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.
Our next entry is from legend of the sport Mark Scotch. Mark has an impressive resume that includes biking and skiing in these incredible events. Skiing these events is tough, and there aren’t nearly as many finishers of ski as other disciplines. Let’s hear more about Mark’s experiences!
Please briefly list your winter ultra resume
- Tuscobia 150/160
- 2 ski
- 2 ski
- Arrowhead 135
- 2 ski
- 3 bike (1 unsupported)
- Susitna 100
- JayP’s Pursuit 120
- Acif Epica
- 2 bike
What’s your favorite piece of gear that might not be on the gear list? (What non-mandatory piece of gear would you not leave home without?)
Probably my puffy jacket. Just knowing it’s there if needed is nice. That said, a jacket I really like to wear when biking is from Novara. It has great wind-blocking properties but has a mesh-lined back vent wicks away sweat. I’d wear it skiing as well if needed.
How many layers do you bring along for a winter ultra? How do you manage multiple layers and sweating for different situations?
I bring very few extra clothes. I used to carry more but found I didn’t need to. I plan depending on weather. For skiing I’m only going to attempt skating if the temps don’t drop under -10, below that I’m switching to the bike. If classic skiing one can go colder but to skate an ultra basically on sand paper get ready for trouble. So when it comes to layers, with skiing it’s never been a problem trying to say warm when it comes to clothes, quite the opposite. The challenge is to stay dry. And there is the secret, try not to sweat. I normally go with a medium Marino wool with a vest. My goal is to stay open with my clothing to allow moisture to evaporate. Wool under a vest works well. The moisture from your core works outward down the sleeves and evaporates. The vest adds enough wind protection in most cases. As your body works with the correct amount of fuel every hour (300 calories) heat is produced naturally. If your body sweats too much not only are you working your body needlessly trying to cool you down, but then you’re dealing with wet clothes and in the cold, moisture is your biggest enemy. So then it turns into a vicious circle of changing clothes or adding layers to stay warm. The goal should be to keep sweat at a minimum and wicking/venting to allow the cold air to do what it loves doing, sucking moisture out of objects. Then you don’t need to carry as many layers with you nor worry about changing clothes. At night, when it normally gets colder I might add a light base layer or another medium layer. but still my goal it to allow venting. Most people start too warm/too many clothes on. Start the event feeling uncomfortably cool as you can warm up quite easily by just increasing your pace for awhile. Good time to burn off some adrenaline. Training in cold weather if possible is the best way to figure out your setup. That means going out long enough to truly understand what’s happening.
Do you have a favorite brand for certain gear pieces?
Not really beyond Marino wool and the Novara jacket.
What’s your foot care regimen for preventing blisters, trench foot, frostbite?
For skiing I roller ski starting in October. That gets my feet, ankles, back and legs used to the skating motion. After a few weeks I add a backpack with some weight in it. I like baby powder in my socks and will carry a small container with me to add is needed. As for frostbite, I think the biggest issues are again moisture (vapor barrier for some works) and make sure you have enough room in your footwear. My ski boots are 2 sizes bigger than my normal shoe size, not to stuff them full of socks, but to allow for circulation. I don’t have an issue with my feet sliding around in the ski boots.
Not many people ski these events. What are some of the unique challenges, as well as tips, for people who want to attempt winter ultras on ski?
Just relax and eat 300 calories every hour. Remember, our cardiovascular system (lungs, etc.) has evolved based on man being a biped, legs only. When we add the work our arms do in skiing we need to be careful we don’t over do it. I’d recommend not going out too fast. There will be plenty of time to burn it up later in the event you have an excess of energy. If skating, you’ll need those calories and energy as you have to exert a certain amount of energy just to move down the trail. If classic skiing, you can slow down to a walk. If you’re a Birkie skier, just think of it as doing 4 Birkies…..in a row! Understand that skiing conditions are going to suck, it’s not a groomed trail. Don’t use that as an excuse. Go practice on snowmobile trails as that’s what you’re going to get on race day.