Ditching the ‘just in case’ approach

  • This was printed in November of 2014 in The Madera Tribune, a newspaper in Madera, California. This was the 78th installment of my weekly column, Mind Over Miles.

Have you ever stuffed a suitcase full of “just in case” items, only to find

that at the conclusion of your trip, you’ve used only 10 percent of what

you packed?

When I started to list the things I’ll “need” to take with me on my

upcoming 50-mile race, I realized that having peace of mind — meaning

all of my “just in case” items — was going to result in a pack heavier

than a newborn baby.

For the San Joaquin River Trail 50 Mile Run on Saturday, my list of

“essentials” is as follows: GPS watch, water bottle, salted caramel Gu

energy gel, salt capsules, a buff to wipe away sweat and snot, lip balm,

sunscreen, cell phone for taking photos, Band-aids in case I fall down

and cut myself or get blisters, ibuprofen in case I get a headache, Tums

and Pepto Bismol tablets in case I get a stomachache, Body Glide in

case I chafe, and toilet paper in case … well, you know.

The race is 50 miles long with more than 9,000 feet of elevation gain

(slightly less than two Half Domes stacked on top of each other).

Wishfully thinking I’ll be able to keep a pace of about 5 miles per hour,

which means I’ll be continuously running (and walking) for 10 hours or

more. That’s a lot of time, and a lot of miles, in which anything can


The race’s aid stations, which will provide first aid, hydration and a

plethora of snack foods to meet anyone’s cravings, are five miles apart.

When running on highly technical trail consisting of uneven terrain,

rocks of all sizes, mud, slippery piles of leaves, wildlife and their

droppings, and more, from sun-up to sun-down — a lot can happen in

five miles.

Still, chances are, I’m not going to use 90 percent of what I think I’ll


Looking over my list, I had an epiphany: I’m approaching the carefree

world of ultramarathon trail running with the fear and attitude of a road

racer. As a road runner, I want to be comfortable, I want to be prepared

and I want to be fast.

On the trail, all of those “wants” need to be chucked out of the proverbial

window. Fifty miles is not going to be comfortable, I’m not going to be

prepared for everything that happens out there, and I’m not going to be


So, along with those “wants” I’ve decided to chuck my newborn-sized

pack and most of its “essentials.” The only thing a runner should need

on that terrain is a decent pair of shoes.

Along with wearing my shoes and GPS watch, I’m going to carry a

handheld water bottle and top it off at each aid station. And that’s it.

Well, maybe I’ll keep a little bit of the toilet paper.


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