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Packing For The Outback

Packing for the outback

By Simon Penn


Every competitor in RacingThePlanet: Australia 2010 will have a constant companion for the duration of the 250km epic – their backpack.

Every entrant’s pack is weighed at the pre-race check-in, which shows the spectrum of approaches - some have minimalism down to a fine art, while others manage fit in a few more luxuries.

The lightest pack in the field, weighing in at 5.8kg, belongs to Irishwoman Diana Hogan-Murphy, the first woman across the line in Gobi March 2009 and who just completed the Atacama Crossing earlier this year.     

At the other end of the spectrum, Frank Moloney, the oldest Australian in the field at 66, will leave the finish line carting 21kg. Sitting somewhere mid-field, endurance event veteran Howard Cohen weighed in at 10.6kg.

The 51-year-old Californian has completed more than 50 ultramarathons as well as two of the 4 Deserts: Gobi March and Atacama Crossing.

“I’m not as light as some people, but I think one of the things they neglect that I don’t is the nutritional aspect of running these long races,” Howard says.

“People talk about gear, but the most important piece of gear is your body … you’ve got to take nutrition very seriously on these events.”

After learning his lesson the hard way after dehydrating badly earlier in his career, he says he’s prepared to trade off some extra weight to make sure he has plenty of sustenance.

“I’ve not had an experience like that since because I learnt from it,” he says.

“I got to the point where you fine tune what your body needs - you become very perceptive, to know what your body needs to get out of a bad situation.”

He has his watch alarm set to go off every hour to remind him to take an electrolyte capsule, and powders, protein drinks, gels and bars all go into the mix as well, along with a few favourites such as cashews - which are also a great source of calories.

For hydration, rather than wearing a Camelbak or mounting his water bottles on his chest, Howard runs with a bottle in his hand. “You need to be in tune with your hydration, you need to know at all times how much you’ve used and how much you have left,” he says.

When it comes to carting all this into the outback, there is a definite science.

Howard puts heavier items lower in the pack and against his back to keep the centre of gravity closer to the ground.

Modifications to his system that he will compete with for the first time in Australia include wearing a compression shirt so the pack will slide across the shirt rather than move it against the skin, causing chafing.

He is onto his third different model of pack, with the latest smaller and lighter than what he has used in the past, and will run with a front pack as well for the first time.

But Howard’s done his research to make sure everything runs as smoothly as possible.

“It’s important to train with the gear you’re going to race with,” he says.

“There should be no surprises with your gear - if you’re surprised you haven’t done your homework.”

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