Friday, February 23, 2018

2018 Actif Epica 162km Race Report


My dream goal is to one day participate in the Iditarod Trail Invitational (ITI) in Alaska; the oldest and arguably most challenging winter ultra in the world.  The “shortest” race is a 350 mile trek on the famed Iditarod Trail from Knik Lake to the town of McGrath; the longer event stretches all way to Nome.  This is the human powered Iditarod where participants must decide before the race to either ski, bike or hike.  Depending on the year one mode of travel is favored over another.

In order to be eligible to participate in the ITI applicants must first have finished at least three different qualifying winter ultras.  A finish of the Actif Epica 162km would earn me my first qualifier.

My winter ultra-experience has been a mixed bag.  I dropped out of my first two winter ultras. 

The first was at the Susitna 100 mile in Alaska; a warm winter meant a major course re-route due to the various river crossings, lakes and swamps not being frozen over.  Unfortunately the alternate course was a series of out and backs along some very chewed up snow mobile trail with a lot of exposed dirt and rocks and frankly just quite boring and difficult to drag our sleds full of required survival gear through.  So my wife Kathy and I decided to stop after 40 miles as this was not the wild Alaskian winter experience we’d expected. 

The second was years later at the Arrowhead 135 mile in Minnesota; yet again a warm spell meant soft snow surface that made it difficult to pull our sleds efficiently and to avoid overheating.  We decided to stop after 35 miles at the Gateway Store checkpoint.  This turned out to be an excellent decision because shortly after we got a ride back to International Falls it dumped almost a foot of wet snow creating a chaos on the course with rescues and drop outs; only a hand full of very experienced foot races finished the race!

However, at my third attempt at a winter ultra, I finally finished!  The race was the Tuscobia 80 mile in Wisconsin.  While it was not an ITI qualifier (the 160 mile version is) it was a wonderful and challenging experience and did instill in me a lot more self-confidence that I could safely continue doing winter ultras successfully.

So now it was time to finally finish my first ITI qualifier; the Actif Epica 162km!


I had an uneventful flight to Winnipeg, Manitoba Canada and spent the next day resting and getting my gear together for the pre-race gear check, meeting and finally the race that would start at 10 p.m. local time.  One unique aspect of the Actif Epica is that the required gear isn’t near as much as most of the other winter ultras.  Because the race is mostly run on rural farm roads and across easily accessible highways and small towns, it is fairly easy for race staff or a volunteer to provide emergency assistance should a runner need it.  Therefore the required gear list only includes enough stuff to keep you warm and protected from the fierce Manitoba Prairie winds long enough for somebody to come pick you up. So, most participants opt to carry a back pack with the mandatory and recommended survival gear.  However, the gear list is still extensive as the spirit of the race is to be mostly self-sufficient meaning you must carry all the calories, fluids, changes of clothing, socks, gloves, batteries, etc… to get you to the finish; the checkpoints only promised to have hot water with chance of snacks and food a possibility at some.  Long story short, while I didn’t actually weigh my pack, I’m pretty sure it came in at 20lbs or so; wouldn’t be surprised if it was a bit heavier times when I decided to carry a bit more water from the start.

Soon it was time to head over to The Forks, a popular tourist destination where the Assiniboine meets the Red River; also the site of the finish of the Actif Epica.  Standing in line at gear check I met Andrew Jarvis and Kelsey Hogan; both from Quebec.  This would be Andrew’s second hundred mile and Kelsey’s first.  I also learned that our race would be an intimate one with only nine starters; but this was really cool as I got the chance to get to know most of them in the short time before our race start.  Very grass roots! 

After the hurried gear check (something I fretted over but turned out to not be a big deal at all) and pre-race meeting, the nine of us split up into three difficult trucks for a long drive to the start.  We reconvened at a tiny bar called simply “The Club” in Ridgeville, MB.  Just before 10 p.m. the lot of us stumbled outside to get our GPSs all fired up and satellites acquired.  I was using my Garmin Fenix in UltraTrac mode (one measurement per minute) to keep track of my mileage.  While I wouldn’t normally wear a GPS at a race like this, keeping track of distance was important as racers were responsible for navigating the entire course either through the use of following a GPX track or use of provided turn-by-turn cue sheets, pedometer (or some way to measure distance) and compass.  The course was not officially marked, however, the Actif Epica mostly follows the historic Crow Wing Trail (except when it doesn’t) and so there would be these small shaped blue signs with white arrows indicating most of the turns on the trail.  But, we could not rely on there always being a marker when we needed it hence the need for GPX track files, cue sheets, maps, etc…  My goal was to do the race completely self-navigating using my GPS to measure distance and my cue sheet to give me turn-by-turn information and navigational milestones.  I’d spend several days preparing my own custom cue sheets and maps; studying them constantly.  This map prep would help me a great deal later on in the race…

Ridgeville to St. Malo (Mile 26.5), 6h 42m

At precisely 10 pm we nine set off on a long journey back to the heart of Winnipeg.  Right off we separated into two distinct groups.  Myself, Kelsey, Andrew, Joao (a Brazilian who lives in close by Niverville), and Candice who had decided to pull a sled instead of carry a pack.  Behind us was Jeff (on his last leg of a winter ultra series that included Tuscobia 160 and Arrowhead 135!), Greg (a.k.a. “Snowshoe Guy” because he was carrying these huge snow shoes), Faye, and Krystee.

The night was a fairly mild 14F and within the first mile I was already feeling a bit too warm!  A big no-no in winter ultras is to sweat excessively as that can reduce the thermal properties of your clothing and lead to chills, hypothermia and death!  Not ideal.  Luckily my outer layer pants and full leg zips that I unzipped to vent.  I also removed my mittens and gloves and went without a hat for a while.  That did the trick.  I cooled down enough to be comfortable and not feel like I was burning up.

The roads were an unpredictable mix of gravel with occasional sections of packed snow; probably snow drifts from the reliably high winds that are a hall mark of the Manitoba Prairie.  Overall though we made pretty good time considering we were running with pretty heavy packs.  The first “unofficial” checkpoint, near the Senkiw Swinging Bridge was around 15 miles into the race but before there we experienced a nightmare 3+ mile stretch of unbroken snow around a trail following the Oroseau River.  The snow/ice surface would just about bear your entire weight until it cracked and broke through.  Aggravatingly slow!  So this slow slog went on for a lot longer than I’d hoped.  All the while you could hear the occasional howl of coyotes not too far away. But eventually our wolf pack successfully navigated our way around the park to emerge at the trailhead to the swinging bridge.  There, Alex (the super awesome race volunteer) was there to check our progress and provide water if we needed it.  We didn’t so continued on.  Joao and I broke away from “the kids” (Andrew and Kelsey) for a little while as we crossed the incredibly awesome swinging bridge (shame it was the middle of the night) but soon re-convened after another, less long, stretch of post-holing through knee deep snow.  Eventually we emerged back onto a series of mostly snow-free gravel roads and our progress improved.  Soon gravel turned to asphalt and we arrived into the sleepy town of St. Malo.  Andrew, Kelsey and I arrived at the checkpoint (one of many Curling Arenas to come) more or less at the same time with Joao a bit behind and Candace, still pulling that sled, a bit later.

This was a minimal checkpoint, just hot water from the bathroom sink; enough to replenish my bottles with SWORD hydration mix (Ginger Citrus all the way!) and we were back out into the night.

St. Malo to St. Pierre (Mile 44.3), 11h 36m

Joao had decided to walk for a while and Candace wasn’t ready to leave just yet, so Andrew, Kelsey and I headed out à trois.  Within a mile we found ourselves out on the frozen St. Malo Lake.  Stretches were completely snow free and you could see through the clear ice; only two feet thick to the water below!  Not an experience I’m used to having coming from a winter-challenged state!  Kind of scary.  But soon we found the boat ramp that marked our exit point and were back onto a series of gravel roads.  The sky was mostly cloud free and so we had some pretty amazing views of the night sky; so little light pollution!  Eventually the sky began to lighten towards the East marking the start of a new day. With the sunrise we could finally see the endless stretches of prairie all around us.  Unfortunately, sunrise also brought the wind; a strong wind that would stay with us throughout the entire day; almost always at least a quartering wind if not an outright headwind. And not a gentle breeze either but a sustained almost gale force strength force to contend with all day long.  Ugh!
Sunrise along the Manitoba Prairie, with Kelsey and Andrew.
But, for the moment the winds were mostly behind us and not yet a hindrance.  We made pretty good time although there were still some stretches on the official Crow Wing trail that took us off a perfectly good farm road only to cross a long stretch of open cow field with hard crunchy snow that broke easily underfoot; slow work!  But at least we wouldn’t post-hole near as deep; the cows having done a good job and packing down the underlying layers of snow! 

The sun was out in full glory by the time we reached asphalt near the outskirts of town.  It was also here when the first cyclists in the shorter 125km race that started from St. Malo began to overtake us.  We had been speculating when they’d catch us and weren’t far off our predictions.  There was a concurrent 125km foot race going on as well so we wondered when those runners would catch up to us (or if they would?).

We finally arrived at the St. Pierre checkpoint after circling the long way around town on a new section of snow covered levees.  We’d been going for 11h and 36m and still had a long way to go!  But first it was good to get inside and out of the wind for a bit to warm up with some fresh coffee and pastries.  Kelsey and Andrew mentioned they were starting to have issues with blisters.

St. Pierre to Crystal Spring Colony (Mile 53.2) 14h 50m

After about a 40 minute stop to regroup, we left out together once again and promptly went off course!  My instinct and map study was telling me to go left but for some reason I ignored my instincts and instead went right and ended up on a bit of a round about tour through the rest of the little town that we hadn’t yet seen!  The scenic route!  We quickly realized our err and circled back to the correct road but it probably cost us about a mile of additional mileage.  No big deal really.  Back on track our progress was starting to slow; with Kelsey and Andrew alternating between a walk and slow shuffle.  I suspected the foot maceration and blisters really were effecting the pair.  I hated that and I’ve been there, done that many times over!  However, I was itching to take advantage what limited day light we had to get as far as I could while the navigation was substantially easier.  So, never being one for good byes I just sort of kept running the next time they took a walk break and never looked back.  Sorry Andrew and Kelsey!  I hated doing that but I knew the two where good friends and running partners; that they’d be okay to the end.
Outside of St. Pierre heading for the Crystal Spring Colony.

Another look of the flat terrain outside St. Pierre.

It’s always a tough decision to strike out solo in a race.  It’s especially scary when you’re in an unfamiliar area on a course that requires self-navigating!  Now it was time to put all my prior map-work and course study to the test!  I actually was relishing the challenge, but it was bit intimidating!  But I was feeling pretty good and happily motored on with limited walk breaks all the way to the next checkpoint.  Along the way I passed through a tiny town across some lonely train tracks and into a frostbite producing windtunnel of a headwind!  That was some cold stuff right there!  At first I used my laminated map and cue sheets to block the wind from striking my face.  But that was hard work having to run while holding the map case up at my side!  So, after a half mile or so, I stopped, turned my back to the wind and quickly dug out my neoprene face mask from my pack.  I’d end up using this mask, off and on, for the rest of the event.  I am extremely happy I had this with me!  So, with the face mask donned and the ski goggles I already had on, I was pretty well protected from the skin freezing wind!
The prairie wind really started to pick up outside the Crystal Spring Colony
Lonely train tracks through the Manitoba prairie.

I passed through another crappy section of snow/ice covered road (broken all to hell by the swarm of bikes that had already passed me by) but then entered a beautiful, but short, section of single track trail through some woods.  Really was spectacular in the low sun.  The trail emptied out onto the grounds of a factory that makes barbeque grills that was the location of the next checkpoint.
Some sweet trail just outside the Crystal Spring Colony.

More trail just outside the Crystal Spring Colony.

This was another, mostly minimal check point; although they did have an awesome lintel soup and cookies!  After refilling my bottles and eating all I could, I headed back out into the wind.

Crystal Spring Colony to Niverville (Mile 65.5) 17h 59m

I won’t lie, this was a tough stretch.  Mostly right into the teeth of the wind and now completely solo.  At least it was good, snow-free gravel roads.  However, after about a mile or so out of the checkpoint I noticed a runner ahead of me.  It was the second placed125km runner who, along with the lead runner, I believe managed to pass us while we were in the St. Pierre checkpoint.  While I didn’t feel like I was moving particularly fast, I was noticeably making up ground on the runner and within another mile I’d finally caught up. I believe now that the runner was named Jonathan from Minneapolis?  Anyhow Jonathan and I ran together for a little while longer but I could tell he was laboring a bit.  Finally when the route turned back straight into the wind and on a particularly nasty snow and ice incrusted mess of a road he began to fall behind.  I wasn’t running, rather tip toing from solid looking surface to solid looking surface, but managed to pull ahead quite a bit over the next ½ mile.  I was a bit bummed as I’d secretly hoped that one or more of the 125km runners might catch me and run with me just to help pass the time.  But to no avail, I wouldn’t see any more runners the rest of the way in.
Very cold and windy road out of Crystal Spring Colony heading for Niverville. 

You can hear the wind through the sealed GoPro case!

Thankfully, after about six or so miles the route turned toward the East on a long stretch of road that kept the wind at my back for the most part.  It was nice break because I could remove my goggles and face mask for a while. Along the way I passed by a farmer and his family whose truck was stuck in a bit of snow.  He refused help (not that I could be of much) and so I puttered on.  However, I did notice sometime later another truck pass me from the front heading that way; so perhaps he didn’t refuse all help?
Not far outside Niverville, finally a break from the wind (it's behind me!).

Not far outside Niverville, finally a break from the wind (it's behind me!).

Anyhow, all good stretches of road come to an end and soon I had to make a turn back to the north to head into Niverville proper by way of Hespeler Park.  It was a bit of a strange feeling to go from running through very rural countryside to suddenly be running through a cookie cutter neighborhood with stucco houses (stucco? In Manitoba???) I felt so out of place; a stranger in a strange land.  But it was cool to be making pretty good progress and not long later I arrived at yet another curling arena checkpoint!

This was, by far, the best supported checkpoint of them all.  They had fresh pierogis, hot chocolate, soda; I was in heaven!  After gorging myself I took the opportunity to change socks and empty out some gravel from my shoes.  I also checked that I had my night gear close at hand as it would probably get dark in the next section.  And with that I was back out the door.

Niverville to St. Adolphe (Mile 72.7) 20h 15m

Just as I’m heading out, heading in is Jonathan along with the 3rd place 125km runner.  I give them a fist-bump and am on down the road.  Not long later, the race volunteer Alex pulls up to have a brief talk with me.  He wants me to carry a SPOT GPS tracker for the remainder of the race so that the race staff can keep track of the 162km runners.  No problem.  Except that this particular device doesn’t have automatic tracking but you must manually press a button to submit and updated position.  No problem; just have to remember to do that!

The stretch to St. Adolphe is back into the wind for the most part, but with the low sun it isn’t quite as terrible.  Although it’s a bit weird to have the sun so low in the sky and not be setting.  Visually it’s a bit strange because everything I see has a long shadow; including the small bits of gravel on the road; something you normally only see for a brief moment right before the sun sets; only now that moment is frozen in time for the next hour or so!  Weird!  I’m feeling all caloried up and full of energy so really try and run as much as I can to the next checkpoint with the secret goal of getting there before sunset or at least in twilight.  And, despite some confusing instructions to follow through town that end up placing me all turned around on the wrong set of levees, I just manage to enter the curling arena in St. Adolphe with the last bit of twilight.

Unfortunately this was a very minimal checkpoint.  All they could offer me was some warm water and a restroom.  I took them up on both and headed back into the night before I got too comfortable.  Little did I know this next stretch would almost break me!

St. Adolphe to University of Manitoba (Mile 91.0) 26h 25m

I had a little less than 28 miles to go to the finish when the curling center was out of sight behind me. I’d already covered three marathons and just had one more (long one) to go.  No problem I thought!  At this point was starting to entertain the thought of actually running a negative split for the race and possibly breaking 27 hours.  Ha!  I was foolish to think that was possible.  But that was the mental picture I had at the beginning of this next stretch; and it was also a dangerous attitude to have I’d come to find out in just a few hours.

With the setting of the sun the wind also died which was a good thing.  However, the temperature began to plummet.  It would drop to about -15F by the time I would finish.

At first things continued to go well.  I had a couple of navigational questions that did eventually force me to check my phone and GPX track just to confirm I was on the right route.  Mostly an issue with the route description not quite agreeing with reality or else the fact that I was running at night versus daytime type description?  Who knows?  But I continued to plod along alternating running and walking a bit more.

I’ve always loved running at night; especially in rural areas where you can see lights in the distance and have no clue how far away they are.  It can be a scary thing to imagine what the lights might signify; what they might mean if you let your imagine run away from you; especially on the second night of a hard race and going on over 36 hours since you last slept.  To fully understand the images that were coming into my head along these long series of dark roads leading to the floodways you’ve got to read “The Night Land, A Story Retold” by James Stoddard.  The original work is called “The Nightland” by William Hope Hodgson but that version was mysteriously written in a very difficult and archaic style that is hard to read; read Stoddard’s version; a re-write of Hodgson’s work.  Anyhow, the story describes a land (on Earth) in the very distant future when the sun has burned out leaving the world in darkness broken only by strange lights and mysterious fires.  The last of humanity has taken refuge inside a massive pyramid in order to protect themselves from monsters and evil forces that lurk in the surrounding nightland just waiting for the aged defenses of the pyramid to fall.  The story is about one man’s journey through the nightland to seek his long lost love… It’s a quick read but don’t read if you’re terrified of the dark!

Anyhow, to me the distance lights took on threatening shapes of creatures patrolling the night prairie; ready to gobble me up!  Not seriously; I wasn’t hallucinating by any means, but your mind does tend to wander after a while to the point that you can have these almost waking dreams as you plod along and it’s difficult to distinguish what you’re dreaming versus actually seeing.  It can be a disconcerting experience and I was having one of these on the long road to the floodway. 

I started to really wig out by the time I reached the floodway.  I was desperately hoping the 200km bike racers would have caught up to me by now.  While it wasn’t windy anymore it was getting pretty cold.  Remember how I had had this goal of trying to negative split?  Well, I’d been working pretty hard to make this happen that I was neglecting my hydration and fueling.  While intuitively I’m able to do this at other long races; smell the barn and just go for it, this is not a smart strategy in a winter ultra; in fact it’s downright dangerous.  Problem was I was starting to get really tired now and needed to walk more, but walking I got really cold.  So I decided to try some SWORD Energy, chewable caffeine tablets.  And these actually worked for a while.  I just wanted something to give me a little boost until I could get to the Red River crossing.  I knew after that point there would be street lights and pavement the rest of the way to the finish (for the most part); I’d be on the outskirts of Winnipeg.  But I still wasn’t getting enough calories in and it’d been a long stretch from the Niverville the last checkpoint with filling food.

Finally I left the road onto the floodway leading to glorious pavement!  The floodway levee was a mess of broken snow and ice that I carefully tipped toed along until I reached the trailhead and a couple of race volunteer medics waiting for racers.  They checked to make sure I was okay and even offered me a loaded hot chocolate (too much mix in too small a cup) that was awesome!  But it was cold, I was cold and I wanted to not stop so I kept going. Soon later I shuffled across the Red River for the first of 3 crossings before the finish; better I was now under street lights and on pavement for the remainder of the race; some 16 miles or so to go.

Getting to “civilization” provided a temporary boost and I was able to shuffle along reasonably well until I got to “The Strip”; a path along Lord Selkirk Hwy / Pembina Hwy that had strip malls, restaurants, gas stations, hotels, etc…; trappings of modern society.  This was also about the time the first batch of 200km cyclists started to overtake me.  But my energy was fading fast and I worried I wouldn’t make it all the way to the last check point without taking some sort of action.  That checkpoint was still some 4 miles or so away. 

I had to make a decision about what to do very soon.  What I should have done was stop and dig out my one of my down or synthetic down layers and put that on; that probably would have cut the chill enough that I’d been okay for those 4 more miles.  But getting to that gear would require me to stop and possibly dump out my pack all the while I’d be standing there shivering!  I didn’t like the thought of shivering in sub zero temps!  Instead I decided I needed to get inside somewhere long enough to change clothes and possibly get something to eat.  So then I saw it.  Those glorious Golden Arches…  Yes, I’m sad to say that I was tempted off the course to run to McDonalds; something I’m not proud of but remember I’d been awake now for something like 40 hours and wasn’t thinking all to clearly.  But I found myself leaving the course and running about ¼ mile to the restaurant that thankfully was still open even at midnight; it was one of those 24hr establishments.  Once inside I proceeded straight to the bathroom to change out my base layers and swap out my outer jacket; I wanted a complete reset.  Then I dumped my heavy pack near the front of the store while I ordered a double fish filet sandwich meal.  While I waited on my order I texted Alex to let him know I was off-course for a bit to regroup and get something to eat as I’m sure my updated GPS position might have them concerned by now!  He told me no problem and to just let him know when I was back out there. That fish and fries and Coke never tasted so good!  I felt like a new person!  I learned a valuable lesson (again) that I can’t let myself run a caloric or hydration deficit and try and finish “on fumes” as the race car drivers describe.  Dumb!  I hate that I had to have a hard reset like this; breaking the unsupported nature of the event but I felt I had not much option at the time.  This stuff is supposed to be a hobby and for fun anyhow right?  So after burning about 45 minutes or so in the Mickey D’s I headed back out into the cold, back tracked to where I’d left the course and continued on towards the University.

The upside of refueling and changing into dry clothes was I felt wonderful over those final four miles to the checkpoint; I ran nearly every step!  I actually had no trouble finding the checkpoint as I’d done enough map prep work and heavy use of Google Earth Street View to nail it all down.  The checkpoint was very quiet; just a lone volunteer and some guy asleep in a cot in the back of the room.  I’d learn later that the guy asleep must have been the lead 125km runner that I was getting irregular reports about; he was an hour ahead, he was 40 minutes, no he’s 50 minutes ahead etc…  Sadly I’d learn that he’d end up dropping out of the race…  Winter ultras can be very, very brutal and unforgiving!  You can’t ever let your guard down; something I learned the hard way this time around.

All I did at this last checkpoint was checkin/out and I was back on my way to the finish.

University of Manitoba to The Forks (Mile 100.8) 28h 45m

I really was looking forward to this last section of the course for a long time; not only today but after doing all the pre-race map work.  This section looked the most interesting to me; urban trails, bridge crossings and finishing on the Red River Mutual Trail which is literally ON the frozen Red River!

While I was so happy to be on the final stretch, I was also getting really tired and my feet starting to hurt quite a bit.  So I didn’t try to push things.  I settled back into my run-walk schedule (more or less) and steadily ate up the mileage.  I crossed the Red River for the second and third time and found myself running along a really neat path along Churchill Drive.  It was the wee hours of the morning and I was surprised at how much car traffic there still was in town.  I guess it’s true that big cities never sleep!  The path ended and I was back on one last bit of asphalt before I’d drop down a boat ramp to the Red River.  I honestly was beyond excited to finally set foot on the frozen river.  I’d been dreaming about what it would be like to run the last mile or so of a 100 mile race on this winter path.  It was absolutely amazing, none of my many marathon and ultra marathon finishes compares.  The crunch of snow underfoot, the dark yet ample ambient light from the city skyline, the deep cold and a curious helicopter that seemed to be keeping tabs on what I was doing judging by the multiple flybys right overhead.  The icy path followed the slow bend of the river back to the north and suddenly I could see the lights of Norwood Bridge and The Forks just beyond.  That really put a good pep in my step as I ended up running the last bit under the bridge up to the confluence with the Assiniboine River and up to the finish line at The Forks.  Well, by finish line, a place to stop and go check in one FINAL time!  Inside was very quiet just a couple of volunteers maintaining the computer live tracking/scoring and another to check me off the arrival list and record my time and hand out the hardwear.  She told me I was the first runner to finish.  I knew I was leading the 100 miler but had not idea at the time that I’d overtaken all the 125km runners as well.  I must say, I was a little excited about that; I thought there might be a chance I could catch the lead runner of the 125km but didn’t realize he’d dropped out back at the university. Like I said before, winter ultras are unforgiving and brutal; there are no “gimmies”.

First of all I want to thank my wife Kathy and daughter Marley for allowing me to go do these crazy things I love doing on occasion.  I know it was very difficult being the solo parent for a new born for five days; this was the longest I've been away since Marley was born!  I want to thank Andrew and Kelsey for their company over the first half of the race; that was super fun and we should do it again!  I also want to thank Alex for keeping tabs on me over the back half of the race and the rest of the legion of volunteers who made this event happen!  A hundred miles is a long way to go semi-self-supported, lonely at times, so it was wonderful to see so many smiling faces at the various checkpoints!  I hope to come back one day and maybe run a little bit faster based on what I learned this time around.

Until then, so long Winnipeg!  Next stop? International Falls, Minneapolis for the 2019 Arrowhead 135 Mile Winter Ultra…
Taken day after the race, but shows the final 1/4 mile or so of the course along the Red River Mutual Trail (notice lane for skating on the left, hiking on the right)

My race bib, finishing buckle and award for winning the Actif Epica 162km.
For The Win!

Gear List

I thought it might be useful or interesting to share what was in my pack for the 2018 Actif Epica 162km.  While my pack was heavy I honestly can’t think of much I’d want to do without in the interest of cutting down weight.  I used just about every item of gear I packed with some safe margin left over in case I got into trouble.  It just takes a lot of stuff to run 100 miles, semi-self-supported through the dead of winter!

First off, what did I wear from the start and majority of the time? Temperatures would range from around 12F to -15F
  • Skechers GoMax Trail Prototype (custom “winterized” version), SuperFeet wool insoles.
  • Drymax Cold Weather Crew socks
  • Wind barrier underwear
  • CEP compression shorts
  • Patagonia Oxwool pants
  • Patagonia, full leg zipper snow pants
  • Craft long sleeve base layer
  • Patagonia merino wool long sleeve shirt
  • Patagonia Nano-Air Hoody
  • Craft liner gloves
  • Outdoor Research Alti-Mitts (Dual layer, insulated liner, Goretex outer shell)
  • Polar Buff
  • Patagonia polar fleece hat
Next, the required gear:
  • Insulated jacket (if no hood, then with extra windproof toque and scarf)
    • Patagonia Down Sweater, Patagonia windproof bomber hat, musher’s scarf
  • Windproof (nylon or Gore-Tex) pants
    •  Patagonia Gore-Tex Rain Pants
  • Insulated water container(s), total volume minimum 2 liters
    •  3 Hydroflask bottles totaling a bit over 2 liters
  • Headlamp or flashlight. Minimum 100 lumen and good for 12 hours at -30C, spare set of batteries and light
    •  Petzl Nao+, Black-Diamond headlamp, extra AAA batteries
  • Flashing with LEDs, white on the front, red on the back, 3 bulbs each or one super bright LED
    •  No name blinky lights that never needed new batteries
  • At least 9.3 sq/inch of reflective material on front and back
    •  Large reflective strips cut from an old reflective vest and safety pinned to front and back of my pack
  • Whistle on string around neck
    •  Plastic emergency whistle
  • 2000 calories
    •  Small jar of peanut butter
  • Compass and Pedometer or GPS
    •  My good Barkley compass, Garmin Fenix in UltraTrac mode (one measurement per minute) to track distance, Garmin 235 in pedometer mode as back up
  • Cue Sheets
    •  Self-prepared, section by section cue sheets including cross roads and other features to help navigate, also route maps with turn by turn information overlaid, all in plastic map case around my neck
  • Cold weather emergency shelter
    •  SOL emergency Bivy
Now the rest of the stuff in my pack
  • Ultimate Direction FastPack 20 (my trusty pack!)
  • 2 x Polar Buff
  • Patagonia R1 balaclava
  • Neoprene face mask
  • Long sleeve base layer shirt
  • Long sleeve Nike Drifit Wool shirt
  • Patagonia Nano Puff Pullover
  • Liner gloves
  • Spare polar fleece mittens
  • Spare Drymax Cold Weather socks
  • Thin musher socks
  • Midweight wool socks
  • Plastic bags for feet vapor barrier
  • Smith ski goggles
  • Sharpie with duct tape
  • Small tube of Aquapher, lip balm
  • Small baggie of Tylenol
  • SWORD hydration single serve packets (A LOT)
  • SWORD Energy caffeine tablets
  • Salt stick tablets
  • Several snack baggies of candy mix
  • Snickers bars
  • 2 x USB charge banks
  • Assorted charge cords for phone and Garmin Fenix
  • Passport
  • Smart phone
  • Credit card & cash