BMF Race Team member Ross Macdonald, gives us his best kit advice for any OCR participant, from beginners to top athletes.
Wearing the correct kit whilst training or during an event can make a great difference to your performance and enjoyment. I've had as many kit fails as I have successes, so here are my top tips for ensuring you don't make the same mistakes I've done in the past, and get your kit right as the weather turns colder this year.
My kit focuses specifically on what you should wear for obstacle course races (OCR), such as The Royal British Legion Major Series.
It is harder to get your kit wrong in the summer, but despite a warm September, the temperatures are beginning to drop and come winter you have to consider both the cold and the wet factors. Staying on your feet and avoiding scuffed knees is possible with the right kit.
Fortunately OCR doesn't require much kit, but there are still a number of items that should be mandatory on your list. There is then additional optional kit, which, although not a necessity, may give you that tiny edge over others when tackling obstacles or, at a minimum, will make sure you at least look the part!
I have seen top OCR racers fail to finish races due to hypothermia and I myself have struggled badly with cramp when tackling cold water. Many of us in the OCR community saw British Military Fitness Race Team Member James Appleton struggling through Tough Guy, almost oblivious to where he was or what he was doing! James is of course much more experienced and well-prepared than he was several years ago but at the time he thought a pair of short shorts and a compression top would suffice for a course which took participants through frozen lakes.
On race day you could expect morning frost, a chance of rain and/or a brisk wind. Additionally, the courses tend to include several waist-high river-crossings. You could be on the course from anywhere between 45 minutes and 3 hours. I would be most worried about the possible wind-chill on wet clothing, cramping in my calf muscles from the cold river crossings, not having the correct shoe grip on the frost and river crossings, and attempting to keep my hands warm - especially if I need to use them on any obstacles. Wearing the correct gear will ensure that none of these elements impacts on my performance. It will just be a lack of fitness if I have a bad race!
I have previously tried neoprene socks and gloves but these end up holding the water, so I don’t use these anymore.
A comfortable pair of thin sports socks will prevent blisters and won’t hold the water.
There are several excellent pairs of shoes which are great over most obstacle-course races, but my two favorites are:
VJ Sport Irock 2
inov-8 x-talon 200’s
These shoes provide excellent grip and drain well after being in water.
If your course has a lot of grip-based obstacles, the challenge is finding a glove that will maintain grip once covered in mud. There might never be the perfect pair of gloves for this but the closest I’ve come is the pair I have used from Scandinavia, at Toughest Lab. Alternatively, cycling gloves are a very good option.
If you don’t need your hands for grip, Sealskinz are a great option but it’s best to put these on inside your car or at home before you leave as whilst they keep you warm and dry, in my experience once your hands are cold these won’t heat them up again.
Bear in mind that once wet, most gloves become more of a nuisance and hindrance, and often your hands warm up when you start moving so you may be better off without.
Ultimately you want close-fitting leg wear because anything lose, once wet, becomes heavy and uncomfortable.
The two options are for full-leg compression tights which help to help to prevent cramping and keep your legs warm. My preferred choice come from 2XU.
The other option is shorts and calf-guards. This isn’t ideal if the event includes any army-crawls or obstacles which may scuff my knees.
Overall, it’s a personal choice and compression tights make sense on cold days, no matter what the course is like.
Although merino wool is excellent at keeping you warm, it also soaks water up and will weigh you down. Neoprene, such as a surf rash-vest, can also be a good option but the problem can then actually be over-heating! As such, I stick to a long-sleeved compression top with my race top, vest or technical t-shirt over the top.
Cotton tops are a no-no! They soak up water and cling to you and weigh you down. Technical t-shirts aren’t expensive and help cover up over your compression top if you’re self-conscious about a tight-fitting top.
If sticking with a short-sleeve top, consider wearing arm-guards for that extra protection when crawling.
On cold days the best item to have on you is a bandana or buff. This can be worn on your head and then if you feel yourself getting too warm then it can easily be placed around your neck or on your wrist.
I can’t express enough how important it is to consider your post-event kit. You will finish the race buzzing, but also soaked to the bone. Having stopped moving, your core body temperature will quickly begin to plummet and no matter of warm clothes on top of wet clothes will help. It’s imperative that you strip off all your wet clothes (underwear included) and get your warm, dry kit on as quickly as you can.
Here where the Dryrobe comes into its own! Recently seen modelled by the GB Olympic and Paralympic teams in Rio, as well as by Davina McCall after her Sport Relief swim, the Dryrobe is the piece of kit to be seen in at obstacle-course events. The BMF Race Team introduced the Dryrobe to the Obstacle-Course Racing world in 2013 and it has become a huge hit for event organisers and participants. A warm, thick lining and a waterproof outer ensure you are kept warm when not running. Once zipped up, you can tuck your arms inside and they become a changing tent – ideal for quickly replacing all your wet kit for a full change of dry kit, ready to head to the bar for your post-race beer!
A towel can serve a similar purpose, and many people like to bring face wipes, particularly if heading off on a long journey home afterwards and avoiding funny looks at the petrol station!
Don’t forget a bin liner or plastic tub for all your wet and muddy kit.
Visit our retail partner blacks.co.uk for all your OCR gear, with 20% off as a BMF member using code BMF20.