Featured Competitor: Sandy Suckling, Sahara Race 2010

Australian Sandy Suckling (51), and her husband Colin (57), took part in their first multiday stage race in October last year when they entered the Sahara Race 2010. In two weeks time they will be travelling to China's Xinjiang province to take part in their second 4 Deserts event, the Gobi March 2011.

Sandy planned her gear meticulously for the Sahara Race, so we wanted to know how it performed in Egypt, what she learned, and if she will be changing any of it for the Gobi March. We also asked her how she thinks brands are doing at developing and tailoring their woman's products.

Equipment Snapshot (Sahara Race 2010):

Shoes: Salomon

Backpack: OMM

Sleeping Pad: Pacific Outdoor Equipment

Sleeping Bag: Marmot

Compression clothing: CW-X

Walking Poles: Pacer

Hydration System: Raidlight

Shoes: Salomon XT Wings

Sandy raced in the previous version of Salomon’s XT Wings in Egypt. “I really liked the lacing system but did find them a heavier shoe than what I was used to. They did give great support on uneven surfaces though,” she says.

Over the past few months she has been looking for different footwear, “I have changed my shoes to Brooks Cascadia 6 for Gobi. They seem to be a bit lighter on my feet and wider in the front section. As I have a bunion this suits my foot better,” she says.

“I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to go back to the Salomons as I have checked out the new range and they seem to be lighter but still supportive for trail running.”

RacingThePlanet's gear expert says:

Sandy could consider the Salomon S-LAB 3 XT Wings or the updated Salomon XT Wing S-LAB 4 which are both unisex. These have the same great support and lacing system of the Wing XT, but weigh 100 grams less per shoe! These used to only be available to Salomon's pro-athletes, but now they are available to consumers too.

 

S-LAB 4 upgrade from S-LAB 3: a new asymmetric upper construction for improved fit, and more seamless welding make it lighter, and there is a new lug pattern on the sole for increased stability around the edges of the sole.

 

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Backpack: OMM 20 litre

During training for the Sahara Race Sandy was already trying to minimize the weight and bulk of her backpack. She explains, “I started training with the OMM 25 litre pack and then swapped to the OMM 20 litre one, which I was really comfortable with and ended up using in Sahara. My biggest concern was whether I could get all my gear and food in there, but I became very inventive and successfully squashed it all in!”

At the time of writing, Sandy hadn’t quite decided which backpack to take to China.

“I have been training with the same pack for Gobi along with a slightly smaller Salomon pack. Both are very comfortable, and the decider will be whether I can fit my gear in a pack slightly smaller than a 20 litres!...Otherwise I will take the OMM 20 litre as it was a great pack.”

RacingThePlanet's gear expert says:

Fitting your gear into a 20 litre pack is going to be almost impossible for most people - well done Sandy! I would recommend aiming for a 25 litre pack generally such as the Osprey Hornet 24 or Salomon XA 25 WP.

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Compression Clothing: CW-X

A growing number of competitors are using compression apparel at events. Some race in it, and others put it on post-stage to help recovery.

Whilst racing Sandy wore compression shorts and says, “I had the CW-X Women’s Pro Shorts and will use them again for the Gobi March. They were comfortable and gave support to tired muscles during the event.”

Post-stage she had a different pair for recovery, “When I got into camp I used the CW-X Ventilator long tights which I will also use again. I felt the compression helped with recovery overnight. I had also planned to use them during the day as a backup to the shorts if I had problems with my knees or calves.”

RacingThePlanet's gear expert says:

CW-X is a great choice, and at the moment is the most popular compression brand used at our events. I love CW-X for active use, but for recovery I also use 2XU, Skins and Zensah.

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Hydration System: RaidLight bottles and bottle holders

Some competitors prefer a bladder hydration system, whilst others like bottles strapped to the front of their body, either on their pack straps, or on belts etc.

RaIdLight Bottles and Bottle Holders were the best combination I found for my hydration system. They were easy to fill and without the bladder in the pack I had more room to squash things in. I haven’t found anything better so will definitely use them for Gobi.”

RacingThePlanet's gear expert says:

Using front bottles on the shoulder straps is the best hydration system for our events, in my opinion. It balances weight out a bit and allows easy access to water both on the course and at checkpoints. Two front 750ml bottles will give you 1.5 litres carrying capacity, and you can get the other mandatory litre capacity using a Smartube or Hydrapak system.

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Sleeping Bag: Marmot Atom

The nights are quite different at the Gobi March to the Sahara Race. The first few campsites are at high altitude and so are much cooler than the lower level ones in the Turpan Basin.

Sandy will use the same bag in China as she did in Egypt. She says, “I found the Marmot Atom lightweight for the warmth it gives, and it also squashes down well in the pack.”

RacingThePlanet's gear expert says:

For the Gobi March you are required to have a bag that will withstand temperatures of 5 degrees Celsius. The Marmot Atom Sleeping Bag 40F/5C or the Big Agnes Horse Thief SL are great choices for this rating. They are lightweight at around 600 grams, and super packable.

If you tend to get cold easily you may want to go for a slightly warmer bag like the Marmot Plasma Sleeping Bag 30F/-1C, which keeps you comfortable below zero degrees Celsius and only weights 20 grams more!

 

A good women-specific choice is the Mountain Hardwear Phantom 32 Sleeping Bag Women - it's shaped and padded for ladies, is warmer, and only 50 grams more than the Marmot Atom.

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Sleeping Mat: Uberlight ¾ length, Pacific Outdoor Equipment

Sandy is an advocate of sleeping mats, which are used by around 2/3 of competitors at our races at the moment.

She explains, “Being small-framed and having hiked before, I know my hips get very sore if I have no mat underneath them when I sleep, so I opt to take the extra 230 grams. It may be very thin but helped with a good night’s sleep, and yes I will take again for Gobi.”

RacingThePlanet's gear expert says:

A sleeping mat is almost a must for Gobi (there are some rocky campsites). You can save weight by going with a 3/4 model, or have a bit more comfort with a full length model. Inflatables are definitely superior to foam mats and the Pacific Outdoor Equipment Peak Elite AC and Peak Oyl Lite are two great models.

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Walking Poles: Pacer

Slightly awkward to carry, and for many a piece of equipment they feel will be hugely helpful should they suffer injury, but just extra weight if they don’t need them, walking poles are a piece of kit that sparks debate and dilemma in many a hotel room the night before a race.

Sandy reveals, “I took my Pacer poles with the intention to use them to help me up and down the sand dunes and then fold them away when I was running, or lift them off the ground and run with them in my hand. What actually happened was I ended up using them all the time as I had an inflamed back joint and I think without the poles I might never have made it in each day.”

“However, for Gobi I don’t plan to take any as my running is a lot stronger and I've spent a lot of time on injury prevention going into this event. My entire backpack trail running for Gobi has been done without poles, so I have finally made the decision not to take them. Guess I will soon know if that was good or bad decision!”

RacingThePlanet's gear expert says:

Poles come down to personal preference. If you do take them, something lightweight like a pair of RaidLight Foldable Trail Poles is good for individuals who plan to run.

For hikers, something with a little more support is advisable, like the Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork Poles.

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Treats: Rice snacks, jellybeans, almonds, cuppa soup and potato chips

It’s always interesting to find out what’s in a competitor’s treat box!

Sandy says, “My favourite snacks were my bag of rice snacks, almonds and lemon jellybeans. I would nibble away at my bag of goodies, which was a balance between savoury and sweet to the taste buds.”

At camp, Sandy also got into a routine of rewarding herself for finishing a stage. “When I got into camp I would so enjoy my cup of soup and crushed up potato chips. It was the best, and I started looking forward to it each afternoon or night.

“The cup of soup and potato chips were a lifesaver at the night dinner spot [the overnight checkpoint on The Long March]. Think I started running when I left that checkpoint… It’s amazing what you learn to appreciate. I plan to take these snacks and the soup again to Gobi.”

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Wished she’d taken to the Sahara Race: More Wet Wipes

“A few extra Wet Ones would have been good in Sahara as there were no creeks anywhere to wash yourself down. For Gobi I have purchased some of the 4 Deserts Tablet Towels. They are lightweight and expand in water for a nice wash.”

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Anything that Sandy took to the Sahara Race that she’ll be dumping for the Gobi March: Nothing

“I didn’t really find anything unnecessary, as I had pretty well tried everything and tested all the food.”

“However, things do taste quite different in the desert especially powdered energy drinks in warm or sometimes hot water.”

“By the end of Sahara I was nearly gagging on them, and the bottles I threw away as I couldn’t stand the smell. But in saying that, they were a great way to get calories in me with minimal weight.”

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Lessons learned: Every gram matters

“100% I learnt how every kilo, actually gram, will make a difference to your pack and how you tackle the event. I have researched lightweight gear and retried foods and compared grams to calories. I have cut my pack down by over a kilo and learnt that in the desert it’s amazing what you can do without... It’s actually quite liberating.”

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Finally, as Sandy has been researching her equipment so thoroughly we thought it would be interesting to know her thoughts on the state of the women's Outdoor Gear offering at the moment.

"In more recent years the choice of female clothing has expanded and there are a lot more companies that are designing specific clothing and footwear for these events. There are many brands now that supply good sports bras, breathable tops and compression gear. There is now also a wide variety for the many different shapes and sizes we all are, which is great."

"I like 2XU's seamless breathable bra crop tops and although their compression gear is good I go for CWX's as a better fit and brand for me. I like a top with a high neck to stop the backpack rubbing, and one that has a part zip at the top for breathability. I go for a Raidlight short sleeve and New Balance long sleeve tops."

"As for backpacks, I do struggle to find well designed packs for women that fits, especially as I am small framed. I am very small and narrow across by chest, shoulders and waist so when running with weight in the pack the movement is challenging and adds stress to the body. With a lesser amount of body weight than a man even if we both carried the same weight in our pack, the stress on a female body is more as it might add 10% to his body weight but 20% to mine."

"It would be great to see some more variety out in the market. I did manage quite well with my OMM pack but have also been using a Salomon woman's design pack slightly smaller that the OMM and it fits heaps better with not as much movement."

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