The conditions that the winter months bring can completely transform a race. What might be a relatively fun course in the summer can turn evil in the winter, especially when there is a lot of water obstacles on the course. Being prepared for wetter and colder conditions can make or break your success.
You may be on the course for a long time. If you are attempting 4 laps of The Nuts Challenge, you would potentially be wet and freezing cold for up to 6 hours. What you choose to wear can really make all the difference in a winter event, so I’m going to share my choice of gear for a nasty winter run such as Nuts or Tough Guy. This is really about personal preference, all I can do is tell you what I like and you can decide if it’ll work for you.
Lets start at the bottom and work up……
Shoes!! By far the most important piece of kit you will buy. I am absolutely amazed at how many people turn up to extremely muddy events in road shoes, then waste energy just trying to stay on their feet. Actually, I can believe it because I did it myself once!! So learn from my mistakes, invest in some decent trail shoes, nobody wants to look like Bambi on ice.
I absolutely love Inov8 for trail shoes, I won’t even look at another brand any more. My shoe of choice are Inov8 Mudclaw 300. The number is the weight in ounces and the Mudclaws also come in 265 ounces, but I like my 300s. Lots of support for those long events. The Mudclaws are a beast of a pair of shoes, the lugs almost resemble football boot studs in size. The only problem with the Mudclaws is they aren’t suitable for road running at all, so if you train on mixture of road and trail, they may not be ideal. That’s where my Inov8 Trailroc 235s come in! But I can honestly say that I often feel I have an unfair advantage sometimes with these bad boys on my feet during a race. I’m also told that X-Talon 212s are also very good and I understand this is the shoe of choice for many of the top racers.
*My beloved Mudclaws
I go for Inov8 Mudsocs as my socks. They are merino wool which is fast drying and doesn’t retain much water. Avoid thick socks, they’ll feel horrible when wet. Merino wool is also great for keeping your feet warm, whatever winter may throw at you.
I sometimes find Inov8 stock a little hard to get, retailers often seem be out of stock of my size. I found a little gem of a website which is www.peteblandsports.co.uk. Not only can I often find things there that I can’t get anywhere else, they were also extremely helpful when I returned a faulty item.
On my legs I have X2U compression calf sleeves. I’ll do anything to avoid cramp and these seem to help. Over the top I’ll wear some cheap running tights from Sports Direct. I never seem to get more than 2 races out of tights before I rip them, so I go for cheap and cheerful! The name of the game here is knee protection rather than warmth. Sore, busted up knees won’t help and even thin tights will just take the edge off and offer some protection.
I’ll throw on some shame-shorts over the top of the tights. They are called shame-shorts as they hide your shame. My poor manhood doesn’t look it’s finest after wading through an icy lake, so he needs multiple layers covering him. Plus, an extra layer on your bum is good as you’ll usually end up sliding down a hill on your backside some point. My shame-shorts also have a handy back pocket to pop a gel or two in.
On top, I go for an Under Armour Cold Gear long sleeve compression top. Nice and tight, doesn’t retain any water. Some people suggest a merino wool base layer, or even a neoprene vest, but the compression top has always been good for me. Over the top I’ll wear either one or maybe two technical t-shirts. I usually just go for t-shirts that I’ve been given at previous races. Dirty Dozen and Wolf Run tops are my favourite, in case you care!
Gloves are always handy and there aren’t many specific OCR gloves available. I’ve seen people wear all sorts of gloves, but I go for Kooga rugby gloves. They are lightweight and have a grippy, rubber palm. And they are dirt cheap, only a few pounds from Sports Direct.
And that’s it! I’m not a fan of hats, I’m yet to find a good one that doesn’t turn into a sponge when wet. I wore one for Tough Guy and it irritated me until it fell off and I lost it so I probably won’t bother again.
Another tip is to get out of your clothes as soon as physically possible after the run. When you are running the movement keeps you warm, but it’s a few minutes after you finish when the cold really hits you.
*Gus, far left, just before he was taken to the medical tent with hypothermia
My first ever OCR was a winter event and very cold. At the end we were quite pleased with ourselves and we asked a marshal to take a photo of us. She warned us not to stand around as hypothermia will set in. We’ll be ok, we’re all hard we thought! A couple of minutes later one of our runners, Gus, was in the medical tent wrapped up in sleeping bags asking where he was! It hits you hard and hits you fast!
Get your medal, get out of your wet clothes, get in the car and crank those heaters up to the max!!