Wednesday, March 24, 2010

What worked, what didn't

I know that by now everyone is sick of reading about Susitna, but I've been asked (well, by one person) to make a list of what worked and what didn't. Some of it was pretty clear from the race report, but I think this would be an interesting exercise. That's the last Susitna post, I swear!

I brought a lot of gear to Alaska. At the pre-race meeting, I stuffed only some of it in the bag, just to make sure to have the minimum weight (15 lbs) and I weighted in at over 30 lbs. The complete list of the gear I brought is available here.

I decided to shed some weight. I won't go through all items, but basically, I went through each item and wondered if I was going to absolutely need it. This being the night before the race, I had a pretty firm weather forecast and I knew the cold would not be a major factor. Some of the items I decided to discard:

  • Half my hand and toe warmers
  • Stove, pots and pans, and fuel
  • Some of my extra gels and both dehydrated meals
  • Some of the spare clothes (kept 2 base layers and 5 Injinji socks)
  • Most of my duct tape
  • Replacement cleats
  • Half my batteries (AAA and AA)
  • My two 500ml thermos (I kept the 1l)

All in all, I got rid of a lot of stuff and the final weight, without the sled, was 26 lbs. Of all the things I discarded, the only thing I missed were the spare AAA batteries for my headlamp. I brought my spare head lamp, which contained a fresh set of batteries, but I loaned the lamp to another runner who's lamp didn't work. After the first nigh, my headlamp was pretty depleted. I got fresh batteries at Luce's Lodge (they didn't sell batteries but the lady gave them to me!). The betteries would have been ok for the second night, but they would have been weak. My headlamp, the Petzl Tikka XP2, worked great and was really powerful. Just remember, if you want the 60 lumens, 1 set of batteries per 16 hour night). I also used it most of the day in blinking mode to make sure that the snowmobiles rocketing toward me at 100 miles an hour saw me.

The SPOT satellite tracker was one of those fire and forget thing. People were able to follow me, I never really thought about it except in the morning to restart the tracking mode (tracking turns off after 24 hours). That was money well spent. The eTrex Legend is another story. For that race, you just don't need it. It goes through batteries fairly fast. There's not enough memory. It doesn't support Garmins downloadable maps (you have to buy the DVDs). If I ever need a GPS for a race, I'm going to buy a better unit. I didn't use it during this one.

If I had to pick a piece of equipment that I loved the most, it would be my Kahtoola Microspikes. Even though my La Sportiva Crosslites sport decent lugs, they are still rubber and traction was an issue. The Microspikes gave me fantastic traction in soft snow, on hard snow, you name it. I wore them for at least 60 miles, possibly more. They never came off or slipped. The only negative is that they are heavy and toward the end I convinced myself that they were tiring my legs and I took them off so my feet would feel a bit lighter. Maybe I should have kept them on. There was little decent running after that, but that also coincides with when the snow softened up because of the temperature so I'll never know.

I was one of the few runners who brought snowshoes, a pair of Dion. I was happy I brought them. I probably only wore them for 12 or 15 miles, but they saved me from mental collapse. In the afternoon, when the snow softened up and I started post holing like crazy, I almost started crying. I would try to follow a firm path but every few steps, I would sink in all the way to my calf or knee. I put on the snowshoes and even though I couldn't run fast, I was running. And, I didn't have to worry about where I would put my feet. Toward the end of the race though, I put them on and ran a bit with them, but I was just to tired. I couldn't do it and I walked the more punchy sections. I should probably have trained with the snowshoes more, but with the Winter we had here in Toronto, it wasn't in the cards.

My foot care was pretty good. Not perfect, but it's hard to run 100 miles and have perfect feet at the end. One thing I did, which had been recommended by Dave Johnston, was to change my socks and base layer as often as possible. I ran most of the race only wearing a thin merino base and a wind shell. I seem to remember maybe wearing my extra merino layer during the first night (I was told it went down to -15C/5F but I never felt the cold). I definitely wore it in the last two hours of the race while walking. I changed my base layer only twice, both times at Luce's Lodge. It felt so great to feel the warm, dry wool on my skin. Recommended. I changed my Injinji socks at every aid station, a total of 5 times. Unfortunately, I only had 3 pairs of thin wool socks and I couldn't change them on the way back. I didn't want to use my thicker wool socks because I was afraid to create pressure points. Next time, I'm bringing 5 pairs.

I did wear my IQ overshoes during the first night. They felt great either with the snowshoes or the Microspikes. You can't wear them without those because they cover the bottom of the shoes and there would be no traction. Still, I'm keeping them.

At some point, when it got pretty cold, I decided to wear my ski goggles because my eyes were a bit uncomfortable and they worked pretty good. Until I took them off for a second by letting them hanging around my neck. They steamed up from the heat coming up my shell and they froze instantly. That was the end of that. I tried wiping them off, melting the ice with my fingers, nothing worked. Goggles are still a big question mark for me. Something always seem to happen, they fog up, and then they are useless.

The 20 run/ walk 5 routine worked well. I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to sustain it, but it was fine. As soon as I stopped, I drank a bit, ate my 200 calories, drank some more. There are ups and down, but 5 minutes is pretty long and I usually didn't have any problem starting to run again. One has to keep warm and the best way is to run.

The iPod was ok. I did listen to music for a few hours but it wouldn't have been a big problem if I hadn't. Using the headphones instead of the earbuds was definitely more comfortable for me.

One thing that needs a lot of work is nutrition. I had enough food, but I had too many items that contained peanut butter. I arranged my food in baggies, putting about 800 calories per bag. At 200 calories per hour, a bag carried 4 hours worth of food and I had one bag in each pocket. That means I didn't have to stop and go through my bag between checkpoints. That was good. In those bags, I had a mix of:


  • Macademia nuts
  • Reese Cups
  • Peanut butter and honey wraps
  • Nature Valley Harvest Crunch Crunchy Granola bars
  • Powerade gels (vanilla and strawberry)


I had tried all of those in training, but after a while, I had to pinch my nose to eat anything with peanut butter. The macademia nuts were a total fiasco. I'm never eating one again. When it became clear that I was doing better than expected and had more than enough food, I switched almost exclusively to Granola bars and gels.

All in all, I think I was better prepared than most runners. Not all. I had good equipment. I had trained with it. I had a plan. I did pretty well even though I wasn't racing. I spent a ridiculous amount of time in aid stations. I think that of all the runners, I spent the 3rd most time at checkpoints. I had a blast.

We were lucky, the weather wasn't a factor, but I was prepared either way. I knew I had what I needed. I remember vividly running in the night, stopping, turning off my light and looking at the stars for a few seconds. Then I would turn the lamp back on and keep running, further north, away, towards nowhere. I never felt any doubt.

4 comments:

David johnston said...

look forward to seeing you back next year...with a lighter sled and a bad ass attitude!
dave

Sara said...

Really interesting stuff, JD. Thanks for putting it all down. I'm sure future racers will find it very helpful too.

David said...

Thanks - I'm taking lots of notes :)

Caroline said...

Very interesting. Thanks for the rundown. Surprised the macadamia nuts were a fiasco, I was thinking they would've been yummy. Interesting!