10 Top Tips for Multistage and Multi-Day Racing

Running is running yes? Anyone can do it! Well I guess the answer is yes. However, variables come in to play. Running is broken down into many different distances, from 100m to 100-miles and beyond. The longer we run, the more the challenges and requirements on a runner change. Running for multiple days or running a multistage race on mixed terrain throws up many different scenarios. Over the years I have spoken with many champions who have raced in the sands of the Sahara, the forests of Costa Rica and the mountainous paths of Nepal. They all provide me with similar hints ’n’ tips to a successful multistage race.

TOP 10 TIPS FOR A MULTISTAGE

1 – RUNNING IN THE SAND

Desert races are very popular. Marathon des Sables for example is the father of multistage racing and over the years, many races have followed in the MDS format. A desert race is never all dunes but some races have more soft sand than others, so, be prepared. To avoid getting tired it’s important to read the terrain. Carve your own path running on fresh sand and when possible, run along the ridges. In smaller dunes (dunettes) it can be beneficial to run in tracks left by others, at all times, run light as though running on ice – you don’t want to sink in the sand!

2 – HYDRATION

Dehydration is a real risk in any race, particularly a self-sufficient race where water is rationed. The risks of dehydration increase when the mercury rises and a lack of cover comes. A desert for example will be open, have intense heat but humidity will be low. By contrast, a jungle such as those found in Costa Rica may well have plenty of tree cover and streams to cool off in but the humidity will be through the roof. In both scenarios it’s important to drink regularly. Take small and regular sips of water and supplement lost salt with salt tablets. Races like Marathon des Sables provide salt tablets at aid stations and they recommend dosage. Other races you will need to think of this and plan accordingly. Also think about food choices on the trail and when in camp – food rich in minerals and salts will also help you. Importantly, multistage racing is about management from day-to-day and this is what can trip people up. Think about the event as a whole and make sure you recover after each day – rehydrating is as important post a run as when running.

3 – BLISTERS

Many a multistage race is ruined by bad personal management of feet. Think about this well in advance of the race by choosing socks and shoes that work for you. Also choose shoes appropriate for the terrain you will be racing on. A shoe for MDS will be very different to a shoe for the Himalayas for example. By all means take advice on shoes from previous competitors BUT you are unique and your needs are unique. Do you pronate? Do you supinate? Do you need a low or high drop? Do you prefer a cushioned shoe or a more minimalist shoe? What about grip, do you need any? Do you need to fit gaiters? The questions can go on and on and only you can make a choice. If all this is new to you. Go to a running store that understand runners and can provide expert and impartial advice. They will assess you and your run style and provide advice. One consideration for multistage racing is that your foot ‘can’ possibly swell due to variables such as heat, running day-after-day and so on. Your foot will not go longer, but it may go wider. So, think about shoes that have some room in the toe box. Don’t purchase shoes that are 1 or 2 sizes larger – this is poor advice. Larger shoes will only allow your foot to move… a moving foot causes friction, friction increases the risk of soreness and soreness will lead to a blister. Also think about walking. Many people choose a shoe because they are good to run in… But how do they feel when you walk? Remember, a multistage race can involve a great deal of walking!

Do you have sensitive feet? If so, you can prepare your feet in the run-up to an event. Also make sure your nails are trimmed back. While racing, if you have blisters, stop and get them treated as soon as possible. Take responsibility and learn basic footsore before an event. You need to make sure you can make any necessary treatments. Finally, many races have a medical team that are provided to look after you and your feet. Don’t hesitate to use them, but remember, there may be a big line waiting. Self-care is an excellent way to make sure that you are ready to run in your own timeline.

4 – BALANCED PACK

Not all multistage races are the same. The Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica, for example, is not self-sufficient so a runner only needs to carry liquid, snack food and any ‘mandatory’ kit. By contrast, a self-sufficient multistage race requires you to carry everything. A simple rule is keep everything as light as possible and keep your pack balanced. Luxuries really are luxuries in a race over multiple days so really ask yourself, do I need to take that? You will need mandatory kit as specified by the race and in addition you will need (as a guide):

  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping matt
  • Warm layer
  • Spare socks
  • Food (minimum calories are specified per day)

Clothes, shoes, hat, sunglasses –  but you will be wearing these so they don’t go in the pack.

That’s it. Keep it simple and if at all possible, get your pack with its contents as close the minimum weight as specified by the race.

By general consensus, a luxury item is considered a music player (or 2) such as an iPod shuffle.

Also remember that minimum pack weight will be without water, so, if your pack weighs 6.5kg, you will have to add 1.5kg on the start line on day 1. This is where a front pack or a pack where bottles sit on the front works really well. Bottles on the front help balance the front and the back and provide a greater running experience. Also, think about items your need whilst running… it’s not a good idea having them in the back, they need to be at the front so you can access them ‘on-the-go!’

Many packs are available to choose from and you will see two or three are very popular – WAA, Ultimate Direction and Raidlight. Choosing a pack is light choosing shoes; we are all personal. However, keep a pack simple, make sure it’s comfortable and make sure it has little or no bounce when running/ walking.

Consider joining a multistage/ multi-day training camp HERE

5 – PROTECT FROM THE SUN

The sun can be a killer in any race, single stage or multistage – use sun protection and apply it daily. Also use products like arm coolers, a hat and a buff. At aid stations or whilst racing, you can keep these wet which will help cool you. Particularly the buff. If you overheat, slow down and apply cold/ water to the back of the neck. Use UV protective clothing and the jury is out on if clothing should be tight or loose. This often comes down to personal preference.

6 – EAT WELL

Any multistage race is quickly broken down into three phases – running, eating and sleeping. Food is a really important part of any race as it has to perform many functions. Most importantly, it has to sustain you so you will need carbohydrate, protein and fat. Individual requirements will vary but carbs will restore energy, protein will repair and fat is essential as this is one of the primary fuel sources for a multistage race. Remember though, our bodies have an unlimited reserve of fat. It’s important to understand that your diet whilst training may well be very different to when racing. In training you may well have eaten less carbs to teach your body to use fat, but when racing, you need to recover and be ready to run/race again the next day. Have variety in your food as your palette will change with fatigue, dehydration and heat. Real foods are good but dehydrated food also has a place. You also need to decide if you will require a stove for heating water? Don’t think twice about stepping up a little on the organization’s requisite minimum daily dose of 2,000 calories a day, remember though, it’s all weight!

7 – REST

Rest is crucial and how much you get will depend on how fast you run. Front runners have no shortage of rest time, however, those at the back of the race get minimal rest. Make sure you have a good sleeping bag that is warm enough for you and is as light and packs small as possible. You can save weight by not carrying a sleeping matt – general consensus says that carrying one is worthwhile as sitting and sleeping is much more comfortable. Matts come in two types: inflatable or sold foam. Inflatable matts work really well, pack small but you run the risk of a puncture without diligence. Foam matts won’t puncture but they can be bulky.

Make sure you have a warm layer for comfort, temperatures drop with darkness. A jacket (usually down) will also allow you to add warmth while sleeping if required. A lightweight sleeping bag and down jacket is preferable (by general consensus) over a combination sleeping bag that turns into a jacket. A jacket and bag offers flexibility, weighs less and packs smaller but will be considerably more expensive.

8 – PACE

Remember that you have entered a race that lasts multiple days. Spread your effort and have the big picture in mind – pace yourself. Don’t set off too quickly and consider race profiles, distances and cut-off times. YOU take responsibility of when you need to be at checkpoints. A day with a great deal of climbing, soft sand or technical train will take longer, allow for this and be prepared. Most multistage races have a long day and it’s fair to say it is the most feared day – keep some energy back for that day. Remember, the long day often has a generous time allowance so don’t be worried by taking a sleep break midway through.

9 – KEEP ON TRACK

Most races will have markers for you to follow but be sensible and self-aware of the challenge. If a race requires you to carry a map and compass, then please understand how to use them. Carry a Spot Tracker for safety and if you use a GPS such as Suunto or Garmin, remember that these watches plot a route that you can use to backtrack. In a race like MDS it is difficult to go off course due to the volume of people, remember though that dunes are not way-marked and you will be given a bearing to run off. If you are alone or in the dark, an understanding of how this works is a positive.

10 – ENJOY IT

A multistage journey often offers so much more than any single-day race. It’s an experience like no other and friends made in the desert, jungle or mountains will stay with you forever. Also remember that this journey is a hark back to a more primitive and simple time – embrace that. Leave gadgets at home and live a simple life for a week – I guarantee it will change you!

contributions from

Elisabet Barnes, Danny Kendall, Jo Meek, Nikki Kimball and Laurence Klein

Foot Care for the Mult-Day Runner or Ultra Runner by Ourea

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Introduction

If you intend to treat foot problems as they arise at any multi-day race you may well have already chosen the wrong strategy!  If you haven’t started, then start your foot-care preparation now. After all, feet are the most important part of your kit.

This article was first published via the Cape Wrath Ultra

Experience from the 2015 Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race™ has shown us that 38% of the competitors had medical treatment for blisters, and that blisters were the reason many participants failed to complete the full course or had to retire from the event altogether. This statistic is also reflected in many other multi-day races such as Marathon des Sables, The Coastal Challenge or the Everest Trail Race for example. If you haven’t already read the 2015 Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race™ Medical Report (HERE), then we strongly suggest you do, and pay particular attention to the Race Director’s comments at the end.

These are:

After some consideration and discussion with the medical team we are going to introduce a triage system…, much like you would see at an Accident and Emergency hospital and insist that competitors take primary responsibility for their own foot care. This will mean:

  1. Patients will be assessed in a triage system prior to treatment with the most needy being treated first, regardless of the how long others may have already queued.
  2. We will not assess anyone’s feet unless they have been washed and are presented in a clean, mud free condition.
  3. We will expect minor blisters to be treated by competitors themselves.
  4. At triage assessment advice will be given as to whether a blister is ‘minor’ and how to treat it if required.
  5. Competitors must have their own blister treatment kit and this is part of the mandatory kit list for the event.

Of course, many races offer varied systems of foot care while racing. Marathon des Sables has very much lead the way with the innovative ‘Doc Trotters’ foot team. However, listen to any experienced racer and they always say:

‘I like to look after my own feet. Autonomy is best. I can treat my feet as I require and I don’t need to wait in a long line for my turn when I cn be resting, eating, drinking or sleeping!’

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 The Cape Wrath Ultra™ have been very clear ahead of the 2016 race in providing a FAQ which can be read HERE

Scroll down to the ‘Support and Services’ section:

9) What medical facilities will be available?
There will be a medical support team for participants at the Overnight Camp and a medic can be summoned to Checkpoints. However, the Cape Wrath Ultra™ has a strong self-reliance theme and participants will be expected to look after themselves and must bring a personal first aid kit for self-treating blisters, minor injuries and ailments, for cleaning wounds and for addressing most kinesiology issues. The Medical Team will prioritise and work on more serious incidents and ailments, but advise on minor issues. Our experience from the Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race™ (HERE) is that the Medical team can get swamped with minor issues if not managed. Having said this, participants are encouraged to talk to the Staff & Medical Team if they have a concern about their personal well-being. The event will generally be a long way from any Hospital. 

It’s sound advice – be autonomous!

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The Cape Wrath Ultra are expecting you to help them during the event by looking after yourself first and foremost but you are not on your own. There will be approximately 150 participants and you’ll be sharing tents with a number of others and the races encourages a buddy system to look after each other, not only on the hill, but in the camp too. So don’t be afraid to get down and dirty, and help each other look after your feet!

This theme is reflected at other events that I have worked on, Marathon des Sables for example creates networks of people as 8 runners share a bivouac. It can often be all for one and one for all.

Ourea Events have unashamedly based this summary advice on three sources. These people are experts at foot care for multi-day events:

There are references (with links) at the end of this section, and we thoroughly recommend that you read John Vonhof’s book. Then practice – a lot.

Everyone is unique and the advice here is for information purposes

Blister Prevention

Foot care is easily divided into several phases. We are sure you all know the 6Ps: ‘Proper Preparation Prevents Piss-Poor Performance’. Well, you should be thinking of this too!

  • Proper Preparation = foot care in the months before the race
  • Prevents = prevention of blisters before and during the race
  • Piss Poor Performance = treatment during and afterwards

Blister Prevention – Before the Race

Proper Preparation (months before the event)

  • Get rid of calluses, keep nails short*. Get rid of rough patches. Visit a chiropodist for proper advice and pedicure.
  • Keep the skin soft and supple with massages and skin-care creams. Some people recommend creams with shea butter.
  • Practice prevention.  Learn preventative taping: you know your own problem areas. Try alternative socks, shoes, strategies such as foot lubricants, powder and blister plasters. Consider friction reduction of the shoe.
  • We do not recommend vaseline, gels or similar products on your feet. Vaseline in particular is sticky, attracts grit and hardens in your socks.
  • We do not recommend waterproof shoes: They will fill with water and keep your feet wet. You will be running for eight days in wet terrain! Shoes should drain rapidly to help dry your feet.

* At all the Ourea Events expedition races a participant has had to withdraw because poorly maintained toe nails have caused blistering to adjacent toes. Don’t be a statistic… nails should be neatly trimmed about 5 days before the event.

Blister Prevention – During the Race

Prevents (pre-race and during race)

  • Use your practiced taping method. Use a skin adherent.
  • Use lubricants with caution on your feet. Do only what you know has worked in your training. If lubricants are used, Ourea reccommend Body Glide – Here.
  • Use good moisture-wicking socks and shoes that you are familiar with.
  • During the race change socks, clean and dry feet, reapply tapes, powder or gels as necessary. You should always do this immediately after finishing to give your feet the longest possible time to recover overnight.
  • Stop and treat hot-spots immediately.
  • At the end of each day pamper your feet: wash and dry them, massage them, keep them warm, keep your feet up whenever you can.
  • Remember there is no single method to be recommended. What works for you is the correct method.

Blister Assessment

Piss-Poor Performance
This is what happens if you don’t follow the other Ps! We insist that participants take primary responsibility for thier own footcare but Ourea medics are available to offer advice or treatment as required. A similar scenario exists at Marathon des Sables with Doc Trotters, The Coastal Challenge with Duggie Duggan and many other multi-day races will adopt a similar strategy of foot care. If you do develop a blister, the first questions to consider are:

  1. How bad is it?
  2. Can I treat it myself?
  3. Do I need medical advice or treatment?

BlisterFeet

A and B © Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race™ Competitor. C © Jim Mann (not his feet though!)

  • A: This foot has a blood blister and two small (intact) blisters. Whilst these will make running uncomfortable, these are not ‘bad’ blisters and particpants would be expected to treat these themselves at Ourea events.
  • B: This is certainly a painful blister but good quality self care (cleaning, padding, taping) allowed this participant to continue. Don’t worry about asking for treatment advice from the medics.
  • C: These blisters show signs of infection and required hospital treatment (they were sufficiently painful that the participant needed crutches to walk). Infected blisters are dangerous, look out for signs of infection – these include:
    • worsening pain
    • feels hot in the area
    • swelling and redness around the blister,
    • pus coming from the wound (yellow/green discharge not the normal clear yellow fluid)
  • D: Macerated feet (see picture below) are extremely sore and prone to infection. Macerated feet occur when the skin is saturated for long periods of time and this leads to the overhydrated skin becoming soft and easily damaged. Unlikely at Marathon des Sables, possible at The Coastal Challenge and a distinct possibility at any UK race… This condition in particular is a signifigant hazard at the Cape Wrath Ultra™ due to the wet nature of the Scottish Highland terrain.

MascratedFeet

© Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race™ Competitor

Blistered and macerated feet are treatable but only by withdrawal from the event. REMEMBER: Prevention is better than cure.

Blister Treatment

DIY blister care is simple with a general aim of reducing pressure friction at the blister site.

Blister Treament when the skin remains intact AND the blister does NOT require lancing:
This treatment protocol would be the same for a ‘hot spot’.

  1. Ensure your hands and feet are clean.
  2. Apply an non adhesive island dressing. Ensure that the blister is covered by the non adhesive part of the dressing.
  3. Tape to secure the dressing in place.
  4. Monitor for signs of infection and reapply dressing if it becomes soaked with fuild from the blister.

Blister Treament when the skin remains intact AND the blister requires lancing:
A blister only requires lancing once it has become swollen with fluid.

  1. Ensure your hands and feet are clean.
  2. Lance the blister using a sterile scapel blade. Lance in multiple sites to aid fluid removal.
  3. Gently massage the excess fluid under the blister out through the holes.
  4. Apply antiseptic such as Betadine.
  5. Apply an non adhesive island dressing. Ensure that the blister is covered by the non adhesive part of the dressing.
  6. Tape to secure the dressing in place.
  7. Monitor for signs of infection and reapply dressing once it has become soaked with fluid from the blister.

Blister Treament when the skin is broken:
When the ‘roof’ of skin over the blister site has partially torn.

  1. Ensure your hands and feet are clean.
  2. Apply antiseptic such as Betadine
  3. Apply an non adhesive island dressing. Ensure that the blister is covered by the non adhesive part of the dressing.
  4. Tape to secure the dressing in place.
  5. Monitor for signs of infection and reapply dressing once it has become soaked with fluid from the blister.

We do not recommend using Compeed or other ‘sticky blister plasters’ on blisters when the skin remains intact or whilst some skin remains on the blister site, this is because of the multi-day nature of the event. These types of plasters tend to stick to the blistering skin surface (the ‘roof’ of the blister) and tear it away when the blisters are assessed and/or re-dressed causing further damage.

Blister Treament when the skin has been removed :
This type of blister is known as ‘de-roofed’.

  1. Ensure your hands and feet are clean.
  2. Apply antiseptic such as Betadine
  3. Apply a hydrocolloid dressing (such as Compeed)
  4. Tape to secure the dressing in place.
  5. Monitor for signs of infection and reapply only once the dressing has naturally become soaked and peeled away (usually a few days).

Blister Treatment Kit

A Blister Treatment Kit is mandatory equipment for the Cape Wrath Ultra™. This MUST contain the following items that can be used by the participant or the medical team when treating a participant’s blister. The Blister Treatment Kit must include the following:

  • Sterile Medical Scalpel Blade (size #11) x5
  • Antiseptic Ointment (such as Betadine) 30ml
  • Sterile Non Adhesive Island Dressings (7cm x 6cm) x5
  • Sterile Cotton Swabs x10
  • Hydrocolloid Dressings (such as Compeed) x5
  • Profoot Moleskin Roll (7cm x 45cm) x1

Participants are welcome to source these supplies themselves or alternatively they can purchase a premade kit direct from us for £20 + p&p HERE

Mandatory kit at Ourea events also includes:

  • Kinesiology Tape (5cm x 5m) x1
  • Small Scissors x1

We strongly recommend that kinesiology tape is cut to length before the event as this is time-consuming and frustrating when tired.

Please note that a foot care medical kit is personal, find out what you need and what works for you!

All the above content is ©capewraithultra/ ©oureaevents

It is reproduced with permission.

Why not take part in our 2017 Multi-Day Training Camp which takes place in January each year? Details are available HERE

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Foot care treatment is very personal and Elisabet Barnes, 2015 Marathon des Sables champion has some excellent ‘on-hand’ experience of how to look after feet from experience.

Many essential foot care items can be sourced HERE

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Ourea Events HERE

Cape Wrath Ultra HERE

Disclaimer: We are all individuals and the information provided in this article is designed to provide information so that you can go away and ascertain what is the best foot care method for you and your own individual needs.