There are aid stations every 5-10km, plus course marshals, first aid people, other runners, etc. Even if something goes wrong there are plenty of people around to help. Which is correct.......until it isn't.........
For me, there are multiple reasons to carry the essentials, even during a race.
- Increasing frequency of news articles on events that have gone wrong during trail races.
Links to some recent news articles
- Working at aid stations for ultra trail races, several times a year for 15 years. If each trail race is a few hundred people that adds up to a few thousand people, giving a reasonable sample size of trail racers/issues seen. And here are the most common issues:
- Rolled ankle
- Torn ligament
- Pushed past their limits and are exhausted.
Almost every race has at least one (often more) of the above. Which is why most (not all) races have medical volunteers & SAR as part of the race crew. However the race is on trails, its not quickly accessible, we still have to get the runner out, which means getting them to the nearest vehicle access (usually a logging road). All this takes time.
In each of these cases the runner (and helpers) are either not moving or moving very slowly. People are dressed for racing, not walking (or sitting) and start getting cold in minutes (even in summer). In many cases the injured person has had to borrow someone’s jacket, which means there is now a racer (or volunteer) on the trails without a jacket, if something happens to them, they are now also in trouble. Not to mention the logistics of getting (an often expensive) jacket back to its owner when names, etc haven’t been exchanged in the stress of the situation.
- Sidenote: 2nd most commonly borrowed item is headlamp, which means a donating runner or volunteer is now on the trails without a backup light.
The 2 most memorable instances that taught me to carry the essentials even in a race are:
1. A particular race that has been known locally as "The Hypothermia Year" ever since.
In classic BC weather there had been temperatures of 10-15C for the week before, then the forecast changed overnight to 2C and heavy rain. The sudden change caught a lot of people by surprise and they weren't dressed for it, plus many were not carrying any essentials to help keep them warm.
As the first 10 runners came into the aid station with 50% dropping out and a couple well into hypothermia stages (one collapsed), plus knowing there were a few hundred racers still to come (that would have been out there a lot longer than the lead racers) we knew this wasn't going to be an easy event. Yes we had SAR present plus items for hypothermia, but for a few people, not for so many!
While the aid station was a long way from the finish/town/etc it was at a trail head and thankfully we could at least park our cars close by. We got on our phones and asked local family and friends to bring blankets, fire pits, stoves, soup, etc. We had all the cars running with the heating on full blast, other cars taking people to the finish, help, etc. We had to triage the racers that dropped as to who needed the most help and what the priority for getting them off the course was.
It was an interesting experience.
During it all I noticed a theme. The racers who were OK (many completed the race) were either dressed for the weather and/or were using ponchos or garbage bags and some also had surgical gloves to keep their hands warm.
Back then i didn't carry a poncho or plastic gloves (they are in all of the Emelee Essentials Kits because they are so important). I just carried an emergency foil blanket as my "keep me warm" item. However the people with the foil blankets didn't do very well. Yes it was better than nothing, but the draft got under the blanket, they were really struggling to get warm and they certainly couldn't race, whereas just about all the poncho/garbage bag racers continued racing (see the blog why does a plastic bag poncho keep me warm in the outdoors for more info on why plastic is so good at keeping you warm).
We had no cell service and so as runners were passing (we had enough helpers) they said they would call for help as soon as they reached someone with a radio/cell signal. It was a small, short race, there were no radios until the finish and no cell signal there either, someone then had to get in a car and drive to find a signal. Then SAR had to get to the race and hike into our spot. We were there a while.
It was August so we were all dressed in shorts & t-shirts and a short race so not carrying any essentials. We were in the trees (shaded from the sun), sweaty (we were racing) and we all got cold quite quickly, especially the woman who was lying on the ground. As runners came through we kept asking for jackets, anything, but no-one had anything, (education on carrying the essentials wasn’t common back then). We took turns at laying and cuddling the woman to keep her (and us) warmer, but she was visibly shivering.
I’m quite keen on self preservation so these 2 incidents were quite pivotal for me in changing what I carry, even on short runs. We were only a few km into the forest but it still took a while for help to come and we were cold! On a sunny day August!!
As trail racing becomes more main stream and numbers increase, so will accidents/issues. Don't be a statistic, and don't be that racer who puts another racer in the difficult position of having to give you their emergency gear.
The Bare Minimum kit is approx the size of a cell phone, will easily fit into the smallest running pack, and is what its called, the bare minimum you should carry.
I hear from many people that they just want to carry a handheld in a race, then at least put a poncho in the handheld. It easily fits.
There's no reason not to carry the essentials.