I am what you would call a “Weekend Warrior.” Let’s just say that I signed up for the Elite Heat once (placing 212 out of 219), and I will never make that mistake again.
I’m a guy, not an athlete. I spend 12-16 hours per day living in front of my computer editing televisions shows (past credits include Empire, Glee, and Burn Notice). But to keep my mind sharp and develop “obstacle immunity” (click here to listen to my podcast with Spartan Race founder Joe de Sena), I try to sign up for a Spartan Race at least 2-3 times per year.
If you’re a desk jockey like me and you’re getting ready to participate in your first obstacle course race, you’re probably asking, “What the heck should I bring?” There is no right answer, but there are certainly some standard items you want to make sure you have.
Before jumping into this list, let me warn you: I’m VERY ‘Type A.’ I’m big on lists and planning. That being said, I hope this list helps you prepare and pack for your next Spartan Race, Tough Mudder, or Rugged Maniac.
Below I have gone into great detail with what I bring and why, but here is a super short list of the basics to get you started:
- Healthy dinner for the night before
- A good night’s sleep! (A minimum of 8 years if you can)
- Cash (most races have ATM’s, but when carrying all your gear it’s sometimes easier to buy food/swag with cash)
- Hydration pack or belt
- Non-cotton clothes (aka “Performance Gear”)
- Towels ( for post-race)
- Change of clothes
- Garbage bags (for the nasty post-race clothes)
- Extra pair of shoes
Now it’s time to dig into the nitty gritty…..
THE NIGHT BEFORE
If I’ve spent months training and preparing for a race, the last thing I want to do the night before is eat mystery food at a restaurant I’ve never been to before. So I always bring my dinner with me. It usually consists of a protein (salmon, grass fed steak), vegetables (green beans, broccoli), and a starch to provide some carbohydrates (usually sweet potatoes). I bring it in tupperware and microwave it. Oh…everything is drenched with grass fed butter.
The number one thing that will most likely dictate your performance on race day is the quality of your sleep. So I bring the following to ensure I get a solid night of deep sleep:
Sleep Mask. The amount of light you’re exposed to when sleeping can adversely impact the quality of your sleep. So rather than have to cover the windows and try to cover every single tiny green and blue light in the room, I just wear a sleep mask.
Epsom Salt. I soak in a magnesium sulfate bath for 15-20 minutes before bed. And here is why.
Bulletproof Sleep Mat. I can’t travel without this. Spending 15 minutes on this sleep induction mat and breathing deeply before bed knocks me out. I pass out before my head even hits the pillow, and I wake up fully rested.
In the morning I avoid any solid foods and fuel myself with a smoothie. Which brings me to my #1 item to bring:
Nutribullet. It’s so easy to travel with a Nutribullet and will blend just about anything you put in it. I make a smoothie consisting of Shakeology, coconut water, almond butter, Brain Octane Oil, and Vital Fuel. None of these items require refrigeration and are easy to travel with.
Clothing. What you wear for the actual race is personal preference. But one absolute is that you should NEVER WEAR COTTON. You will get wet. A lot. So make sure you have performance or compression gear. And while the die hard racers go without a shirt, I wear a compression top. Some people wear elbow and or knee pads as well for all the crawling.
Gloves. This is a controversial topic amongst “elites.” I’ve done races with and without gloves. Both have worked out okay for me. However after my most recent experience at a Spartan Sprint where I didn’t wear gloves and they didn’t provide water under the ropes obstacle, I’ll ALWAYS wear gloves. I couldn’t hold my grip coming back down…and in order to avoid breaking my leg, I ended up ripping off a good portion of the skin on my hand and making the last several miles of the race intolerable. Be safe. Bring gloves.
Footwear. This is another option that will be different for everyone. Reebok has designed an entire line of shoes specifically for OCR, but my personal preference is Vibrams. I’m in the minority, and beware it takes a long time to adapt your body to minimalist running shoes. Whatever choice you go with, make sure you have trained in your shoes. Don’t strap on a new pair of shoes you’ve never worn before the day of the race. And don’t wear cotton socks! Your feet will become concrete blocks by the end of the race otherwise.
Hydration. The type of hydration pack you wear depends on the length of the race. If you’re doing a Sprint, you probably don’t require anything as there are plenty of aid stations. For longer races like the Super and Beast, you may want a hydration pack. I’ve used a Camelback in the past. And while I can’t vouch for them firsthand, Ben Greenfield highly recommends Source hydration packs. My personal preference is a running belt with small water bottles attached that I have my racing fuel in.
Racing Fuel. The most common fuel for most runners is Gel packs. I avoid processed sugars and prefer to fuel with amino acids and fats instead. So my racing fuel is very simple. I have an 8 oz water bottle per hour of the race consisting of coconut water, Vital Fuel, chia seeds, and honey.
When you’re done with the race, make sure you have the following items ready to go in your backpack (you can check bags near the race entrance for $5):
Towel. Bring the largest beach towel you have. You’re going to be dirty, wet, and grimy. They won’t provide towels, and you’ll kick yourself if you have to change into your clean clothes while still being drenched in mud and water.
Change of clothes. They should be light, easy to put on, and comfortable. You’re going to be sore and tired, so anything complicated is a bad idea.
Garbage bags. Your race clothes are going to be NASTY. So bring a large garbage bag to put all your dirty stuff in. Your drive home will be miserable (and smelly) if you forget this absolutely essential item.
Shoes. If you’re lucky enough that your shoes survive the race, you won’t want to wear them home. So make sure you have a comfortable, clean pair of shoes to slip into post-race.
Best of luck on your next race. If I missed anything vital on this checklist, please let me know in the comments below!