This post was originally published on the Merrell Adventure Blog. Follow @simon_donato for more behind the scenes WTM prep. Watch Simon in the third season of BOUNDLESS as he treks across 7 countries competing in extreme endurance races with some of the best athletes in the industry.
Packing the right amount of gear for any challenge is an acquired skill – pure and simple. Ask any athlete whose done it right and you’re likely to hear a litany of stories about the times they got it wrong – at least I like to tell myself that because I’ve only learned through trial and error. Having raced over 100 endurance events in my life, I’d like to think that I’ve got my packing protocols pretty tight but every sport has it’s nuances, and I certainly learned this when I showed up for my first crack at the World’s Toughest Mudder in 2014.
Fresh off the second season of Boundless, I was in “light and fast” mode – and my goal was to pack everything I needed for the event in my carry-on luggage (mistake #1 – don’t be silly like me, check a bag). Obviously this significantly limited what I could bring and use. Having completed numerous ultras and adventure races, many of them self-supported, I decided that I was fine to compete in a 24 hour event without a support crew (mistake #2 – don’t be a hero, success in this race hinges on having a competent crew of supporters). The weather forecast plus historic records predicted hot days and warm nights, which I thought meant I could forgo a wetsuit for tights and a jacket and still be fine for the Night Ops section (mistake #3 – wrong again, a freak windstorm tore through the area, toppled obstacles, and blew me all the way back to my tent after 50 miles, from which I didn’t reemerge). Thankfully, I learned from these mistakes and returned in 2015 for redemption.
My biggest changes were simple corrections to my three major errors from the previous year. I brought two friends to crew for me, acquired two wetsuits to ensure I stayed warm during Night Ops, and filled a duffel bag with extra gear. These adjustments paid off and I spent much of the race in the top-5 until knee—pain and exhaustion slowed me down during Night Ops.
WTM is really two challenges wrapped into one long, exhausting 25 hour sufferfest. There is the daylight race, and the Night Ops. Racing during the first day will require some basics such as a pair of tights, t-shirt and roll-down sleeves, some good socks and quick draining shoes with good traction (I love the Merrell All Out Crush for this), and I always bring a wide brim hat to keep the sun off my face. The last two years have been warm, and I ran like this both years until around eight hours into the challenge at which point I’d do my first clothing change. Since nothing will stay dry, the only reason to switch shoes would be to let your crew get the sand out. By midnight, you’re well into Night Ops and the temperature will start to plummet, in large part due to the wind. It’s best to be proactive and change into your wetsuit before the temperatures really start to fall – this will help you maintain your core temperature instead of getting cold and then spending the rest of the race trying to warm up.
In coaching Merrell Ambassador Jason Antin this year, I’ll be sure to share my big three with him so that he doesn’t make the same mistakes I did, and can focus on racing, instead of dealing with gear issues. I’m not a fan of bringing everything, but on this course you’ll want to protect yourself from the cold at night, abrasions from crawling and rolling during the day, and ensure that you can access enough calories each lap in the form of solid and liquids. Bring a windproof shell to wear over your wetsuit – it will help keep the wind out and body heat in. Change your shoes every few laps just to mix it up, and bring some pick-me-up food and snacks that just make you happy and motivate you. As for a headlamp – make it bright, waterproof. and bring an identical back-up if you can afford it. Ultimately, it’s a running challenge with a few obstacles thrown in for good fun. Bring enough gear to keep you going, but not so much that you’ll get lost in your own gear bag.