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The Overlooked Adventure Gear You Need in Your Pack – Sunny Stroeer

Thursday, December 6th, 2018

10,000ft & Getting Dark

We are at 10,000 feet in the Austrian Alps, and it is getting dark. This is going to be the first time that I spend the night on the wall during a big rock climb, and it’s exactly what my climbing partner Hannes and I wanted: to break up our chosen weekend adventure’s 2500 feet of vertical rock-climbing into two shorter days with a deliberate bivouac on the route. We have planned the adventure meticulously, researching our route and packing overnight gear and food for two days. Everything has been working out exactly according to plan – until about twenty minutes ago.

“I thought the floor of this cave was supposed to be flat!” Hannes shouts over to me with exasperation in his voice. We have crested the top of the last difficult rope length of climbing and are now in a big cave system halfway up the wall, the cave system which we have been counting on to provide a good sleeping spot for us.

Surveying our sleeping quarters for the night. The cave we’d counted on wasn’t what we’d expected.

Turns out that yes, it is a massive cave that’ll protect us from weather… but sadly the floor is far from flat. Hannes and I are walking – precariously, still protected by our ropes – on unstable talus and slippery tundra, steeply sloping down towards the valley some 1600 feet below us, surveying the scene for a safe spot to put down our gear and unrope but not finding one. This will make for an uncomfortable night.

“Oh well. I guess it’ll be a full-value vertical experience.”

Over the Edge

I shrug my shoulders and get to work fixing anchors to the rock in the back of the cave, so we can securely hang gear from the wall and get set up to sleep suspended in our harnesses, ropes tight to prevent us from sliding down the steep slope below us. It won’t be comfortable, but it’ll be safe and warm in our sleeping bags.

At least that’s what I think, until Hannes fumbles his sleeping bag. I hear a muffled curse and look over just in time to see him lose his grip on the soccer-ball sized stuff sack. We watch in disbelief as the crucial piece of gear bounces down the talus, gathering speed, and rapidly disappears over the edge in an unstoppable arc towards the valley.

We look at each other in silence as cold reality sinks in. The temperature up here at 10,000 feet is supposed to dip into the thirties over night; the evening air is already chilling, and it’s not even fully dark yet. With semi-hanging sleeping quarters, there is no way for us to share the single remaining sleeping bag. We are both too tired and worked to consider climbing through the night for warmth. There is just one saving grace: while prepping gear yesterday, I decided to include a Survive Outdoors Longer® Bivvy in my emergency kit.

Waking up after the cave bivvy in the Austrian Alps

I am wearing much warmer clothing than Hannes, so he ends up using my sleeping bag and I spend the night in the bivvy.  To say that I was comfortable would be an overstatement, but this little lightweight piece of gear ends up singlehandedly saving the day – or rather, the night – in a situation that would have been infinitely worse had I not brought along the bivvy.

The cave bivvy, all packed up in the morning as we get ready to set out

The Ultimate Contingency Plan: The Escape Bivvy

That epic cliff-side overnight happened years ago, during my days of being a weekend warrior, long before I became a professional mountain athlete. Today, I climb and run for Mountain Hardwear; I am a high altitude endurance specialist, and epic missions are my jam:  48 hours non-stop around 22,838ft Aconcagua, 55 hours in a single push through the Colorado Rockies – that’s the stuff I love. Yet still today, as a professional athlete, guess which piece of gear always has a spot in my pack? The good old bivvy from Survive Outdoors Longer®.

I used the Escape Bivvy to take a much-needed trailside nap at 17,000 feet on Aconcagua while setting the women’s speed record on the mountain; to stay warm in poor conditions while being stuck behind a slow party while soloing the Grand Teton; to be safe on a light-and-fast speed mission along the Pfiffner Traverse in Colorado; and in a pinch, it once even replaced my -30F sleeping bag at Aconcagua’s basecamp for an entire night. But what’s more: despite repeated use of the Escape Bivvy in some of the most difficult and rocky terrain, terrain that would eat up run-of-the mill emergency blankets in the blink of an eye, I am still using the very same bag today that kept me safe years ago.

 

woman in escape bivvy

On the Pfiffner, still using the same Escape Bivvy that I bought in 2012

If there is an overlooked piece of gear that belongs in the kit of every side- and backcountry adventurer, it’s this: the Escape Bivvy is the ultimate contingency plan for everything from a sprained ankle to a lost sleeping bag. It’s in my kit, and it should be in your kit, too.

My gear setup for Colorado’s Pfiffner Traverse, a 76 mile cross-country route that I completed this past summer in ~55 hours (becoming the first woman to succeed on it in a single push)

About the Author

Sunny Stroeer is a rock-climber, mountaineer, and trail runner living on the road.  In the US, she splits her time between exploring the desert and bagging peaks in the mountain ranges of the west, but for part of the year she trades her Chevy Astrovan for a four-season mountaineering tent and travels the globe in pursuit of high places (and new perspectives, too!).

How to Train for the 2016 TransRockies Race at Sea Level

Monday, August 15th, 2016

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By Adventure Medical Kits’ Adventurer Heather Gannoe

As I write this post, I am anxiously counting down the days until I fly from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina to Buena Vista, Colorado. (12 days, to be exact). Thanks to an amazingly generous company, a ton of fantastic friends and family members, and a stroke of good luck that I totally attribute to all of the good running karma I try to put out into the world, my partner Geoff and I will be running the 2016 TransRockies Run. A 6 day stage race that had been on my racing “bucket list” for quite sometime, but had been financially and logistically out of our reach, was suddenly gifted to us, two sea-level dwelling newbie ultra runners who have never been to Colorado.

Needless to say, we are beyond excited for this amazing adventure.

I’ll be the first to admit that training at sea level for such a race, one that spans 118 miles over the Colorado Rocky Mountains, and includes over 20,000 feet of elevation gain between about 7,000 and 12,500 feet above sea level, has been…interesting. Sure, we can dutifully put in the mileage and strength training sessions. But there is no denying that there are certain health and safety factors that we will face in Colorado, many of which we simply don’t have to concern ourselves with here in sunny South Carolina. When we can’t physically train for these conditions, the next best thing we can do is mentally prepare ourselves for what we might face. Here are a few of our concerns:

Altitude. This is the big one, the subject everyone wants to talk about when they hear we are headed to the mountains. The truth is, there is no sure fire way to train for running at altitude here at sea level, without investing in a high tech altitude tent, or something similar, to create a hypoxic environment. So instead, we are bracing ourselves for the possible side effects of running at high altitude.

The least of our worries include light-headedness, fatigue, numbness or tingling of extremities, nausea, and of course, feeling short of breath and completely out of shape. More serious concerns, and things we hopefully will not encounter, include everything from confusion and disorientation, severe headaches, and even life threatening conditions and high altitude sickness including  pulmonary edema (HAPE) or high altitude cerebral edema (HACE). In the cases of HAPE and HACE, fluid accumulates around the lungs and the brain respectively, and can be fatal if left untreated.

Fortunately for us, we will be under the watchful care of professionals who have successfully put on this race for a number of years. However, it is still important to be aware of the potential side effects, and have the ability to react to their onset quickly and accordingly.

Dehydration. The decreased atmospheric pressure at high altitude forces you to breathe faster and more frequently. Water vapor is a normal waste product of breathing, thus, it is easier to become dehydrated at higher altitudes. Further, the humidity is typically lower at higher altitudes, thus evaporation of moisture across the skin may happen more readily, and without as much notice as it does down here in the swampy South (you should smell our sweaty hydration packs!). Both of these factors will increase the potential for dehydration, and as any athlete can tell you, dehydration is never a good condition to find yourself in.

Sunburn. Ultraviolet exposure increases approximately 4% for every 1,000 feet above sea level. That means, even though we live AT the beach, our UV exposure will be upwards of 50% higher during the TransRockies Run. Sunscreen, and constant reapplication of it, will be vital to avoid painful and even dangerous sunburns.

Extreme weather changes. This summer in South Carolina has been brutal, as far as the heat is concerned. In fact, July 2016 has gone on record as the hottest July on record in Columbia SC (just inland of where we live). Needless to say, we feel pretty comfortable (well, as comfortable as one can get) training in temperatures upwards of 105 degrees. What we are NOT currently accustomed to is freezing temps. And in the mountains, the weather can change from one extreme to the next in the blink of an eye. It will be important for us to be prepared for anything, from dry, hot, heat to freezing cold rain, or potentially even snow.

Terrain. If you haven’t been to coastal South Carolina, let me describe it for you: Flat, sandy, and swamp like. We are very fortunate to have a wonderful mountain bike and running park that gives us 7 miles of fun trails to run on here in Myrtle Beach. And while the single track has just enough rocks and roots to keep you on your toes (and hopefully off of your face), it is certainly nothing like climbing the Rocky Mountains. In addition to steep climbs and equally as steep descents, we will likely face very rugged and technical terrain. From a safety point of view, this could mean anything from pulled muscles to cuts, scrapes, bruises, or worse, if we fall. HOPEFULLY, none of these ailments will occur, but it will certainly be in the back of our minds, causing us to add a little caution to our step as we tackle the trails.

Wildlife. Our biggest concern with wildlife encounters here in South Carolina is venomous snakes. And I suppose, the potential of a scuffle with an alligator, though they typically keep to themselves, as long as you stay out of the water. But venomous snakes such as copperheads, rattlesnakes, and cottonmouths are incredibly common in our area. Fortunately, they typically scurry off long before we actually see them.

In Colorado, it appears we have a few much larger, much more dangerous predators to watch out for, such as bears and mountain lions. I’m certainly hoping that the large crowd of the TransRockies Run, and all of the fast elites that run ahead of us, are enough to scare off these animals. In any case, it is important to know what to do to possibly avoid attracting these animals, and what to do in the event of an encounter.

Not having the perfect terrain or conditions to train in shouldn’t be a deal breaker when it comes to pursuing new experiences or adventures. But being mentally prepared for what you may have to face, and the potential dangers in those situations, is in my opinion a very important part of training. Always be prepared isn’t just a motto for the Boyscouts, it is something that all athletes and outdoor adventurers should abide by as well.

Heather Gannoe, is an ACSM certified Exercise Physiologist who splits her time between working as a personal trainer and running coach, and writing as a blogger and author in the fitness and running industry.   She’s also a mom to two young boys, and is constantly encouraging them to love the great outdoors a little more, and their video games a little less.  Trail running really long distances is her true love, but she’ll never turn down an adventure.  Keep up with her adventures on www.RelentlessForwardCommotion.com.

 

 

Trail Running Safety Tips: What to Know Before Heading Off-Road

Friday, August 5th, 2016

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By Adventure Medical Kits’ Adventurer Heather Gannoe

My introduction to running was in a quiet suburban neighborhood lined with cookie cutter houses and countless cul-de-sacs. It was on these paved streets that I trained for my first 5K and eventually my first four full marathons. For years I pounded the monotonous pavement roads and cement sidewalks, and developed a love for running.

Or so I thought.

It wasn’t until I abruptly returned to my home state of Vermont that I realized what my running was missing all along: trails. The countless miles of single-track dirt through the forests of New Hampshire and Vermont were the spark that ignited my love of running into an unbridled passion. I love the constantly changing scenery, the freedom from cars and congestion, and the never-ending sense of adventure trail running provides. These days, I run 95% of my mileage on dirt trails, and will be the first to try and convince my road running friends to head off road (or, “cross over into the dark side”, as they like to joke.)

Trail running is something I think every runner should experience, even if only occasionally. But, when you head off road and onto the dirt, there are a few extra safety precautions you should take

Know Your Trails

Here in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, we have very limited access to trails. No matter where you go in our 7 mile mountain bike/run park, you can still hear the roar of traffic, or the boats on the Intracoastal Waterway. Can you get turned around in there, and potentially double back over a path you’ve already crossed? Absolutely. But it is nearly impossible to get lost, as all four sides of the small park border main roads or neighborhoods.

That said, this is not the case for many people in other parts of the country. In some places, a trail system could border hundreds or thousands of acres of undeveloped backcountry, forest, or desert land; taking a wrong turn or getting lost could become a serious, life threatening mistake. Therefore, it is extremely important to be familiar with the trails you are running. If you aren’t, be sure carry a map (and know how to read it.) Carry a cell phone or other GPS enabled device, however, do not rely solely on that device, for technology and GPS reception can fail. Pay attention to trail markings, and obey all posted instructions.

Pick the Right Trail for Your Ability.

Not all trails are created the same. They can vary greatly in types of terrain, from wide, flat, dirt trails, to single track lined with rocks and roots. Depending on the type of trail, you may encounter very few or very many natural obstacles along the way. If it is your very first time running off road, you might not want to venture out onto an incredibly technical, steep climb, and instead may enjoy yourself more on a beginner friendly path.

Choose an appropriate trail for your fitness level and current trail running experience to make the most of your trail running experience.

Check the Weather

Being caught in a storm is not only a cause for wet, uncomfortable socks, but can actually become a dangerous situation while on a secluded trail. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t run in inclement weather, but more so to be aware of what you might possibly face, and prepare accordingly. So before you head out for your run, check your local weather forecast.

Wear Appropriate and Protective Gear

Can you wear your road running gear on the trails? Yes…but you might not want to. Trail running shoes are designed to give you better grip on the uneven trails. Further, they are often made of more rugged materials to help protect you from rocks, sticks, or other items you may encounter on the trail.

Wearing tall socks or gaiters will help keep debris from entering your socks, as well as protect you from branches, poisonous plants, and even insect bites (like ticks). Often, the shade of the trees and change in elevation may result in drastic temperature changes, so be sure to wear or pack layers that are easy to remove or put on. Lastly, wear bright colors so you are highly visible to other runners, cyclists, or even hunters.

Bring Plenty of Hydration and Nutrition

Unlike running through urban areas with neighborhoods, public parks, and convenience stores, it is very unlikely that you will find a reliable water or nutrition source on the trail. While fresh water sources may be available, the water quality might be questionable: bacteria or parasites like giardiasis can cause miserable gastrointestinal issues. Pack more water and nutrition than you feel you may actually need, in the event that you become lost or spend more time on the trail than you expected.

Nathan Intensity Hydration Vest

Be Aware of Your Surroundings

Be aware of what is going on around you at all times. Leave your headphones and “Pokémon GO” at home, so you are able to hear the sound of approaching runners, cyclists, or even animals. Enjoy the sounds of nature instead!

Watch Your Step.

Trail running, especially on technical trails, is definitely a learned art. Taking shorter, faster steps while you run will allow you to have better control, and maintain better balance, while covering the uneven terrain. Also, don’t forget to pick up your feet! Shuffling, as many do on pavement, will likely result in a toe catching a root or a rock, and you’ll be face down on the trail before you know it. Don’t worry, it happens to the best of us

Personal Protection

I’m always torn over whether or not to include this one in a trail safety post, as it is certainly a highly debatable and personal choice. But…consider whether or not you want to run with some sort of personal protection item. While some people do go to the extreme and run with firearms, a more common practice is running with a handheld pepper spray. The latter certainly won’t protect you from a grizzly bear or mountain lion attack (both highly unlikely, but certainly a risk in some parts of the country), but may fend off advances from aggressive dogs or even worse, attacks from fellow humans. A terrifying but unfortunately necessary thought. Consider the areas you are running through (are there lose dogs? Unsavory people frequenting trails?) as a deciding factor as to whether or not you want to carry some sort of protection. And if you do decide to run with a form of personal protection, make sure you are well versed and comfortable in its use, otherwise you may do yourself more harm than good.

Tell Someone Where You Are Going

I know it sounds silly, as we are all adults and should be able to fend for ourselves. But if you are headed into the backcountry, or even just your small local trail: tell someone where you are going before you head out, even if it’s simply a note left at home. In addition to location, give an estimated return time so your friends or loved ones know when to expect you back. If an emergency arises and you don’t come back, this gives rescuers an idea of where to begin looking for you.

On a related note: I won’t tell you to NOT trail run alone. Sometimes the solidarity of a solo trail run can be an amazing experience, or even some much needed running therapy. However, if possible, do run with a friend or a group. Safety in numbers.

I know this post may seem overwhelming, especially to brand new trail runners. I promise these safety precautions aren’t that much more involved than what you should do prior to a road run. But the beautiful sights, exhilarating run, and endless adventures that trails provide? They are totally worth taking the extra steps.

Heather Gannoe, is an ACSM certified Exercise Physiologist who splits her time between working as a personal trainer and running coach, and writing as a blogger and author in the fitness and running industry.   She’s also a mom to two young boys, and is constantly encouraging them to love the great outdoors a little more, and their video games a little less.  Trail running really long distances is her true love, but she’ll never turn down an adventure.  Keep up with her adventures on www.RelentlessForwardCommotion.com.