Sunday, 5 January 2020

SPINE Kit -Clothing 2017

My original blog on Kit considerations was written after my first Spine Race and has been modified several times. It never was meant to be a "What To Buy To Complete The Spine" Kit list. I have tried not to be biased towards  the kit I use . I know there is better kit out there , but from a personal point of view I feel there is a lot to be said for using kit that you know works for you . The start line is not the place to find out if brand new kit will work or not.
            Every Spine I run modifies my ideas . What I thought was a must have piece of kit one year I may have found did not work the next year.

             This Post Is About  How To Make Informed Kit Choices.

       Kit that works for me may not work for you so I shall start with a bit about me.

      My personal  kit requirements reflect me as an individual :
       As an ultra runner I usually end at the tail of the finishers. This is due partly to  crap training , my age and lack of flexibility . I was not born to be a good runner but I love the feeling.
       I am a very inefficient runner so I generate a vast amount of heat.  The heat production downside is sweating and the need for more food than most others. The  upside is I stay warm and have to wear fewer warm cloths  when on the move.   As soon as I stop my body cools rapidly as I don’t have much body fat.

          In  selecting clothing I will go for sweat wicking garments.  I have to accept that body temp control will always give me issues so I need to be able to shed and add warm layers preferably without stopping and taking my pack off .  Every time you takeoff your pack you will lose time particularly if you have cold fumbling fingers. 
            Spine Race Body temp  regulation is mostly  about ventilation, glove  and head gear  shuffling.

        When the going gets tough as in Spine Tough ( deep snow, energy sapping bogs or slogging my way into a 50 mph headwind ) that's where I preform best . If I was a car I would  probably  be a ageing  Landrover. 

        My Mental Approach.
        I am the sort of trail runner who is hooked on the outside environment . I never run with Headphones , preferring to look out at the terrain and perhaps the competition in front.  Full blooded  Mountain Races are my preferred events . A spectacular view or complex navigation gives me a boost . At night I tend to turn down my head torch so I have a better sense of the hills outside the beam of my torch.  You could say I choose my gear to allow me to run in the elements rather than isolate myself from the elements.


I shall start  from the Head.
          The head can be regarded as the main heat draining  and warming part of your body.
          The head is the most exposed area and is also subjected to the most wind chill as wind speed rises  with increase of  hight from the ground.
          Your feet have water problems rather than wind chill issues.
           If ever you feel too hot or cold then start your kit adjustments with the head.
          Most adjustments to head gear can be done while still moving and without recourse to stopping to remove your pack.

          Jacket Hood and Cap.

        Firstly the hood of your waterproof jacket is fairly crucial. You need to be able to pull the draw string tight to minimise the exposure your face has to wind ,rain,hail snow and freezing conditions..
        Take a good look at the fastening systems , this is where makers try to cut weight by using tiny toggles  and zips which may be difficult to adjust in wet freezing conditions with gloves on.
        You need to practice  hood and Head Torch adjustments while wearing thick gloves before the race .
  Some sort of visor is important to keep rain off your face and more importantly away from your neck. Most built in jacket visors are a bit of a compromise. (they may also obscure your head torch).

       The Hood of a jacket although it gives good weatherproof protection does have some disadvantages:
                          Hoods tend to be noisy making conversation harder in windy conditions.
                          Hoods restrict vision closing down your view of the outside world and heightening your separation from the outside conditions. ( depending on your temperament this can be a good or bad thing. For some  when everything is feeling shitty then isolating yourself from  outside reality can be a comfort . For others then looking outwards can lift your spirits . I am usually  in the second category and rarely feel the ned to batten down the mental and physical hatches.) 
                           The other issue with hoods is that vision can be obscured when you turn your head. (Not always a major issue but during a 6 hour session this can start to really bug you.)

              If you are in the outward looking camp then it's worth trying a high protection insulated waterproof cap with ear and neck protection.  I have used the Sealskins Waterproof Thermal Cap for three Spines and appreciated the feeling of freedom it gave me .  In 2016 I did not pack  The Cap  and spent much of the race feeling claustrophobic and annoyed when ever I need the extra protection of my jacket hood. 
               When things get really tough then the Sealskin Cap can be used under the hood .


       You will need several. Each has a different function .
       Hats  can be used in combination to stabilise the temperature of your head.
       Your head is the most exposed part of your body .
       If there is any wind then it,s speed will be strongest acting on your head rather than lower on your body. Wind chill will have it,s most aggressive effect on your head.

       If you can keep your head warm (Not Hot!) and dry then the rest of your body will have a better chance of keeping at the correct temperature. Conversely a chilled head will go a long way to negate any steps you make to keep the rest of your body warm.
       Your hat selection for each leg of the race ,( In this case I define a leg as the periods between access to your drop bag) will depend on the weather forecast and how long it will take for you to reach the next CP. In my drop bag I have :
        1-- waterproof hat
        2 --wind proof hat (thick)
        3 --windproof Bennie (thin)
        4-- highly breathable warm hat
        5-- really thick warm hat.
        6 --selection of at least 3 Buffs two of which should be winter Mariano wool based.
        7-- thin Balaclava.
Ok I know that,s a hell of a lot of hats.
           Gram For Gram  Hats  weigh very little and take up little space in your drop bag or pack.
           All the warm hats need to still work when wet so some wool content is desirable .
            Primaloft type hats will also work when wet but not if they are saturated and plastered flat to your head.
        You need to test the hats in combination.  For example can you fit your waterproof hat over your thick thermal hat?
        Next question : will the hat stay on in severe wind? As any of the class of 2015 will tell you it can get really windy. To properly simulate this try sticking your head out of the window of a car moving at 70mph!
       It may well be worth taking the time to modify the hat by stitching on a chin strap.
       With all your kit you will want to dry it off at the checkpoints. The drying rooms (if they exist at all will be strewn with random gear as each subsequent runner entering the room shifts other peoples gear in order to get there own gear dry. This is also why your gear should have a visible prominent tag so you can locate it in the drying room mayhem.
      Probably the most versatile hat is the Buff. The buff can also be used to lash other hats down  to your head and protect your face from hail. (The thin Balaclava will work well in Hail and Blizzards)

       I mentioned it before but back in 2013 I wore 7 layers on my head while tackling the Cheviot ridge in the Blizzard!
       If you do get in a situation where you have to Bivvi out then you will need a spare  warm dry hat to sleep in.

                           Waterproof Jacket.

This is the one garment it,s worth spending extra cash on.
Current trends in running design appear to be driven by the marketing departments discovering that if you make a jacket really light then the punters will pay huge amounts extra.  This has lead the makers to compromise many of the features in order to keep the jacket light! SALES SALES SALES!

Ok all you ultra runners I know one of the first features you compare is weight but think about it : as soon as it rains the jacket will probably double in weight anyway. 
    Your priorities on the Spine should be :
           1 Waterproofness in prolonged severe driving rain.
           2 Toughness when exposed to barbed wire and thorns.
           3 Breath ablity/ventilation
           4 Ease of use with frozen fingers (Big tags on the Zips and hood and functional  cuff adjusters.)
           5 Roomy waterproof pockets that are not obstructed by your pack front straps.
           6 A good system to keep the 4 holes sealed (Cuffs,neck Waist)
           7 lightness.

           Issues with 1 to 6 can cause a DNF  number 7 won,t!

           1 and 3 are part of the same . A waterproof jacket is no dam good if you are drenched in sweat. A damp body is a cold body. Overall breath ability will be compromised by 100% humidity in the air which we tend to associate with hot weather . During the spine you should expect 100% humidity from air saturated by low cloud or fog. If this happens then good ventilation is more effective than breath ability.  
        The standard jacket ventilation comes from the front zip . Avoid Smocks, they  are chosen for lightness but you need that front zip.    One problem that you will encounter is that the pack chest and waist straps will make adjusting the zip hard . The problem can be eased by having a two ended zip which can be adjusted from either end . Another good feature are under arm zips end vented shoulder panels.
        Whatever zip system you use you need chunky zip toggles as you will have to operate the zips with thick gloves or mitts on. This requirement alone probably rules out the expensive ultra light waterproof jackets.
        Another feature to look out for are zippered chest pockets . These are desirable for storing items that get changed often. I like to keep my different gloves ( Waterproof shell, thin windproof and thicker insulated gloves) in different pockets so I can make rapid changes without disturbing my front pouch which is more exposed to the elements. A jacket chest pocket also keeps a glove warmer .

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