Here at St Croix 40 Winter Ultra, we want to help you be successful in your entry to winter ultra racing. As a part of this, we want to share with you tips and tricks from people who have been there, in the big races, and have sometimes learned the hard way what works and what doesn’t.
If you’ve been following the world of winter ultras the past few years, you can’t help but have heard of Kari Gibbons. She’s an Order of the Hrimthurs, has completed a double Arrowhead, and is a tireless advocate for the sport. Let’s meet Kari!
Which winter ultras have you done? How long have you been doing them?
I have completed the Tuscobia 80 and 160, The Arrowhead 135 three times, and Actif Epica 100. This will be my fourth year participating in Winter Ultras.
What’s your favorite piece of gear that hasn’t been on the gear lists at the races you’ve done?
AH! Glad you asked, I just purchased this gem last year and it proved to be a massive game changer: Revelate Designs Mountain Feedbag. Essentially it’s a little pouch that hangs on my harness, I keep food inside and the little pouches on the outside are great for storing garbage. I love that the inside is yellow so I easily locate snacks and it is big enough to hold a container of Pringles. It may seem like a small thing, but eating consistently during these events is crucial and can mean the difference between finishing and frostbite.
How many layers do you typically wear or bring along? How do you manage those layers and sweating?
The layers are tricky, what works one day might not work the next, it depends on snow conditions and your effort, if you’re behind or ahead on calories, in addition to just temperature. I have a basic formula of a light wool base layer, a mid layer, and a shell. Sometimes I double or triple my base layers and just have a shell, other times I’m wearing every article of clothing I have (including a sleeping bag…that was a one time thing). The easiest way to cool down is to take off a hat, I wear multiples, and to zip and unzip those coats! Testing is key to knowing your own body, but don’t get too wrapped up in your own formula, be ready to adjust accordingly. Race day may throw a curve ball that you’ve never seen before, be your most adaptable self and try to figure it out! And wear liner gloves. And carry a stick of Dermatone.
Do you have a favorite brand for gear?
Nope! One brand will not carry everything I need just the way I like it, or need it! Try not to get stuck in the Brand Trap, talk to people and test things. This can get expensive so ideally everything you buy is a one time purchase and you want it to be the best for you! There are a lot of people in this community that love talking gear, find some and pick their brains, they will love it!
Do you have a specific foot care regimen for preventing things like frostbite, blisters, or trench foot? (Seriously, dude. Those pristine feet that you and Kate were rocking after your 270 were ridiculous. HOW??) 🙂
Haha! RIght!? It was by far one of my prouder moments:) Good socks, and properly fitted shoes to start! My feet get huge so I love my Altra Lone Peaks. Wool socks, not just one big pair but a light pair and maybe a thick on top if it’s cold. I strike first on blister prevention by slapping some Bare Bear Butter on my toes, then maybe sprinkle some foot powder in my socks, and I keep Desitin in my bag for the race. Being aware of your feet will help you take care of them. This is not the race where you “push through” foot discomfort. If you have a hot spot, stop and fix it. It may seem tedious but it’s more efficient than trying to walk on a crescent shaped blister on the balls of your feet. True story. Sometimes foot care is as simple as changing your socks, and I like a little bit of Desitin on my toes if they are cranky or I have a hot spot. Timing is everything, you’ve got to keep your feet dry, but you also have to keep yourself warm! If there is an AS take the time then to change them whether you need to or not. Lastly you can have the fanciest shoes and warmest socks and coat and it will not matter if your engine is out! The most understated way to prevent frostbite is to eat food and drink water!
And finally, How do you deal with moving slowly all night in the cold without sleep? When do you decide it’s time to rest, rather than pushing ahead?
I love the night, it is such a special time out in the woods and I truly love it. When the sleepies come it does get tough, and these are a few tricks I’ve acquired help get me through. First there is caffeine timing, if you can, try to not drink coffee weeks before the race. I’m bad at this and didn’t do it this year, but you want every advantage you can get! That being said, I don’t take caffeine until at least 1 AM. Keep eating food and drinking water, the body wants to shut down, don’t give it an excuse! As a general rule, I push through the night and try not to get pulled into what I call the Bivy Graveyard. It’s not warm for me, moving is warm so I keep pushing. I practice with my tire in the summer and fall going through the night, dealing with tedium and boredom ahead of time will help race day. If I pull over and stop (on day two I usually have to once or twice), it’s usually because I’m at risk. For me that means swerving on the trail, falling asleep on my feet, and not being aware of my surroundings. I pull over and Shivabiv, just lay on my sled for a 3 minute cat nap. This works wonders as long as the sled is pointed in the right direction.