When I first started out in OCR (Obstacle Course Racing) I spent a lot of time researching what to wear for the races. In fact, I probably spent more time researching kit than I did training, which is probably why I ended up heaving at the monkey bars at my first race. Shameful, but true.
As time has gone by, i'm still just as obsessed by kit as I was in the beginning, but thankfully, i'm now just as obsessed with the training!
With that in mind, I thought it'd be helpful for any newbies out there to see exactly what i've used, from my humble beginnings, to my awesomely average current day standings.
Before I get into specifics, there is one major piece of advice I will give to those new to the sport. For the love of god, please don't wear cotton!
What may be comfortable cotton lycra leggings, or a nicely branded cotton charity t shirt, will halfway round the course be a sodden, heavy, muddy mess. Please, don't do it to yourself!
This includes, but is not limited to: cotton leggings, cotton t shirt, cotton bra, cotton socks, and cotton pants. Yes, you heard me. I'm even telling you what pants to wear.
First and foremost, the most important, the bone of contention, the biggie:
Take it from me. Not wearing the right trainers can cause all sorts of issues. From slowing you down and losing your shoes, to injuries such as turned over ankles, and lost toenails. Yep, it can get pretty disgusting.
Now, there are some amazing OCR specific shoes out there, but if you're new into it, you probably don't want to be dropping £90 straight away (although, to be honest, you may as well, because you WILL become addicted, and you're going to buy them eventually, so just give in now!)
For my first ever OCR (the Yorkshire Spartan Sprint, a 5KM dash through mud, up hills, over monkey bars, up ropes, and over fire). I was lucky enough to find a pair of New Balance minimus at TK Maxx for £16.99. Since buying these trainers I have looked high and low and finally found another pair (turns out they were childrens shoes, who'd've known...) because quite honestly, they are the comfiest shoes I have ever worn. I love them. Whilst they were not perfect for racing, they were a damn sight better than a pair of regular running trainers, and it meant that I didn't have to splash out immediately.
Searching places like TK Maxx and Sports Direct is a great way to find a good entry level shoe, I wouldn't look online unless you know the size, because you really need to make sure it fits well to avoid injury.
There are a few key qualities to look for in an OCR shoe:
Stay on-a-bility (??)
What I tend to do when I first look at a shoe, is bend it. I'm not sure why, but I bend it. I guess I want to see how flexible it is, how much leeway it's going to give me when climbing up a slippy wall, or over rocks. Second inspection is the sole. You need good grip. Ideally you want “lugs” on the soles, but a lot of these are expensive, however, you want to make sure that when climbing up a muddy bank, you're going to get enough traction from your shoe to get up there.
I then look at the weight and construction. For me, the lighter the better. (Although I would stress here, if you have had no experience of “barefoot running” technique then do be wary of how light you go. You still need good support from your shoes to avoid long term injury.)
Personally I want my shoe to be very lightweight, with little padding, with ideally the body made of mesh to allow any water to drain out (as you will be getting wet immediately!)
Finally, you want to make sure that that bugger will be staying on your feet, try pulling at the back of the heel, you want resistance so that when you are stuck in that clay, you won't be losing your shoes like I did in Yorkshire!
If you're looking to invest in a pricier OCR specific shoe then there are three brands that come out on top:
Personally I find that the Reebok all terrain ticks all the boxes for me, it's lightweight, the lugs on the soles mean that I can power up muddy banks, and most importantly, it has a specifically high back on the ankle to stop the shoe coming off during a race. (and I have been in some very sticky mud, and that shoe hasn't shifted a mm!)
Now obviously not every shoe works for everyone, and quite a few complaints i've heard about the all terrain include a narrow toe box, and getting blisters on your ankles from the high backs. What I would suggest with these shoes is to go up at least half a size from your regular size, even if this feels too big, and it should fix those issues. Also, I would never wear a shoe straight from the box to a race without wearing it in a bit first, but some people like to be able to do that.
Now unless you are an insane athlete like Lucy Martlew or Katie Keeble, then it's likely that you, like me, will not be able to race in minimal race wear. (Seriously, these ladies power through the courses so quickly that anything more would just slow them down!)
Also, unless you have nerves of steel, a sense of humour, and tremendous skill like Joel Hicks and Faye Caley, then it's unlikely you will be wanting to run the Beast (A 20km multi hilled, multi obstacled behemoth) in costume. (Yes, and they still both did it in amazing times!)
For general races (i.e., non winter races) you'll be looking at some key areas from your clothing:
Ease of movement
Keeping the right body temperature
First and foremost, and i've said it before, but I will say it again. Please no cotton! What you want to be looking for is performance wear in wicking fabric.
This confused me for quite a while. Basically you're looking for stretchy and synthetic, to put it at it's most basic. The easiest thing if you're unsure is to check the fibre content label, if you see cotton, don't wear it!
The basic outfit that tends to work for a shorter race is performance fabric vest or short sleeve t shirt and capris. There is little you are going to do to your arms that will require protection, and also, you have the risk of over heating in long sleeves.
Wearing capris keeps your knees protected in the obstacles such as crawls (where in later heats they can become quite back logged meaning you can be crawling for a while) and protect your legs on the rope climbs (do not under estimate the pain of rope burn on a bare inner thigh) and going over walls (Again, those inner thighs can be quite delicate when you first start out!)
I did find during a 14km race (The Spartan Super at Pippingford) that with bare calves I got cramp towards the end. For my next race (20km) I attempted to avoid this by wearing 2XU calf compression sleeves. These did the trick perfectly, and I cannot recommend them enough.
In terms of brands, it's all down to personal preference, up until tearing my trusty Adidas capris at the beast, I had worn nothing else, however I decided to upgrade and requested a pair of 2XU capris for christmas. I also recently purchased Skins compression tights for the Grim Challenge in Aldershot, as this was held in December and I needed the warmth. These also are of a very high quality, and if you were looking to upgrade, I would definitely recommend them.
Underwear and accessories
Now, not knowing any better, here is where I made my first error on my first ever race. Whilst I had a good sports bra, I didn't think much about other undergarments. All I can say is that 5 muddy and wet km later, I had a pair of cotton socks bunched up at the end of my shoes, and i'd been hoicking up my underwear in a not very lady like manner for the last 40 minutes.
Whilst I really need to invest in a pair of darn tough socks from Muddy Kit, i've found that ankle socks from Nike do the job well in the meantime, and will stick with these until they wear out. In terms of underwear, here's a secret for you: A lot of compression gear is actually see through. I discovered this to my shame in a pair of shorts at a circuits class when I realised you could see my stripy pants....
To avoid any embarrassment and also to avoid the tricky cotton underwear issues i've taken to wearing seamless pants from good old M&S. I find that not only do these not cause any issues while running, i've got a big enough of an ego to care whether they can be seen through my compression wear!
There's one debate that rages in the OCR community. Gloves. Are they cheating? Do they help? To be honest, I train without them, but I do use them for OCRs. Personally I find them helpful, and I don't think it's cheating at all! Anything to make it all a little easier for me. I like fingerless training gloves from Nike, but whether you go for full hand or fingerless is down to preference.
One for the ladies and those men who are of a hairier nature...at some races such as Spartan, you are given a headband to run in with your number (which to be honest, is the best damn work out headband i've got). These things are pretty much staying on 100%. Aside from this, bondi bands are fantastic. I've been coveting this “Chicked Nation” bondi band for a while, but until they ship to the UK we'll have to do with plain!
I've always run with short hair, but one tip i've heard a few times is to cover your longer hair in conditioner, and then plait. This means when you get home from your race, with mud caked through your hair you are much likelier to get it clean without much frustration.
Whilst somewhat in depth, this is my basic summer/autumn kit. I'll be giving my winter kit a good outing at Judgement day this weekend, but the real test will be at Tough Guy in February! There's also a whole world of hydration vests, dry-robes (well, I can cover this one if anyone gets me one for Christmas...anyone?) and pre, during and post nutrition to cover, so keep your eyes peeled!