Winter racing is a staple of the OCR calendar; a rite of passage, if you will. The euphoria of being able to feel your extremities after Winter Nuts, for example, is dreamlike.
It's also a nightmare if you don't get your kit and your strategy in check. After Dr Becky’s very interesting article on the science behind why we sometimes don’t finish races, we have been terrified into updating that all-important winter kit list! So, come with us if you want to live.
If you’re looking to upgrade your winter wardrobe, last year’s tips and tricks are still going strong, so we’re going to build on that!
For races involving full submersion, a neoprene hat is an absolute must. It doesn’t need to be expensive; it just needs to be snug enough not to pop off when you’re on a slide. You don’t need to wear it all race- keep it snugly stuffed down your top until just before you need it. It won’t stop your head getting wet, but it will warm the water that is on your head, and can really reduce the head-ringing feeling when you hit an icy lake. Top tip – pull it down over your ears before you slide or jump in! Better still, secure it with a wrag if you’re worried it might fly off.
Neoprene is overused in many winter races - it’s important to choose neoprene for wet, body immersion races, rather than run-heavy events. It’s vital that you move and breathe in neoprene clothing, be it a wetsuit, or simple top. That’s why neoprene vests are so good, because you can whip them off without needing too much help, and you have free range of arm movement when wearing them on course.
If you’re considering a neoprene investment, favourite brands are Gul (great pricing) and Orca (if you’re wanting to be a little flashier). You can find some great deals on https://www.wetsuitoutlet.co.uk
Still on the kitesurfing kick, we have found some merino-lined 1.5mm neoprene gloves that allow for some dexterity to be maintained. My personal favourites are still O’Neill’s sticky, grippy FLX gloves. TWF gloves are an OCR staple too, and can be easily picked up cheaply on Amazon.
Standard grippy gardening gloves, such as MadGrip are usually great, but they will not keep your hands warm in the water, in fact, the fibre used will likely add to cooling, and we ain’t about that life.
Again, you may run hot and not want to wear gloves at all times – that’s why duct taping them on (yes, we see you) is unwise!
Some still prefer to wear shorts in winter races, because nothing dries like bare skin, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this isn’t the best idea for Winter Nuts. You spend a lot of time on your knees, and the ground is the least forgiving in the land. Spare your skin, but don’t spend a fortune on technical, warm tights unless you have prepared yourself mentally for the fact that they will come back with holes in the knees.
Some people swear by waterproof socks, but I’m going to go out on a limb here by saying they’re a little pointless in races requiring over the ankle immersion, because water will get in to them. I think you’re best off with thin neoprene socks. Your feet WILL get wet, but the thin film of warm water that will surround your feet because of the neoprene will make it painless. Sloshing about in a sock that was once waterproof is less pleasant, though if you’re insistent on a waterproof sock, most opt for Sealskinz.
Here are HQ’s winter racing tips and tricks for 2018.
Andy: Andy has possibly my favourite tip of them all, and that’s to wrap your dry clothes in a hot water bottle, so that they’re ready and warm when you get back to them.
Also, using plastic tub trugs to stand on and get changed can really save your feet. They’re also perfect for transporting wet kit home.
Tom: Don’t just get any old pair of neoprene gloves – get ones designed for sports that require dexterity and warmth, like kite surfing or windsurfing. Tom is also a fan of this bad boy – a way of keeping your kit together and your feet off the ground.
Phil: When it comes to lapped races, bring a whole selection of clothing. You’ll want fresh clothes for the later laps. Phil is also a great hater of ‘compression’ and thinks even the ones that call themselves 'thermal' are useless
Adam: Swim-run wetsuits, usually for triathlons, allow for the best flexibility, making them ideal for Endurance races like Europe’s Toughest Mudder and NUTS.
Natasha: Natasha is so busy taking on all our cold weather tips that she hasn’t compiled a set of her own, except for plumping for that trusty DryRobe – ideal for spectating, cover during transition or changing, and snuggling into afterwards.
Pete: Don’t give up on neoprene just because you wore it to a race, did a lot of running around and got too hot. Use it wisely – you need it in only the wettest races, and even then, the best compromise between warmth and flexibility is probably a vest.
Ami: It’s super important to check how your winter kit fits before race day. Neoprene socks are thicker than normal ones, and they may not fit into your trainers; you can take your insoles out to combat this, or size up for wet winter races. Have a little run in your wetsuit before race day; I have a great wetsuit but it was throttling me, and I had to cut the neck for comfort, and I’m glad I figured this out in advance. Customise your kit to fit you before you find out the hard way.