by Janice Marie Ferguson
My first “obstacle race” was the 2009 Seabee Volkslauf Mud Run. I wore a cotton t-shirt, cotton socks and an old pair of running shoes. Three of my worst decisions that day.
First mud race:
Now that I’m “pro:”Obstacle Racing Media.
Now, I’m all grown up and make much better choices when racing OCRs. Feel free to learn from my mistakes.
What you wear and what you bring with you to the race is a very personal choice. What works for you, may not work for the next person. Personally, my tastes in gear have changed over the years, and they certainly change from race-to-race. When you’re traveling to other areas of the country, the terrain and weather play a huge role in what you should bring with you. Also, the particular heat that you race in will dictate a lot for you, as well. If you’re racing competitively, your race will be earlier, and perhaps colder, and you won’t be on the course as long. If you’re racing in the Open heats, you could have drastically different weather conditions, course conditions, and depending on your level of fitness, you will need to bring more hydration, nutrition, and other items like sunblock, Chapstick, etc., because you will be on the course much longer.
No matter the type of racer you are, there’s some basic rules that apply to all.
1. No cotton t-shirts. Running for even ONE second in a mud-drenched cotton t-shirt is the definition of hell.
2. No “normal” running or tennis shoes. Your Brooks or Nike’s may make you feel like a unicorn on the streets, but they will be like a ball-and-chain in the mud. ESPECIALLY for the Mississippi Spartan Race. This race is nothing BUT mud. You’ll want to wear some shoes that are light, have some aggressive tread, and that flush well.
3. No cotton socks. Imagine running for a couple hours with sand paper painted on your feet. That’s what cotton socks feel like in the mud.
If you’re hoping to make the podium, or just try to keep up with the people who will be on it, you’ll definitely want to be as light and comfortable as possible through the race. For the Sprint distance, about 5 miles, you really don’t need to carry a hydration pack if you’re racing competitively. The top finishers in the race will be around 40 minutes for the men and 50 minutes for the women. There are water stations on the course. The weight of the hydration pack is just not a benefit in this situation.
I highly recommend spandex/compression pants, capris or shorts. Loose and baggy shorts will not be comfortable with mud caked on the inside of them AND in all your cracks and crevices. Closer-fitting shorts will not only be a lot lighter by accumulating less mud, but a lot less painful for your delicate parts. My favorite compression wear is CW-X. Their Stabilyx capris are great. I have worn them for several races. Be careful, though. They’re expensive. And OCRs are not too forgiving on your clothes. I highly recommend that you wear some sort of underwear with them. That barbed wire will just reach out and grab your butt. And it isn’t a love tap. It will rip your shorts. Mine ripped all the way to the crotch in the Vermont Beast. Thank goodness I was wearing underwear. Seven hours with no crotch in my pants could have been a lot more embarrassing had I not been prepared.
If the weather is decent, the “no shirt” option is very common for the top elite racers. If the weather gets a little chilly, or you just like wearing a shirt, CW-X also makes a great racing shirt, the Ventilator. I love mine. They also have some long sleeve options. Again, these shirts are very expensive. But, they are the best I’ve tried. I’m sure you could find some cheaper alternatives made by Nike, Under Armour, Reebok, etc. Just make sure they are not cotton, and try to find products that are more form-fitting, and are meant to wick moisture from your body. In colder races, SmartWool would be a good brand to check out. They are also very pricey, though.
Ladies, you definitely want a comfortable sports bra, whether you plan to go shirtless, or not. I like the Spartan Reebok sports bras. They also have another model in the Reebok store that looks comfortable. I may try it next. I also like Moving Comfort sports bras. I’ve tried the Vixen and the Urban X Over. Run N Tri carries Moving Comfort. You can also find them at Academy and Dick’s Sporting Goods. Just as with your shorts and shirts, you don’t want a bra that is moving all over the place and rubbing you in all the wrong places.
Cotton (100%) just has no place in an OCR race. That goes for your socks, too. Do not wear your cotton socks that you got on sale at Target. They will not be comfortable for your feet. I highly recommend Feetures. They are little bit more expensive, (around $14 a pair) but they are well worth the investment. For colder races, they even make wool blend socks. The best thing about Feetures is that they have a lifetime guarantee. If you get a hole in them, the company will replace them at no charge, and with no receipt required. I have also worn a brand called Swiftwick for OCRs, and I like them, too. Don’t toss them out after the race. I promise, they can be washed and worn again.
Shoes are a very personal choice. My favorite shoe for the Mississippi terrain is the Inov-8 X Talon 190. They also make a 212 oz version. (You can see both of them in the link.) The 190 seems to flush better and is a lot more roomy. Overall, these shoes are narrow. But, the 190, as mentioned, has a lot more give. Be cautious, though. These shoes cost about $120. With my experience, and the experience of others, they haven’t held up past four races, or so. But, my feet have never felt better in a mud race with them. Another drawback is that they don’t have a lot of support. But, it is just one race. And it’s only five miles.
Another shoe that I like is the Salomon Fell Cross. These are a heavier shoe than the X Talons and have a lot more support. I don’t really think they are ideal for the terrain for our area, though. I have only worn them in a mountain race. They did well for the little bit of mud we had there, but, this race is constant mud. It seems the Fell Cross are designed for rocky, mountainous terrain, with rocky streams, not sandy, muddy swampland. But, I am sure these shoes would fare much better than the standard running shoe.
I’ve also tried the Inov-8 Mud Claw 265. They are very narrow, and made my feet fall asleep when I wore them for the Virginia Super. They don’t flush as well as the X Talon and they aren’t as comfortable as the Salomon. Unless you have really narrow feet, I would avoid them. Perhaps the 300 oz version is better. I don’t have any experience with that version of the Mud Claw.
I have no opinion on the Reebok OCR shoe, the Terrain. I haven’t tried them. However, you should be able to search for reviews online, like these from my OCR friends:
Food/Hydration and Chapstick (the essentials)
If you think you’ll be on the course for more than 2-3 hours, I highly recommend you bringing a hydration pack with you. Run-N-Tri sells some. I prefer the Gregory Pace 3. I ordered it online. I have the model that was made for women, and it fits perfectly. You don’t even feel it’s there. Whatever you choose, you want one that fits snugly and that doesn’t flop while you are crawling and climbing your way through the course. What you put in that pack is up to you. Food, sunblock, gels, ibuprofen, and Chapstick are at the top of my list for being out on the course for a long time. I wrote a blog post about my experience at the 2013 Spartan Race World Championship in Vermont, where I hashed out all my gear for a race that took me 7 hours to finish. You can see it here: Southern Girl’s Guide to the Vermont Beast.
My favorite places to shop for gear:
Need more info? Margaret Schlachter, founder of Dirt in Your Skirt, did a really good job of explaining what to bring with you to make your race experience better. Read her post to find out why bringing a towel and a couple gallons of water could be a life-saver for you: How To Dress For Race Day.
Post publish edit: There’s also a great book out called Down and Dirty: The Essential Training Guide for Obstacle Races and Mud Runs, by Matt Davis. I wrote a chapter on CrossFit training in the book and there are a lot more chapters from other pro racers like Alec Blenis, Amelia Boone and Olof Dallner, among others. You can buy it at my gym for $23, or you can order online.
In the end, you want to make sure that you are comfortable with your own gear and what you bring. The only way to really find out if you like something is to test it. You may have to go through a lot of hydration packs, shoes, and shirts before you find THE ONE. But, that’s all part of the fun! See you on the course!!
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