Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) is continuing its rise in popularity in the UK; it is now common for everyone of all abilities to tackle one of the many OCR events taking place, from the fun and Wipeout styled Rough Runner, to the more team based Tough Mudder and for those more committed you have Spartan Races where you can place within their ranking both Worldwide and within the UK.
I fell in love with OCR and Spartan Races in particular, back in 2016 when they held their Sprint race at the Queen Elizabeth Park in Stratford. I tackled the Spartan Sprint with my good friend James and even though we started together we had agreed to run our own race and see what happened. It was during this race where I discovered how much I like to push myself and go full idiot mode, pushing myself beyond my expectations with little regard for my own safety.
Having now completed over 10 Spartan Races, I have managed to get my race kit pretty much down to perfection where I feel most comfortable tackling the obstacles. And packing my kit is a breeze, knowing what I need and what I don’t. I thought I would share my essential kit for all those wanting to take the leap and get an obstacle race under your belt.
I was unfortunate enough to purchase some Reebok Spartan trainers when I first got into OCR, naively assuming that considering they were made by the sponsor of Spartan and designed solely for the purpose of completing obstacle races, that they would be a perfect match. Sadly I discovered they were perfectly matched for the bin, and that’s where they went! The best feature was the drainage, you could run a tap into them and the water would flow out just as quickly as it went it. The biggest failure was comfort, which is pretty essential if you ask me! They were about as supportive as Trump is with banning automatic rifles! In the one race I used them I felt like my ankles were going to snap, and when I stood on a rock the pain went shooting up my legs. As you can imagine its far from ideal…
When a friend recommended Salomon SPEEDCROSS 4 shoes I did a bit of research online and found that they were pretty much the go to shoe for obstacle races, so I took the leap. They made their first outing on a Spartan Race weekend where I did the usual idiot mode and wore them without testing or wearing them in and this is where the proof that they are EPIC shoes comes from. My first outing was a 16 mile race and they felt beautiful, secure and supportive throughout the race. The grip meant I managed to stay on my feet as much as possible, except for crawling under barbed wire of course, and from that day on they were my go to OCR shoes.
You won’t find that many people wearing a GPS watch during an obstacle course race, but I am a sucker for stats and like to keep an eye on my progress during a race. Which is where the workhorse that is the GARMIN Fenix 3 Sapphire comes into play. It is a multisport GPS fitness tracker, which comes with a trail running feature that is perfect for OCR it constantly updates you on pace, distance climbed and also heart rate, meaning you can keep a great eye on pace and how hard you are pushing yourself. It will survive the toughest conditions, able to tackle 100 meters underwater and the display is protected with a scratch resistant domed sapphire glass lens. Meaning it will survive even if you don’t, just let your friends know to pause your Garmin if you collapse, don’t want to mess up the stats remember…
What do you use to take all your beloved kit to the race, that can also handle the filth that you will pile in there once you’ve finished the race caked from head to toe in mud and smelling like you’ve been for a swim in the sewers of Victorian London? I managed to stumble upon the Crossing 70 Litre Welded Seam Duffel Bag from Rat Race, despite owning the bag I am yet to complete a Rat Race event, they are definitely on my to do list but have never managed to find a race that doesn’t clash with something else. But this bag is massive, at 70l capacity and can take some abuse, the zips are massive so when you’ve finished and can’t feel your fingers you could easily undo the bag with your teeth. I mean the bag is pretty much indestructible as you can see here from this ridiculous video from Rat Race themselves
This is a very personal essential and something you may not need for an obstacle race, but I most certainly do. Being one of those runners that doesn’t warm up properly and most certainly never uses a foam roller I tend to get crazy tight calves, knee pain and some Achilles tendinitis. I mean running is good for you, right?
But in all seriousness since discovering Rymora it has most certainly helped my running and meant that I feel a lot more comfortable during and post my runs or obstacle races. I always use Rymora Compression Socks to keep my calves supported, they are super comfy and essentially just cuddle your calves the whole way round.
I don’t always use the Rymora Knee Sleeves but if I’m feeling particularly cautious or fragile I will wear one. I got a mild tear in my Patella tendon from completing Hell Up North so have to be extra careful that I don’t get side lined, that tear took 3 months of no activity to recover and I went stir crazy, so want to do my best to avoid that.
You will see many different gloves on your journey into obstacle races, mostly the rubber gardening gloves that people seem to pick up. You will mostly see these on the floor not long into the race, mainly after a water obstacle. This is due to the fact that they are pretty useless apart from making you look like a binman, they fill up with water and give you epic palm sweats. I actually managed to get friction burns using those style gloves on the Monkey Bars tearing a chunk of skin off in the process.
Having learnt my lesson I found out that in the United States there are actually official Spartan gloves, the FITFOUR GLOVES are only available in the states at present and to be honest they are damn expensive, especially if like me the customs charge nearly doubles the price of the gloves. Saying that they are absolutely amazing, giving you extra support on the wrists with wrist wraps that are designed to go around your watch or timing chips, they are fingerless so you don’t get them filling up with water or drenched with sweaty digits. And most of all they are leather meaning the grip is immense, helping you to smash out rope climbs, monkey bars and many more obstacles.
Last but not least is what I like to call the dignity saver, or as it is more commonly named, the DRYROBE. I managed to get mine free thanks to a promotion ran by both Dryrobe and Spartan Race UK. It essentially is a woolly jacket that is massive enough that you can pull your arms in and get changed underneath it. If you order a big enough size you could probably get two people in it, imagine the fun you could have…..
A bit about Ian: Having spent most of my 20s partying and living in excess, my life took a turn towards building a better me when my biggest motivation arrived. I took up running, OCR and fitness classes, lost over 30kg and turned my diet around – all to try and be healthier for my beautiful daughter. Follow my blog and social channels as I continue running, OCR, and now take on CrossFit, working to be the best me for my WHY.