What to wear…there are so many choices.
With weight being critical, one needs to take special care in your clothing selection. You will be wearing the same clothes and racing in them for a week! Choose wisely.
1. Hat: Some sort of running/race hat should be part of your kit. In desert racing many opt for the additional neck cape.
2. Buff: The ultimate multi-purpose piece of clothing. This should be a required item. Use it has a sweatband, cap at night, washcloth, etc. Some have use them as toilet paper on the last day! Don’t stage race without one!
3. Socks: Socks can make or break a race. Be sure you know which ones work out for you before you toe the starting line. Consider procuring new pairs for each race. Two pairs would be a minimum but three to four would be a luxury you may want to indulge in. It does becomes a hassle to rinse them out at the end of the day and water can be better used for hydration.
4. Footwear/shoes: By far the most often asked question by those new to stage racing is “What shoes are you wearing?” I have seen all types of footwear; trail shoes, road shoes, minimalist shoes, maximist shoes, sandals and even plain old leather walking shoes. All can work, all can fail. The most memorable failure I observed was a tent mate’s minimalist shoes that began to fall apart by day two. Besides lots of duct tape repairs, he was also cutting up his foam mat and inserting them as insoles to protect his feet from the rocky terrain. While they worked for him in other ultras, they could not hold up to the rigors of stage racing and off track running.
The most widely used footwear is some sort of trail shoe. Your choice should be based on what works for you, not what works for someone else. Fit and comfort is everything, fashion and popularity do not even factor into the equation. While trail runners are slightly heavier than other shoes their comfort and ruggedness more than make up for the increased weight.
Unfortunately if you have not yet found the right shoe you may have to experiment some. This is a process, expense and hassle (like matching the glass slipper to Cinderella) but once you do find the right shoe, you will run happily ever after . Using an untried shoe type for a stage race is a huge risk.
While a wide fit is desirable due to increased foot width from swelling, this needs to be balanced against holding your foot firmly in place to reduce friction and preventing blisters. Shoe length needs to also be increased. A good starting point is a shoe size one half (US) to one size (UK/EU) larger than your street shoes. This is especially true for races in hot climates where swelling is more pronounced. Be sure to test fit using your race sock(s). Your shoes should also be well broken in (100 miles/150 km) prior to the start. Seriously consider a new pair for each race and be sure your laces are in good shape. A robust design is a must!
5. Race clothes/camp clothes: Most racers carry two sets of clothes, one set that they race in and one set that they wear in camp. Typically you would have 1-2 pairs of shorts, a short sleeve shirt (race), a long sleeve shirt (camp) and perhaps a pair of tights or pants (if only one pair of shorts are brought or the weather is cold). Being able to change after the day’s stage allows for rinsing out the race shorts on occasions. Camp clothes can be worn later in the week when the race set has become overly offensive, and it will.
6. Cooling sleeves: In desert racing these are a great piece of gear. They not only protect your arms from sunburn but also have a cooling effect due to evaporation. At camp, a water bottle can be inserted into them and cooled somewhat by keeping the sleeve damp.
7. Compression sleeves: As part of a recovery plan, some bring compression sleeves, socks, etc. While not critical they can add some comfort. Obviously a trade off between weight and function.
8. Jacket: You should consider the wisdom of bringing some sort of jacket as part of your race clothing. Having one to ward off the chill of the morning is nice since you will become caloric deficient after a week of racing, even in the desert. The expected weather conditions (wind, rain, cold, or some combination) will drive your choice. Some races will require rain and/or cold weather jacket as part of your required kit. Be sure your choice is robust and light weight. There are many good models out there by manufactures such as Monte Bell, Outdoor Research (OR), Raidlight and others. A cheap and light weight alternative used by some are Tyvek painter coveralls. These are fairly water resistant, windproof and light weight. They can also be thrown away towards the end when no longer needed. These are available at many hardware stores.