Light & Fast… or Stupid & Underprepared?

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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’.

The weather can turn dramatically in the Victorian Alps
The weather can turn dramatically in the Victorian Alps

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.


Dan on sabtwitter
I'm a mediocre runner who can bat above his average when I train hard. A man of extremes, I do enjoy everything life offers and consider it an absolute pleasure just to be able to put one foot in front of the other and let my mind wander somewhere different.

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I'm a mediocre runner who can bat above his average when I train hard. A man of extremes, I do enjoy everything life offers and consider it an absolute pleasure just to be able to put one foot in front of the other and let my mind wander somewhere different.

4 thoughts on “Light & Fast… or Stupid & Underprepared?

  1. I’m guessing common sense comes into this one. Running can now come in many forms from an urban street scene, to the wild ultra distances of the great outdoors. I love all forms of running and with it comes all forms of requirements, from a morning commute to work that consists of that days’ lunch and a bonus banana for my arrival, to a fully laden backpack for some longer trails and races such as the UTMB – rules are rules! 🙂

    This past year has seen me looking into the world of ‘lightweight’ running, from speed races to a more adventurous and wild form of ‘fastpacking’. What I should also say here is that I’m an ultra runner living in Scotland, where we can also endure all seasons in one day – anyone that has visited here will surely vouch for that one! 😉 What is key is preparation for a lot of factors but mainly the onset of coldness. Hyperthermia can be a killer, even in the event of an innocent sunny walk into the hills. One twisted ankle later and it can be a full-blown search and air rescue in some circumstances. What can seem as an innocent fun run can be more serious with inadequate gear. All said though, let’s not have us live in a nanny state where we are forced to carry more gear through risk and fear. If this was the case, who’d get out of bed in the morning for fear of crossing the road!?!

    In most circumstances, ‘common sense’ is key. If running light, inform family/friends, run with company, if like me you like the odd solo run, then utilise one of the many GPS locator mobile apps for reassuring others of your current position and progress. I use one that gives my wife GPS locations every 15 mins. She knows that if she receives three within the same spot, that isn’t my ‘lunch break’ spot, then it’s more than likely an injury and to act upon it. Hypothermia can kick in quick hence the ‘three marker rule’ we have.

    I love running with and without gear, sometimes to sleep out, sometimes to simply enjoy a fresh morning coffee on the hills, other times it’s a quick up and down, bag ‘n’ tag run. All come with different gear similar to many other varying outdoor pursuits.

    I say be sensible, get out there and enjoy! 😀

  2. Hi, I think first of all you need to get your information correct – this jacket that you have put in the photo – is an slab light jacket – it is a WINDPROOF, that’s all it is …check the salomon website for their description. I think maybe you are talking about the Bonatti jacket – wish IS waterproof and i can assure you perfectly so. But the main point about your article is more concerned with common sense and personal responsibility …. Basics. If you do not have any idea what to expect in the mountains, i.e.: weather changes, low sugar levels, fatigue, to name a few, and you do not know how to prevent or deal with them – then you should not be out on th mountain. It is basic, not rocket science, like losing weight : eat less, exercise more. Responsibility starts with Yourself, no one else !! If you don’t have the information – go out and find it. 🙂

    1. Thanks for the note Kate – as you say, the point of the article is to go deeper than merely a jacket, that’s just the hook to a wider issue. Cheers, Dan

  3. An easy way is to have one thing that works really well, even if carrying some gear that fails if pressed. If you really skimp on your thermal top, make sure you have an awesomely reliable shell. If your shell is essentially Glad Wrap, make sure to have a decent thermal top. And if you really want to know what good gear’s for, do anything in an environment that can be described as alpine.

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