Updated: Nov 4, 2022
Brian Kutz is an AMAZING Minnesota winter ultra racer. He has completed the Tuscobia 80-mile and 160-mile races. He is a two-time Arrowhead 135-mile finisher, including the year during the polar vortex when only 13 people finished the foot race. He is 1 of 14 people to EVER finish The Order of the Hrimthurs, which includes completing the Tuscobia 160 miler, Arrowhead 135 miler, and ACTIF EPICA in one year. He also completed The Drift 100 miler in Wyoming which has 7,800 ft of elevation and reaches just shy of 10,000ft. Needless to say, he is a rock star winter racer!
In this Q&A with Brian, learn about the joys of winter running along with tips on gear, nutrition, and training. Enjoy!
What do you enjoy about winter racing?
#1 would be the people. While I love the tribe in trail ultra-running, the winter crowd is even more unique and I’m always excited to see my winter family every year. #2 would be the solitude. I’m a people person at heart, but setting off for a 2-3 day adventure alone on the trail really gets my blood flowing. All that’s required is eat, drink, and put one foot in front of another. As my friend Alex said to me before Arrowhead one year, “It’s just so much easier than everything else.”
How is training for a winter foot race different than training for a normal ultra-marathon?
The best way to prepare for a winter race is spending time outside in the winter. Whether it be running, biking, hiking, snowshoeing, sled-pulling, camping, tire-pulling (before the snow comes). It all helps increase your comfort level in the elements. But as far as one specific training element, getting your fast walking on point is probably number one.
What are the key things racers need to do to prepare for a winter ultra?
Having a solid plan ahead of time is very important. This includes dialing in your clothing (layers), your gear setup, and keeping your food and water from freezing.
What are the key things racers need to do on race day to successfully complete a winter ultra?
Do. Not. Sweat. A classic rooking mistake in a long winter race is someone pushing too hard during the day, their base layers get sweaty, the temperature drops at night, and then they freeze. That’s a recipe for disaster. Otherwise just be adaptable. It’s important to constantly be checking in on yourself. Am I too warm? Am I too cold? How are my feet? Am I eating enough? Am I drinking enough? While you might be able to put the pieces back together during a race in the summer, the margin for error in potentially dangerous winter conditions is far smaller.
What gear recommendations do you have for winter racers?
Where to begin? While winter racing can be gear intensive, don’t be intimidated. I am proof that it can be done on a budget! The first piece of gear I always recommend to people is a good wind and waterproof shell jacket and pair of pants. Underneath those, it’s all about how you manage layers depending on conditions. Next would be a good pair of mittens. You’re not going to be able to take care of yourself if your fingers are frozen off! I would say my mittens are my very favorite pieces of gear. Beyond those, just reach out to people who have been in the sport for a while with questions. Veteran racers LOVE talking everything winter!
What food recommendations do you have for winter racers?
Let’s be real. It’s basically just junk food. Turns out most things turn into tooth-cracking bricks at -20 degrees. Test things out by sticking them in the freezer for a day and see how edible they are. For me personally, it’s Oreos, Little Debbies, Pringles, Peanut M&Ms, Reeses, Cheetos, and then I’ll try to make some sort of wrap/sandwich that I inevitably wind up hating. I’m still determined to make McDonald’s cheeseburgers work for me! The food item I’m most proud of though is when I crushed an entire bag of nacho cheese Doritos into a 20 oz Gatorade bottle. #brilliant. Disclaimer: I ended up eating most of the Dorito crumbs on the drive home.
What is the biggest mistake to avoid with winter racing?
As I stated above, sweating is what I believe to be the biggest mistake. There are of course exceptions, like if you’re doing St. Croix 40 and finishing in seven hours or something like that. Then you can probably roll the dice, but when going through a day and night, you’ll eventually slow down and get cold. Another big one is not practicing getting comfortable with your sleeping bag/bivy system. Sure, for most people this is just gear that is there in case of emergencies, but that’s exactly the reason to practice.
In closing, winter racing is so awesome and I’m so glad it became a passion of mine