Stage racing is an interesting mix between the speed and stamina that brings out the fastest ultra runners in the world. There is an immense amount of grit and grind it takes to last day and night out in harsh environments around the world. When it comes to preparing for these multi-day races, it can sometimes feel overwhelming when you start to think of the number of factors you need to consider.
We’ve just confirmed entry into our next multi-day ultra called the Zolkan 4 Days, an inaugural 4 day stage race down in Chile. We are starting to go through our initial prep phase. We’re going to break down the methods we use to make sure we are as prepared as we can be when we step onto that starting line.
Just like any running race, it’s easier to break it down into bite size chunks and take things on bit by bit until there’s only one bite left! So, we break the preparation down into 5 main categories:
1) Food and Nutrition
2) Terrain and Environment
3) Gear and Clothing
4) Travel and Logistics
5) Self Care
Food and Nutrition
In order to be able to run long distances for multiple days you are obviously going to need to maximize your caloric intake while keeping a healthy GI system; so planning your food properly is vital. In the Zolkan 4 Days, they provide racers with breakfast and dinner, which is unique in the stage racing world – this means less food you have to carry along the way compared to a self-supporting event.
What’s our plan? Contact the race directors to find out exactly what those provided meals will consist of. Is it a buffet or a rationed amount? Will there be vegetarian options? etc. From this we can determine how many calories we will need to bring per day on top of these meals. For us, we aim to have at least 3000 calories per day (even though in many races the minimum is only 2000), and with breakfast and dinner being provided, we know our food will consist mostly of race fuel that we can eat while running (energy bars, dried fruit, etc) and snacks for back at camp.
Last topic to remember is electrolytes. Most races will make this mandatory gear, and you can usually determine amounts simply from the product labels. We like salt tablets and Nuun tabs, but there are tons of options out there, just make sure to test them out before the race!
Terrain and Environment
These races are popular for running competitors through some harsh terrain, whether it’s hot and dry deserts, humid and rugged jungle, or in the case of Zolkan 4 Days, everything from the high Andes mountains to the sandy Chilean coast. Always gather as much info on the race terrain and expected climate as you can. This will influence things such as footwear, clothing, gear, electrolytes, and many others, so if your ever curious about something ASK!
What’s our plan? Being relatively experienced minimalist runners, we are planning to run much of the Zolkan 4 Days in our huarache sandals made by Xero Shoes, but will likely have a minimalist running shoe in our bags, as we know the Andes can be cold and rough. The temperatures can also vary quite a bit in Chile, so while we know it will be summer there in January, we can’t forget that at higher elevations in the Andes, temperatures can drop, especially at night.
With the right research, you will be well prepared to plan your food, gear, clothing and even race strategy!
Gear and Clothing
This might be one of the most important topics in our opinion. If you don’t bring warm enough clothes…you’re miserable, if your pack weighs 50 pounds, you’re a new kind of miserable, and if you pack a water “resistant” jacket and it pours for several days, you might actually be at serious risk.
So plan your clothing right, because your stuck with what you bring for the whole race. Best place to help you decide on clothing is race pictures from past years, and what kind of things racers were wearing. For Zolkan 4 Days, it is mandatory to have multiple specific pieces of clothing, but you still need to consider for yourself the number and types of socks, underwear and extra clothing (maybe to sleep in) you will be needing.
Things to also consider is the night time temperatures, meaning how big of a sleeping bag you will need, which might also affect the size of pack you will need to carry, and while we’re talking about packs, some races make you carry everything you need for the whole race, while some will transport one bag for you so you only have to run with a daypack. So find out these details to start organizing all your gear. Zolkan 4 Days states they will transport a bag (given to you at check-in), your personal clothing, personal hygiene products, and sleeping bag, so this allows you to not be too stringent on clothing and gear weights!
Travel and Logistics
If you are racing locally or somewhat close to home, this section does not really apply, but if you are traveling to a race, these can be vital details you don’t want to mess up. This race is a great example. Chile is very strict at customs on bringing food into the country, so do your research to find out what kinds of race food you can bring, and what you can’t. For example, dried fruits, nuts, seeds, etc are no-go’s for bringing into Chile. Also, what can you leave in the original packaging while traveling and then re-bag it in your hotel upon arrival? Hash out these details!
Some of the more obvious things to watch for is making sure your passport has enough time left before expiry, checking to see if you need a visa for the country your racing in, and whether or not the food and water are safe to consume or if you need to be extra cautious.
As you can see there is a ton of work to get yourself ready to step onto that starting line. So wouldn’t it be a shame to pull out of a multi-day race early, because of something as small as a blister. Have your medical supplies ready (nothing too crazy) and emergency plans together to handle simple maintenance things such as blisters (tapes, needles, second skin, etc), chaffing (vaseline), upset stomach (tums or similar meds), muscle cramping (magnesium pills or a bit of Muscle Heat Lotion). Being ready to take care of your body as it goes through the wear and tear will be what keep your pushing forward in your race.
Our plan for the Zolkan 4 Days, will be to run hard each day (marathon distance approximately) then spend some time stretching and keeping the muscles loose once back at camp each night. Being in a race that has an overall elevation loss, means that your first night will likely be the hardest, so we will likely bring some emergency altitude sickness meds to make sure we start this race off the best we can.
Stage races are challenging both mentally and physically, but sometimes half the battle is the months of preparation leading up to it. Get this down pat and you’re race will likely go a lot smoother. We hope that this advice was a bit easier to digest using an example race such as the Zolkan 4 Days to put our tips into action. Our experiences and research by no means make us experts on the topic, so we would love to hear your secret preparation tips for a stage race you ran in the past or are planning to run soon.
Visit our blog at www.ultramelandjon.com to follow along to see what it is like to race across the entire country of Chile (horizontally of course)!
If this 4-day stage race peeked your interest, we’d love you all to join us – visit Zolkan 4 Days to get all the race details.