I recently purchased one of those stupidly light (and very cool) Salomon jackets. The ones that fold into their own pocket, weight next to nothing, have a hood and it is claimed, water proof. I bought it because the 63 other jackets I own don’t have a hood and given the requirements in races these days, a new purchase was essential for my recent outing at GNW.
But it got me thinking, despite it being a really cool jacket and the fact that I get more use out of it recreationally than I would ever do in a race, is the light and fast ‘movement’ potentially putting runners at risk?
In our quest for finding the lightest gear to carry the least possible weight in a race, are we placing ourselves at great risk if the weather turns? Or God forbid, we have a serious incident on the trails.
And it happens to the best of us. It was only recently when Kilian Jornet and Emelie Forsberg, two very experienced trail runners (and mountaineers), got caught short on a mountain top and had to be rescued. They were found wanting with inadequate gear for the conditions.
The issue is that most of us probably think that we’ll never need most the gear we carry, perhaps overstating our confidence with being able to handle a dodgy situation if it happens. I’ll be honest, even at the recent GNW 100s I found myself privately questioning the point of carrying thermals when the temperature hit around 30 degrees around lunchtime. Sitting at the 81km checkpoint at 6pm and around 8 degrees made me understand why I needed them, even if I didn’t use them. A trip down a ridge during the middle of the night and those bad boys will come into play.
It’s a fine balance. While race directors need to ensure that competitors are safe with adequate clothing and gear should something happen, we also need to ensure people aren’t carrying the kitchen sink with them around a race too. One might already regard Australia as a bit of a Nanny State as far as telling its citizens what it must and mustn’t do.
Quite simply, races need to account for the lowest common denominator – which in racing terms means those who need help and guidance with understanding what gear they need to take with them on a nice 100km jaunt around the bush. As such, it’s one rule for everyone, no matter if you finish a race in under ten hours, or take nearly thirty. That frustrates some people I know, but dems da rules I’m afraid – if you don’t like it, don’t race it.
Rules are rules, but anyone embarking on an ultra also needs to bear another factor in mind, personal accountability.
Anyone should be able to access an ultra it’s what’s great about our sport, but I would argue however that if you’re entering an ultra, you should be well versed in what you need to take with you for that race and the conditions in which it’s held in too. While race organisers provide mandatory gear lists, it really is up to the runner to also decide what they need to take too if they feel they need more. We need a mindset shift from, ‘what am I required to take’, to ‘what do I personally need to take’.
But let’s bring this back to our jacket in hand and why I started to question matters after my purchase.
The said jacket passes the requirements for a race such as Ultra-Trail Australia. It is seem-sealed, has a hood and is waterproof. But what I found myself asking was if that race experienced a torrential downpour for hours on end, that jacket would become rather redundant. It passes all requirements, but if I’m honest, would be completely useless in a horrendous weather event. Many people would be left wanting if they were carrying that jacket.
This is where your own sense of judgement is required too. Ninety-nine times out of 100 we’re not going to fall into strife carrying that jacket – simply because we won’t use it. But how many people will check weather conditions prior to a race and then base their kit decision upon that, even if it means going above and beyond the requirements laid out by race directors?
There needs to be common sense by all parties, both race directors and runners. Both UTA and Andy Hewat, who runs Bogong to Hotham and GOW100 take these approaches of making a decision on extreme weather kit based upon what’s going to happen during race day. Of course, there is mandatory kit required, but the extras, such as waterproof pants and fleeces for example, will be judged upon based on weather reports. This is a great commonsense approach.
But it’s not just race directors that should be making these decisions. As runners we need to as well, based not only on the weather that day, but also bearing in mind how long our race may take and if we’ll be running into the night with nothing more than a jacket shell.
I’m sure most runners are very sensible and make great calls, but I would say, that in our quest for going as lightweight as possible, don’t let stupidity supersede our desire to carry less.