General on MDS Kit
If you are anything like me you will find the researching and gathering of kit a part of the fun in preparing for this race. Whilst your kit doesn’t need to cost a fortune you need to be comfortable with your choices and confident that you are as best prepared for the race you can be, both from a training perspective and a kit perspective. The two are not separate: training with your kit and getting used to it, making sure it works, discovering and correcting potential problems are all important as part of your preparations. For example, a top of a less optimal material might have worked fine on your normal training runs but might rub you raw when worn under a backback in the heat. You need to test and discover these things to avoid unnecessary issues during the race.
I have helped many runners prepare for the race and I have come to the conclusion that there is not one solution that will work for everyone. For example, just think about the difference between a woman with a small frame versus a 2m tall rugby player and what that means for calorie consumption, size of clothing, fit and size of backpack etc.
I suggest you consider the following points and then speak to people who can give an objective view to help you find what is right for you:
- What are your race ambitions? Will you race fast and therefore need to save grams wherever you can, sacrificing some comfort, or do you want to have an enjoyable week, not worrying too much about position?
- Are you primarily a walker or a runner? The amount of time you spend on your feet and whether you will mainly run or walk influences requirements for shoes and backpack, as well as your food.
- What is your budget? For the lightest kit of the latest technology you will have to spend more but it is possible to limit your kit expenditure in several ways.
- Be realistic on what size backpack you might need based on sleeping bag choice, food etc. The two items that will demand the most space in your backpack is your sleeping bag and your food.
- Do you have other, similar races planned and what are their requirements? For example you may need a warmer sleeping bag so can you get one that you can use for several events if required?
Those are my general thoughts on selecting gear for this race. The myRaceKit Desert Kit List is a resource that lays out a number of options in each category for you to consider. You might find it worth a visit.
My Personal Kit List
I had about 7kg or slightly more on the start line, plus water. With the food I had I couldn’t really get it down much more without making compromises that could have negative impact on my race performance.
As soon as I tried the Ultimate Direction Fastback 20 I knew it as the bag for me. I like the vest style, which eliminates the need for a waist belt. In an ideal world I would have had slightly more front storage but the only time I really needed it was during the long stage. I went over the pack with a pair of scissors and managed to save about 130 grams without compromising on the function or durability. I complemented the pack with a small pocket from the UD Scott Jurek Essential belt, which became the home for my salt tablets.
2 x Raidlight Classic flip top bottles. The flip top is easy to manage at check points and speeds up the process of filling the bottles. The lids attach to the bottles so you don’t risk dropping them in the sand.
X-BIONIC Energizer T-shirt. This was absolutely perfect. Very light, soft and comfortable. It cooled me effectively and I didn’t get any chafing. The fit was snug but not like compression gear and the fairly open neck was great.
Scott hooded wind jacket. At 111 grams this was slightly heavier than some other options but I loved it and it was my only extra layer. The hood came in handy as we had a very windy year and it was good to have a chest pocket in camp to store some essentials like hand sanitiser and loo roll. At the time of writing this jacket is not available yet but hopefully will be soon as it is fantastic. Danny Kendall had the men’s version.
In regards to socks, after having tried various options in the heat chamber and in training, I came back to my tried and tested formula for long distance events: Injinji Crew Liner with an overstock. For overstock I chose the X-Socks Marathon, which has a really nice fit around the mid foot and not too much padding.
Compressport R2 Calf Guards were valuable in helping my calves last the week. I wore them whilst running and through the afternoon in camp, pouring a bit of water on for a cooling effect when finishing. In addition to the recovery they protect your lower legs when running as you pass through areas with vegetation.
For headwear I had an inov-8 wrag, which I didn’t use very much whilst running but it was handy in the evening. I also had the myRaceKit Sunhat with neck flap. The hat was great as it is big enough to cover my ears a bit and it has a big visor with black underside which gives a lot of protection from sand and glare.. So much so that for some stages I didn’t even bother with sunglasses. I only needed them when it was windy to protect my eyes from sand. I found the ability to take the neck flap off very useful. It got a bit warm to have the neck covered when it wasn’t windy.
Last time I ran in Salomon Fellcross, which were an excellent choice for me. This year I thought I’d try something different and I took the HOKA ONE ONE Clifton.
I made a couple of modifications and it turned out I made the right choice. I had very few blisters, had no pain or bruising under my soles and it was very easy to run over rocky terrain as well as traverse the dunes in these shoes. The soles did however compress over the course of the week, which towards the end cause some rubbing on my ankle as the foot sank a bit inside the shoes. I had to go to the admin tent a few times to glue bits of the sole that started to peel off. More a precaution than anything else but in the unforgiving terrain there were several people who had parts of their soles ripped off.
If you are thinking about a similar shoe I would say that the Cliftons are not for you unless you intend to complete in less than 30 hours. I don’t think they would last much beyond this in the demanding terrain.
You can race the MDS in almost any shoe, road or trail. My general thought on this is that it is a trail race and I recommend a trail shoe. They are likely to better stand up the demands and protect your feet more. Whilst there are a few dirt roads and sections of sand, the terrain can be incredibly aggressive. Mostly off any established track and with plenty of sharpish stones that you will run on but also kick, which, if you don’t have enough toe protection can be a very painful experience.
I had my normal shoe size and my feet didn’t swell. In fact, they were a bit swollen before the race, probably because of the long journey, and the swelling went down gradually during the race.
One thing about shoe size is important to note and that is our perception of what “normal” is. My normal shoe size is a size that comfortably allows me to run a marathon or ultra without blisters, e.g. there is already plenty of room in the toe box. I can however run a 5k or 10k in half a size smaller. I find that novice runners or people from a non-endurance background tend to wear smaller shoes. If you get toe blisters, toe pain or blue toenails when increasing your distance then chances are your shoes are too small.
I had the myRaceKit Desert Gaiters and although I am biased I thought they were fantastic. They are light and have a wider, stickier velcro than any other models. One thing I found really useful was the elastic strap on the cuff. This enabled me to pull up and secure the gaiter around my ankle when I didn’t need it. My gaiters were pretty much intact when I finished. A number of factors influence how well the gaiters last including your running style, how much time you spend on the course, what shoes you have and how the gaiters are fitted to them. A lower fit will that mean that the gaiters have more ground contact which will wear them out sooner. How high you can fit them will depend on the material of your shoe but typically you can fit a gaiter higher on a trail shoe.
I opted for the Yeti Fever Zero. Down sleeping bags always vary slightly in weight between individual samples. Mine weighed 252 grams in a size M and I didn’t take the stuff sack. This bag has the same rating as the Yeti Passion One but only a half zip. I had a mummy liner with me but I ended up handing it in with my main luggage in kit check. The first night had been incredibly warm and even the sleeping bag was too warm. The only night I was cold was when the temperature dropped quite significantly after the Marathon but at this point the race was effectively over so it didn’t matter. Had it been colder I would have needed the liner.
I also had a Thermarest Prolite XS sleeping mat weighing in at 233 grams. This was excellent and provided some extra warmth and comfort. It did actually burst towards the end but because it has foam filling inside this was no big drama and it still provided some comfort.
The Exped Air Pillow (45 grams) was great and well worth taking.
Most nights I put my backpack under my knees as a bolster to raise my legs but also to off-load my lower back as it felt a bit stiff.
Earplugs are essential and the buff/wrag was handy as a facemask. We had strong moonlight a few nights so it never got dark and also some people faffed around with admin late with head torch on. It was good to be able to sleep when I needed to.
Food & Cooking
After much deliberation I did take a small Esbit stove and a Lifeventure titanium mug. I used them for three days but I noticed that my Mountain House meals rehydrated really well in the sun so in order to save weight for the long stage I binned both although the combination only was about 60 grams plus fuel. I had to notify the officials that I was getting rid of it as you can’t bin anything you have declared at the check in without risking penalty at a kit check.
My food was vacuum packed in order to save weight and volume. I was most disappointed I hadn’t managed to vacuum Marshmallows 🙂 Maybe I could have put them in zip lock bags like I did with my Veggie Percy Pigs… All in all I had in the region of 19,000 kcal. This was a mix of freeze dried meals, granola, Ultra Fuel and other powders, savoury snacks, gels, dried fruit and sweets. My food worked incredibly well and I would take the same again, maybe even a bit more since for the long stage. I had to tuck into the snacks for the rest day to keep going. Good thing I wasn’t on minimum calories, that’s for sure!
When planning food for this race I think it is important to not get blinded by calories per gram. You need actually be able to digest the food and fuel your running. In the UK there was a very unhelpful rumour spread before the 2015 race that powders didn’t count towards the total amount of calories even though the rules stated no such thing and hadn’t changed from the previous years. This caused a lot of confusion and Patrick Bauer himself had to clear up the matter which he did: “The rules say 2000 calories per day, you can bring it as powders or as a brick as long as it is 2k of calories and you have the information to support your calorie allowance”
As a general piece of advice, check the regulations on the official website, the answers to most questions can usually be found there.
Compulsory Kit from myRaceKit
Black Diamond Ion Headtorch + spare batteries
The lightest Swiss Army knife available
Lighter (standard type)
Gurney Goo anti-chafe
Hypafix tape (The best choice for toe taping. Thin, low friction and very good adhesive)
Elastoplast tape (doc trotters had plenty so just took a little)
Tingerlaat Sun Cream (2 x 20ml tubes, 1 application per day was all I needed)
Coghlan’s biodegradable loo roll
myRaceKit Personal Care Kit
Some extra Wemmi Wipes
Garmin 920XT + charge cable
Breo Roam Slim wrist watch (7g!)
Duracell USB Charger
2 x iPod Shuffle with Yurbuds headphones
Compulsory GPS Tracker & Chip