Losing the baggage

March 24

As the Washington Monument is seen in the distance, a runner moves along the Tidal Basin, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

I run long. Really long. Ultramarathons, 100-milers. Which means that beyond the training that goes into preparing for a race of 12 to 38 hours, I had to learn some strategies for coping with varying weather conditions and terrain. This requires extra gear and planning.

Ultramarathons often have aid stations that provide some food and fluids, but I often have to carry much of what I need or plant it along the route in a drop bag. Packing light has become a way of life.

Being in the mountains all day -- or all night and all day, especially in the winter — requires certain survival precautions, especially where there is no signal for a phone or GPS. For some races and training runs, I began to consistently carry certain items: first aid provisions, toilet paper, a compass, a light, a map, a whistle and a lighter. And just for reassurance, a lucky Irish penny.

Once I got this all  down, the strategies began to carry over to my everyday life.  Knowing how much I could comfortably carry while running, I found myself doing more and more on foot. I began running to the store for a few groceries, running to the hardware store for small items, running to work with my clothes and shoes in my pack.

And I began to pack things the way I pack my drop bags: grouped together in clear plastic resealable bags for protection and quick and easy access. When I buy new clothes or shoes, knowing I will likely carry them on my back, weight and how small they pack is now a determining factor. On vacation, I can pack a week’s worth of items in a small shoulder bag.

And a few of those mountain survival items migrated to my everyday bag, along with the habit of keeping in mind what I might need in an emergency.

Running long in the mountains has provided me a sense of freedom and security I never could have imagined. I can travel just about anywhere on foot and am prepared for just about anything, with a sense of freedom and security I never expected.

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Lenny Bernstein · March 24