Last weekend I competed in the inaugural Hellfire Cup, a four day, multi-stage mountain bike race held in Southern Tasmania. I am fairly new to the racing scene, with only one 6-hour (pairs) as my previous experience. Hellfire was also a pairs race, and we did quite well coming in at 27th overall out of 123 teams. However, along the way I made some mistakes which cost us crucial minutes. This post is a reminder to myself about the lessons I learned from Hellfire to ensure that I don’t make the same mistakes again in future races. Others may find this useful as well.
Lesson One – Rest Properly
I spent a lot of time training in the lead up to the event. I got up early to ride in crap weather, entered Strava challenges to keep me focused, clocked up a heap of ks and essentially spent as much time on the bike as I could. Despite all that, a lingering question of “Am I ready?” remained in my head.
To answer that question I decided to give myself a test. I wanted to prove to myself, mentally, that I was in the right shape to be as competitive as I could be. Most cyclists have certain rides or climbs that they use as their benchmark. I’ve read about Pros who test themselves on certain Cols in Europe prior to a big race to see if they’re ready. I decided to do the same by having a solid crack at the full 10k climb of the North-South track, a popular mountain bike track on the side of Mt Wellington in Hobart. The total ascent is 539m, resulting in an average grade of 5.3%. Click here to see the Strava segment.
This is a climb that I’ve done many times before, but mostly with other people which means frequent pauses for a variety of reasons. I had only ridden the full thing at effort once before, and had set a good time of 50:35. The good news is that I put in a solid effort and beat my record by setting a time of 49:20 for the entire climb.
The bad news is that I overexerted myself too closely to the race. One of the things that I have noticed about regular training is that, after a while, you don’t necessarily see massive improvements in speed but your ability to recover between days improves significantly. I thought this would be enough to pull me through and be ready to go for the race, four days later.
As it turns out, I am pretty sure I was wrong. I worked really hard for that PB and I could feel that effort in my legs during the race. I was still reasonably fast overall but it was hard. Harder than it should have been. In the climbs my legs didn’t feel snappy at all and I was straining hard to maintain a speed I was happy with. Given it was a pairs race I could judge myself off my partner and I was certainly having a harder time keeping up with him than usual. I realise racing is supposed to be hard, but I also know myself well enough to recognise when I am struggling.
Overall my legs weren’t ready for the race. In order to try and appease my mental doubts I had gone too hard with insufficient time left to recover.
Lesson Two – Fix all mechanical issues, even trivial ones, prior to racing
My bike runs a 2X10 drivetrain. I spend 90% of my time on the small chain ring and only really use the big chain ring for riding on the road or long fire-road descents. Occasionally I use it on rougher terrain or downhill single-track to ensure I keep enough tension in the chain to stop it bouncing around.
For a long time now my front derailleur has been out of line. The limiter is set too high and most of the time when I change from the small chainring to the large one the chain drops off the outside and over the cranks. When this occurs it is easy enough to flip back to the small chainring and pedal half a stroke and the chain will pop back on. I can then attempt the shift to the large chainring again with a bit more care and attention.
The above scenario is fine for all the riding I normally do. It causes me to have to pause, look down and think for a bit but on most training rides that isn’t an issue. All of these things definitely are an issue when you’re racing.
On the second day of the race we were climbing firetrails straight off the start line. It was a relay stage and there were some riders in my sights up the road. I ground my way up the climb getting closer, and overtaking a couple of riders at the crest. As I started to descend the other side I had opponents right behind me and a real incentive to make the most of the descent at speed. I changed up to my big chainring and pedalled hard. The chain popped off the outside and immediately got messed up in my cranks, stuck.
I had to pull over to sort it out. The guys I had passed went by with a friendly “You alright mate?”, closely followed by a couple more racers! I quickly shoved the chain back onto the chain ring and kept going, working overly hard to get back up to speed and fuming at the places I had lost.
I started making ground and then we hit another climb. I changed back to my small chainring and tried to change up my cassette as the climb ramped up, only to find that my rear derailleur wouldn’t move despite the chain being engaged at about the middle of the cassette! In my rush to put the chain back on I had somehow put the chain in the middle of the cassette even though the derailleur was in a position that should have had it near the top. I had to stop again, more people passed me, and I once again burnt a whole lot of energy getting back up to speed.
I think I eventually ended up catching most of the people who overtook me but the damage was done. Instead of passing them all early on and forging ahead onto more adventures I spent the first half of the stage playing catchup and setting a disappointing lap time overall.
Furthermore I found out today that the original chain wrenching and replacement actually resulted in my chain being twisted for the following 2 days of the event! I knew there was something going wrong with my drivetrain but put it down to the ridiculously muddy conditions wreaking havoc with everything.
So, my laziness in getting a known problem fixed caused me to lose significant time on one stage of the race, whilst also causing problems on subsequent stages.
Lesson 3 – Don’t stuff around
This lesson is a bit harder to define, but is related to Lesson 2 in the realisation that having to stop during a race is actually really detrimental. In Lesson 2 it was a mechanical issue, in Lesson 3 it was a stupid mistake I made by dropping my glasses.
To explain, the entire event was ridiculously muddy and wet. The conditions were atrocious, causing some stages to be cancelled and others to be rerouted. The rides that we did complete were absolute mudfests which often felt like we were riding in rivers and streams rather than down trails. Here’s a pic of my bike post stage 2:
As a result, gear choice was tough, particularly glasses. If you wore your glasses they’d be great until the first descent, at which point they’d end up covered in mud and severely decreased visibility. A quick clean with your gloves was sufficient for 2 or 3 times, until your gloves became so wet and muddy that it was useless.
The alternative was to not bother wearing glasses which resulted in each descent being a stinging painful compromise of trying to shut your eyes to keep the mud out whilst also trying to see where you’re going at 50km/h. At times I felt safer with one hand on the bars, using my other one to shield my eyes whilst peering through my fingers.
Generally my approach was to start with my glasses on and remove them after they ceased to be useful. On the third stage of the race, riding with my partner, this point happened to be after we passed a group of about 6 other riders. I took my glasses off whilst slogging up a hill and tried to get them into my rear jersey pocket. I fumbled and dropped them. I had to stop, walk back a couple of metres, get off my bike completely and reach down to pick them up. By this point my partner was off in the distance (despite slowing down for me) and we’d been overtaken by quite a few teams. I’m fairly sure we didn’t catch everyone who passed us that day.
I’m still not entirely sure what I could have done better, aside from recognising that we cannot afford to stop. I should have identified earlier that the mud was being an issue and tried to alleviate somehow. Many people fashioned mini mudguards from inner tubs attached to their forks, but I didn’t do this until after day 3. I think this would have helped a lot if I had done it earlier. I also need to identify a safe easy way to stow my glasses. For some reason they don’t sit in my helmet without sliding out, even when shoved in upside down.
So there’s my three lessons-learned. I’ve got another stage-race coming up in January so I will come back to this post then. Leave a note in the comments if you have any of your own lessons
Recently I was approached by Ultimate Rob and asked if I would like to become a contributor on his site. I was really happy to be provided with this opportunity and one of the main drivers was knowing that my thoughts on ultimate would be exposed to a broader audience – hopefully helping more people as a result.
My future ultimate-related posts will be published over at Ultimate Rob. My latest one was published recently and can be seen here:
If you’re interested in ultimate-related content then Ultimate Rob is a great resource. There’s heaps of good material there already and more to come - keep an eye on it!
As for this blog, I have a few non ultimate-related posts floating around in my head. One of them is a review of the bike I purchased recently for commuting duties. Apparently my previous review of the Tatonka Barrel bag has been useful for people judging by the traffic to that post.
All developing Ultimate players will eventually face the reality that they have a physical shortcoming that needs work in order to continue their growth as a player. For example, your long-range forehand may not be very reliable, or you may suffer from fatigue on longer points.
In any sport it is a reality that each person’s unique physical makeup will create a combination of strengths and weaknesses. Some people’s natural physical state allows them to run fast, others may be able to jump high. Training is required to develop those natural skills but also to fill in any gaps.
It is important to recognise that the same can be said for the mental attributes that a player brings to the field. A person’s upbringing and experiences in life all add up to produce their unique state of mind with far more potential for variance than the same person’s physical attributes.
For physical shortcomings there is generally a reasonably well established path for improvement. Regular throwing sessions with a focus on weaker throws, or setting up a more regular running routine, are two approaches that would work to improve the physical shortcomings mentioned above. The question then becomes, how do you train your mind?
Perhaps the same approach used for physical improvement could be used for mental improvement. My interpretation of that approach includes the following steps:
For example, in the examples mentioned above:
- Identification – You’re struggling to maintain accuracy over longer distances with your forehand. Your reliability and success rate is low.
- Measure – Figure out how far you can throw reliably at this point.
- Goals – Set yourself a realistic goal. This would be how far you want to be able to throw reliably, and the time you’ll give yourself to get there.
- Train – Practise throwing, as often as you can. Mark out and aim for your current distance and maybe your goal distance.
- Measure – As you train, keep measuring to ensure you’re progressing towards your goal.
- Implement – After a while your confidence will grow, deservedly so. Time to throw some long-range lasers into the end-zone!
Fatigue on longer points
- Identification – Any point over five minutes leaves you unable to keep up with your opponent, or get away from them.
- Measure – Time yourself running over a reasonable distance. I find 5k is a good indication of stamina.
- Goals – Decide on a distance and time goal (or pace) to work towards. Give yourself a period of time to work towards that goal.
- Train – Go running! There’s plenty of ways to get better at running. Google can help!
- Measure – Continue to measure your progress against your benchmark. Watch the improvements, work towards your goals.
- Implement – Next time you’re on for a long point and there’s a turnover bust to the end-zone leaving your defender flat-footed!
Applying these same steps to a mental improvement can be a difficult process. We can work through it together, based loosely on my own experience with some mental shortcomings I have worked on:
1 – Identification
Identifying a mental shortcoming that is affecting your game is a really tough thing to do. However, if you observe your actions and reactions to the things that happen on the field you may start to notice a trend.
For me, I am quite capable of giving myself a hard time if I stuff something up.
The warning signs to look out for are generally any negative feelings. Am I starting to feel frustrated? Unreliable? Maybe even angry? At my worst I can convince myself that I’m better off on the sideline than on the field. You can imagine how this must make my teammates feel. I’m negatively affecting my own game and also theirs!
I feel that the key is to be on the lookout for negative emotions. If you’re not feeling positive then there’s a chance there’s some mental aspect affecting your game. As mentioned above, there’s a huge amount of scope for what the issue could be depending upon yourself as a person.
2 – Measure
Setting a baseline for a mental improvement is also a really hard thing to do. It takes some serious thought and honesty to understand that, on a bad day, 60% of your less-than-perfect throws are causing you to despair about your worth as a player (This is my own example again here!). Obviously I have no way of knowing if 60% is a real figure. For mental improvements I think it is enough to recognise that you’re doing being negatively affected more often than you would like.
3 – Goals
Goals for mental shortcomings are easy – you want to eradicate them! Realistically though, you can’t eradicate a mental shortcoming completely in the same way that you can’t throw perfect long-range forehands every time. Experiencing a noticeable improvement is a worthy goal. Keeping your cool for longer throughout a game is certainly something you can work towards.
4 – Train
Initially I thought that mental training could only really be done in-game. Upon further thought I realised that a useful attitude can be developed at all times. If you’re at a training session and your goal is to not-let-the-bad-throws-get-you-down then focus on that whilst training. Train your mind at training! Learn from your mistakes, but continue with a positive outlook.
5 – Measure
Keep yourself accountable when you’re playing. I had to get myself into a position where I could objectively analyse my own behaviour when I was stuffing things up. Was I being affected as much as in the past? Was I able to carry on and give my best performance to the team?
6 – Implement
Next time you’re at a tournament you want to be physically and mentally trained up. From a mental point of view you should be in a position where you are positively contributing to the performance of your team throughout the whole tournament.
As you may have gathered, the process of training your mind isn’t necessarily as straightforward as training a physical attribute. There are a lot more variables and less-tangible things to consider. To assist in training your mind it is worth considering enlisting a friend or teammate. If you really want to make a difference to your mental state then let someone on your team know. You will feel more accountable and, even more importantly, they will be able to let you know how you are improving.
I’ve alluded to some of the mental shortcomings I’ve dealt with in the past. After my most-recent tournament our captain commended myself (and another player) on how we have improved mentally. It was a hugely successful tournament in many ways (silver medal baby!) but receiving that feedback was certainly a highlight.
In terms of being accountable – I’ll let you all know that I’ve still got more to do. In the grand-final my mental shortcomings were starting to make themselves known. I have a few regrets, and fear that the close-game could have come out with us on top if I had maintained a better mental perspective. I definitely don’t want to let that happen again!
This is the first of a series of Ultimate Intelligence posts that I hope to write. These posts will hopefully provide some useful information that you can use to improve your game in a variety of ways. For the most part Ultimate Intelligence will be about on-field performance and may include tips regarding tactics, physical work or mental perspective.
This post will focus on an improvement that can be made from both an attitude and a tactical perspective. This isn’t necessarily an advanced tactic, any player could take these instructions on board and incorporate them into their game.
The premise of the post is that it is important to recognise that your role on the field changes when you see the disc heading into the end-zone. In particular if you are not the intended recipient of the throw (or marking the intended recipient when on defence) your job doesn’t stop as soon as the disc is heading into the end zone.
It is extremely common for players to see an attempted goal being thrown and respond by stopping what they’re doing and watching to see what happens next. This is a mistake and a simple change of perspective can improve your usefulness on the field significantly.
The benefits of this altered perspective are different depending upon whether you’re currently on offense or defence. We can take a look at each:
Imagine you’re playing on offense in the following situation:
- One of your team mates has made a cut towards the end zone.
- The person with the disc has identified the cut and put the disc in the air, the disc is heading towards the end zone.
- You weren’t necessarily cutting but it is within your ability to get to the end zone at roughly the same time as the disc.
My advice is to get to the end zone as fast as you can! Definitely don’t stop to watch the play unfold. Definitely don’t wander towards the end-zone without intent. Definitely sprint disc-wards!
The reason for this course of action is to fulfil a supporting role. One of the great things about Ultimate is the “freakish” plays that occur on a semi-regular basis. People can pull of impressive things by being in the right place at the right time. Often this seems like luck or fluke but being pro-active can certainly help.
In the situation listed above there are a number of possible outcomes where it would be useful to have another offensive player around the disc:
- The cutter’s defensive player gains position and gets a hand to the disc. They smack it away for a block but don’t catch it. The point is still winnable providing the disc hasn’t gone out of bounds. How often have you seen players scoop up the scraps of a contest for a score?
- The intended recipient of the throw misreads the disc, or the wind picks up for a second. Again, a supporting player can clean up.
- Depending on your speed and location on the field you might actually have a better play on the disc than the intended recipient. Communication on the field is key to making this a success however!
- Should the cutter’s defensive player catch the disc, you are an option for pressuring the first throw after the turnover before re-locating your player and getting back to your own defensive duties.
In summary, by having a proactive and supporting attitude you can come away with some glory and increase the percentages of the intended goal coming to fruition. There’s no reason not to head to the end zone if you can get there on time. That said, two cautionary points:
- Don’t get in the way of the intended recipient. If you do have a better play on the disc call it early. Otherwise your job is to hover around the bottom of the contest for the disc and tidy up if the disc floats free.
- Keep an eye on the players you’re leaving behind as you cut away. If the defence is successful in preventing the score you’ll need to get back to your player on the turnover.
From a personal point of view, I’ve caught many points that weren’t intended for me by making sure I was available as support in the end zone. I have also made difficult and important blocks in games, only to have one of the offensive players follow the disc to the ground and score all the same. I will probably write a future Ultimate Intelligence post on why you should always catch the D!
Imagine you’re playing on defence in the following situation:
- One of your opponents has cut towards the end zone, but not the player (or within the zone) that you’re marking.
- The offensive player with the disc has recognised the cut, put the disc up, and it is heading towards the end zone.
- Your player isn’t doing anything threatening, but it is within your ability to get to the end zone at roughly the same time as the disc.
Again – don’t hesitate, get to the end zone as quickly as you can! Similar to the offensive situation provided above, you are in a great position to be able to influence the outcome of the point. In this case you’re looking to generate a turnover.
You can effectively forget about the player you are marking temporarily. Nothing else matters aside from ensuring that the throw isn’t completed so it isn’t important what your player does, unless they also head towards the end zone in which case you want to be in front of them anyhow!
The following may occur:
- The offensive player gets a hand to the disc but fumbles. Their defender may still be in the air or committed to a certain direction, you can step in and grab the disc.
- Your team mate gets a hand to the disc but doesn’t catch it. The disc is falling within reach of the offensive player (or another offensive player). Again you can step in and make sure there is no score.
- As an offensive player, it is more psychologically intimidating if there are several defenders around you influencing the outcome. Mistakes happen under pressure, you’re providing pressure!
- You may get to the disc in a more direct path than the intended players, stopping the disc from even making the target.
- Your team may get the turnover, you will be in a great position as a free-player to start the disc moving back up the field in a quick manner.
Essentially the flip-side of the offensive advantages apply on defensive. You provide more pressure and more likelihood of a turnover by being available as a supporting defensive player in the end zone.
I recall a point where a good long-cut was made to the end zone by an opponent, closely followed by my teammate. Everyone else on the field stopped flat-footed to see the outcome. It was going to be an impressive contest, involving two of the better players on the field. My teammate was able to out jump our opponent however it wasn’t a clean block and the disc started tumbling straight down. The offensive player landed with his eyes on the disc and immediately attempted a layout grab as the disc fell in front of him. Lucky for our team, I had followed the disc into the end zone and quickly pushed it out of his reach whilst it was falling. I saved us a point. It wasn’t particularly glorious or impressive, but a simple proactive run saved a point.
One final point to make is that, on defence, you can be pro active when the disc is headed towards the end zone even if you are nowhere close enough to make a play. Don’t assume that the throw will be successful. There’s always a chance of a turnover until the disc has stopped spinning in the offensive player’s hands. Watch for the result, but start moving towards your required position as soon as you’ve seen the disc flying towards the end zone. Your offensive play positions can be setup and ready to go early!
I would also like to credit a Tassie player who drove these points home for me whilst I was playing one night. I was watching the disc fly into the end zone from not too far away when Mike Baker yelled at me from the sidelines to run it down. It was a bit of an “Aha” moment where I thought “Why didn’t I go after that? I definitely could have made it and I definitely could have been useful”. So – thanks Mike.
In the first play the defender tidies up an attempted block. In the second play the supporting offensive player makes the score off a throw not intended for him. The plays are next to each other in the video, starting at 1min 24 seconds in. The whole video is worth a watch though!
In a previous post I wrote about how to prepare for a tournament from a training and fitness point of view. Not long after publishing the post I realised that another important element of tournament preparation is making sure you bring along all the right things to get you through the tournament.
This post is about making sure everything is available to you when you need it to be. I like to know that if I need something during a game I will be able to grab it and get on with playing. I don’t want to have to fret about not having the right bit of gear for a certain weather condition, or the right food for my particular energy-levels at any given time.
By being prepared with all the right items I can focus on the important aspects that are happening on the field without having to worry about anything else.
The first consideration is a bag to put everything in. I’ve dedicated an entire post to the bag I use for Ultimate Frisbee tournaments so you can check that out here. Once you’ve got the bag sorted there’s a bunch of stuff you’ll need to put in it:
Who knows what weather you will be playing in across a 2-3 day tournament? In southern Australia it is impossible to plan for any weather in particular so here’s how to cover everything:
- Jersey/Shirt – Your team jersey!
- Shorts – Shorts that match your jersey or whatever your team is going with.
- Compression Shorts – Worn under your regular shorts if it isn’t cold. Quite good for your muscles over a tournament.
- Base Layers – I like wearing a base-layer when I’m playing, one that wicks away sweat. They keep me warm when it is cold, and keep the sweat off me when it is hot. At a tournament they also help keep my jersey fresh for more than a day. They don’t have to be expensive, I use these ones from Torpedo 7. I bring one for each day of the tournament.
- Socks – I bring heaps of socks, at least one pair for every day of the tournament and potentially 2-per day. Fresh socks are amazing mid tournament and also help prevent blisters from sliding round with sweaty feet in hot conditions.
- Cleats/Boots – Some people have tournament-specific boots. I just have some trusty Asics that I love and wear whenever I play Ultimate
- Cap – Helps visibility and also helps keep the sun off your face. Alternatively, if it is raining/cold it keeps your head dry and warm and stops water running down your face.
- Sunglasses – I squint a lot in the sun so prefer to play in sunglasses if it is sunny. Some claim it is a disadvantage if my teammates can’t see where I am looking but it hasn’t seem to be too much of an issue.
- Compression Tights – If it is really cold you’ll want some coverage on your legs. Compression tights allow you to run around with coverage without getting too hot (as opposed to some sports-oriented tights that are fleecy and generally too hot for running in).
- Arm Warmers – Probably my most crucial bit of Ultimate kit aside from the usual stuff. I have found cycling arm warmers to be brilliant for variable weather or warming up. Your arms stay warm without adding an extra layer to your chest, which then gets hot when you run. The biggest benefit is you can just pull them off when you warm up, even mid-point. Some are water-resistant such as the Castelli Nanoflex ones that I have. I originally started using Arm Warmers for cycling but I can highly recommend them for Ultimate.
- Beanie – If it gets really cold I will play in a beanie to keep my wears warm.
- Underpants – I play Ultimate in briefs whereas I generally wear boxer-briefs. As a result I need to remember a pair per-day.
- Waterproof/Windproof Jacket – On cold days you’ll want something warm to put on between points and in breaks between games.
- Sweatbands – On hot days I like to wear a sweat band on my throwing arm. Mainly this is for wiping my face but if it is really hot it also stops sweat running down to my hand a bit.
- Gloves – I’m not entirely sold on the idea of playing in Gloves as yet but I do currently carry a paid of the Lookfly Ultimate gloves with me and wear them occasionally. As a mini review, I wish they let you choose which hand you throw with so the other hand could have five full-fingers on the gloves rather than two useless cut-out ends.
- Thongs – Similarly to having fresh socks, being able to take your cleats off and wander round in thongs at lunch time is amazingly good for your feet. Do it!
- A frisbee! – You’ll need it for warm-ups and to kill time in the airport.
Food and Liquids
You need to stay hydrated and well fed throughout a tournament. This requires some preparation:
- Drink Bottles – I bring two and have them full and on the sidelines within easy reach at all times. One is for water and one is for electrolytes/sports drinks.
- Sports Drink – In the past I have carried a tub of Gatorade around however more recently I took a tube of Nuun tablets to a tournament. These were much more portable (smaller) and heaps easier to prepare in a drink bottle each time. I try and drink water and electrolytes equally, aiming for a bottle of each per game.
- Gels/Energy Bars – Running all day for several days in a row saps energy. You won’t feel hungry but you’ll need fuel. I bring 2 energy bars per day but can substitute one for a banana if there are some available at the tournament (they are a bit easier to eat mid-game). I haven’t tried any Gels as yet but they’d be fine if you can find any that taste nice!
- A bowel and Spork – Some tournaments offer dinner but require your own cutlery/crockery. I normally bring along a bowl and a spork as I’m not overly keen to eat off a frisbee.
- Sunscreen – apply regularly and liberally. Nothing worse than having to deal with sunburn on the second day of a tournament.
- Anti-Inflammatories – Either Voltaren or Nurofen. If you get a sprain or a twinge or an ache you can safely start taking anti-inflammatories to help you through the tournament.
- Paracetamol – If you’re taking Voltaren and need some extra pain relief then Paracetamol can help. Nurofen has pain relief built in.
- Sports Tape – My feet aren’t used to spending a couple of days cutting hard in lots of different directions. I can start to develop blisters after a while and sports tape can help to avoid that.
- Ankle Brace – I’ve sprained my ankle a few times during tournaments. If it is still ok to run on a brace will help avoid doing more damage whilst you continue playing.
Generally speaking if you’re going away for a weekend tournament you won’t actually spend a lot of time wearing your regular clothes. This section is really up to personal preference and baggage allowance! Last tournament I brought what I wore on the plane plus some shorts and a spare t-shirt.
Whatever you would normally bring when you’re travelling – don’t forget any prescription medicines or similar. Also, don’t forget your toothbrush! I forgot mine last tournament
Other general travelling stuff
The usual travelling stuff applies:
- Phone Charger
- Book to read
- Chewing Gum
- Headphones – probably one of the worst things I have forgotten.
- Plane Itineraries – I store mine on my phone normally.
I think that’s about it! Hopefully that’s a useful list of things to bring to a tournament, along with some tips for a few things you may not have considered.
How about you? Is there anything missing on my list that you would bring? Any pro items that I’m missing?
Whilst browsing through some statistics about the traffic on my blog I noticed that I receive a reasonable amount of visits from people looking for information about running with a backpack.
I have written about this subject in the past however I feel that it is necessary to clarify my stance on the subject. The original post was written in haste and was more of a general whinge about some injuries that I was dealing with at the time. In reality I have very little experience running with a backpack.
I feel bad for the people who stumble across my original post when researching this subject only to find a piece of work that hasn’t really looked at the subject in any seriousness. I didn’t provide any useful advice for people who are looking for backpack running options or techniques.
As a result I did some research myself to try and help people along. I only did some brief looking around but I think the following pages will help:
How to run with a backpack – from The Blogging Joggler
A Good Backpack for Running – from Cool Runnings Australia.
I will edit the original post and add a note at the top directing people to this post. Good luck to any backpack runners out there!
I recently went through the process of researching and purchasing a bag to use when attending Ultimate Frisbee tournaments. In some ways this process was relatively straightforward as I had seen several good examples already at previous tournaments. I had also talked to a few people about their choices.
That said, I like to check things out myself so I started looking into it with the following considerations in mind:
The bag needed to be big enough to fit everything for a 2-3 day tournament, but small enough to get away with using it as carry-on luggage on domestic flights. I also wanted to use the bag as my regular league-bag when I am not attending tournaments so I didn’t want it to be too huge. Keeping in mind that there’s a fair bit of stuff to bring along for a tournament, getting the right size was not straightforward.
There’s a good chance that there’s some walking involved when you’re travelling for a weekend. Even walking through the airport can be a bit of a trek. As a result it is necessary to have a bag that is easy to carry for a while without getting too uncomfortable.
If you’re playing in an Ultimate tournament there is going to be some point where you’re on the field in the middle of the point and it starts raining. Your bag will be on the sideline and, unless it is weatherproof, everything inside it will get soaking wet. This is far from ideal and I didn’t want to have to worry about all my gear when I’m in the middle of a game. As a result, I wanted a weatherproof bag that wouldn’t let the rain in.
I was already fairly certain that I wanted a barrel/duffel-type bag after seeing the bags that others had been using. I did consider a more traditional backpack however I was put off by the general design whereby you have to stack gear from the bottom up, and access things through a smallish opening at the top. I suppose “accessibility” could have been another requirement as I do like being to quickly grab something (such as a sweat band or energy bar) out of my bag between points if required.
In particular I was aware that several manufacturers make weatherproof duffles that also have conversion straps that allow the bag to be carried like a backpack. All of these manufacturers also offerred the duffels in a variety of sizes allowing me to choose one that was small enough to take on a plane as carry-on, but big enough to fit everything required for a tournament.
After hunting around online I settled on the Small Tatonka Barrel in yellow for the following reasons:
- I was able to check these bags out in person at a shop in town so I could confirm the sizes were right.
- I found a great online price from Bagworld, including free shipping!
- The yellow would be visible in a group of bags or on a carousel at the airport if I ever checked it in.
- A few friends had recommended them.
- They were available for a good price in Australia, instead of having to buy from overseas and pay more for shipping.
- The bag is specifically approved for carry-on with Qantas.
That said, all of the bags were pretty close in terms of price and features. The only other notable aspect is that The North Face offer a much broader range of colours (and the yellow is nicer too dammit).
I have used the bag for a while now, both as my main bag for all my frisbee gear as I play league and also for a 2 day tournament in Melbourne. Overall I am very happy as the bag has met all my requirements above.
My only criticism of the bag is that it could benefit from some more pockets. Inside the bag there is a narrow pocket at each however these can’t be fastened shut. As a result it is hard to successfully store stuff in those pockets without it falling out when you use the bag in “backpack mode”.
Aside from those two pockets there is also a zippered pocket in the lid of the bag. Given this is the only secure separate pocket from the main compartment I ended up putting more stuff in here than I would have liked. Anything small ended up in here like keys, phone, sweat bands, a fork, chewing gum, energy bars and other things such as tickets and boarding passes. Overall it was good to have those things separate from the main compartment but there were too many things in there which made using the pocket a bit inconvenient.
The bag does also has an exterior pocket that is designed to house the backpack straps when you want to hide them away. Whilst not ideal, I ended up using this pocket for a few things, like sunscreen, just to get them separated from everything else. You can’t shut this pocket when the backpack straps are out, and if they’re in then the pocket is full. As a result you wouldn’t want to have things stored in that pocket when it is raining as you would want the whole bag zipped up tightly.
The other consideration when using a bag like this is the fact that it needs to hold together when it is horizontal and vertical. I am a fairly obsessive packer and I like to know where things are in my bag. As a result I don’t want things moving around too much when I am carrying the bag. You pack the bag when it is horizontal but as soon as you lift it onto your back it ends up completely vertical. As a result it is necessary to pack the bigger things to the right-side (assuming you have the bag open with the flap facing away from you) of the bag so they will be at the bottom when it is on your back. This isn’t a problem though, just a consideration.
Overall I’m really happy with the purchase of this bag. It worked extremely well for my tournament and I was able to fit a lot of gear in there. I am planning another post in the near future which details the things that I bring to a tournament so you will get better idea of the capabilities of the bag then. It didn’t rain during the tournament so I haven’t actually tested the waterproof capabilities of the bag yet, but it certainly looks very rugged and waterproof – we’ll see!
I would recommend this bag to any Ultimate player or anyone who travels for a weekend of sport. You’ll comfortably get all the gear (depending on your sport) you need inside and it is comfortable to carry around. Great bag!
I have now written a post showing the list of things I typically pack for an Ultimate tournament. This gives you a great idea of how much stuff you can fit into the bag.