Mandatory race equipment

Mandatory, obligatory or compulsory gear or equipment is now an essential part of ultra-marathon racing. Almost all the large international races have a short list of equipment that the race organizers deem to be necessary. There are lots of differences in opinion on this, most US races and runners believe that the runner must take personal responsibility and can make their own assessment of what's necessary. In the rest of the world it's more common to have an equipment list and that's not really questioned as it's always been that way. Regardless of personal opinion (the reality is that both arguments have their merit) when running a race with mandatory gear the runner has to comply.

The reasons for specifying gear is that the race directors want to ensure the safety of the runners and know that they have enough clothing, food and survival items to keep them alive and safe until they can be rescued should something go wrong during the race. The objective is to create a race environment that is safe for all the runners who could start based on the entry requirements of the event. Requiring all racers to carry the same minimum obligatory gear means that everyone is safe and the race is fair. Race directors also have a good idea of the area where their race is being held and know the intricacies of the weather and course that even the most prepared runner may not have considered.

A very informal gear check in the south of Chile.

Recent occurrences in a few prestigious races make the topic of mandatory gear a current and important one. Ryan Sandes was disqualified and then re-instated as winner of the Transgrancanaria race after some confusion about his emergency blanket. He carried the required item (hence the re-instatement) but at a checkpoint during the race he told the volunteer checking his gear that he didn't have a "cover" (the direct translation from the Spanish list of mandatory items for an emergency blanket) even though he did in fact have a "cover". Anton Krupicka was given a 15 minute penalty when he didn't have a headlamp at a check during the course of UTMB. He lost the lamp along the way in an honest mistake, but had to wait out the penalty nonetheless. Each race is specific about its gear and sometimes confusion arises because of these differences, assumptions by runners about what they have done in the past and, as in the case of Ryan, a translation issue.

Elite runners know the mountains well and are typically better prepared than the rest of the field in the race (which is why they usually win!). However, they still have to carry the same amount of kit despite potentially higher skill and knowledge of the race environment. I think that this is perfectly correct and the way it should be. One of the greatest aspects of our sport is that anyone can toe the line with their heroes and race the same course using the same means, and that extends to compulsory equipment. The elites are the benchmark and example of how best to run races so it's important that they follow the rules and set a good example. It's also important to remember that the sponsorship, free race entries and other support that elite athletes receive is because of all the other runners participating and creating that community.

General guidelines
  • print out the list of mandatory gear as it appears on the race website
  • find a good translation or speak to other runners who have participated before to make sure that the list in your language is correct
  • if you have any doubts or queries then email the race director and ask ahead of the race for clarification
  • ask a family member or friend who doesn't race ultra-marathons to go through the list with you and review your gear. Generally mandatory items are simple, practical things to keep you safe and someone without a race goal or objective can make a more reasonable judgement about whether or not your items meet the race requirements
  • if you're going to take the lightest, most minimal gear and test the limits of the mandatory gear list then take spare items that will definitely meet the requirement to check-in. Don't be stuck at a remote race check-in looking for a whistle or pair of scissors when you have plenty of these back at home and could have brought them with you
  • put a small copy of the list in your language and the race language in your pack and ask the volunteer reviewing your kit to sign it and confirm that everything is OK. It might prove useful for reference later during the race at a spot check
  • if there is an issue or dispute during the race, take the penalty and make sure that you know who gave it to you and for what reason. Accept it for the time-being and move on. A 15 minute penalty during a 25 hour race is insignificant and not worth stressing about. Try to resolve the issue with the race director after the race
  • if you do lose or misplace something inadvertently during the race, let the next checkpoint know what happened. They will more than likely try to help you and find the a spare item for you so you can be safe on the course

What I do
  • review the list of required items and split all the items into two categories: things I will use and things that I most likely won't use
  • for the things I will use I choose the best quality and most appropriate items based on what I have used in training
  • for the things that I will most likely not use, I choose the lightest, smallest and cheapest items that I can find
  • place the things I will not use in a ziploc bag, packed compactly with the full list of required items closed inside (and ask the volunteer at check-in to sign this list)
  • the ziploc bag of items that I might not use is easy to show quickly at the check-in and during the race
  • place the ziploc securely within my pack out of the way of items that I will be using regularly during the course of the race so it won't fall out or get in the way during the race
  • run through a mental checklist of where everything is as I enter the aid station in case I'm asked to show my mandatory gear
  • ensure that my crew knows what the mandatory items are so I don't leave an aid station without any mandatory gear

It is quite simple to follow the rules and carry all the gear. If you're planning to go as light as possible and as minimal as possible it's important that that objective is backed up with sufficient knowledge of how to deal with potential problems on the trails and careful planning to meet the race rules. Deliberately not carrying the mandatory gear is cheating. Always keep in mind that the race directors are looking out for the runners and their list of mandatory equipment is for our safety.



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