On the morning of May 10 2015, Susan O'Brien started the Xterra Wellington Trail Run in the Rimutaka Forest Park. Concerns arose when she failed to return. The race organisers' robust safety procedures kicked in. Teams scoured the area until dark. The search resumed early on May 11. Fortunately, after consuming her own breast milk and digging herself into a hole, O'Brien was found alive and well. She was understandably shaken and embarrassed.
Whether you are at an event or not, your safety is always your own responsibility. You also have a responsibility to yourself and others to be prepared.
Ironically, it’s quite common for people to put themselves at greater risk during an organised event. There is some kind of herd mentality. People tend to abdicate responsibility onto the organiser and blindly follow just the minimum requirements without assessing things for themselves. To often I see participant carrying only carry the minimum required gear, regardless of conditions. They don’t know where they are beyond the markers and blindly follow the person in front of them.
I was at The Goat in 2013. The event is rough, exposed, and begins 1,600m above sea level. The weather forecast was poor. Competitors were greeted at the start with cold rain, wind and less then 100m of visibility. At the finish most of the runners were wearing all of the compulsory gear and were still very cold. Had they needed to stop out on the trail for any reason they would have been in serious trouble within a very short time. That start line white out should have had folks reaching for extra kit before going out. Instead, I have never seen so many survival blankets in use at the end of an event.
Event compulsory gear is the minimum you should take. Being a responsible adult means thinking about what else you might need for yourself. The lack of a compulsory gear list does not mean you can safely complete an event while only wearing your underpants.
The more remote your run, the greater the need to be self sufficient. Consider the following scenario every time you prepare to go out. If I break my leg, how long is it likely to be before someone stumbles across me? To minimise possible waiting time, tell someone where you are going, how long you will be out, and what to do if you aren’t back at an agreed time.
Below is my suggestion of gear you should carry while running in remote locations:
- Survival Bag (NOT Blanket). If you only have one piece of equipment, go and buy a Mountain Safety - Pocket Survival Bag. If things turn sour, you crawl into the survival bag and hold the top closed above your head. It will warm up with your body heat. As an added bonus, the bags have survival instructions printed on them.
- Personal Locator Beacon (PLB). When activated this will alert and direct emergency services to within 100m of your location. Well worth the investment. A mobile phone is useful, though only to the degree that you have reception.
- Seam Sealed Jacket. This doesn't need to cost you an arm and a leg. I suggest that you start with something like a Marmot Precip which is windproof, waterproof, lightweight and reasonably priced. This will also eliminate the need for complaining when events like the Tarawera Ultra-Marathon require you to carry a seam sealed jacket due to inclement weather.
- Basic first aid kit, strapping tape and bandage. I also suggest that you acquire appropriate training in how to use these.
- BUFF. Multifunctional headwear that can be used as a beanie, headband, hat and more.
- Long sleeve thermal top. I would apply the n+1 rule to long sleeve thermal tops where n is the number you think you will need.
- Gloves. For what should be very obvious reasons. As above, I would apply the n+1 rule to gloves.
- Map & Compass. Like the first aid kit, it is also important that you acquire the skills to use these. There are a number of apps like Map APP that can also help you navigate, and relocate.
- Food & Water. But remember you will need to carry more than your basic needs in case of a problem. The amount of extra depends on the remoteness of your run.
- Backpack. Large enough to fit all the gear above plus anything you are wearing that you might take off. It also needs to be very comfortable.
Accidents happen, but prior preparation and planning promotes a positive performance, and helps keep you out of the papers.
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