Prepare and test your equipment
The choice of suitable equipment is a key factor in the success of your race. Ultra-endurance requires thorough preparation, including the choice of the equipment that you take with you.
The month of August in the Mont-Blanc area can be very hot (more than 30°C), but it can also be very cold (up to -10°C experienced above 2000m), with rain, hail or even snow. Your equipment must be suitable for confronting all types of conditions and enable you to spend one or two nights on the race route, according to the speed of your progression. In the case of an incident, your equipment must enable you to await help in sufficiently safe conditions.
The UTMB® imposes obligatory equipment which all runners must have with them permanently to avoid risk of penalty. Checks are carried out during the races. We can only encourage runners to also take with them the equipment which is highly recommended, as well as the equipment that we advise them to have.It is essential to be able to adapt your equipment to your reality, test it during training sessions in varying conditions and take everything that will be useful and necessary. Weight is a concern, but don't be too minimalist. Optimise your chances of success and your performance through judicious choice.
Night trail running advice
What to expect when running at night?
When running at night, the same challenges you face during the day are amplified by the sheer lack of light; runners often feel as if they are running through a tunnel. Lighting up the trail ahead with a single source - the headlamp - can alter the way you perceive your surroundings. You tend to lose depth perception, view the terrain in only two dimensions, and end up being slower and more careful over technical terrain since your eyes distinguish obstacles with greater difficulty. Some runners compensate by using another light source at waist level.
In addition to changes in perception, running at night can cause increased fatigue as your eyes work harder to scan the trail ahead. Making sure that you have enough light to run can help offset this problem.
You also need to stay more alert at night since it is much easier to miss cairns, terrain markers, etc.
How to prepare and train for long distance night running?
The best way to prepare for a night race is to train at night. This allows you to become more comfortable in the dark and more capable of anticipating terrain changes. Seasoned trail runners train specifically for night runs not only by running; hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing at night are all good crossover activities. The more time you spend in the dark outside, the more you will become accustomed to the night environment, running faster and more efficiently.
To begin, you may want to run under a full moon on easy trails. As you become increasingly comfortable running in the dark, move up to more technical or wooded terrain. Training with others is also a good idea. Not only will you have someone to keep you company and to help you stay motivated, but running with others also means more headlamps, which means more light for everyone (including you!).
Tips for running at night
- If running alone, tell someone where you're going and how long you expect to be out. Bring a cell phone.
- If running in a new area, a map and a compass or GPS could come in handy.
- For longer runs, managing headlamp battery life is crucial. Try getting by on the least amount of power as possible.
- When going uphill, switch to a lower brightness setting to conserve battery power.
- On fast downhill sections, switch the headlamp to a brighter or to its brightest setting in order to better see the trail ahead and to help ensure that you won't miss key trail junctions.
- Learn to look farther up the trail in order to better anticipate any oncoming obstacles.
- Run in groups and use the beams cast by others to save energy.
- Carry spare batteries.
- Carry a backup light or headlamp.
What kind of headlamp?
The rules of the UTMB® state that all participants must carry 2 headlamps and extra batteries. Racers typically carry a primary headlamp to run with and a spare, emergency headlamp, just in case. There are many types of headlamps available on the market, each with different features and benefits. Some headlamps are more suitable for ultras than others. Choose your headlamp carefully, as it is a crucial piece of trail running equipment, especially for such a committing race as the UTMB. Here are some things to think about when shopping for a headlamp:
Basic headlamp configurations
In general, there are three types of headlamps:
- all-in-one: compact headlamps, usually best for shorter runs. Since the entire weight of the lamp is up front, it may bounce around a little, which can be bothersome for longer distances.
- battery in the back: these headlamps have more battery power (larger batteries, or more batteries) and are brighter than all-in-one headlamps. They are typically well balanced and are a good option for ultras.
- remote battery pack: Much brighter headlamps that require a lot of power, often with remote battery packs that are carried in a pocket or backpack. They reduce the amount of weight on the head, and if needed the battery can be kept close to the body in order to function better in cold temperatures.
Brightness vs. burn time
In general, the brighter the headlamp is the better. Headlamp manufacturers usually express brightness in terms of lumens. The more lumens you have, the less your eyes will strain to see the trail ahead, the more relaxed you’ll be, and the faster you’ll be able to run. Brighter can also mean shorter burn times and a heavier headlamp. You will need to weigh all the pros and cons when choosing the right headlamp for your particular race.
Be aware: unless your headlamp is regulated, it will gradually dim as the batteries drain. For example, a headlamp with a maximum brightness of 80 lumens and a total burn time of 125 hours will only be capable of an 80 lumen output for a relatively short period of time. The reality of a night race is that light output decreases the longer the race.
Regulated headlamps guarantee a given brightness level for a specific length of time. Burn times may seem shorter, especially when using a high setting, but you know the exact amount of time a give brightness level will last.
Newer technology has started to address this issue, by automatically adjusting the amount of light according to your needs, for a more efficient use of battery life.
On long ultras, weight is a major concern. You will need to decide how much power and burn time you are willing to sacrifice to save weight.
Some runners like to use lithium batteries. While more expensive, they can be up to 30% lighter than the standard alkaline batteries, and lithium batters have the added benefit of better performance in cold temperatures. Rechargeable batteries and other rechargeable options may save money and also reduce your environmental impact if used intensively (for training, etc.). Many headlamps have an indicator to let you know how much charge remains in your batteries. Whatever option you choose, be sure to always carry extra batteries.
Anything can happen on an ultra and it’s important to be prepared. A backup light is an essential piece of safety equipment in the event your primary headlamp malfunctions or the batteries die. You have a variety of backup headlamp options. One option is to choose a very small and lightweight headlamp in order to provide just enough light to get you out of a difficult situation. Another option is to carry a more fully functioning compact headlamp with which you will be able to comfortably run. The choice is up to you depending on the race and how much light you think you will need.
Petzl and UTMB®
Our headlamp assistance crew will guide you in your headlamp management at the Chapieux, Trient (UTMB®) and the Contamines Montjoie (TDS®) aid stations to provide replacement batteries and help if you have any problems with your headlamp.