Pack Like A Pro: Ultrarunner Alex Varner

Pack Like A Pro: Ultrarunner Alex Varner


Alex Varner is an accomplished ultrarunner who has been making quite a name for himself over the past couple of years. Not only is he a member of the Nike Trail Elite running team, but in 2014, he also finished 7th at the legendary Western States 100, which was particularly impressive since it was his first attempt at that distance. This year, he claimed first place at the Lake Sonoma 50, setting a new course record in the process. As you can imagine, Alex stays very busy training and preparing for his next race, but recently we caught up with him to find out what’s next on his agenda, and what gear he simply can’t live without.


Gear Institute: You’ve been staying very busy so far this year Alex. Is there anything left on your schedule for the remaining couple of months?

Alex Varner: Next on the list is the Quad Dipsea (Nov 28). I’ve run the Dipsea Race many times and won the Double Dipsea 3 times and so this race has come to hold more importance than most others due to my connection to the trail and community. The starting line is just 1 mile from my apartment. After that, I’m signed up for TNF50, which is the following week, but I’m not too worried about that one. I’ll just see what I can do.

GI: When you set out on a run – either while training or racing – what are some things that you never leave home without?

AV: For longer runs and races, I carry Amphipod Hydraform Handheld 20oz. with surgical rubber instead of the supplied handle. I tie a loop of surgical rubber around the bottle. It’s a bit sticky so it doesn’t move around a lot and the knot allows me to tuck the bottle in my waistband while preventing it from sliding down.


I also love my Suunto Ambit 2. I never run without this thing. It’s got all of the data I want and I can get HR and power with it as well. The GPS works very well and it’s got a long battery life allowing me to run several days without charging it.


Lately, I’ve also been training with the Stryd running power meter. These aren’t currently available for purchase, but I got one for testing and I really like it. It sits on a chest strap that also measures HR and shows me my power output. I’m starting to like using power more than HR for workouts because you can see what power you’re putting out uphill or downhill and try to maintain that versus heart rate where it will inevitably be lower on the downs than the ups despite effort.


GI: Give a shout out to your sponsors. What gear do they provide for you that you simply couldn’t live without?

AV: I run in the Nike Zoom Kiger 3, and absolutely love them. I loved the first 2 versions of this shoe as well, and yet they somehow managed to improve on them with the 3rd version. They feel fast while still offering adequate protection and traction. And they feel almost as good on the roads as they do on trails.


The new Nike Kiger running vest isn’t due out in April 2016 but as part of the trail team, we’ve gotten the opportunity to test it out and have our input taken into consideration during the design process. It fits like a glove, has pockets in all the right places and offers plenty of storage for longer races.

I also really appreciate my Victory SportDesign Bear II bag as well. I use this thing for all my drop bag needs at longer races. It’s super easy to organize, and I can make my name and number clearly visible on the outside so it’s very easy to identify. It holds a ton of stuff, too, which is great for those races where I’m not sure about the conditions I’ll be facing.


For longer runs and races, I’ll carry at least 1 (and usually 2 or 3) Picky Bars with me. They’re super easy to digest and give me no stomach issues, so I can eat them whenever and not worry about any adverse reactions. And they come in a several flavors so I don’t get tired of any one type.


GI: Do you have any tips for distance runners on how to carry all of their gear?

AV: I use my waistband a lot. I’ll stick gels, Picky Bars, and water bottles in there, along with my cell phone from time to time (in a plastic bag, of course). When I’m wearing a pack, I try to reserve at least one pocket for trash that way I’ve got somewhere separate to put empty wrappers so I’m not digging through them to find an unconsumed gel or bar.


GI: Good advice! Do you have any thoughts on the current rise in popularity of trail running?

AV: I like the trend of road folks moving onto the trail. We’re seeing a lot of fast marathoners try their hand at the trail world having very little experience with it. Seeing their successes and failures is educational to all folks watching and shows the amazing things people are capable of. I think they’re drawn by the opportunity to train and race on trails as well as the camaraderie of the racers. Races often feel a lot more like parties – people are very happy to see one another and the atmosphere is considerably more laid back than road races. It’s hard not to like it. Plus, beer!

Thanks Alex! We appreciate you sharing your insights. Good luck in the Dipsea and TNF50.