Mother Hens

In preparation for my upcoming participation in the 4Deserts/Racing the Planet Patagonia event, I am struck by how things in stage racing are changing.  Specifically there appears to be a departure from the individual responsibility of each participant to be prepared for what may come and perhaps a reliance on the race dictating what you must bring.  Since this is my first 4Deserts event, maybe it is just how these races are operated.

We all sign the piece of paper that states we can be maimed or die. We also are investing large sums of time and fortune into these events so it would be prudent to be ready for what may come.  My approach has always been not to live on the edge but to be a little back from it.  Gear selection is serious and I have advocated for functional gear one can bet your life on so to speak.  Not the lightest, not the trendiest, but that which is robust.  Knowing your area of operation is also critical and the conditions you may encounter there.

Over the last couple of months the mandatory gear list has been morphing.  Items in the required drop bag have been migrating to the race pack.  There appears to be a fear that all will be lost if we are not doubled up on everything.  Two headlamps, two toques, two pairs of gloves, two ounces of sun screen, two ounces of hand sanitizer, rain coat, rain pants, warm top, long sleeve top, tights, hat with neck cape, 35 L dry bag, etc.  I am surprised there is not a requirement for clean underwear each day (just kidding, but not really).

Is the sport beginning to cater to the uninitiated who cannot/will not invest in research or may otherwise not be prepared for the rigors of such an event?  Is this a marketing ploy to force buying new gear?  Are we setting a handicap where everyone has to have the same weight of pack?

I fully understand the seriousness of these endeavors and the need for race officials to pursue due diligence to make each event safe.   Bad thing can and unfortunately do happen (though rarely).  I also comprehend that race organizers have been doing this for years and have held many events in harsh locations.  There experience should not be discounted.

Perhaps a critical look at how gear/equipment requirements are presented is needed.  I believe that with a little bit of modification, requirements and suggestions can be conveyed in such a way that keeps everyone safe and provide competitors a motivating trigger to do the homework necessary for a successful event.

If race organizers wish to have a higher finisher rate or better experience I would suggest the following:

  1. Minimal survival gear should be explicitly stated.  Survival blanket vs bivi, mirror (size?), compass (accuracy?), lighter, rain gear, sleeping bag (rating?), etc.  These are non-negotiable.  These are items so you do not die, not necessarily what is needed to complete the race comfortably.
  2. Require sleeping bags to meet a lower extreme temperature rating of 25 deg F/-4 deg C or set a minimum weight requirement such as 16 oz/1.0 lbs/450 g/0.45 kg.  There is always some confusion as to sleeping bag ratings due to how they are determined and marketed.
  3. Increase the minimal calorie requirement especially in locations where lower temperatures are expected.  A good number would be about ≥16,500 Kcals.  This one change would do away with many hypothermia type situations.
  4. Add a third category of equipment (besides required and optional) labeled “Strongly Suggested”.  In this there should be event specific items such as sleeping pad, gloves/spare gloves, 3 pairs of socks, hand sanatizer, sunscreen, increased calories, bug head net, what ever. These items while not necessarily required should be strongly considered by the athlete based on their capabilities and experience.
  5. Stay away from mandating amounts if possible for minor items (sunscreen etc.).  No one tells you how many squares of toilet paper to bring.  Statements such as “enough for your use over the entire event” can be utilized.
  6. Specifically state what competitors will NOT be getting (electrolytes, foot care supplies, minor medications, etc.).  Most events are fairly good about this.
  7. Provide flexibility in meeting the intent of requirements (ie All clothing, sleeping bags and food must be packaged in durable, waterproof bags or containers vs. a 35 L dry bag is mandatory)

Finally a word on drop bags.  In an event that is billed as “self sufficient” these appear to  be a crutch.  It breeds a reliance on a backup plan instead of having a solid primary plan.  My experience in the past has been that for those who need them, they were not really prepared for the conditions.

At some point the mother hens need to let chicks make their own decisions and accept the consequences of them.


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