My first race in the elite heat I went all out on was in Temecula, January 2015, and I finished in 27th place. My last elite heat Spartan Race was the LA Sprint in December 2015 and I finished in 9th place. It was a long journey full of trial and error and hard training and I hope I can help others by sharing my experiences here. Check out the “About” page or look at my Athlinks race results if you want to know more about who’s writing this stuff.
This post will focus on the clothing I’ve used. The next post will be about my training, how it changed over the year, and how it affected my performance and results. I’ll talk about nutrition and hydration in another follow-up. Obviously, your mileage/method might vary with everything I’m going to mention.
Feel free to ask any questions in the comments, shoot me an email, or reach out on Facebook.
Perfection is a moving target
I will lay out what gear I’ve used, what I’ve used it for, why I changed it and how I feel about it. For what it’s worth: I’m not getting sponsored by anyone; I’ve never received any of it for free.
What works best for you depends on the purpose you want to use it for, your body, your build, your athleticism, your preferences, past injuries, running style, and a plethora of other factors. As you and your body and your abilities change, so will the gear that’s best suited for you individually.
Jump directly to one of the sections further down or continue reading:
Shoes – so many shoes…
I have ordered Asics, Icebugs, and many many Inov-8 models on top of the shoes I list below. The reason why I don’t write about them is simple: Out of the box, they didn’t feel right. Sometime the fit was too loose, sometimes the toe box was too big or the fit on the mid-foot too narrow. I live in NorCal and haven’t found a single store with a remotely decent selection of aggressive trail shoes which would work well for OCR. So I ended up buying so many models and sizes online and sending them back (unused of course) that I got banned from one of the biggest running shoe retailers in the US – who happens to call California home… That’s what you get when you look for the perfect fit.
I’ve used these shoes in 2015 for obstacle course racing
- Salomon SpeedCross 3: The shoes I started running with. Built like a tank, they offer a ton of protection, solid traction, and very good cushioning. This is bought with a high dry weight and bad water drainage which in turn results in a very high weight once you hit the water. Also, these shoes have a significant heel to toe drop. I think these are great beginner shoes, simply because of the comfort and protection they offer at a reasonable price, combined with above average durability. I won’t wear there anymore since I prefer lighter shoes with better drainage.
- Inov-8 X-Talon 200: The shoes I wanted to love! They feel incredibly light, have only a small drop, grip like demons, drain very well… but the way they feel around my ankle, I never felt like I could trust them completely. I’ve tried different ways to tie my shoes but no luck. The only way for me to feel safe was to tie them down so hard that it constricted blood flow to unacceptable levels. Plus, due to their light weight built and high lugs they suffer from pretty low durability. To be fair, that’s true for most race shoes. I’ve recently bought Salomon laces and will revisit these shoes.
- Salomon S-Lab Sense 4 Ultra Soft Ground: My current and favorite race shoe as of now. The incredible comfort Salomon S-Lab shoes offer is just amazing to me. A good combination of weight, drop, drainage, price, and availability seals the deal. I’ve had issues with them blowing out on both sides and I’ve reached out to Salomon to ask them about it – the first outer layer seems to rip but it’s not a full on hole. If those issues continue, these might surprisingly be the worst durability I’ve seen in a shoe yet unfortunately.
Additionally, I’ve used these shoes in training and for road races or laps on the track:
- Inov-8 F-Lite 195: Super light, super comfortable for their minimalist nature, cheap, these are my go to weight lifting and road running shoes for anything up to a 5k. I highly recommend these shoes for anything on solid surfaces.
- Salomon S-Lab X-Series: A wonderful hybrid shoe. If I know I will run on a mix of trail/street/track or I will run more than a 5k distance, these red rockets come out to play. I’ve ran almost 20 miles total in two consecutive races on the streets of San Francisco during the Urbanathlon and was worried how my legs would hold up. I never run on pavement or asphalt in training. I credit these shoes with me having zero problems.
Socks – substance over style
Like many people I’ve talked to in the endurance and OCR community, my pinky toes are the first victims of any self-applied punishment I put my body through. My solution: Injinji toe socks. Since I’ve used them the first time in GORUCK endurance events in 2013 I’ve never looked back and wear them at each and every event I do. For anything longer than a 5k I also use Leukotape on the poor little guys.
- Run 2.0 Original Weight Mini-Crew: My standard running sock. Light, covers the ankle, retains little to no water.
- Compression 2.0 OTC: I’ve started using these more and more. Mostly for the additional protection against rope burn (rope climb, Tyrolean traverse), scratches, and environmental effects. I can’t say anything about the effects of compression on me yet though.
Shorts – less is more
It’s a process to find out what you really need when you are racing. Sometimes you curse yourself in the middle of a race for not bringing that gel with you, other times you can feel every single ounce you have to carry with you (usually when you ascent for miles and miles).
- Hylete Vertex zip pocket short: I’ve used these for about 70% of my races this year. They have two slanted zipper pockets which are big enough to hold any nutrition items. They also have a waist band that you can funnel either on the inside or on the outside of the waist on the shorts, so it can’t get caught on any obstacles. However, now I feel like they are a bit too loose, too long, and to heavy when wet for my liking.
- Under Armour/Nike Pro Combat compression shorts: Running in compression shorts only was a weird transition for someone who never ran in his life. It felt like wearing underwear in public and I honestly felt almost like I’m walking around in a Speedo – awkward. The benefit of a snug fit and perceived zero weight quickly made me forget that and I’ve never looked back. I stuff nutrition Items between my quad and the shorts whenever I need my hands free and that works well so far.
Shirts – body armor
I never race without a shirt, period. If you see me running without a shirt, I’m either training or attending a race just for fun. I personally just prefer the extra layer of protection against the environment (rain, wind, cold, heat) and obstacles (barbed wire, walls, ropes, logs, etc.) and have never found a reason to ditch the shirt. Granted, it does look cooler in race pictures.
I won’t mention any specific shirt here since I’ve used Under Armour, Adidas, Nike, and other brands and couldn’t really feel much of a difference between them. As long as it’s compression and either geared towards cold or heat (sometimes with vents under the arm pits), I’m fine with it. From sleeveless to normal sleeves to long sleeves, I adapt to the environment.
At very hot races (Hey Hellmecula) I opt for sleeveless – unless it’s a HH12HR, where I have the opportunity to put water on the shirt and down my neck frequently. Since this allows me to regulate my body temperature, I will use a long sleeve shirt and even go with Kuhl hiking pants. The logic is that you don’t get direct exposure to sunlight and the fabric holds water to assist your body in its efforts to stay cool. Sweat evaporates very quickly when you’re working hard and moving fast in the SoCal sun.
In the cold, I layer clothing instead of wearing something thicker. You can always stuff an extra shirt down the back of your compression pants when it gets too warm – please, don’t ditch it on the side of the trail!
For everything in between I mostly use normal compression shirts. I have suffered very few scratches on my torso but barely anything that isn’t ripped or doesn’t have holes in it somewhere so I will stick with that strategy. Maybe I’ll do the Spartan Stadium Sprints shirtless though!