There are countless hacks and tweaks which we, as OCR athletes and hobbyists, can adopt in training and racing routines. Predictably, a lot of them revolve around gear and using it to boost your overall performance. Here, I’ll take you through my essential and favourite gear hacks, which actually work, and which I always rely on order to get the most out of my gear on race day.
1. Lace the last holes of your shoes for optimal stability
Runners will know this one already, however a majority of people, especially the starting crowd, never use the last lacing holes on their shoes. They’re usually position slightly to the side of the shoe, not in line with the other holes, and they have a slightly different shape which might be why people don’t even try to use them. The fact is, these holes are there to help you secure the ankle and tighten the shoe to the max. This helps with overall foot stability, but more importantly for obstacle racers, it leaves no chance that you’ll lose your shoe in the mud, mid-race.
I like to tie my shoe using the following method:
2.1. Be visibly clean after the race by using compression gear
Want to keep your body relatively clean during an obstacle race without losing any enthusiasm for mud and water? I’ve got just the answer for you. Use compression gear: pants, top etc. will not only increase your endurance by improving the blood flow to your limbs, but also will act as a good layer keeping the mud away. This is a surprisingly effective hack, because after taking the gear off your skin will be at least visibly clean.
2.2. After the Race: Get half of a towel wet and keep the other half dry
If the compression gear trick didn’t impress you there is another way to scrub your body and look like you didn’t even participate in the race – good problem. During multiple races with teams I would always get comments and questions on how to get sharp clean in just 2mins. You can easily achieve this by bringing a towel and dipping only half of it in water. Simply rub all of your exposed skin. This should not take more than couple of minutes and should not take more than a half medium sized wet towel. Once you are done with one limb – use the dry part to scrub it dry, then do the next part and so forth.
3. Use inside of a headband to clean your action camera
I’ve completed quite a few races with my goPro (to bring some wicked action reels to Grit Camp!) so I know the trouble of keeping the lens clean. Imagine jumping into a river, pond or mud pool, this almost immediately would result in your camera getting splashed. With most of your body parts and gear being muddy and wet you wouldn’t be able to use that to make it clean. It would just smear even more mud and wet marks all over it. Luckily, there is a way to quickly wipe the dirt away – using your Spartan race/Tough Mudder headband, or to be precise its inner side. This won’t save you any time, but chances are if you are racing with a goPro you don’t really care about that anyways.
4. A hermetic pocket in your shorts to carry small emergency items or performance boosters
I want my gear to be as robust and versatile as possible, and part of that is having a well-secured pocket or two in my shorts. It’s always handy, especially when there is a need for additional energy boosters and other essential items. There are a variety of things I tend to include, depending on whether I’m racing competitively or for fun, solo or with a team. I might pack an energy gel pack or two, mustard pack for cramping, credit card/drivers license and some cash, house key and additional goPro batteries. As you can see some of them are purely for survival purposes and cover the ‘what if’ scenarios, but I like to use the ‘belt and suspenders’ method, where if one plan fails there is an easy plan B to fall back to. Even if you don’t plan on bringing all those items with you it could be a good idea to make one of your pockets hermetic with an additional layer of air and water tight baggie. Alternatively, If your shorts/pants don’t have any pockets whatsoever and you know a friend capable of modifying it, you can sow in a hermetic pocket, accessible from the inside.
5. Use sand/gravel/grass to dry your palms and fingers
Seen just too many times when people after mud and water obstacle jump right into the monkey bar and other challenges which involve extreme grip strength. They fall right down like flies. During an intense race it is hard to keep your hands dry and warm, so that you can perform to the fullest. A simple trick circumventing this is to literally rub the moisture away right after the submersion by finding a dry spot of grass to rub your hands on. This will not make them entirely dry, however if I would grab some drier sand/dirt/gravel in my hands and rub them against each other – the moisture would simply rub off with the sand! It’s as easy as that and would not require you to spend more than a few seconds to do both steps, the rest could be applied during while running to the next obstacle.
6. The counting game
This is something I rely on during those tough episodes in a race, when the weaker body parts start to break down and I feel that if I continue running in this manner I might twist or strain something. Even worse, those mind games put me to the test and make it harder to continue. So – what I do is use a counting system.
Pick a number, let’s say 100, 48 (my pick) or 10 and count backwards. This does wonders when times are excruciatingly hard by tricking your mind into a false idea of progression and delayed gratification once the counting is over. It does not matter if you have to count twenty times till you reach the finish line – it will take your mind off the annoying thoughts of stopping. What does this have to do with gear hacks? You could take counting even further and use your fingers to do the counting, which would then use different parts of brain simultaneously – just like playing an instrument, it will allow you to get into a flow where your only focus is on counting, whilst your body keeps running ‘on auto’.
Counting fingers and moving them will also reduce the usual numbness you would get while in the colder weather or when you’re just out of cold water.
7. Apply kinesiology tape to weaker spots
Having had multiple serious injuries, I cannot overemphasise how great supportive application of kinesiology tape can be. My personal weakest spots are: one of the shoulders, which got dislocated a few years back and tends to go out of the socket from time to time, and the more typical runner’s knee problems. The shoulder requires some stabilising application to limit the movement in order to avoid the weaker shoulder from popping out again. Meanwhile, my knees can go up to 2 miles extra before starting to ache with the tape applied. If you have any chronic weak spots this could be a preventative solution as well as a confidence booster.
Do you have any other gear hacks you tend to use?