I miss that feeling you get when you first go to an obstacle course. The worries about whether you’re going to get through. Are the challenges going to be unbearable? Are you going to collapse in a heap half way through? Or, worst of all, are you going to look like a muppet who doesn’t know what they’re doing? I don’t know whether that’s my insecure paranoid side coming out, but I definitely felt those things. Maybe as a first timer you’re getting those fears too...
Fear not obstacle course race virgins! I’ve got a few tips here that will make you fit in and perform on race day. And, by the way, relish that excited nervousness that you’re feeling. It will make the thrill of achievement even greater as you cross the finish line.
I can’t tell you how many races I’ve run now but, rest assured, it's a lot. Every time I pack a bag for a race I spend all evening racking my brains, trying to remember all of the things I need to take with me. My long suffer mud running widow, Becky, repeatedly tells me that I should make a list. So, smart arse, here is my list for all the world to see. These are the things that you should think about taking to a mud run or obstacle course race:
Race clothing suitable for the weather
I write this article in the middle of a scorching summer. Breaking through ice-covered lakes is but a distant memory. So I’m going to focus more on the summer side of things right now and will write an update later in the year to help out those braving the winter events.
Not the best choice of outfit - vest would be okay if it wasn't cotton but those trousers and shoes are a big no-no.
In the summer there’s a good chance you’ll be okay wearing shorts and a vest/t-shirt. However it’s worth packing an extra base layer for your top half at least, in the event of colder snaps, rain or wind. You’ll have to make a judgement call on the day but expect to get a little colder than you normally would do running, as there’s a good chance you’ll be wet for long periods.
For your t-shirts and base layers, you should ideally choose sports fabrics that wick moisture away (most good running gear does that). Avoid cotton! It stores water, weighs you down and will get really cold if the weather turns. Something like a Helly Hansen Lifa base layer is a handy bit of kit to have (or an equivalent ski-style base layer), it really takes the edge off the cold and is as light as a feather if you decide against wearing it and just want to wrap it around your waist.
When temperatures start dropping more in autumn/winter consider merino wool - it’s magic - it stays warm when you’re wet and wicks moisture away nicely. It ain’t cheap though unfortunately, but if you’re getting serious about running in the cold it’s worth checking out Smartwool’s range. You may even want to consider neoprene when it gets really icy, but we’ll leave that for now!
Look how much more fun you can have when you're wearing the right gear!
Extra tip: Headbands are functional as well as fashionable. Wearing a headband will reduce the amount of sweat, mud and loads of other painful stuff from running into your eyes. Get out and buy one... or go and earn one at Tough Mudder!
Shoes suitable for mud
I’d like to say this goes without saying but, judging by the amount of people I’ve seen sliding around in road running shoes, it clearly doesn’t. I’d say 95% of the time you’d be better in trail shoes that road shoes. Aside from the urban events (Survival of the Fittest for example), you’re going to spend a lot of time on trails, grassland, shallow slippery mud and deep sticky mud. In most cases, trail shoes perform better in those environments. I personally chose shoes with deep lugs, as they perform particularly well in the shallow slippery mud and hills.
Look at the lugs on those bad boys!
Also TIE YOUR SHOELACES WELL! I’ve never been that guy who loses a shoe in a knee-deep mud pit and has to run the rest of the race in socks. I never want to be that guy and neither do you! Do a double bow - heck do a triple bow! Your shoes may be a pain in the ass to get off, but that is infinitely better than losing one along the way.
Remember, mud sucks!
Protection for vulnerable areas
I’m not talking about the “family jewels”, although I do feel like I’ve been near to losing them at times when I’ve scraped over the top of walls and waded through icy lakes. I’m talking knees, elbows and hands. In the winter you’ll generally be wearing long legs and sleeves so this is less of an issue but in summer there’s a good chance you’ll take a layer of skin off your knees and elbows, if they’re not covered up.
Cover knees, elbows and hands.
I find neoprene supports to be a good option for race day. Choose neoprene over elastic supports, as it handles water extremely well and naturally has a little bit of padding in it. Avoid supports with velcro, as that’s likely to get filled up with mud and grass and just keep coming undone.
Gloves are a really great bit of kit to have. You’re going to be scrambling around loads on your hands and be handling ropes and wood, so having something to prevent grazing and splinters is well worth it. When it’s cold, neoprene gloves are awesome, as they keep you warm and are really grippy. In the summer, you can pick up grippy gloves dirt cheap from Sports Direct and gardening / household stores - they’ll do the job a treat!
There’s a very good chance that there won’t be any running water, let alone a shower, when you finish your race. Don’t be alarmed by this; it’s best if you prepare for the worst. There may not even be changing areas. You may well have to change in a car park with only a towel to protect your dignity.
As well as being your changing curtain, your towel will be a useful tool for cleaning. Take your oldest, coarsest towel and it will be great for scraping away the worst of the excess mud.
After-race clothing that will keep you warm whatever the weather
Before you set out to run your race, get your dry after-race clothes ready at the top of your bag. You won’t want to hunt for them when you’re tired and covered in mud. Always have more clothes than you would normally wear. After the race you may be a little fragile or chilly, so having extra layers at hand will be comforting. I personally have some big thick layers that are easy and quick to get on. Especially in the winter when you’re battling with cramp, you don’t want to be messing around with anything too tight or fiddly.
This is possibly one of the best tips in this article and it’s something I’ve done since day one. Bring two bin bags with you. After you strip off, stick everything inside there - clothes, shoes, towel, the works. Double bag, seal up and throw it in the boot. You’ll be safe in the knowledge that mud and bog water isn’t going to be leaking out everywhere and you won’t have to worry about it until wash day.
Food and drink for before
Eating and drinking habits before, during and after exercise is a personal thing, so I’m not going to force my opinions on you too much here.
I will make sure that I’m up in time to eat breakfast at least two hours before a race (preferably three), porridge with bananas is my preference. If I know I’m not going to have the luxury of being able to cook (if I’m camping or whatever), I’ll grab some malt loaf and squeezy jam!
Yeh, good and ripe!
Between then and race time, the only thing that will pass my lips is, possibly, one more banana and a bunch of water. In the half hour leading up to the race I’ll maybe have a sports energy drink, with electrolytes, yada-yada-yada. You may have a different ritual, but for me, I need to remember:
a) Loads of water (I buy a couple 2 litre bottles from the supermarket for around 15p each, that will see me through the whole day)
b) A banana
c) Energy drink (I use powder and mix my own)
Gels for during (optional)
Again, this is a personal preference thing and in a lot of cases is unnecessary, unless you’re really looking to perform.
When I’m hitting a race hard, I like to carry energy gels to take every 20-30mins. Carrying them can be a problem, but I tend to stick them in the back of my gloves, in the key pocket of my shorts, or in folded-over elastic bandages on my wrists. You can get race belts with elastic gel holders, but they ain’t so great for when you’re getting down and dirty. If you do get a belt for that, get one with large enough zip-pouches for gels, rather than relying on the elastic hoops.
Don't drop your gel packet after drinking it - that always winds me up - just stick it back in your gloves or shorts or whatever. You'll be in some beautiful countryside after all.
If you’re running anything up to 10km, I wouldn’t worry too much about gels and, even in races over that, you might be lucky enough to be offered a banana or jelly bean by the organisers.
Food and drink for after the race
Some people are ravenously hungry after a race and others, like me, lose their appetite. The chances are there will be loads of food on offer in the events village, so by all means take advantage of that. I personally like to have a bottle ready to make a protein shake as soon as I’ve finished. It will quench my thirst and, as long as I get that down, I’m free to eat or not eat depending on how I feel, yet be satisfied that I’ve had what my body really needs to recover.
Okay, there it is! No doubt I've forgotten something... I always seem to on race day. If you have any tips or rituals you'd like to add, feel free to make use of the comments section below. Or we also have a forum discussion about clothing tips that you can join in here. Sharing's caring! 😉