to satisfy the compulsory kit).

Suunto Ambit
On 1 minute recording (which gave ~60 hours battery life), so I knew roughly how far I’d gone and could check my position if necessary. Unfortunately the one time it was necessary was after the battery had run out...

Nokia ‘numpty’ phone
Cheap, robust and long battery life, so no need to carry a charger.

One big (rucksack sized) Ultrasil dry bag, and lots of small ones

Three: one with podcasts, one with happy music and one with angry music. Only used the happy music one (I was still spectacularly miserable/bad tempered for a lot of the final 24 hours...).


6 x Mule bars (summer berry & mango tango)

6 x Mars bars
I don’t usually like them (far too sweet) but I crave them on multi-day events.

12 x caffeinated Gu gels

6 x Bounce balls

6 x Ritz crackers

9 x Hula Hoops
My favourite running food, unfortunately a bit bulky. I had the cunning idea to chop them up and put them in zip-lock bags to reduce the volume. Unfortunately they went a bit stale by day 3 and I didn’t manage to eat them all, despite being really hungry.

1 large Dominos margherita pizza

S Caps, salt tablets

I’m never particularly fussed about hot food, and struggle to eat big meals when running. So I didn’t take a stove and instead ate roughly 100 calories an hour of sweet and savoury snacks, plus (to everyone else’s bemusement...) cold pizza at the checkpoints. To minimise weight I took the minimum number of calories allowed, knowing that if it took longer than 3 days (which it did, just) I’d go hungry. This worked fairly well, apart from the chopped up Hula Hoops. If I was doing it again I’d take ~500 calories more of sweet stuff (which is great for an instant energy boost when sleep-deprived).


Patagonia bra & Odlo pants (+ lashings of sudocrem)
No chafing.

North face thin long sleeved top & Raidlight stretch raider long sleeved top
Had planned to save weight by wearing a thin long-sleeved top on the first day and then just putting layers on top of it. But the 1st day was hot enough that I drenched it with sweat and had to switch to the Raidlight top that night. It dried off stuffed in the bungy cord on the back of my rucksack on day 2 and I used it again on day 3.

2XU 3/4 tights and Gore running full length tights

RAB Vapour-rise lite jacket
Wore at checkpoints and over night. In retrospect an OMM Rotor smock (+ possibly a lightweight windproof) would have been better.

Icebreaker liner gloves
Love these. Very lightweight and fairly warm even when wet.

X-bionic Bondear headband and Rab meco hat
Hadn’t initially planned to take these. But wore them through the 2nd and 3rd nights.

Buff & 2XU cap


OMM Kamleika pants
OMM Kamleika jacket
I’d original planned to take lighter Montane minimus waterproofs, but switched to heavier weight ones because of the weather forecast. Very glad I did. This was the first time I’d worn this particular pair of over-trousers (my old pair died on the Spine race after 4 years of heavy use). The new cut was different, and I got annoyed by how baggy they were. I’ve since given them to the OH and got another pair a size smaller which seem to be OK.

Total weight (with 1.5l water): ~8kg

T184: post-mortem

Things which went right (ish)

My feet blistered, in particular the ball of my right foot, which is my usual problem area. But not too badly. And the Spine race medics’ recommended treatment (dry, drain, pad, tape) stopped the main blister spreading. Unlike in my first 100 where, with an ‘ignore it and hope for the best’ strategy, I lost all of the skin from the balls of both feet and most of my toes (the skin off them that is, not the actual toes). My feet were occasionally painful, but were never a limiting factor.

I took a calculated risk and only took the minimum 8000 calories, knowing that I’d run out of food if it took me more than 3 days. I finished almost bang-on 3 days with a couple of hundred calories of Hula Hoops left and a very rumbly tummy. If I was doing it again I’d take less Hula Hoops (I suspect taking them out of their packets to chop them up altered their taste/texture) and more caffeinated gels. But overall my strategy of drip-feeding 100 calories an hour and not taking a Jetboil for hot food worked. A hot meal and a coffee at the start of the 3rd night would have been nice, but not nice enough to make it worth lugging a stove around.

Training (in particular the 3 week taper)
The week leading into the race, I had bags of energy and was running really well. And getting to 100 miles with a 8 kg rucksack in less than 30 hours (2 of which were spent failing to sleep) really isn’t bad going for me. Not long ago I’d have been happy to finish a ‘normal’ 100 in that time.

Things which didn’t go too badly

For the first time ever I decided to go fairly minimalist on the kit front. On the grounds that if my pack weighed much more than 8 kg I wouldn’t be able to run at all, and I wanted to try and do a little bit better than just finishing inside the time limit. Plus if things went wrong I’d never be too far from civilisation.

Clothes I got more or less right. When cold nights were forecast a couple of days beforehand, I switched to heavier duty hat, gloves, base layer and waterproofs, which was a good move. I also added a thermolite sleeping bag liner. This was my one kit mistake, I should have switched my super-lightweight PHD sleeping bag (bought specially...) for my heavier RAB neutrino.

I didn’t take a handheld GPS, to save weight and also faffing time. While the battery on my Suunto Ambit lasted (up to 60 hours) it would tell me where I was if I went off course. I made two non-negligible navigation errors. One in the penultimate stage which cost me 5-10 minutes. And a bigger one in the last stage (after the battery on my Ambit had run out...) which cost me much longer, maybe half an hour I’m guessing. But I think not taking a GPS was still the right decision. 1:25 000 maps of trickier sections would in principle have been a good idea, but beforehand it was difficult to guess which sections would be problematic.

I coveted Lee B’s poles when he sped past and away from me on day 3. But I’m not very good at using them on the flat, and the benefits probably wouldn’t have outweighed the extra weight.

Things which didn’t go well

Not a surprise this one. I’m not very good at sleeping. In everyday life my usual technique is to read until I can’t keep my eyes open. Which doesn’t really work in a race. I’d never had problems running through a single night before, and got through 2 days and 1 night of GUCR without feeling sleepy at all. Therefore my plan was to run through the 1st night and grab a couple of hours sleep on the 2nd night, when hopefully I’d have no problems dropping off. However I started feeling tired early in the first evening, but couldn’t sleep at all that night. The low temperature and the sleepless night beforehand didn’t help, but can’t be blamed entirely.

Now I’ve sorted out my stomach and feet, sleep is my limiting factor in multi-day races and I really need to do something about this (before the Thames Ring next year...).

Run-walk strategy
Like at GUCR my run-walk strategy worked really well up until the point that it failed, and then it failed catastrophically. I kept a 25:5 routine going through the first day and then switched to 10:5 throughout the first night and second day, with a couple of extended walks into checkpoints. After that I had a couple of half hearted attempts at running which lasted no more than a couple of minutes. At the time I convinced myself that walking steadily was better/faster than mixing slow running and slow walking. However I’d probably have finished several hours faster if I’d managed a bit of running. I was certainly physically capable of doing it as I jogged into the finish without any problems (and told the people watching that I should have done more running...). So it’s a question of working out how to make my brain make my body run. It’s not exactly something I can practice in training, since the issue only kicks in after 30+ hours of running. Maybe just switching down again to 5:5? or 5:10 even?

My 60 hour finishing goal was completely unrealistic. Even if everything had gone perfectly I don’t think I could have made it (mainly due to the route getting more rural beyond Oxford). And once this became clear I switched far too quickly to ‘just finish’ mode. Most of the people who finished close to me were moving slowly because they were injured. I was moving slowly because I couldn’t be arsed to move any faster. If I’d pushed harder through the 3rd day and night I could have gone sub-70. Lesson learnt: be very cautious when setting goals for races that are being run for the first time.

While I made my ‘top 3 women’ goal comfortably (just by finishing...), in retrospect this wasn’t a good goal. I wasted far too much energy obsessing about the whereabouts of the other women, something I had no control over. Being (very unexpectedly) in 3rd place by checkpoint 2 probably contributed to this. I’m used to the satisfaction of working my way through the field in the 2nd half of races rather than being chased. Lesson learnt: don’t focus on position until the end is ‘in sight’.

The main thing that’s bugging me is how under-whelmed I still feel about my finish. I don’t really understand why. Yes, I was slower than I wanted to be. But I finished a race with a huge DNF rate comfortably. Yes, 8th place was further in front of me than the cut-off was behind. But the 8 people in front were all much faster runners than me, and being at the ‘front of the back pack’ is actually not a bad result for me.

Maybe coming up with finishing time and place goals was a mistake and I should switch back to my old ‘only goal is to finish’ approach. After all this is a hobby (one I’ll never by particularly good at in absolute terms) and I’m supposed to enjoy it. On the other hand I like a challenge, and post-Spine ‘just finishing’ most races isn’t a challenge any more. And for some of the races I’d like to do (e.g. the Viking Way) I’m going to have to push the pace throughout to make the cut-offs.

Another possibility is that the race just finished at a point where I was feeling pretty low, due to sleep-deprivation and lack of food. I felt pretty similar three days into the Spine. So maybe the solution is to not enter races which (only...) take three days!