Running from Shadows

My Marathon des Sables . . . and beyond

The Rucksack Riddle

Having solved the calorie conundrum for the Sahara Race (Jordan) (recap: I’m taking just 248 calories above the race-legal minimum of 14,000 calories, weighing 3.3kg), the last couple of days has been spent solving the rucksack riddle.

Every gramme unnecessarily carried costs time, energy, potential blisters, a sore back and neck and a speedier arrival of that feeling of “I’ve had enough of ploughing through this damn sand!” So every gramme shaved off that isn’t needed makes for a quicker stage finishing time, which is good news: there’s more time to rest and prepare for the next day’s hard slog.

Solving the rucksack riddle becomes a great game, balancing between having sufficient comfort to get through a hard race but not so much that an already difficult race becomes a week of utter miserableness. Equally, though, stripping out far too much comfort can also equal a week of utter miserableness!

Racing the Planet, the organisers of the 4 Deserts Series which includes the Sahara Race, note that the range of rucksack weights amongst competitors is between 7kg and 15kg with the average being at 9kg (before adding water).

I started with 8.3kg over the weekend, 3.3kg of which is food. That’s pretty good.

Having taken a few tips from my performance coach Rory Coleman I’m really chuffed to have finally finished this evening the butchering, cutting, repacking, ripping and replacing to end up with an even better rucksack weight of 7.85kg. On starting Stage 1 with 1.5 litres of water the maximum weight I shall be carrying will be 9.35kg, thereafter reducing by up to 600 grammes per day as I get through my food and other consumable supplies.

A saving of 450 grammes is a lot: each one can make a difference when trying to cross deep, soft sand for miles upon miles. And I hear that the Sahara Race’s first 3 days, some 69 miles, is pretty much deep soft sand all the way.

A few weight-saving notes:

  • my ultra-lightweight Thermarest NeoAir sleeping mat, saving 218 grammes, is gone: the only thing between me in my sleeping bag and the (hopefully not) stony desert floor will be a very thin Bedouin mat and the DuoMat backing in my rucksack protecting my back from lumpy-edged bits of kit and which is barely 5 millimetres thick. Cold ground? Very likely. Uncomfortable? I’ll have to see if I can bribe the Bedouin who will be looking after us to place our tent on a lovely soft, sandy patch . . .
  • squeezing out 20ml of alcohol gel to take 80ml rather than 100ml: 17 grammes saved;
  • taking 7 packs of toilet paper rather than 9: 28 grammes saved;
  • replacing the stuff sack for my sleeping bag with a standard Asics running shoe plastic bag with a drawstring: 50 grammes saved (BUT I must not get this wet! My lightweight feather-down sleeping bag is better on the weight-to-warmth ratio than a synthetic sleeping bag but if it gets wet it stays wet and loses its warmth-retaining properties);
  • replacing the plastic tubes and bottle containing my electrolytes with ziplock bags: 44 grammes saved . . .

and on it goes! For my 7.85kg I am though still able to take my iPod, a digital camera and an inflatable lightweight pillow in addition to all my mandatory kit.

The rucksack riddle is solved!

Until the next time . . .

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