Grand to Grand Stage Race, September 22-28, 2013
Total distance: 170 miles, 270KM in 6 stages, 7 days
My Ranking: AG: 3, overall: 58/98 (starting 113)
Total Time: 56h 46 min
Equipment, Clothes and Food
In my view and experience, the key to finish this race in reasonably good physical condition is getting the body used to carrying all equipment and food in a suitable backpack day in and out on mostly sandy and soft trails.
So select a backpack (INOV 25L) early in your preparation and simulate the race by running consecutive shorter distances than the actual race with a loaded back during a 6-7 day period.
Wearing the backpack on long runs helps identify potential hot spots which might create painful blisters during the race. Especially during the first three days, when the pack was fully loaded, the area around my neck was painful despite having sawed a soft towel to the edges of the pack around the neck. Some runners taped their shoulders and back:
The total weight of the pack below, with two full water bottles, is about 19 lbs. Obviously, as you keep consuming the food, the pack becomes lighter every day.
I removed all food from its original packages. Original packed food has to be marked with your initials. Don’t forget to do the marking at home before you leave. If not done at the equipment check, you have to unpack all items from your bag pack and mark them. I prepared one food ration per day and packed it in a sealed bag. But during the race, I started taking items from different bags, mixing it all up.
My super light sleeping bag (Western Mountaineering, Ultra Light) and pad (The Thermarest Xlite) fit on top and bottom of the pack. This worked well for me. I preferred to carry all my stuff, except for two water bottles, on my back. THE ROUGH COUNTRY sells really good water pocket holds which can be attached to the front of the hydration pack.
Clothes, even when made of today’s light material, can add a lot of weight. Count on heat, strong winds and pretty cold nights. A wind and water resilient jacket (see picture below) will come in handy. At night having a light long sleeve Icebreaker or similar shirt plus a cheap “Uniglo” down vest or jacket were adequate. These items easily fit into a 25L pack.
It was worth brining a pair of the cheapest and lightest flip flops to wear in and around the camp.
Tip: hot water is available for making “dinner” at night. Fill up one of your bottles with hot water, throw it at the bottom of your sleeping bag and your feet and body remain warm.
Blisters seem to be the main injury at this race. Painful blisters can cause a DNF or, at least, make for a less joyful experience. Large sections of this race are on soft sand, penetrating the gaiters and shoes. Having sand in the shoes is a guarantee for blisters, not only because of the friction but also because of the reduced space in the toe box of the shoe. Oh and bring a few Baby Wipes, nicely sealed into a plastic bag. The wipes can be used to clean your feet before you start “surgery” on your blisters and clean a few other parts of your body as well. It’s as close to a shower as it gets.
High gaiters glued to the running shoes is the best solution. Attaching the gaiters with velcro simply doesn’t do the job.
The versatile BUFF, as seen on this picture, was helpful to keep me warm during the night and sometimes in the mornings and protect my neck from the sun during the day.
More calories equals more weight carried in the backpack. I brought a total of 15,000 calories for the seven days. The daily food intake consisted of:
Breakfast: (instant) Oatmeal (300 calories), instant coffee and hot chocolate powder, one nutrition bar (Pro Bar 350-400 calories and/or Honey Stinger Bars and Waffles)
During Race: gels (110 calories), Pro Bar(s)
After Race: Protein Drink (powder 250 calories), Cup Noodles (350 calories)
Dinner: Freeze Dried Meals (1200-1400 calories)
“Real” food snack: like nuts, chips (crushed)
Especially during the 50 mile section of the race, I bonked repeatedly. A few more gels or sweets would have helped. Not having anything else, I used a little chocolate powder in my water bottle. It worked!
I also recommend to bring some trail mix for snacking during and after the each stage. Bring some food/snack you really like and enjoy it after you finish the day’s stage.
Cell phones are not allowed but some runners still use them when signals are available. Emails can be sent from the communication center every night. Occasionally, I had to wait for a computer to become available. This is a good opportunity for getting hot water for the cup noodles or freeze dried meals.
I enjoyed receiving e-mails of which hardcopies were left in the tent for the runners to read at end of each stage. So tell your family and friends to send you messages of encouragement or any other good news.
Once the race got going, a certain routine set in. In the morning, I got up 1-2 hours before the start, visiting the bathroom, packing all my stuff, eating breakfast, filling up the water bottles and make the final preparations for the day. Rise early and you can beat the rush to the bathrooms which, by the way, were clean and kept in excellent condition for the entire race. Don’t forget to bring a small container of hand sanitizer.
At each water station, there are also sodium pills. I didn’t bring any Gatorade powder (remember that each food item increases the weight in your pack).
After crossing the day’s finish line, I immediately had a protein (powder) drink (pre-packed in a small plastic bag with a tiny straw already included), cleaned myself up with baby wipes as best as possible (water use is rationed and should be used only for hydration), changed my clothes (kind of) and ate my Cup Noodles.
After a few hours of rest, I had my freeze dried dinner and went to sleep. There are 10 runners in each tent. Don’t forget to bring an iPot. It helps creating your own little acoustic sphere inside the big tent and it helped me quickly sleep.
The best method of dealing with the challenging distance of this race is to break it down from “water station to water station”, day by day. Strangely enough, I felt getting stronger every day despite the low caloric intake. The body has obviously plenty of fat stored to keep us going without constantly replenishing calories.
Once the long, +50 miles, stage is done, I felt confident that I will finish the race and my painful blisters no longer bothered me.
The medical team treated the blisters but it is better to know how treat blisters by yourself. You don’t have to stand in line at the medical tent and you don’t have to feel embarrassed having your dirty feet treated by a medic.
Some runners socialized around the camp fire during the evening hours. It was too cold for me and I preferred to rest in my sleeping bag and listen to my favorite songs.
This is a demanding race, requiring good preparation and commitment months ahead of the start. Test the food which you plan to use. You don’t want to find out during the race that you don’t like the food or the food upsets your stomach.
Run on 6 consecutive days with a loaded backpack. The daily distances can be half or less of the actual race distance.
The trails are sandy – lot’s and lot’s of soft sand – and trekking poles (Black Diamond has super light, collapsable poles) should be included in your toolkit.
This is a great race in a spectacular, unique, environment and a life time experience you will never forget.