The Unsupported Long Run – What to Think About

Ashly took on the Joshua Tree Traverse in Joshua Tree National Park on March 31st, 2019 as a solo, unsupported adventure run. This route follows…


Ashly took on the Joshua Tree Traverse in Joshua Tree National Park on March 31st, 2019 as a solo, unsupported adventure run. This route follows the 37-mile long California Riding and Hiking Trail, then doubles back to the start, making it 74 miles total. Her total time out in the desert was 22 hours and 47 minutes. The unsupported runs on Ashly’s resume range anywhere from 50k distances to the 74 mile Joshua Tree effort, and also includes solo ascents of Mount Shasta.

Vibrant reds, oranges and golds spilled across the desert sand as the sun dipped below the horizon. Rock formations became mounds of treasure; cacti were transformed into bronze statues. An audiobook about endurance athletes played in the background.

With 25 miles left of an unsupported 74 mile run through the desert, I had made it through the hottest part of the day and still had plenty of water. Thanks to proper planning and strategies for hydration and nutrition, I was going to complete the biggest unsupported effort in my running career.

Taking on a run like this can be daunting at first. There’s a lot to think about, and if you plan poorly, you could end up in a heap of trouble (trust me, I’ve been there). So, what DO you need to think about when embarking on an unsupported long run?

Know before you go…

I can’t say it enough: always check the weather.

The weather drives most of your decision-making when planning your run. The clothing you wear, your gear selection and the amount of water you take all depends on the weather.

Long Run #1: Know the route

Researching, planning and sticking to your intended route will save you time and perhaps even save your life. Proper planning can decrease the likelihood of taking a wrong turn, unknowingly arriving in an unsafe or closed area, or biting off more than you can chew. Knowing trail conditions, route distance, elevation gain/loss, and water sources could be key to your success.

It’s a good idea to carry a printed map of the area with you, just in case your GPS, watch or phone dies. And as always, make sure someone knows where you’re going.

Long Run #2: Prep your Clothing

It’s always a good idea to take an additional layer with you, even if the weather is warm, and especially if there’s a chance you’ll be out after dark. Studies have shown that your body’s natural thermoregulation is impaired when you are in an exhausted state. Even a mild evening chill can become dangerous if you’re short on calories and tired.

One insulating layer and one waterproof/windbreaking layer can go a long way.

Nutrition & Hydration

Calorie consumption guidelines vary depending on the source, but a good place to start is 300 calories for every 5 miles. I bring a variety of foods with me, from energy gels to protein bars to avocados and hash browns. Of course, everyone is different, so take what works for you.

My rule for water is to take one litre for every 10 miles, more if it’s hot, less if there are drinkable water sources along the route. I took 6 litres of water with me on my desert run. While I didn’t want to carry an extra 13 pounds, with no water sources available along the route it was necessary.


There are hundreds of different gear options, so this category is largely up to you, your experience, and comfort level. However, a few key pieces are essential.

A basic core gear list may consist of a headlamp (even if you don’t plan to be out after dark), buff or hat, sunglasses, GPS watch, hydration pack, battery charger (for watch and phone), map, and first aid kit (see below for a more comprehensive gear checklist).

Leave no trace

Always follow Leave No Trace principles. As runners and outdoor enthusiasts, we are stewards for the environment. It’s up to us to set an example, be responsible, and make a difference.

Your Unsupported Long Run Checklist:

  • Hydration pack
  • Water
  • Water filter or some other form of water purification (if using natural sources)
  • Nutrition
  • Head lamp
  • Extra layers
  • Sunscreen
  • Chapstick
  • First aid kit
  • Battery charger
  • Printed map
  • GPS
  • Buff or hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Trekking poles
  • Toilet paper
  • Wag bag (if needed)
  • Ibuprofen
  • Anti-chafe stick
  • Dry bag
  • Space blanket or bivy

*Note: This list is also dependent on terrain. For instance, running spikes, a signalling device, fire starter and ice axe are recommended for alpine travel. Items may vary depending on season.

Looking for the perfect technical piece for your next long run? We’ve got you covered over at the Dirtbag Runners Store.

Ashly is a 2019 ambassador and this is her first article with DBR. A writer based out of Northern California, you can also catch her adventures at