Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Susitna, again

Mount Shasta from the plane. It was a beautiful day leaving San Jose. 
As I sat in the San Jose airport with a large cup of Peet's coffee, I looked over my gear list and tried to figure out what I'd forgotten or what I still needed to change. My mind drifted to the first time I'd done all this, while sitting on the hardwood floor of my cabin in Homer, Alaska, with a bewildering spread of unfamiliar gear piled around me. I smiled as I remembered strapping a handlebar bag full of Power Bars to the inside triangle of my full-suspension mountain bike, and laughed at the memory of bursting into tears while attempting to glue a pair of studded tires to the rims one day before the Susitna 100. That was six years ago, six years. Long enough that I can no longer define endurance racing as this quirky new hobby I'm experimenting with. No, this has become major part of my life, and I can no longer feign novice status when I stand at the starting line of my original journey. However, I am still a newbie to ultra distances on foot, and I will probably cling to this fact if things go wrong.

My final food stash. One thing I've learned over the years is the importance — nay, necessity — of junk food. I've already blogged about appeasing my inner 4-year-old. But there are two truths that I think anyone who has ventured into the 24-hours-plus-of-activity zone has experienced. One: A person can not become malnourished in 24 hours no matter how badly they eat. Empty calories are still calories. Two: A body in continuous motion will reject food intake in the most surprising ways. I stick with what I know I can force down. The Susitna 100 requires that all racers leave the last checkpoint with 3,000 "emergency" calories. That role is filled by the seven king-sized Snicker's Bars. The baggies contain my "deep space rocket fuel," a mixture of Trader Joe's chocolate-covered peanut butter pretzels, dark chocolate covered espresso beans, peanut butter cups, and dark chocolate and sea salt almonds. I weighed them mainly so I could tally my final food weight, and recorded the approximate calories in case I decide to swap them out with Snicker's Bars. The total is 5,205 consumable calories and 3,080 emergency calories. Together, the fuel stash weighs 4.2 pounds. This probably seems like a lot, especially with two or three supplement checkpoint meals. But I need to expect that I might be out there as long as 48 hours, and if I can actually consume 3,500+ calories during each 24-hour period, my performance (not to mention my mood) will be much better than if I languish on minimal rations.

I packed up all my gear in my sled duffel bag. Including the snow shoes, the total is 21 pounds. This does not include water or the weight of the sled structure itself. What it does include is the 4.2 pounds of food, sled and foot repair kits, meds, toothbrush and toothpaste (oh yes. See above for justification), spare batteries, SPOT device, two headlamps, red blinkie, spare bladder, survival gear required by the race: (-40 degree Marmot Cwm sleeping bag, Thermarest Ridge Rest, Black Diamond winter bivy sack), RBH Designs Vapor Barrier mittens, goggles, Wiggy's waders (warm temperatures mean a potential for overflow), spare DryMax socks, spare fleece socks, spare base layer, hat, thin balaclava, fleece balaclava, mid-layer (won't be in sled if I start out the race wearing it) and a down coat. Because the race requires 15 pounds of gear at all times not including food, and I don't think the snowshoes will count as sled weight, I feel I've come close to the minimum even with the extra clothing — which I think is a good idea to carry. Given the weather forecasts for warmer temperatures, it will be more difficult to stay dry.

As for clothing I plan to start with, if the forecasts hold true and temperatures are around +20 degrees, I will probably start the race wearing a pair of wind tights, a base layer, a bike jersey (for use of the pockets in back, where I will store things I want to keep warm), a Gortex coat, a thin balaclava and hat, and my same DryMax sock/ fleece sock/ vapor barrier sock/ Vasque Gortex shoes set-up. I will probably go bare-handed with pole pogies, and carry a set of liner mittens in my coat.

My race strategy is one of continuing forward motion and minimizing impact on my body, so I will likely make good use of my poles and snowshoes. I don't expect I'll spend much time "running," as I consider the motion too much of an energy drain for too little increase in speed when traveling on top of soft snow. I also need to acknowledge that I didn't train running in snow, and I have no idea what kind of impact the uneven footing will have on my body, but I do feel confident that I can walk consistently and comfortably at a decent clip. However, I will have to race the first checkpoint cut-off. Warmer temperatures and a sled full of tasty candy will likely reduce the allure of slumming at indoor checkpoints. Slushy conditions will significantly reduce everyone's pace, but hopefully things cool down a bit by race day.

I'll probably post once again before the race starts on Saturday morning with a final pre-race update. But I wanted to make a gear post — if for no other reason, so I can check everything off when I complete my final packing on Friday. I should have a SPOT tracking page set up at Beat designed the page to include special slogging and sleeping icons if I am either moving very slow or have completely stopped. There's also an option to send pre-set messages, and if I have the wherewithal to do so, I will probably have some fun with that.