Tuesday, 21st March 2023
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UTMB 2016: top runners talk kit!

by editor
Monday 15th August 2016
Tags  UTMB   |   Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc   |   Damian Hall   |   Jo Meek   |   Robbie Britton   |   Nicky Spinks   |   Holly Rush   |   Majell Backhausen   |   Jez Bragg
The UTMB is coming and we can't wait! We speak to some of the top Brits and one top Aussie ahead of their races. 

Damian Jo Robbie
l-r Damian Hall (photo by Summit Fever Media/Contours Trail Running Holidays), Jo Meek and Robbie Britton (photo by Natalie White)

  • Damian Hall, who recently set the FKT on the South West Coast Path and finished second in the Highland Fling, securing a place on team GB for the forthcoming World Trail Championships. Damian was 31st in last year’s UTMB.
  • Jo Meek’s race highlights include a 2nd place in the MDS in 2013, a 5th place in Comrades, 4th place in the World Trail Championships in 2014 and podium finishes in many other races. Jo is also in the team for the World Trail Championships in October.
  • Robbie Britton, shy and retiring winner of the 2016 Arctic Ice Ultra, 3rd at the IAU World 24 hour Championships in 2015, always at the sharp end of mountain races.
  • Nicky Spinks, record holder for the Ramsay Round, Paddy Buckley Round and until recently the Bob Graham Round, completed a mind-boggling double Bob Graham Round earlier this year.
  • Holly Rush, winner of the UltraVasan 90 and Montagn’Hard races in 2013 and North Downs Way 50 in 2016, 7th place in Comrades 2013, reformed (world class) road runner. Also on team GB for the World Trail Running Championships.
  • Majell Backhausen, member of the international Salomon / Suunto team, has represented Australia at the World Trail Running Championships, winner of the Tarawera 50k and 21st place in UTMB 2015.
  • Jez Bragg, winner of the 2010 UTMB, 4th place in Western States the following year, has represented England and GB at 100k championships, and has run the length of New Zealand (1898 miles).

Nicky Holly Majell
l-r Nicky Spinks (photo by inov-8), Holly Rush (photo by Asics), Majell Backhausen and Jez Bragg

In the first part of this series of articles our top runners talked about their training. Now we ask them about the kit they'll be using and the nutrition they'll be using to get them round. 
1. What will the contents of your drop bag be?
Damian: A change of most things, a 33Shake (to take the edge of inflammation and give me a massive nutrient hit) and a mirror to check my hair (singular).
Jo: Food!
Robbie: Big Tone, Nats and Ma will be crewing at CCC so no drop bag, but a crew with extra food and smiling faces.
Nicky: Warmer clothes, baked beans and a can of coke!
Holly: Is it bad to say I have no idea?
Majell: Calories, calories, glorious calories! and sodium, glorious sodium. I have been using Shotz Nutrition for many of my events this year, and their products will make up the majority of my drop bag. Also, Body Glide, glorious BG. Along with the usual suspects: aftershave, moisturiser, hair brush, fresh clothes and a portable shower. Got to look good on the trail, right?

Jez: My lovely wife Gemma will be crewing for me, so I won’t bother with a drop bag.

Drop Bags
Mmmm, drop bags

2. What’s your shoe of choice? 
Damian: Either Inov-8's new Trail Talon 275, which is designed specifically for races like UTMB, or the Race Ultra 290, which worked well for me on the South West Coast Path. I'll start in one and have the other in my drop bag.
Robbie: Currently running a lot in the Salewa Train Lite shoes, which will be my shoe for CCC too. They’re lightweight, have a rock plate and good Michelin Grip.
Nicky: Inov-8 TrailTalons - 1/2 size up to allow my feet to swell.
Holly: Asics Fuji racer but as my last pair have disintegrated and that was the last pair in Europe....I will be wearing the Asics Fuji Pro
Majell: Currently its a choice to be made between, Salomon S-LAB Wings and Salomon Sense Pro 2. Not sure, just yet, what colour scheme, I am aiming for this year.

Jez: The North Face Ultra Endurance.
3. What’s your magic food to get you round?
Damian: 33Shake Chia Energy Gels, salty trail mix, nut-butter sachets and CLIF Shot Bloks for when the appetite dwindles. Plus occasional smelly French cheese.
Jo: No magic food but determination! However, I do rely on Bounceballs as real food and 32Gi for sports nutrition.
Robbie: Homemade rice cakes and shot bloks. Little and often is the key.
Nicky: Salty noodle soup I hope!
Holly: Obviously mini Melton Mowbray pork pies....however I don't think that's a secret now?
Majell: The Secret is in the pudding!  Article and recipe from run247.com and plenty of gels, most likely Shotz.

Jez: Tailwind and possibly some rice pudding/ fruit puree.
4. Poles or no poles?
Damian: Definitely a pair of cheat sticks. They're a huge help. The stubbornly British attitude towards them is baffling and a little bit silly.
Jo: In a race truly suited to me no poles but sometimes we have to race outside our comfort zone and the CCC will ensure that. I’m following the consensus and going with poles.
Robbie: Poles. After a winter of XC skiing I’m much more effective with them too. Good for stabbing.
Nicky: Poles - out from the start this time.
Holly: Poles. I've only just started using them and I think they are ace.
Majell: I’m not being funny, but I will be a friend of the Poles, this year, yes.

Jez: No poles. 

Robbie Britton and Gemma Bragg demonstrating how not to stab fellow runners

5. What’s your biggest pole etiquette bugbear?
Damian: I don't have one to be honest. If you start getting irritated by trivial stuff you're probably low on fuel, need to stick the iPod in and have a look about and appreciate the surroundings. The happier you are the better you'll probably do.
Jo: I guess poles doing their own thing - unruly poles!
Robbie: Stopping people getting past using your poles. Last year someone actually held them out wide on a descent to stop me overtaking. 
Nicky: Don't really have one. I just need to make sure I pick mine up and not someone else's!
Holly: Being poked in the eye by one.
Majell: As long as I don't get stabbed with them. I think its super funny to watch the creative way people deal with poles and what they use them for. Its trail comedy, which is good for humour in ultras!

Jez: Oh, where to start. Stowed on the front of a pack at the start line with tips at eye level is a classic.
6. Do you roll, fold or stuff your kit to fit it into your pack?
Damian: I start off carefully rolling, folding in the middle, then cramming and jamming stuff in at the top. This is an area of racing I could definitely improve on. 
Jo: Fold mainly I think.
Robbie: A little bit of everything to fit it all into a 3l pack. Any bigger is unnecessary 
Nicky: A bit of all three so that I can maximise space.
Holly: More like a roll but that has been flattened. I tried the roll last week but felt like a bit like a snail.
Majell: Its got to be rolled, then stuffed. Unless, I have been getting it wrong? Ill check with my mum.

Jez: Roll, bag and tape, vacuum –pack style.

Some unsuccessful attempts to avoid blisters

7. What’s your best tip for avoiding blisters?
Damian: Camphor Spray works like magic. Well fitting shoes. Socks with some cushioning but that will breathe too. But the best way to avoid blisters is to stop running long distances.
Jo: Wee on your feet to harden the skin (ha ha!)
Robbie: Test shoe/socks in long runs beforehand, get shoes that fit, wear tight fitting socks and cover the feet in vaseline before putting the socks on.
Nicky: I'm softening up my feet at the moment with Compeed and Sudocream as I always get sore spots where I have hard skin. I also wear Injinji toe socks. 
Holly: I have to say I rarely get them so I don't have a tip...saying that now I bet I get a massive one during the race.
Majell: Practice your blister prevention techniques in training and other events, not during the week of any UTMB race.

Jez: In all honesty I really don’t get issues with blisters. If you are susceptible then compeed and/ or zinc oxide tape work best, but before your feel the hotspot. The problem is that once you start taping your feet its hard to know when to stop. A taped toe will just rub against the next one…

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