• Spartan Race Ultra Drop Bin Guide

Written By: Katie Purcell

Introduction

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.

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:

    1. Fuel: a.k.a. food & hydration…split into 3 parts: during race (what you carry on your person), in between laps (to be consumed in transition area), and after race
    2. Clothes/Gear
    3. Medicine/What Ifs
    4. Post-race "Stuff"

 

FUEL

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." 

    HYDRATION

    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.

              

      

    CLOTHES/GEAR

    • Shoes: Some people like the peace of mind of having an extra pair of shoes in case a shoe “blows out” during the race or if they want to be able to change into dry shoes. I say yes to the first one (if you want to be REALLY overly-cautious, but your shoes should be fine if they’re good quality), but no to the second one. Firstly it takes a LONG time to change shoes in transition – time that you cannot really afford and that will slow down your momentum. Secondly, your socks will still be wet if your shoes are wet...and while it will take awhile to change wet shoes, it takes even LONGER to try to peel/wrestle off wet compression socks. Thirdly, you’ll probably get soaking wet again soon enough...so just don’t waste the time.
    • Warm clothing items in case it’s cold: Long sleeve shirt, arm sleeves, hat, head buff/headband. Good to have in case it's freezing on one of the laps. You could wear for Lap 1 and get rid of for Lap 2, or if it seems like it's gonna be cold on Lap 2 it's good to have options in your bin to throw on.
    • Hand Warmers/Foot Warmers: Some people love to stick them in their shoes at the start of the race or hold onto them when it's cold...some people think they're a waste. Regardless of what camp you fall into, IF you decide to bring either, DO NOT DISPOSE OF THEM ON THE TRAIL. If you carry it in, carry it out! 
    • Windbreaker: Depending on the weather and how prepared you feel like you need to be.
    • Headlamp: This is generally a requirement for the Spartan Ultra, but even if it's not it's probably a good idea to have as most events start before sunrise. Make sure you double check that it works and the batteries work. I’ve had a headlamp that seemed okay but on race day I realized the lumens (a.k.a., the amount of light it actually put out) was VERY feeble which made for tough going running over terrain in the dark…don’t let this happen to you.
    • Gloves: Some people like them to keep your hands dry/warm or to help with grip/protect hands that are getting raw. Fit Four is an example. I personally love BleggMitts. Depending on the weather and space I have in my vest, I like to carry gloves if possible JUST IN CASE. I rarely use them, and never plan to, but when you need them, you NEED them. BleggMitts are great for cold mornings and while they’re not “water proof”, they help a ton. For most Ultras I’ll carry them on my Lap 1 (when it’s the coldest) and if I don’t think I need them for Lap 2 I’ll drop them off in Transition, or just Velcro them to my vest and forget about them.

      MEDICINE/WHAT IFS

      This is the stuff you hope you won't have to use, but you might want to consider packing just in case.
      • Foot Care: Tape/lube in case you get blisters (note: this is one reason to test out your shoe/sock combo BEFORE race day) Leukotape Sports Tape is a good choice. 
      • Muscle ouchy stuff: Ibuprofen/Advil/Tylenol/Icy Hot
      • Anti-diarrhea pills (I've heard stories. Terrible stories.)
      • Body Glide: For whatever rubs or gets rubbed. Common places to apply it: where your hydration pack rubs your skin, under your arms, between your legs (if they rub together at all when you move), bra line (ladies)
      • Sunscreen: IF it's a really bright day and you feel like you burn.
      • Bug Spray: Probably overkill, but depends on the venue because some are more buggy than others!
      • Roller (hint: STAY AHEAD OF CRAMPS!) 
      • Space Blanket: So far I have never needed one, but it takes up very little space and when you need it, you NEED IT.

      POST-RACE "STUFF"

      When you finish your Ultra, if you did it right, you'll be pretty beat. Here are some things you might want to have in your bin to get cleaned up and get home ASAP.
      • Towel/Dryrobe: because you are probably wet and/or cold.
      • Garbage bag: to put wet/dirty clothes and shoes in.
      • Deodorant: Because you smell. Really bad. This is a personal preference because you might not feel like it's worth it to deoderize before showering, but just throwing it out there.
      • Wet wipes/alcohol wipes (you also might want to have these handy for your Transition time in case you want to wipe off your face if you’re feeling super gross. I wouldn’t bother but some people say it feels great to start Lap 2 feeling "clean")
      • Some clothes that are EASY to change into (assuming you're wet/cold and want to change): baggy warm sweatpants, sweatshirt (and for ladies: clean sports bra that’s easy to put on)
      • Footwear: regardless of how cold it is, I USUALLY don't want to put dry socks or boots on and opt for flip flops. If it's cold enough, dry wool socks that are EASY to put on and rain boots are my go-tos.

         

        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:  

        • Mandatory Gear: 1 working headlamp and 2 glow sticks
        • Bin Size: must be smaller than 7.5 gallons
        • Some races “require” you to drop off your bin the night before the event, while others do not allow this 

        The levels of how strictly the rules are enforced also vary by event.


        SO...WHAT DO I ACTUALLY PACK IN MY DROP BIN?

        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:

        • Race Fuel: combination of Honey Stinger  or Huma Gel, FrogFuel Ultra Energized, SaltStick Caps Plus
        • Fit Four gloves and/or BleggMitts (always for Lap 1, sometimes keep for Lap 2)
        • Headlamp (Lap 1. Depending what time I finish Lap 1 I ditch the headlamp for Lap 2 bc I assume I’ll finish, which you should NOT do if it’s your first UB. Better to be prepared and safe than sorry!)
        • For Lap 2, grab: 2 Glowsticks (depending on what time I finish Lap 1. Again, better to be safe than sorry and you do NOT want to risk a DNF just due to missing a stupid timing cutoff!)

          WHAT I ACTUALLY PACK IN MY BIN:

          • Fuel:
            • for second lap: pre-packed in big ziplock bag
            • for transition: chug a waterbottle/powerade/electrolytes, special snack based on what I know I crave
            • Munchies for post-race
          • Just In Case Stuff:
            • Tylenol/Ibuprofen: have never used during the race, but good to have just in case and I take some after race
            • Bandaids or tape in case of blisters
            • Sunscreen
            • Space blanket
            • Long sleeve shirt (and sometimes windbreaker too)
            • Extra shoes: see discussion above.
            • Extra compression shorts (in case your shorts get snagged on barbed wire and there’s a huge hole in your butt. It’s never happened to me, but you never know!)
          • Clothes/Stuff For Post Race: (Note: I’m a gross person who doesn’t usually shower after the race. I’m too exhausted and my body hurts and that water is freaking cold and I’d rather have a real shower.)
            • Towel
            • Deodorant
            • Baby wipes/alcohol wipes
            • Garbage bag
            • Clean, easy-to-put-on clothes
            • Flip flops

           

          Conclusion

          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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          2 Responses

          Ravindh
          Ravindh

          May 18, 2019

          Very detailed insight of what can be done, looking forward to my 1st end of this year! AROO!💪🏾👏🏾👌🏾👍🏾

          Frank
          Frank

          March 17, 2019

          Great article Katie! I found it really helpful. Thank you for the advice.

          Leave a comment


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