How to prepare for a multi-day mountain ultra-race

Multi day mountain marathons are nothing new to Steve Birkinshaw – winner of the 2012 Dragon’s Back Race and World Record holder for running all 214 Wainwright peaks in just 6 days and 13 hours.

We have caught up with Steve in order to get some advice and tips for the Dragon’s Back Race entrants. The Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race is now less than two months away. The world’s toughest mountain race – 300km, 5 days across the spine of Wales.

The hints and tips shared below have been acquired from vast experience and although written with the competitors of the Dragon’s Back Race in mind it can be applied to many mountain ultra races.

Still in training for your ultra? Check out Steve Birkinshaw’s mountain ultra-race training tips here.

Over to you Steve…

Race Preparations

1. Any item of clothing and the rucksack you intend to run in/with during the race should have been tested on long training runs to see if they cause rubbing or chaffing.

2. If there are areas of your body sensitive to rubbing and chaffing on your long training runs then you should test what treatments (for example, Vaseline or Body Glide) stop it from happening.

3. Shoes should not be new. You should have been for some long runs in them to check they do not cause blisters but there should be loads of life left in them.

4. On your long training runs find a shoe and sock combination that does not cause blisters and use this during the race. I tend to have new socks for a race but the same type as ones I know are OK.

5. Relying entirely on sweet bars and gels whilst on a stage is a bad idea. Each person is different but after 4-5 hours most people are desperate for some savoury food: cheese sandwich, crisps, cold pizza etc. Test what works on your long training sessions. Make sure you can eat the food whilst walking.

6. Be efficient when you are moving. Stopping for two minutes every 20 minutes to look at the map, get out food or take on and off items of clothing will add up to an hour or so over the course of a day. Practice being efficient on your long training runs.

7. Mistakes should be made on the long training runs not in the race.

8. Have a set of poles with you either in the “camp” kit or in your running rucksack. Practice using them whilst training.

Some people might use them every day and some people will never use them. But if you get an injury or bad blisters it can make the difference between finishing or giving up.

When I won in 2012 I did not have any poles but by the last day I had bad tendinitis in the front of one of my legs and if I had had poles it would have made finishing much less painful.

9. Water is very heavy to carry and yet on most sections of the route there is plenty of water out on the hills. So make use of it (drink to thirst) and do not carry more than you need.

If there are no buildings upstream I drink straight from streams. If you are not happy doing this then there are water filters available. Think how many bottles (or how big a bladder) you will need.

10. Make sure you have the necessary skills to use a map and compass effectively. Remember any navigation becomes a lot harder at the end of a day when you are exhausted.

11. A GPX route of this year’s course will be available before the start of the race. Unless you are going to rely only on a map and compass practise following a route on the GPS device you will be using over the course of the race.

12. Know what is on the required kit list (“hill” kit and “camp” kit) and make sure you pack it.

13. Know the rules and make sure you follow them. In particular make sure you know when the GPX route must be followed and when it is permissible to go your own route.

You will be wearing a GPS tracker and the organisers will be checking which way everyone is going. They will know if you do not follow the mandatory route.

14. Look at the route on a map in the weeks or days beforehand. This will give you a feel of what to expect on each day – where the big climbs will be and the terrain underfoot (rocky, grassy, big forest tracks).

Focus on the route at the end of every day, this is where most mistakes happen and the more you have studied the route in the comfort of your house the less likely you are to make a mistake during the race.

15. You can have an overnight dry bag of up to 59L and a resupply dry bag of up to 22L. This is sufficient for all the essentials but few luxuries.

Test what you can fit in these bags and work out what goes in each bag.

I hope this helps gets you thinking and helps get you prepared for the Dragons Back Race. Not long now!

I have one more post coming which will be a blueprint to completing the race, Look out for that one.

Steve Birkinshaw