“50 pounds on the dot! Will you look at that precision!” Dan exclaims. “Yes, I guess you could say we have been doing this for a while.” I say as I let out a big, relieving exhale.
Dan and I have just completed stage 1 (packing our gear and getting it weighed in at the airport) and are now on to stage 2 (hoping and praying that our gear and ourselves make it on time to the start line in Paraguay)!
We always say that one of the hardest part of adventure racing is getting your whole team and your gear to the start line in one piece. Over the years we have had multiple things happen to us. A lost bike (that is still lost somewhere!), a sick teammate who had to cancel on us 24 hours before we left for World Championships in Spain, and a lost duffle that had all of our food and paddling gear in it that showed up minutes before we had to turn all of our gear in.
For the past three days in between mini training sessions, going on kid adventures and scrambling to finish up all of my work loose ends, I’ve been chipping away at packing and prepping for Adventure Race World Championships- a 7 day long race in Paraguay.
Many have asked what my process is and what gear makes the cut for going to a big race like this one. Before I hopefully end stage 2 with no hiccups and move on to stage 3 (turning in our gear and starting the race!), I thought I would write out my packing must haves and how I go about it.
I’ll admit, It’s not easy trying to decide what the future you will want to wear and eat in the middle of a trek on the third night of a race after only sleeping for a max of 2 hours (after racing for 75 hours). But luckily this is not my first rodeo, and after racing over 40 expedition length races in different climates around the world, I can actually answer that question with some confidence. So after copying the race schematic in my notebook (writing it down helps solidify the race in my mind) and looking at my notes (on my likes, wants and needs) from my last couple races I got to work at packing my must haves.
To make sure I don’t miss any essential pieces, I always start the inside and work outward. For example, I always start with carrying Spirit B, as he is my spiritual and emotional guide when I am digging deep in these races, then I go to what I will eat and drink. From there I move to skin needs, then base layers, then outer layers. After I complete this, I work on the pills I will need/want to carry. Once this is all done, I make sure I have everything on the mandatory list and then I move to it all into stage bags. After completing my stage bags, I move on to thinking about what I want after the race recovery wise. I never pack it all into my actual duffle until right before I am heading to the airport because I like seeing everything out till the very last minute. This way I can change things, add things and make sure I don’t forget anything. I give myself a week to chip away at it as it is way less stressful for me, especially with kids around.
Below I have listed all of my favorite items by these different categories along with a link and/or a brief description.
Food and Drink/ Spirit B:
Four Hour Fuel – This makes up 50-60% of my calories. In one bike bottle I can fit 800 calories of this mild, nutritious “go juice”.
Spring Energy– 10 years ago I swore off all gels. Every time I ate one I would instantly get mouth sores. Fast Forward to a year ago where I discovered Spring Energy. Their gels are made with real food and many have fat in them, making them calorie dense and great for endurance events.
Picky Bar Oatmeal + Lairds Superfood Oatmac: This power house combo is my go to food for long treks. Every trek I have a bag of 3 hours of this. It feels great on the tongue and fills me up!
An Assortment of black licorice and gummies : My team calls this emotional food. The 4 Hour Fuel and Spring makes up all of my calories, but throwing in some of my favorite candies and other treats from the country I am racing in is always a good idea for boosting morale!
Hydrapak Bladders and Katadyn Be Free Filters: For drinking water out in the wilds we always have our Be Free’s handy and ready to go. For filling up our bladders we use basic Iodine. It’s simple and fast.
Keeping your skin free from blisters and chafing is key during an adventure race. It’s amazing how much pain a tiny sore on your skin can cause! The best way to help with this is taking preventive measures with salve and/ or tape.
Angelinas Organic Skincare Skin Doctor: This stuff is the most amazing salve for our feet and hands. There is not one race where we don’t start with at least 6 tins of this stuff. It saves our feet from blisters while trekking and it saves our hands while paddling.
Chamios Lube: Lube for your inner bits and butt is key, especially while biking. To prevent chafing I love JTree Salve although our team mate Jean Yves is bringing us his special “Pate a Cul” that he makes himself and swears by so I’m excited to try it out!
Lueko Tape: If you are someone who gets blisters and knows where you get them like me, leuko tape can help tremendously. I usually tape up my heels and big toes before every race as this is where I experience the most friction.
During big expedition races I always use some sort of anti inflammatory like Ibuprofen or CBD to help fight swelling and inflammation. I also always carry pills for stomach issues and for staying awake.
Mission Farms CBD: CBD is not for everyone, but for me and Jason it has been amazing for fighting inflammation in our body during and after big races. Mission Farms is local to us and we love the way they make their CBD. During races, we use their gummy’s as it is a very low dose and is fast acting. **use BendRacing 20 when you check out to get 20% off
Ibuprofen and ALEVE: I always have this on hand for pain. Once I start taking it, I am very regimented and careful not to take too much.
Caffeine: this is pretty self explanatory and is necessary for expedition races! However we are also very regimented with our caffeine intake and make sure not to take too much.
Salt Stick Salt Pills: No matter how hot or cold the race, salt is a must. While I don’t loose as much salt as Dan, I am still sweating and working hard. I take a salt pill on average every hour for hot races and every 3-4 hours for colder races. I love the pill form because it is easy to ingest and does not cause any mouth sores.
Base Layers and Outer Layer Must haves:
While this does change depending on the race, I do have a few items I always bring!
Icebreaker 150 wool T-shirt: Wool works great no matter how hot or how cold the temperature is. This T-shirt has seen many different climates and countries and is still going strong! *On the site it looks like they call it the tech Lite shirt now.
Trimtex O pants– These are amazing light weight pants that don’t chafe me and are great for bushwhacking, especially in hot climates.
Hyperlite Rain Jacket: This dyneema jacket is ultra tough and super light weight. Unfortunately though, they stopped making them but I did hear a rumor that Norda may start making them!
Mtn bike shorts: I always bring an assortment of them as it’s nice to switch up the thickness and type of chamois every bike leg. Lately my go to shorts are Majora and Pearl Izumi.
Smith Optics Bob Cat Sunglasses: Eye protection is huge in adventure racing. We spend a lot of time bushwhacking and a twig to the eye or even a rock to the eye while bombing down a hill on your bike could be the end to your race. These are my absolute favorite sunglasses right now because the offer full coverage AND they stay on my face no matter how sweaty I am.
For off trail and technical terrain where grip is huge, I love my Inov8 Trail Fly Ultra 300’s and most recently I have also fallen in love with the Hoka Speedgoats. Both of these shoes have more cushion than I have raced with in previous years. However, these days, I find that a little extra cushion under my feet feels much better than minimal shoes – especially when carrying a heavy pack! And even though there is a little more cushion, the way they grip the terrain and wrap around my ankle in loose rock and through the bush feels protective and does not roll my ankle like some of the other high cushioned shoes out there.
For road and trail running (and for bike legs where I have to carry my running shoes), I can never go wrong with the Norda shoes. They are durable, extremely light and are little on the roomier side, making them great for last trekking legs of the race where my feet can sometimes be very swollen and a whole shoes size bigger than normal!
Bike Leg box/bag:
In my bike box/ or biking legs I use Exposure lights which are in my opinion the best adventure race bike lights out there – I use the Maxx and the head torch. I also have my Lazer helmet, extra Shimano chain links and rotors, my Pearl Izumi X Alp Summit shoes, chain lube, a tube of orange seal and of course my beloved Ellsworth Truth!
Trekking leg bags:
For every trekking stage I make sure to have my LEKI poles (I use the fixed length style because they are much lighter), a Fenix head lamp, a Ciele hat, drymax socks. For almost all of the big trekking legs I’ll carry my Hyperlite backpack, but if it’s less than 8 hours, I’ll usually carry a smaller running pack like my Ultimate Direction.
Paddling Leg Bags:
Depending on what style of paddling, I’ll take either my high volume Kokatat PFD (for whitewater) with the big center pocket or I’ll take a really low volume one that fits a bladder in the back and a bunch of food in the front pockets. For Paraguay, I chose the later as there won’t be any real white water in this race. My paddle is a Stellar wing blade and I always pack extra Hydrapak bladders as I use four hour fuel for paddle legs as my main calorie source. I find that It’s much easier and faster to drink my food than take the time to unwrap wrappers.
Recovery (for the travel days and post race)
For recovery, I bring my Marc Pro and some Mission Farms CBD gel as well as a few lacrosse massage balls. When siting in the plane I have use the Marc Pro on my legs, as it helps flush them out and brings blood to the muscles. The day I finish the race, I also make a point to use the Marc Pro at a very low setting while I sleep, this helps with swelling and recovery. For in-between flights and working out some knots before and after the race, I love massage balls. They are easy and light to travel with!
As I finish this up, I am on my last and final plane ride to Asunción, Paraguay. Before taking off I watched our bike boxes and duffles be carried on to the plane, yay! Tomorrow morning our team (Team Quest/BendRacing) will check in and pack all of the above into different bins. On the 17th at noon, my team and I will start the first leg of the race, a 144 km trek with all of our mandatory gear and 32 hours worth of food on our backs. From there we will paddle for 90 km and then bike for 10-12 hours. After that, I forget what we do, but it is a mixture of biking and trekking until we get the finish line in a hopefully fast time. To get to this point, it has taken us months of training, team calls and countless hours of preparing mentally, emotionally and physically.
Once the gun goes off and Urtzi, the Race Director sets us free, we along with 75 other teams from around the world will have 7 days to complete the full course. This is the part I love. Well, to be completely honest, 30 hours into an Expedition Race is where I hit my sweet spot. It’s when time dilation starts, it’s when the simplicity of the race and life starts to sink in, and it’s when the layers start to slough off. For 4-5 days, our whole world becomes much much simpler. Instead of feeling our kids, checking emails, working, doing the dishes, etc – we are racing check point to check point as fast as we possibly can and taking care of one another with what we have while doing it.
Every race I learn more about myself, about my teammates and about how to be a better human, friend, mother, spouse, sister and daughter.
I’m excited to see what kinds of lessons this place and this course has for us, as each experience is entirely different.
If you read this and you find yourself wanting more info on adventure racing and how to get into it, email me. If you read this and find yourself overwhelmed by the gear, I hear you, it’s a ton of gear and a lot to think about. But know that this is for an Expedition Race. There are MANY different lengths of adventure races where the gear list is WAY shorter. In fact, this Travis Macy Show podcast on how to get into adventure racing I recently did with my team is a great listen!
Either way, I’d love to help you out on your journey towards more adventure, what ever that means to you.
In the mean time, feel free to follow our race here (we are team number 12) and here (Jason will be posting updates on our FB page) starting on Saturday the 17th!