Week in review: taper in

Long run

My first race in Switzerland. I planned to thoroughly enjoy this race, get a couple of points for UTMB/CCC qualification and get a feel for some new equipment (poles and pack). In addition to that there was a lot of climbing to do at about 3,500m during the 55km of the race. It went really well and I achieved all my objectives. My Chilean friends will be super pleased to know that I was bombing the downhills and making up plenty of places on the technical descents (thanks for the guidance on Manquehue and other mountains, Max, Mati and Moi!).

Quality training session

Intervals: 4x[1km @ 4min/km, 200m recovery]

This week's intervals were a shorter session with a race on the weekend coming up. I ran four controlled intervals and it felt good. My legs were turning over nicely and I felt good all the day. A confidence building run for sure.

The second week of the general strength and mobility series. I'm getting stronger and feeling the benefit of these exercises already. A little more work still needed to perfect each exercise, but I'm looking forward to adding some more complexity during week three.

I did another hiking session with the poles and I felt a little more comfortable with them in my hands. (In retrospect, the practice with poles made a huge difference during my run in Les Diablerets.)

Equipment used
Salomon Sense Mantra 2, Skechers GoRun Ultra, Nike Terra Kiger 2, Black Diamond z-pole ultra, Garmin Fenix 2, 32Gi (chews, endure tabs, foodbars)

Garmin statistics
4,890m (elevation gain)
144bpm (average heart rate)

A great week of running mostly because of the awesome fun I had on the weekend running in the Alps. It felt a little strange to be tapering down for a race when last week I said that I was just "finding routine", but it turned out well and I ran a solid eight hours with plenty of climbing on Saturday which went a long way towards setting up my future objectives. I learnt a lot of things about the terrain, about what training I need to focus on (sustained climbing) and had a great time.

Les Diablerets with the mountains and climbs in the background.

Les Diablerets is a beautiful village nestled in the Alps.

About to finish up my 8 hour running day!

No Swiss event is complete without some alphorns being played.

Week in review: finding routine

Long run

Quality training sessions

Intervals: 6 x [1km at 4min/km; 200m recovery]

This training session went well. I'm able to run the 4min/km pace consistently and relatively easily. I need to run more time at a higher intensity to build in the future.

Hills intervals : 10 x [200m climb hard; 200m descent recovery]

I ran each interval hard and could definitely feel it after a couple of the intervals. I didn't quite finish as many as I wanted to (or that were planned) as I had my fueling wrong and felt really flat towards the end of the session. A lesson re-learnt...


I did my first week of the eight week general strength and mobility routine. I'm surprisingly more mobile and flexible than I expected, however, I could definitely feel the hard work in my hips and hamstrings after the first few days of the routine.

I also did some gentle hiking to get used to using my poles. Lots more coordination needed :)

Equipment used
Salomon Sense Mantra 2, Skechers GoRun Ultra, Garmin Fenix2

Garmin Statistics
136bpm (average heart rate)


In the end a week that I'm pleased with. Nothing special in terms of volume or quality, but a great return to routine and consistent training. With our move in the last few months I've felt quite interrupted and at times have lost the regularity and "clockwork" of my training so it's great to be back in the right groove. I have a great week to build on again.

So many options!!

The trails in Vaud are mostly rolling hills through the countryside.

I get to run in the woods a lot and I love it!

Using a GPS watch for running

GPS watches are fantastic tools that provide accuracy and valuable feedback for running. The most obvious feature that a GPS provides that you cannot get from other heart rate monitors or watches is real time distance and pace feedback from the GPS location data. In addition to this, most new GPS watches provide data fields including chronograph, heart rate, elevation gained and lost, calories used, ground contact time, vertical oscillation and many others. Post training or racing, most GPS watches provide a means to transfer the run's data to a computer or online tracking site thereby reducing the need to write down and capture data manually. Digital records are much more searchable, provide better input for long-term analysis and are quite secure (especially if stored in a few places).

I'm a huge fan of using a GPS watch and have logged almost every training session that I've done in the last three years using a GPS watch. The data has been extremely useful for me. I've been able to analyze trends in my training, share the data with my coach immediately after uploading it, review race profiles and routes that I've run repeatedly, and collect an objective set of data about my performance. I know that training and racing cannot be analyzed and measured purely by the objective data, confidence and enjoyment and feeling are vital too, but there is definitely no cost in recording this data and adding it to create a robust training environment.

GPS watches

There are lots of options for GPS watches! The two largest manufacturers are Garmin and Suunto, but there are lots of options beyond this like Polar, Oregon Scientific, TomTom, Adidas, Nike and others. It's easy to be overwhelmed by different features, specifications and watch brands. I think that the three key aspects of a watch that need to be considered are the data recorded and displayed, the battery life, and device size. There is a compromise between these features, for example a longer battery life necessitates a large watch size, more data options often require additional sensors therefore requiring a larger watch body.

I would suggest the way to choose a watch is to start with the features needed. To track simple data like distance, time and pace the simplest and cheapest GPS watch can provide that data. These are the introductory watches in most brands' range of watches. From there the options become more diverse as specific features are added. A trail runner who spends lots of time in the mountains would want a watch that includes the basic features along an altimeter to measure vertical gain and loss. A runner following a heart rate training program would want a watch that can provide that information. After deciding on the features the next step is think about the battery life. Most watches provide about ten hours of GPS recording which should be sufficient for almost all training and racing, however, an ultra-marathon runner might need to look for a watch with greater battery life. After picking the features and battery life, the options have probably been narrowed significantly and there's only one or two choices in terms of size and brand. Choose the watch that fits best and is the smallest and lightest for the features desired.

My Garmin Fenix 2.

I use the Garmin Fenix 2. It provides the data that I want: time, distance, heart rate, vertical gain, and has the ability to program in workouts (more detail later). The battery life is about 20 hours in the most accurate recording mode and can be extended to 50 hours for ultra-marathons. The size and fit are good for me. My first GPS watch was a Garmin 310XT and it worked perfectly. Based on that experience, familiarity with the functions and the fact that I have thousands of kilometers recorded in Garmin's training logs it made sense for me to stay with Garmin. I couldn't be happier with the Fenix 2 and would recommend it if you're looking for the same features that I am.

While I make it sound quite simple, there is a lot of choice and it can be confusing and difficult to decide what to get. The best resource that I've found for reviewing and seeing the various GPS watches is DC Rainmaker. He has very, very detailed reviews on almost all the GPS watches and provides tables of data to compare various options.

Data Pages

Setting up the GPS watch and deciding what information will be displayed during a run is the next step. There are many different options for various data fields that can be shown and most watches have options of how they can be set them up. Each "page" is a set of fields on the watch screen. Generally watches show three or four data fields on each data page and can have a number of different data pages that can be scrolled through during a run. My straight-forward guidance for choosing data fields is to select the fields most important to the runner often based on the reason for selecting a specific watch.

I have a a main data page that I always use when racing and training. It contains the three most important fields for me: time, current heart rate and distance. The time tells me how long I've been out and allows me to follow a schedule for nutrition. The current heart rate field I use to guide my effort and to help me follow the expectations of my coach while I'm out running. The distance lets me know how far I've gone and in a race it also can be used to calculate the distance to the next checkpoint or finish. If I'm doing a trail run I also add a page of vertical ascent that shows the total vertical ascent for the run and a rate of ascent. The total ascent is a useful measure as it can be used as a verifying factor of what point I am at in a race (to coroborate the distance reading) and lets me aim for specific vertical gain goals in training. The rate of ascent helps me to judge the steepness of an ascent and my progress which I find most useful when running on gradients that are not steep, but don't feel flat either.

My main data page: heart rate, time, and distance.

A key training session that I do is a performance check that I run every few weeks. The goal of the training session is to test how long it takes me to run a specific distance (12km) at a heart rate level (140-145bpm). Hopefully over time as my fitness improves the time for the route will improve at the same effort. I have a data page set up for this run. I need to know my heart rate to control the effort, and I need to know the distance to make sure I run the 12km. However, I don't want to know my time or pace as this might influence me to try and run faster or beat previous times by running harder and going outside the heart rate range. This is a great example of where using a GPS watch can guide training, but also limit certain information so the session meets a specific purpose.

My performance test data page - heart rate and distance only.

These are two useful pages for me and the key data fields that I like to look at. I often have other pages set up in case I need the data or if I want to achieve a specific goal for a run. Fields like pace, which are not that important for me as a trail runner, and running metrics like cadence are useful to have on background pages if I do want to check on them.

Alerts and workouts

Along with displaying data fields and pages while running, a GPS watch can also display alerts. An alert notifies the runner when a specific event has occurred. There are plenty of different options for alerts based on: distance, time, heart rate, vertical gain, proximity and others. The alert displays a notification on the device screen and can also vibrate and/or play a tone. Alerts are useful as they can be reminders of progress, warnings to change an effort level and they can also provide intermittent information that is different to the data fields on the current data page.

I like to use a 30 minute time alert during all my runs. This lets me know every 30 minutes that I need to take on some nutrition or drink. I also like to use an ascent alert that lets me know every 100m of vertical climbing that I've done as a progress alert. When racing I also set up an auto lap every 30 minutes. This records a lap on the same basis as my nutrition plan and lets me analyze each 30 minute segment after my race. I like to think about making it to the next nutrition point and use that as a motivational tool when racing so it's useful to analyze each segment and lap on that basis. I haven't tried it yet, but I'd like to put in proximity alerts for the aid stations during a race. The idea is that the aid station GPS coordinates would be logged on my watch and then when I reach a point that is 1km away from the aid station I get a warning so I can prepare for it.

There are also alerts that can be set up based on a range of paces or heart rate values. Whenever the pace or heart rate falls outside of the range the watch provides an alert. These can be extremely useful alerts when training, but I find them less useful when racing as my pace and effort can often be based on the race conditions and competitors.

Workouts are another extremely useful feature of GPS watches. I use a workout on my watch for every hard or focused training session. The workout is set up on the watch or online and it provides alerts for each step of the training session. For example an interval workout might be set up as follows:

  1. warm-up until lap key is pressed - no goal effort
  2. run for 1km - pace alerts when outside the range 3:50min/km : 4:10min/km
  3. rest for one minute - no goal effort
  4. repeat steps 2-3 six times
  5. cool-down until lap key is pressed

My watch will then guide me through the training effort. I'll warm-up until I press the lap key which is when the first interval starts. During the first interval the watch will alert me if I run too slow or too fast and I'll get a notification when the 1km distance is complete which automatically starts the rest period. I rest and after a minute the watch automatically starts the next interval. After all the intervals and rest periods are complete, the cool-down is started and that ends when I press the lap key.

It's possible to create many different (and much more complex) workouts. The watch can also display the normal data pages or a specific workout data page. During my interval sessions the watch will change the data page automatically depending on where I am in the training session. For example, during an interval the distance and pace will be displayed. During the rest period the time and my heart rate will be displayed. Without a doubt these workouts are extremely useful tools for training as they easily guide the runner through each step without a need for measuring the distance or time or route and with alerts to regulate the level of effort.


Racing always brings its own set of challenges that test the runner and equipment to the absolute maximum. Usually I find that my GPS watch functions exactly as it should and provides me the same data and alerts that I've used repeatedly in training. However, a watch shouldn't be relied on extensively during a race for multiple reasons. The first is that the distance of the race may be measured slightly differently due to discrepancies between different GPS devices. This can have a huge effect when trying to pace a marathon for a certain time. In a trail race there can be differences between the route listed in the race information and the distances and vertical gain that you see on your watch. While these differences may be small and generally are insignificant, they can affect motivation during the race which is important to keep at a high level.

I used my Garmin 310XT in the Kalahari last year and it worked well. However, I used a combination of a footpod for measuring the distance and the GPS for measuring the distance depending on the importance of the stage. The footpod measures the same information as GPS although it is slightly less accurate. The benefit is that the footpod uses a lot less battery power meaning that the watch would last for the full length of the race at over 20 hours. [With my Garmin Fenix 2 I will no longer have to make this adjustment.] In the Amazon this year I was working on the same footpod and GPS arrangement and it turned out that I used the footpod much more because it was more accurate. The foliage and trees were so dense in the jungle that the watch would lose satellite connections and measure the distances as being much less than they actually were.

Some conditions are super challenging even for the best equipment!

The key to remember is that you must rely on your feelings and the feedback that you get from you body to help set a race effort. A GPS watch can help tremendously (I use the heart rate function for managing my effort and the time for planning my nutrition when racing), but it can also fail or face unexpected issues like a jungle too dense to get reception. Like every tool, no matter how useful, the runner must be prepared for the occasions when the tool doesn't work as planned.

A GPS watch is a valuable tool that can provide very specific information and take training to a new level in terms of consistency and feedback. It is not necessary to use a GPS watch during every session or it could be used to record the session for later feedback without showing data fields that might influence the run. When using a GPS the quality and detail with which the training session can be managed far exceeds any other means of measurement. I would seriously recommend embracing this form of technology as a means to provide an useful advantage in training and racing.

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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UTMB - a week in Chamonix and supporting racers

Last week I went to Chamonix to support some friends running UTMB (Matias and Joel), to watch the race and to do some running in the mountains. The week was even better than I could have ever imagined!

I did two great runs. The first was from Planplaz (after taking the cable car up) to La Flégère and then down to Chamonix (the last section of the UTMB route). The second was from Chamonix, up the vertical kilometer route to Planplaz, then to La Flégère and back down to Chamonix. The views were spectacular, the routes perfect and everyone was excited to see runners out there. Chamonix really is trail running heaven.

The mountains peaking out after a rainy day.

There were paragliders everywhere above Chamonix.

Glacier de Bossons.
There are almost unlimited trails available right from town.

On the trail from Planplaz to La Flégère.
There were plenty of blueberries to eat along the way.
A different run - this time up the VK course.

On the weekend I worked with a great crew of Lucy, Joe and Jules to support Joel and Matias as well as Gab and Natalia in the race. They all had different goals which meant that they would be spread out a long way towards the end of the race making it difficult to be at all the aid stations for everyone. Lucy had a car which we took to the first two aid stations (Les Contamines in France, and Courmayeur in Italy) and from there we split up using the car and the UTMB crew buses to get to the final support points (Champex Lac and Trient in Switzerland and Vallorcine in France). The logistics and organization of the race were incredible with buses and well set up aid stations through three different countries that ran smoothly and perfectly throughout the day.

My job was to help restock packs when the runners stopped, make decisions on the go about what food and gear would be needed for the next leg and to offer moral support. It was a pleasure to be intimately involved in my friends' races and to contribute in a small way to their result. Joel had a good race running a few minutes over 30hrs. He was calm and focused in all the aid stations and I took away a lot of lessons from his race approach. Matias ran his own race the whole way and looked after himself well to finish in 36hrs35min. He was patient, ran within his abilities and finished well - a great way to take on a first 100 mile race. Gab threw all caution to the wind and went out hard. He was paying at the end, but it was impressive to see his resolve to keep fighting and finish well. Natalia ran methodically and carefully. She was always smiling, took her time in the aid stations and finished many hours ahead of her time from the previous year.

The start of UTMB.

The mens podium.
The week in Chamonix was an amazing experience and one that I hope to repeat many times in training and hopefully as a racer next year.