The Importance of Good Kit – Legs and Body

Last weekend with no race to run, I amused myself writing a post about the kit I choose to use on my hands and feet, and I was in all honesty blown away with the response to an article about gloves socks and shoes! This week, with yet another race free weekend to contend with, I’m writing the second instalment, which will basically cover everything else I wear and why.

This time I will start at the top and work my way down.

Top Half

For my first two races, I just shoved on my original RP Combat Conditioning top, without giving it much thought. This was a vest made from cotton, and actually isn’t the best choice for racing. The problem with cotton is that it will absorb water, stay wet, get heavy and leave you cold.

For Warrior Run, on a lovely day in October, this didn’t matter at all, but it was a different story when I did Beat the Bog in November – if I knew then what I know now, I might not have spent an hour blue after that race.

Base Layers

The first thing I have learned is that if its cold, you are going to want a base layer. I got myself a Nike Dri-fit base layer in February before doing a training session on the Nuts Challenge course, and I also have a thinner RPCC long sleeved top, giving me an option depending on the temperature.

Nike and RPCC base layers
Nike and RPCC base layers

The Nike top performed really well in the cold conditions at Nuts, it is very warm and keeps you warm even when you are wet, but would probably leave me too warm as the temperature starts to rise, the other is thinner and a better option if its not freezing. I like having the option, and I use the RPCC top on cooler training sessions as well.

Tops

On your top half you should really wear t shirts or vests made of technical material, something that is going to be breathable and not hold water (You could also run topless, I know a few guys who pick this option!).

I have a range of vests to choose from when I run, which I either wear on their own or over a base layer. Once you have run a few races you will also start to pick up a collection of race tees which you could use – I tend to use mine for training though.

A small selection of my choice of vests
A small selection of my choice of vests

For those of you who might be a little more self-conscious bare in mind that the lighter colours are quite unforgiving on the figure once they have got wet and are clinging to your every lump and bump, the darker colours hide this better – just a little tip. You can pick up a decent t-shirt from any sports shop, or on-line without too much trouble.

Bottom Half

As with every other section of kit I have managed to make some mistakes on my bottom half too. In this case it was only recently that I have made kit errors, I’m still learning too!

Running Tights

In the colder months it’s not too difficult to get it right, don’t wear cotton, wear something that will wick away moisture and keep you warm. I would also suggest nothing too baggy.

I ran my first race in a pair of normal Nike running shorts (more on this later) and my second in a pair of Karrimor leggings picked up from Sports Direct, but preparing for Nuts I wanted something a little warmer, so I picked up a pair of Nike running leggings that were made for winter and had Dri-fit technology. These performed great and I’ve worn them quite a few times for races, although they are reaching the end of their life now, as they are wearing through a bit on the knees now, which I think was a souvenir from the Dirty Dozen race in April.

Nike Running Leggings
Nike Running Leggings

I really dislike being too hot when I run, so once the weather starts to turn a bit warmer I usually opt for shorts.  Now for the problem with my normal running shorts, once they got wet they started to ride up and cause rubbing – not pleasant or convenient when you are part way through a race I can assure you. They would still be OK to wear however over the top of some compression shorts or similar, again this might be something to consider if you don’t like the look of yourself in tight shorts.

Shorts

The first pair of shorts I bought specifically for racing were a pair of X-Racewear ladies run shorts. These include a convenient bib pocket on one leg which stops you losing your race number in the midst of a race – a problem I have had before. These shorts are tight, but there is also a unisex pair if you prefer things a bit loser. I find these really useful for keeping my race number safe, however I have found the number can get a bit screwed up sometimes. I wear these over the top of my running tights, or the compression shorts which will be up next. They are also quite short so I’m not really very likely to wear them without something underneath, but this is really just my own personal preference.

X Racewear Shorts
X Racewear Shorts

 

As I have mentioned above I also have a pair of 2XU compression shorts, which I bought along with some 2XU compression calf guards. I initially got these after suffering some cramp towards the end of the Dirty Dozen race, which was, at the time, the longest distance I had run. I have worn these to my last few races and they have performed really well, no cramp at all, and they also help to reduce recovery time. In fact it’s not unusual to find me at home after a training session sitting around in my compression wear to help aid recovery, and It has worked so well that I have since bought a new pair of full compression tights, and am considering the purchase of a compression top too.

2XU compression shorts and calf guards
2XU compression shorts and calf guards

The compression wear is pricey, but I’m sure I’ve said before that I think good kit is worth it. For me the lack of DOMS (Delayed onset muscle soreness) is totally worth it.

The shorts and compression wear were all purchased from my favourite website for kit – Obstacle Kit Ltd – which I know I plugged a lot in my last post, but they really are very good at what they do.

I think that’s more or less it, the last bit of kit I take to my races is my dryrobe. I have mentioned this before in some of my race blogs, but it is amazing and deserves an honourable mention. After a race you chuck it on, it dries you, keeps you warm, and is big enough to change inside of – very useful at a race, where changing facilities are not exactly 5 star. This was also bought from Obstacle Kit, and I wouldn’t be without it.

Chilling in my dryrobe with Tania
Chilling in my dryrobe with Tania Mellish  at Beast in the East

The Importance of Good Kit – Hands and Feet

Without a race to run this week, I’ve found myself at a bit of a loose end, so with this in mind I have decided to amuse myself by adding to my blog. I’ve had a couple of suggestions from my “loyal fans” of things to write about, so today I’m going with a post about Kit.

I would like to start by saying that this will be the complete inexpert opinion of an amateur, entirely based on my own experiences and mistakes.

So starting at the bottom with my feet:

Shoes

When I signed up to my first ever obstacle race last October, I was woefully unprepared, I felt exhausted in the first 5mins and gave very little thought to what I was going to wear.  On my feet were a battered old pair of Reebok’s that I didn’t mind getting muddy. For this first race, the weather was great and the ground wasn’t too muddy so I fared OK apart from at the end where there was a steep muddy bank you had to pull yourself up using a rope, and were I got stuck for quite a while while my feet slipped around with no grip. My second race was soon after, and the same pair of Reebok’s were broken out again. This race was called Beat the Bog and lived up to its name. The day was cold, the ground was wet and muddy and we spend a lot of time in and out of water. This time I struggled to get out of water filled trenches, and actually failed to climb up onto one obstacle as I couldn’t get any grip – so I had to swim under it. At this point I decided it was time to look at getting some proper shoes for this kind of sport.

Invo-8 Mudclaw 300

Inov-8 Mudclaw 300s
Inov-8 Mudclaw 300s

I treated myself to my first pair of trail shoes after Christmas, taking advantage of the sales on Amazon. Once I had the chance to test these out I was officially in love – I’ve honestly never felt so strongly about a pair of shoes.

I wore these a few times to training sessions in the local park, and then again at a training session we had in February on the Nuts Challenge course. Their first real test came when I took on the Nuts course for real in March. It was really muddy and slippery and there were some hills to navigate that put these shoes through their paces. I can honestly say these performed brilliantly, I breezed past people who were sliding back down hills, and I only slipped once the entire race.

I used these again for a trail run, Warror Run, Dirty Dozen and Beast in the East, however I developed a bit of a problem with my left foot rubbing (I’m still unsure why). With this in mind, and because of how much racing I’m doing this year, I decided to purchase my second pair of trail shoes. I also thought a pair with slightly less aggressive grip might be good for the summer months.

Inov-8 X-Talon 212

Inov-8 X-Talon 212s
Inov-8 X-Talon 212s

As I have already mentioned, I’m not exactly an expert on good kit, so I contacted someone who was – Tim Lovett from Obstacle Kit Ltd. The guys at Obstacle kit really know their stuff and only sell kit they have tested themselves, it’s where I go for 99% of my kit nowadays. The x-talons were recommended to me and I didn’t hesitate to purchase a pair. I picked these up on the day of Nuclear Rush and shoved them straight on my feet – a baptism by fire (well more like mud and lots of water) Luckily for me, these were fantastic. Yet again good grip meant no slipping around, and getting up out of muddy trenches was not a problem due to grip (my poor upper-body strength not withstanding).

For me, I am a complete convert to Inov-8 shoes, but they can be quite pricey. If you are doing a lot of races they are 100% worth what you pay for them, but there are more inexpensive trail shoes around for people who don’t race as religiously. I would recommend getting something with good grip though, it really does make a difference.  My second attempt at Warrior Run was made much easier with the Mudclaws and I was up that final bank in a few short minuets and without the help of a marshal this time.

This leads me onto socks…

Socks

You might wonder why I need to write about socks, and in the summer, when its warm, you might not understand why they are so important, but when you have spent an hour with blue lips after a race you will understand how important keeping warm actually is.

Inov-8 Mudsoc

Inov-8 Mudsocks
Inov-8 Mudsoc’s

As well as the incident I’ve mentioned above with the blue lips, which was after Beat the Bog last November, the training session we did at Nuts in February really brought home how important it is to have good kit to keep you warm. At the training day my feet were so cold they were almost numb, it’s hard to describe, but as well as extreme cold it felt like my feet were hard, and it was more difficult to run –  in all honestly it was pretty miserable and I knew I would have to sort something out before the race. Again these came from Obstacle Kit after reading their review about them. These socks are made from Merino wool – which will wick away moisture and is fast drying – and are a bit padded underfoot which is useful when you are getting mud, grit and twigs in your shoe.

Like the Mudclaws, these were tested out properly at Nuts, there was plenty of cold water to give them a proper test, and the highest praise I can give you is that I didn’t even think about them. I remember at one point running and it occurring to me that my feet weren’t cold. The socks were doing their job, the cold water was not sitting around my feet and I wasn’t getting cold at all. I have worn these socks at every race I have run since, without once getting cold feet. They really make a difference and are worth spending your pennies on.

Gloves

As I have mentioned already, getting the right kit became of paramount importance to me after our training session at Nuts. I have already talked about how miserable my cold feet made me, but that pales into insignificance with how cold my hands were. I couldn’t actually get changed after the session, and some woman had to take pity on me and do up my bra! (Anyone who actually knows me will know that in person I can be quite shy and so this was something that made me a bit uncomfortable!)

I bought a pair of gloves when I did the Warrior run and these did me fairly well, helped with grip and stops me going all super girly and worrying about getting my hands dirty, however they didn’t keep my hands warm at all.

I wanted a pair of Dark Fin OPS gloves as had been recommended to me by (you guessed it) Obstacle Kit, but that had also got good reviews from a few people I knew that had already got a pair, but with none in stock and with Nuts getting rapidly closer, I picked up a pair of Alago heated gloves. Obviously once I did this the Dark Fins came back into stock, so I got those too!

Dark Fin O.P.S Gloves
Dark Fin O.P.S Gloves

I decided on the day to go with the Dark Fins, and I packed the Alago gloves thinking I could use the heating function afterwards.

The gloves performed really well, my hands stayed warm throughout the race, but they retained grip even when they were wet (again my poor ability to grip and hold myself up not being the fault of the gloves).  Actually these gloves performed so well that I didn’t need to use the other gloves at the end, my hands were perfectly warm.

These gloves have now accompanied me on every race, and the only down side is that now its getting a bit warmer, they can leave you a little hot, and you can’t really take these off and on as the mood takes you, this stops being a problem once you are into the first lot of water though.

They have done so well that I have yet to wear the other gloves so I can’t comment on how well they work – maybe I’ll break them out next race to give a bit of a comparison.

To round up, all the kit I have invested in has done what I have wanted it to do, and I have been one happy little racer. Since I have no race next weekend either, the second thrilling instalment of “My Kit” will be about everything else I wear when racing, as I think this has got long enough as it is. Thanks as always for reading, I hope its been at least a little bit useful.

Kamikaze

The third Sunday in May dawned bright and sunny, and saw me getting ready for my third race in as many weeks. This was to be my first team race, with strict rules for finishing as a 3, meaning that I would have to try and curb my natural impulse to just rush off, before realising that I’ve gone and lost everyone!

Race Description

Set in Pippingford Park, this race was 8miles (just under 13km), and took us on two laps round a course of hills, mud and bogs before entering the finishing straight of obstacles.

I was completing this race with 5 of my friends from RPCC in two teams of 3. As I’ve already said, the rules state that you must also finish as a three to get your time, or they take the time of the third member to cross the line. I didn’t like the sound of being a “one lap wonder” when I signed us up, so a full 2 laps it was going to be.

Our before Picture (L-R Viki Stapley, Tania Mellish, Helen Carrington, Lucy Warburton, Rachel Poile and Keri Saunders)
Our before Picture
(L-R Viki Stapley, Tania Mellish, Helen Carrington, Lucy Warburton, Rachel Poile and Keri Saunders)
And Jump - We were excited
And Jump – We were excited

We got ourselves registered and tied on our rather fetching headbands with our race numbers on, posed for a couple of pictures and then it was about time to head for the start line.

The Race

After a (rather lengthy) safety briefing, there was some stirring bagpipe music, and then the setting off of some fireworks and smoke before the air-horn sounded and we were off down the hill. It was pretty uneven ground so a headless charge was unwise, across some fields and through some woodland. At this point everyone was pretty close together, so it made overtaking people while staying as a team impossible, so we took it nice and easy.

Setting off down the Hill through the smoke
Setting off down the Hill through the smoke

Once we were through the trees it was a nice little run round to the first obstacle, The Bog. This consisted of pulling yourself through some cold, deep water with the use of the rope. It was a bit slow going as the pack still hadn’t separated yet and the water felt all the colder as the day was scorching hot.

Once you had hauled yourself out of the bog through some thick mud, it was up a muddy, steep hill, and round to the slide. Again there was a bit of a wait but by then our own personal photographer had caught up with us so we messed around at the top posing for photos while we awaited our turn.

Check out our guns while we wait for the slide
Check out our guns while we wait for the slide

Once we got to the top of the slide it was a fun, but somewhat uncomfortable ride to the bottom, (think I have a few scratches in unmentionable places courtesy of this one) and then a jog round under a muddy cargo net.

My gun show down the slide
My gun show down the slide

After the cargo net there was a nice long section of running, this really started to spread us out though, and we naturally started splitting into two groups, so we did a little cheeky headband swap to put us into more natural teams and set off again, this time Tania, Lucy and I ahead of the others as we took in some beautiful scenery around a lake and up to the halfway point of the first lap.

Team Crawl through the cargo net
Team Crawl through the cargo net

After a quick drink it was off through some more woods and mud, then through another little pond and up a steep rope climb then yet more running. Then came the dreaded hill – we had come down, so we knew we had to go back up! Nearly everyone we could see had resorted to walking, and we are no hero’s, we decided we needed to conserve some energy for the second lap, so we also walked a fair bit of this section. Some absolutely stunning views though, and a few horses kept things interesting.

Once we had crested the hill it was a really enjoyable run back round past where the slide was and towards the start/finish ready for our second lap. Part way up the hill though Lucy shouted at me to watch out – I had nearly decapitated a snake that had decided to cross the path, I must have jumped about a foot in the air, but the snake was unharmed!

As we started back down the hill for our second lap Tania turned to me and said “This Sh*t just got serious” as we pushed down the hill and past another group of three girls, and on back into the woods. Then it was time for a second go at the bog, which was quicker this time without the long line of people.

Lucy, Tania and I getting into the bog for the second time
Lucy, Tania and I getting into the bog for the second time

Second lap was, unsurprisingly, pretty much the same as the first, although the muddy sections had got muddier, and there was an amusing moment in the woods where Tania and I both put our feet down, only to have our legs disappear up past the knee into deep mud, causing us both to fall simultaneously giving Lucy who was behind us a good giggle. There was also a point on the second lap where we heard thundering footfalls behind us, and when we turned round what we actually saw was a herd of deer having a run – it was beautiful and amazing and we did stop to watch them for a moment or two before moving on.

Myself, Tania and Lucy powering over the bridge and towards the finish
Myself, Tania and Lucy powering over the bridge and towards the finish

Once again it was a struggle up the steep hills, but an enjoyable run round and down before a final push uphill to finish, this time instead of having to head back down the hill, we went onto the finishing straight which consisted of more obstacle. First we had to crawl under some tarpaulins, followed by a climb over a wall, then under barbedwire and through a tangle of nets.

Myself, Tania and Lucy getting into a tangle
Myself, Tania and Lucy getting into a tangle

This was followed by a trip over some balance beams, made harder by some very determined kids throwing wet sponges at us. Then came the bit I had been absolutely dreading, a run through a nest of electric wires. I am firmly in the camp that believes these have no real place in OCR – you can neither prepare nor train for these, but there was no way round, you went through or didn’t finish. It took me a while to psych myself up but actually as I dashed through I didn’t take a single zap, for which I was very grateful.

Finally it was onto the last obstacle a high steep slope that you had to run at and hope the guy at the top would catch your arm. With a lot of help I got to the top on my first try, then came Tania, who actually managed to pull the marshal that was at the top to help down the wall with her!

Getting a helping hand up the slope
Getting a helping hand up the slope

Once we had slid down the other side, we all grabbed hands and ran through the finish together, grabbed our medals and took a well earned rest while we waited for the other team of RPCC ladies to finish.

Posing with our medals
Posing with our medals
Kamikaze finished
Having a well earned rest

We had fun watching the others finish strong while enjoying the sunshine, although we were quite jealous of the group of people who had had the foresight to bring a BBQ with them!

Finished, with our well earned finishers medals
Finished, with our well earned finishers medals

We all agreed this was a really enjoyable race, the beautiful scenery, lovely weather and great company had made for a fantastic day.

Taking a look at the results once we got back, The team I ran in came 24th team overall finishing in 2h20mins, and as far as we can tell (although it is a little difficult to be sure) we may have been the 3rd all girl team across the line. Our second team of RPCC warriors came in a little behind us, running the course in 2h43 and placing 32nd overall.

We had a really lovely day, and I’m sure we will be back next year for more. As for me I will be seeing Pippingford park again later this year when I take on the Spartan Super, and the vary scary Spartan Beast.

After three races in three weeks I’m glad to be taking a weekend off from racing next week, but June will soon be here, with two races lined up for the month, so I can’t rest too easy!