If there’s mud or water on the course, cotton is the enemy. Whether it’s your shirt, shoes, shorts socks or underwear; cotton will absorb the wetness (and muck) and you’ll be left with that oh-so-satisfying feeling of wearing an adult diaper. Take a tip from triathletes when you’re getting dressed; synthetic fibers in body-hugging designs make the fastest and most efficient outfits. By that same token, the Borat-style man-sling costume is not necessarily that bad of an idea… but I digress.
Loose-fitting clothes has the opportunity to get snagged on obstacles, grabbed accidentally (or not) by other racers and even obscure your view. Chafing, blisters, and a couple hours of discomfort could be an unwelcome addition to your race if you choose the wrong gear – or a wicked uncomfortable costume.
Keep it simple, stupid – follow the KISS principle; a minimal outfit with less things to worry about allows you to focus on the course. There’s a great chance you’re not toeing the line to become the next “ridiculously photogenic guy” or gal, so it’s a smart move to wear race-distance, conditions and weather-appropriate clothes. If you’re wearing costumes, it’s all up to you; don’t let the rules of good taste stand in the way of your tutu.
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On Race Day, your shoes should be well-fitting athletic models in order to prevent blisters. Aggressive tread (NOT cleats, they are not allowed in any race we’ve interviewed, so leave ‘em at home) with a thin, slick material on the upper so they don’t hold excess water or mud are preferable. It is beneficial to keep your feet as light as possible with minimal mud coming along for a free ride as you’ll be lifting your paws up about six thousand times on a 5k course – you’ll begin to feel every single extra ounce.
There are even some quasi-obstacle-race specific models on the market from Inov-8, Colombia and Merrell that feature all the grip you need along with an upper and/or sole that drains water quickly. Want to test your shoes before you hit the race course? In Obstacle Race Training: Crush the Most Bad-Ass Courses, we give advice on how to test your shoe and sock choice out to prevent blisters on the big day.
MudRunGuide Shoe Recommendation – The Inov-8 Men’s x-talon 212 Trail Running Shoe. As one person said “Just wore these for two laps in freezing mud at the World’s Toughest Mudder. I could not be happier with shoes for very wet and muddy conditions. After miles of mud, pavement, roots, rocks, no sign of wear. Five stars all the way.”
No matter how much effort and cash you put into getting your shirt, shorts and shoes all set, all that’s for moot if you don’t follow this simple advice: Do not wear cotton socks if there is even a drop of water on the course. The extra moisture held by cotton coupled with running or walking will most likely leave you with blisters. Wet cotton also loses its shape easily, so your socks will rub in places you’d never expect as well as slip out of place on your ankle and let rocks, dirt and debris in. Pick up a pair of man-made fiber socks that fit snugly above your ankle; they will drain faster coupled with good shoes and keep the junk out of the inside of your socks.
MudRunGuide Sock Recommendation – Men’s HeatGear® III Crew Socks by Under Armour
Endurance trail runners swear by ‘em, and they can be extremely helpful to keep dirt, socks and debris out of your shoes when running over rough terrain, but they are a personal decision as they can be expensive, a bit of a pain to get fitted properly and go against the KISS principle; more gear to worry about. A good, albeit ugly, solution is to buy an extra large pair of man-made fiber tube socks and cut the toes off and then slip them over the heel of your shoe and up your ankle. Duct tape the bottom to your heel and around the laces of your shoes; experiment with fit and test ‘em out ahead of time on a run or two.
MudRunGuide Gaiter Recommendation – A second pair of socks & some duct tape. Let’s not over-complicate things!
Yeah, it’s very cool to get matching silk screened T-shirts for your entire team, it builds camaraderie and you all look so damn cute in the pre-race photos. The only problem is that most of the time the cheapest and most readily-available customized shirts are cotton… and we’ve already covered why those suck in the mud. Now, we’re not advocating Writing “Mud Puppy Marauders” on the front and back of eight different fifty-nine dollar Under Armour tech jerseys, but that would probably be the best course of action. A tight-fitting, man-made fabric top is one of the top options; the other is to go shirtless (dudes) or sports-bra/jogging top (ladies). Come to think of it, Jim from accounting probably has hilarious man-boobs; opt for the shirtless team uniform.
MudRunGuide Shirt Recommendation – If it’s warm and you’ll be wearing short sleeves, the Champion Double Dry T-Shirt is a good bet for the men, while the ladies could try the Asics Women’s Core Singlet. If the weather calls for long sleeves, try the Wicking Long-Sleeve Activewear Shirt by Sport Science (Men’s version / Women’s version). Also be sure to check out the obstacle racing apparel at OCRGear.com, which has a rotating stock of options.
Do as I say, not as I do Part I: Make sure your pants can stay up on their own! I made the mistake of wearing loose-fitting cargo shorts at a Spartan Race and ended up in my spandex underwear by mile number three. Cargo shorts or pants with pockets are a relatively bad idea; anything that can fill with mud, will fill with mud. Running one mile with an extra few pounds of mud in your pockets really sucks, and it’s even worse trying to do it for nine. Basketball shorts, even if they are man-made materials are usually a bad idea as they can be heavy, long and most have pockets. Medium-length running shorts are a good choice as they dry quickly, are light and most likely won’t be down around your ankles when you’re scooting under barbed wire. If the weather’s a bit cooler, warm-up nylon pants are a great idea a their slick surface will give you a little advantage when you’re on your belly writing in the mud and they will keep your knees from turning into hamburger from contact with the dirt.
Usually the hottest debated question the morning of an event or well, constantly on blogs and facebook, is whether you should wear gloves or not. The answer is really simple; wear them for obstacles that are nasty on your hands; pulling or climbing ropes, carrying rough objects like cinder blocks of logs or anything that requires a good grip and just take them off and shove ‘em in a pocket or down the back of your pants when you don’t need them. Make sure the gloves fit your hands very well and have plenty of grip; avoid leather or anything that can get slick or hold water. Fingerless workout gloves are commonly found on the course – literally on the ground littered all over some courses – because they get wet, slick and actually make it harder to grip smooth surfaces like monkey bars. Gardening gloves that look like someone dipped a basic pair of fabric gloves into molten rubber work really well and are relatively cheap.
Knee/Elbow Pads or Neoprene Sleeve
Protecting your knees, elbows and hands is actually a very good idea; most events will have at least a half dozen obstacles specifically designed to have you crawling on those tender areas and it’s a good idea to protect them if you’d like to finish the race with all your skin. If you’re into looking tough by not wearing any protective equipment, then go right ahead (and enjoy your scabs for the next week or so), but if you’re looking to be smart and fast – not to mention a little more comfortable than the dude in a Speedo and Vibram FiveFingers – then a little protection goes a long way. Leave the rollerblade hardshell pads at home and opt for thin knee or elbow pads or simple neoprene sleeves. I prefer the latter to cover my knees and elbows as they provide enough cushioning when I run into an obstacle and enough protection to crawl through mud, tubes and anything the course has to throw at me while still having the full range of motion to run.
An entire book could be written just on the do’s and dont’s of costumes and the perilous outcomes of really bad comical attire decisions. Yes, costumes are funny and proclaim your independent (usually cross-dressing) spirit and there’s a one-in-five thousand or so chance that you will win a fifty dollar giftcard to Chili’s for dressing like Dorothy with Toto in a basket stapled onto your back.
Do as I say, not as I do Part II: Yes, I have been seen with fairy wings and a tutu at Mad Mud Run. No, I didn’t win a prize (dammit!) and the chafing from the wings and halo-in-the-eyes wasn’t worth it.
Whatever you wear to the race is what you will be dealing with the entire event; running, crawling, climbing, bending and even sometimes swimming. If you flaunt the KISS rules, then you’ve got to deal with it. Anything that can fall apart will fall apart. Anything that can chafe will chafe. Anything that looks cool at the beginning of the race will look like a mess at the end of the race.
Special shout-out to the guys and gals that wear wedding gowns; you’re not going to ever do that again, right? Didn’t you question your decision about thirty-four seconds after the race started? Yeah, thought so.
Ear/Nose Plugs and Goggles
Anywhere that can hold mud will eventually get packed with it. Emptying mud out of your pockets or from inside your shoes is much easier than cleaning it out of your ENT orifices; your ears especially. Each event I do that features mud results in dirty q-tips for a week after showers and can easily be avoided by packing your ears with a quality disposable pair of ear plugs. Just say no to nose plugs, I’m not even sure why I included them here as I’ve never seen ‘em on the course (although I have seen two different women wearing shower caps over their hair, and neither was part of a costume).
“Here’s mud in your eye” my ass. There’s nothing particularly enjoyable about getting your eyes full of mud, I can personally attest to how much I hated life immediately after finishing Warrior Dash Arizona in 2012 when I gave everything I had in the mud pit to catch up to the guy who was just seconds in front of me in first place and filled every square millimeter of my orbital cavity with fresh, thick Florence, AZ mud. Not only did I finish second in my heat, but my eyes burned for the one hundred mile ride home and even a few hours afterwards. Yes, I’d do it all over again, and no, I still wouldn’t wear goggles – but that’s just me. If you have sensitive eyes, contact lenses or don’t want to show up to the office on Monday like you spent the weekend with Jeff Spicoli then popping a pair of swimmer’s goggles on right before the mud pit is an option; don’t wear them the whole race, you’ll just look silly.
MudRunGuide Goggles & Ear Plug Recommendation – If you end up deciding to toss on a pair of goggles before the mud pit, you can try the Speedo Vanquisher 2.0 Plus Mirrored Goggle. For ear plugs, these should last you a few races: Hearos Ultimate Softness Foam Ear Plugs (Please note that if you wear ear plugs you still need to be able to hear people on course for your own safety – use at your own risk!)
This one is pretty simple – if you don’t drink on the course, you aren’t going to survive. Ok, that might be a bit extreme – but you won’t have your best performance, and you sure won’t have fun!
MudRunGuide Hydration Recommendation – We recommend the Jetflow Tomahawk (Use code MUDrunJET to get any Tomahawk pack for only $34). It’s the only hydration system on the market intended for use with sports drink. The pack skips the pesky bladder and connects directly to a bottle of your favorite beverage or a Nalgene bottle. Jetflow is compatible with most bottles. Additionally the pack has 250 cubic inches of gear storage, which is ample space to stash gloves, extra socks, energy bars, and of course duct tape! The pack is made from durable material that can withstand the rough ride. Shoulder straps and sternum straps are adjustable. After the race, simply hose off the pack and sterilize the hydration system in the dishwasher.
Every good athlete knows that when you race hard, you need to recover hard. That means taking care of your body post-race and doing things that promote muscle recovery. One of the things we love to use are CW-X compression tights which support and stabilize joints and muscles for faster, more efficient recovery.
“Attention racers, if you find an iPhone in a pink case out on the course there is a one hundred dollar reward for the person who turns it in to an official on the course. Please do not put it in your pocket and run through the water obstacles. Thank you.” – Announcer at Spartan Race Arizona 2012.
If you don’t want to lose it, then do not bring it on the course. Your cellphone and wallet belong in the car after registration is done. Your earrings, necklaces and anything that’s worth more than five dollars that’s clipped, strapped, draped or hung around your body will fall off and be gone forever; it’s as simple as that. There are some awesome and honest race volunteers out there that may give your your smartphone back, but why should they have to carry your stuff around? Be responsible and leave anything that isn’t required for the race in your locked car or checked gear bag (although you should never leave valuables in your gear bag, just change of clothes and maybe a backup set of car keys.) Waterproof, head-mounted video recorders are ok-ish, but be prepared to edit out all the shots looking up the leg of someone’s shorts during an obstacle and getting an eyeful of something that you had no intention of seeing the first time – never mind playing it back on tape. My personal opinion is to go out and run the race and leave the videography to the people that do it for a living.