I'm about to start on the longest endurance trail race I've ever attempted (865km and 55,000m of altitude). A lovely holiday with the kids and wife before departure, and now the finishing touches for my preparations. This means my planning is done, gear is tested, and my mind is now focussed.
It's been a couple of years since my last endurance race, Tor Des Geants (340km and 25,000m in altitude), so I've got some idea about what to expect. My strategy will be a bit different this time though, with less trekking at night and more sleep. This ought to reduce my need to sleep whenever/wherever, as well as stop me from seeing frogs hopping around in the middle of the night (when they aren't actually there...).
My preparations have included several trips in challenging terrain and lots of altitude, the highest trip was up to 8848m in one of the local ski mountains. I've also trialled differing packs, shoes, food and general equipment - despite this, it still feels like many of my choices are coincidental. Probably because you continually need to choose between what's necessary to bring and what's essential, as well as how much comfort, flexibility and safety you want underway. For me, flexibility and safety have been the most important factors, making my packing list a bit lengthier.
It's been important to find products that are extremely light, without sacrificing quality and flexibility. Practical details are also appreciated, so I can continue to keep walking (though not all are equally beneficial...).
We've been sent a packing list from the event coordinators and, removing food and drink, I could get the pack weight down to a mere 2-2.5kg. I've chosen to take a tent (Trolltind Superlight 2) and a sleeping bag and mat, even though a sleeping bag was the only requirement. For me it's important to be as autonomous as possible, as least-dependent on others, as well as being more flexible regardless of what happens underway. Of course this makes my pack heavier but, after careful evaluation and knowing that this is an alpine race, I think it's a sensible choice to be prepared for anything.
A good night's sleep is also essential for mental clarity, better recovery, and reduces the risks of navigational mistakes in the night (as well as avoiding the strange experience of seeing trees move...). A tent also means I can undertake preventive measures in dry conditions, and smear Vaseline without embarassing myself in front of other athletes.
I've chosen to take a solarpanel, a charger, and some audiobooks and podcasts to distract myself when things begin to get boring. We're not talking fiction here; I'm seeing this as an opportunity to read some articles from my field (physical and mental training, and nutrition).
My pack is also a bit heavier due to my Coeliac's disease (something Ryanair also found out). I know that event organisers can't possibly deal with every challenge, and I've had some previous painful experiences where 'glutenfree' hasn't necessarily been the case. It didn't go well on the Tor Des Geants when I felt my stomach surge on a narrow mountain trail with drops on both sides. Now I take my own food, and carry between 2.5 - 5 days' rations. The remainder will be sent in dropbags, between 160-300km in advance. I might get sick of tikka masala, corn cakes, dried meat, fruit and gels, but variation is a luxury I can't afford in this setting. I'm including a little "surprise" for myself at every checkpoint, to make sure I don't eat up everything all at once. One thing is certain: I need to eat this elephant one bite at a time. When I get home again I expect that I'll be full for quite some time.