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.