So you're thinking about running a Spartan Race Ultra. That's awesome! Rock on with your bad self. The Ultra is one of Spartan's most intense challenges and it will certainly test you: physically, mentally, emotionally...and maybe even spiritually. With 30+ miles and 60+ obstacles, this obstacle course race is longer than a marathon and often includes a special "Ultra loop" full of "goodies" (e.g., killer elevation and extra obstacles) just for the UB participants. Seriously y'all, it is no joke.
So of course, going into something like this you want to give yourself every advantage you can on Race Day. You can work on your training and endurance, tweak your nutrition and hydration, and try out all kinds of clothing and race gear to see what works for you. But your job's not done yet! You want to show up at that venue prepared and ready to crush it. One much debated and sometimes overlooked piece to the "Ultra puzzle" is the Drop Bin. Dozens of articles and videos have been published on this topic: Mud Run Guide published one here, OCR Addict published one here, OCR Kings posted a video here and there are countless threads like this one on the Spartan Reddit page. And of course, Neil Murphy's account of his journey through (what was then known as) the Spartan Race Ultra Beast has been circulated for several years as he has added to it each season.
You don't want to do all the work before race day getting ready to dominate and show up unprepared. That'd be like sending a plumber to a big job without his toolbox: he might have all the required education and skills necessary to handle the job, but without the tools, he's gonna have a bad time. And so will you, if you don't take the time to strategize your Drop Bin!
An important caveat to this article on Drop Bin advice is the format of this particular event. For the Spartan Ultra, racers only have one opportunity to access their Drop Bin: halfway through the race, between Laps 1 and 2. Other OCR events with drop bins and a "transition area" are different: the F.I.T. Challenge Ultra and Toughest Mudder by Tough Mudder are both AMLAP (As Many Laps As Possible) events, meaning participants complete as many laps of the course as possible within the time given (F.I.T. Challenge is a 3.3 mile course and 12 hour time cap, Toughest Mudder is a 5 mile loop with a 12 hour time cap). Having access to the Drop Bin multiple times during an event, and every 3-5 miles instead of every 13-14 miles, will likely change up your strategy for what is in the bin vs. what you wear/carry with you. So keep that in mind while reading the following!
First and foremost, the most common advice from Ultra vets is the following:
Don't Overthink It.
Don't Overthink It.
Says Ultra veteran TJ Theis, "Chances are you won’t use 98% of the stuff you pack." However I know that's a hard pill to swallow for a newbie to the Ultra world, and sometimes peace of mind is worth stuffing an extra xyz in your bin if it doesn’t take up too much space!
There Are 4 Main Components To What Goes In The Bin:
Firstly and maybe most importantly, DON’T TRY ANYTHING NEW ON RACE DAY. Try stuff out during training and see what works for you. Some people crave “solid food” while others can’t deal with the idea of chewing anything while racing (myself included). Make sure to pack plenty of what you use while you train for the race, and throw some other stuff into the Drop Bin too for during transition (between laps): you’d be surprised what you might feel like eating during the race. Some people like mac n cheese, pb&j or spaggettios right out of the can… some prefer baked goods like cookies or brownies…and others like straight up candy like Sweedish Fish or Snickers bars.
Some people like warm broth/soup in a thermos for cold weather races. If you're looking for more solid recommendations about what types of fuel/how much/when you should be consuming it, check out our guide here. The only way to know what you’ll want is to try stuff out, and to tweak accordingly after your first UB!
We will cover overall "Ultra strategies" more extensively in a future article but where the Drop Bin is concerned, many people pre-pack the fuel they plan to use for Lap 2 and pack it in an easily accessible way such as putting it all in one ziplock bag on the top of all the other stuff in the bin. No need to measure or count for Lap 2, just grab and go!
A final word of advice on fueling from Neil Murphy's guide:
"You need to be consuming at least 150-300 calories per hour. If you’re bad at timing these things, bring a stopwatch to remind you every hour to eat. Your second lap (or mile 16+ of a single loop) is where your race truly becomes an eating contest. Even if you're not hungry... eat. every. hour."
Most athletes carry hydration while racing in one of the following 3 formats: hydration pack, hydration vest, hydration belts (all pictured below for reference). To save on time and logistics in the transition area, some athletes pre-fill a second pack (or just the bladder that goes into the hydration pack) and have it ready in the Drop Bin to grab and go for Lap 2. If the liquid in the second pack is frozen when you start it will likely be mostly thawed by the time you get to transition and give you a cool, refreshing start to the second half of your race.
The size of bladder you use - and whether you choose a hydration pack, vest, or belt - are also things you should test out before race day. Our discussion here is focused on what goes in the Drop Bin so we will save the pros and cons of each for a later article, but there are plenty of resources out there if you are looking for insights! OCR Insight has an article on the Best Hydration Packs for OCR here.
SPARTAN RACE REQUIREMENTS FOR ULTRA:
The rules/required gear for Ultras varies between events, and can be found in the "Athlete Guide" which is published and posted approximately 10 days before Race Day. The following are generalities:
The levels of how strictly the rules are enforced also vary by event.
Everything I've listed so far are suggestions for what you could put in your bin, or what you might want to put in your bin, but obviously space is limited and choices will have to be made! Here are the lists of what I actually pack in my bin, as well as what I carry on my person while running.
WHAT I CARRY ON ME:
WHAT I ACTUALLY PACK IN MY BIN:
The Ultra is meant to break you down so you can build yourself back up, and find out what you're really made of in the process. If you've never attempted one before know this: it's going to be one of the best, and also quite possibly one of the worst, things you've ever done. There will be highs and lows...moments of elation and despair...and no matter what happens at the end of the day, you WILL leave that race venue a different person than who you were when you arrived.
Hopefully this guide has been of some use to you, or helped to jump-start your Ultra strategizing. If you HAVE completed an Ultra, did we miss anything? What did you put in your Drop Bin? If you haven't completed one, what are you planning to include? Let us know in the comments...we'd love to hear from you!
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March 17, 2019
Great article Katie! I found it really helpful. Thank you for the advice.