Today we’re responding to a couple of questions we received from Trail and Ultrarunner NW that relate specifically to the Oscars 100 Hut2Hut Ultramarathon. What a busy year she’s going to have! We know from first-hand experience that, mile for mile, this is likely the toughest 100km trail ultra in Australia. While the loop course gains a highly respectable 5700m in elevation, it’s the terrain underfoot that makes this a genuinely momentous challenge. When Tegz Angel ran the inaugural event in 2017, it took him a little over 19 hours, roughly 5 hours longer than his 2017 Ultra-Trail Australia time (which covers the same distance).
For the 2018 event, Tegz wrote a training program targeted at the hikers/slower runners planning to complete the Hut2Hut in two to three days. The program is built around weekly long hilly hikes that peak at 8-10 hours four weeks out from the event, as well as shorter, quality sessions throughout the week and targeted strength and conditioning sessions.
Modifying the Hiker's Training Program
As mentioned above, I wrote this program specifically for participants planning to hike the Hut2Hut course. It was also targeted at people who haven’t necessarily covered this distance or type of terrain previously. Accordingly, there are several reasons why athletes planning to run the race should make some modifications to the program.
Firstly, part of the goal of the program is to develop psychological “fitness” by building an athlete’s self-confidence in their ability to spend extended periods of time on their feet. Put another way, for someone used to hiking for 3-4 hours on the weekend, a 12-hour day is going to challenge them psychologically and emotionally as much as physically. By gradually increasing the length of the long hike, we’re helping to eliminate (or at least mitigate the effects of) one of many variables influence an athletes performance: self-doubt.
In the case of NW, we know that she’s run a vast number of other ultras lasting as long as, and far longer, then Hut 2 Hut. In her case, there’s little need to spend time on this psychological part of her training as she has well and truly ticked that box. Secondly, there is a point of diminishing returns in all exercise, where the ratio of reward (i.e. adaptation) to session duration, starts to flatten out. Put another way; there comes a point where the benefit of increasing training duration begins to plateau, if not shift toward being detrimental; go and do something else.
Confusingly, this point differs depending on the sport and the physiological system in question and, as is the case with most things Sports Science-related, likely varies significantly between individuals. In my experience (and other people’s anecdotal reports seem to agree) that point in running where your physiological adaptation starts to plateau is about 2.5-3 hours, whereas for cycling it is said to be closer to 6 hours. While I couldn’t find any science to support this [please, if you have any links to research, send it through!], I’m inclined to think the difference has a lot to do with impact and is therefore transferable to hiking. I must clarify that there are still benefits to be found beyond this period (it plateaus not nosedives), not least of which the psychological advantages discussed above, just that they start to decrease.
To answer the original question, however, I don’t see a lot of benefit in running for 8-10 hours. In your case, I’d suggest that running at an easy to moderate intensity (MAF-MEP zones to use the Program terminology), or loosely your Hut 2 Hut race-day pace, for half this time (4-5 hours) is probably ample. I would suggest, however, that you do this with your full mandatory race kit to maximise the benefit of each session. Regarding gear, there are many good setups that you could use for the run.
The mandatory gear list is quite extensive, given the remote alpine environment, and is found in the Participant Handbook on the Hut2Hut website. I won’t go through every single item here but will pull out a few key pieces. Please take the time to familiarise yourself with the whole manual and be HONEST with yourself about your ability to complete the event in the required time. It’s one thing to ask for help when you legitimately need it; it’s another thing entirely to set out with the conscious plan of hitting a checkpoint and “desperately borrowing” sleeping gear because you were too lazy or overambitious to carry it in the first place.
1. A suitable backpack
In 2017 I used a Salomon S-Lab Advanced Skin 12litre pack and will likely use this again in 2018. It was just big enough to fit ultralight versions of all the mandatory gear. If you’re struggling to fit everything into a 12-litre pack, I highly recommend the Ultimate Direction FastPack range which is available in 15, 25, 35 and 45-litre variants.
2. A Waterproof and windproof jacket with hood and sealed seams
The Outdoor Research (OR), Helium II jacket, is very highly regarded and is the go-to jacket for a lot of Australian ultra trail runners in Australia. The Ultimate Direction Ultra Jacket is also a very good option.
3. Waterproof and windproof pants with sealed seams
The Salomon Bonatti pants or Ultimate Direction Ultra Pant are both great options, though there are plenty of others on the market. Just make sure they are highly packable (i.e. compress small enough to fit into your pack)
This is in ADDITION to the compass on your GPS watch. A cheap Silva Field compass is perfect for this task.
5. Torch/headlamp PLUS spare batteries.
(Second back up headlamp preferred)
My Head Torch of choice these days is the Petzl Nao+, a 750lumen beast that is highly reliable, foolproof and comfortable. I used Ay-Ups for years but moved over to the Petzl after several in-race failures (aka Black Outs). The Nao+ is an expensive, premium headlamp but there are plenty of other options available from Black Diamond (e.g. the ICON) and Led Lenser that will do the trick. The Petzl e-Lite is a great backup light.
TREKKERS ONLY (i.e. PLANNING TO STAY OVER AT EITHER OR BOTH LAY OVER HUT AID STATIONS)
6. A lightweight sleeping bag
Sea 2 Summit Spark III or a Jacks ‘R Better down quilt
7. A lightweight sleeping mat
Klymit Inertia X-Lite Short or a short length Ultralite Thermarest NeoAir.
What do you think of Tegz’ advice? Got any other tips for Hut 2 Hut? What about a question of your own? Please keep the conversation going and leave a comment below.