Bag Check? Great. What do you take?

 

It didn’t take me long to realize what I needed and what I didn’t need in the bag I take to obstacle course races. All races offer a bag check, while some offer it for free (smaller races), others charge $5-$10. Going Lone Wolf, I don’t have someone to hold my keys, phone, dry clothes or paperwork for me, so I always take extra cash with me, to utilize the bag checks.

I use an Adidas top loading backpack. It has plenty of pockets, room, durable and most importantly, can be laundered. I fill that thing with antibiotic spray, ointment, gauze, Goat Tape & medical tape, band aids of all sizes, scissors, flip flops, change of clothes and towels. I also stash my cash, ID, keys and cell phone deep into the backpack. I decide last minute if I plan to take my gloves on the course or not. Less is more, in most cases.

I don’t pack snacks in the bag that gets checked. Mostly because, the heat, and placement of some of these bag checks are right out in the sun. I take a credit card  and only small bills with me, obviously, for safety purposes. Although I’m sure my cell phone or keys would be the better grab, if that were to happen.  Up until the end of 2018 Spartan Race season, bag checks were being ran by employees or volunteers. But I am guessing with the blasts of racers coming off the course for retrieving the bags, has forced a different approach. You, the racer, are allowed in the bag storage area, and then one or two attendants at the exit of bag storage confirm your wrist band and bag band match numbers. While it did seem to help the wait time, I feel they need to polish it up a little better, it gets quite hectic still. Missing bands, unreadable bands, distractions, etc could allow someone with the right mindset, to steal your things!

Regardless, take some good, quick and easy to use medical supplies. Think open cuts and nasty water/mud. Take an extra set of clothes, and have easy slip on sandals to slide on after taking your muddy shoes off. Rinse stations aren’t spa showers. They run out of gas in the generator running the pump, that is pumping from a pond, they have little pressure because 20 hoses are being used at once and the constant water usage makes a sloppy mess at the rinse off station. Most places say NO SOAP, to please the environmentalists. Some, if they have traveled far, stop at a truck stop like Flying J, Pilot or Love’s who offers showers for a fee on their way home. Either way, a few huge towels on hand is nice, and if you are changing in the car, its nice to have enough to sit on! I have brought gallon jugs of water with me, to leave in the vehicle to “warm up” while I race, in order to help clean up. Works great, but don’t leave those jugs in your vehicle for long, science kicks in and they start to leak with the heat the summer day in Florida can generate inside a vehicle.

Lone Wolf Racers are never alone on the Course…

I very rarely race with a “team”, and when I do, its only when my best friend from many miles away,  can come visit. While there is no better entertainment than you and your best friend crawling through mud, throwing each other over walls, and  saying “WTF?” about every little hiccup in the race, I do not mind going “Lone Wolf”, either…good thing, because travelling from Maryland to Florida or Florida to Maryland can get pricey.

I never have had problems doing things alone, maybe its because I’m an only child, or so introverted that I may be classified as “anti-social” at times, or maybe its due to being put in crappy school work groups, where one kid in the group never pulled their weight? Ha. Who knows. But one thing is for sure when it comes to racing,  its not because I think someone would slow me down, or I couldn’t keep up with them. As mentioned before, my first OCR, I had a team. With all of us being newbies to the scene, we found many fellow racers helping us throughout the race.  This was an introduction of how it goes out there, and it has continued throughout my journeys and races.

That’s what is hard to explain to others when you tell them you did the Spartan Beast iFB_IMG_1507725003020n Spartanburg, SC, by yourself. I am never alone when running an OCR. The community within obstacle course racing is huge, and full of wonderful people. For example, from personal experience, I have had random racers come up to me and help me put my timing bracelet on before the race (which is hard to do without help!), I am always offered assistance at obstacles that I take a moment to analyze, and if you stumble, or begin to slow down, another racer is always asking if you are ok and yelling motivational  lines like “You got this!” or “You’re almost there! Keep going!”

One of the best racer humanity moments I witnessed, was a terrible clothing malfunction no where near the end of a race. A fellow Spartan chick ripped the seat of her pants, from top to bottom on a climbing obstacle. You know, if you are out there on the course, there isn’t an easy way to deal with a full moon situation. While her bestie was lying to her, telling her  “it’s ok, its not THAT bad,” and attempting to magically put seams back together, a random guy came up to them. He was shirtless, and had basketball shorts on. He said a few things to them, and before you knew it, he stripped down, giving the girl his shorts, and continued on the race in his compression boxer briefs. She strapped those shorts on, pulled the drawstrings tight, and yelled, “how will I get these back to you?” and he responded, “I’ll see you at the finish line,” and disappeared into the crowded trail path.  It was honestly bad enough, I questioned if I could go on, if the same thing happened to me. My guess is NO, and I don’t think she would have either, unless that fellow racer offered his shorts.

I am definitely not the only LonFB_IMG_1499550299622e Wolf Racer out there, either. But it surely isn’t for everyone, especially if you start to get emotionally/mentally tired. I tend to shut the brain down when I feel that coming on, it seems to help.  Sometimes, during race chit chat, some will say their friends stood them up, or no one else could get off work. I always say, its really something I love to do and will do what it takes to get here, if someone wants to do it with me, they are more than welcome, but if not, its ok, I will still do it.

Gear. Keep it Simple.

Unlike many sports, obstacle course racing is 95% your body. You obviously don’t need shoulder pads, a Louisville slugger, golf balls, a bicycle or a paddle of some sorts.

That other missing 5%, is a damn good trail running shoe, compression/anything BUT cotton clothing and possibly gloves.  Depending on the condition of my hands at the time of a race, is how I judge if I need my gloves or not. I currently use WarriorPak (for cold and/or wetter conditions) or the UA F5 Receiver Gloves, super sticky, but not when wet! I also recommend NOT using the receiver gloves on rope climbs. It is safer to be bare handed with those heights and the rope fibers somehow take away the “stickiness”.

IMG_20170801_082944_400I have tried other gloves, like the ones Spartan sells, FitFour. No matter what, they were so slippery. So,  I only use them now, in training if I have a ripped grip for protection only. I refuse to get behind anyone on the rigs who wear them, as they retain water like a sponge and wet down bars, rings, grips, TERRIBLY.

I began my racing in Salomon X-Mission Trail Running shoes. While they had great grip on rough terrain, rigid soles for rope climbing, they did not drain water quickly. After a lot of research and review readings, I found Merrell All Out Crush Light Trail Running shoes. They were affordable, and when I tried them on, it was like they were already broke in. Let’s face it, I did not want to break in a pair at a race, nor did I want to pay over $100 for shoes to get muddy & torn up. Plus, they can be thrown in the washing machine and come out looking brand new, every time! The downside of these shoes…the super light design means minimalist. The soles, while they offer just the right amount of  traction, are super bendy and not as tough-in turn, I can feel sharp stumps, roots and rocks. I now keep these for shorter distances and certain less technical terrain. I have found with the longer races, tougher terrain, Salomon Speedcross 4‘s and, believe it or not, Nike Air Zoom WildHorse 4 give me the sole protection some terrain requires, while staying light enough, draining quickly enough and gripping just enough. Warning on those Speedcross’s though, they are not meant for walking on pavement, concrete, etc…if those rugged grips catch, it can be a good face plant. Ha!

Living in Florida, working outside in Florida, I learned quickly, cotton feels like fleece in the summer humidity, and you need moisture wicking clothing to stay half way comfortable. Same goes for racing. You get sweaty, wet, and then dry out and the cycle happens again. I have at least 2 articles of clothing from every big name to no name brand out there, and guess what, they all work. I wear the compression or fitted versions of it all. It helps protect me, lessens my recovery time and doesn’t weigh me down or get snagged on anything because its secure against me.  In the cooler temps (like below 70s, haha) I wear long sleeves, and shorts. In the warmest temps, sports bra and shorts-BUT, be careful, I am NOT allergic to poison ivy, oak or anything for that matter, so if you are allergic to anything that might be out there in the jungles & forests, cover up! Too many horror stories of poison out there.

Socks. I am a climber, and it only took about one time descending from a rope with ankle socks, for me to get a traumatizing rope burn on my ankle. From then on, I wear tight, over the calf socks. Sometimes, MudGear compression socks, sometimes Stance socks,race_3364_photo_56489170.jpg

because I love their style. Either way, if you plan on running through any jungles in shorts, you need to protect your legs from briers, poison, sticks, etc…and of course, avoid those tender calf muscles the day after!

As for hydration packs, I have been very fortunate to have attended races that always had water check points strategically placed throughout the course. However, with the longer length races, I found that I needed a place to keep my Clif Bloks, maybe a mustard packet or two, and gloves.

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I researched like crazy. First of all, I did not want any that were so bulky and heavy, and not placed well on the back. I needed something tight, that would keep from bouncing (have you seen the rub marks a shoulder strap of any kind can do after 13 miles of bouncing?!). I also wanted something HIGH on my back. I located my dream hydration pack from Orange Mud.

Sunglasses. The obvious: Don’t wear your Oakley, Costa, Ray-Bans. I purchase cheap knock offs at the local flea market, polarized lenses, but cheapos. So when they are lost, broken or packed with mud, no harm no foul.

My First OCR

Before I discovered obstacle course racing, I discovered Crossfit. While I was frequently told my results, physically and mentally were awesome, I never noticed. That’s how we chicks are at times, though. I knew I needed something to work towards, a goal, larger than my first goal in the beginning of my healthy lifestyle change, which was a shallow “fit in my jeans from high school” goal. I wanted to test the results I was getting…

With being a frequent shopper on Reebok.com, I was constantly seeing “Spartan” apparel, and I often wondered if that was something I could do….So, at first it was a wild suggestion to two of my friends to sign up, but when they responded “Let’s Do It!” I may have cringed a little.

Well, we all signed up for the Spartan Sprint, in Bunnell, FL. I trained for months to not be the weak link in our team, ate super healthy and studied YouTube videos of obstacles and how to complete them.

When race day arrived, I was immediately hooked. Addicted. The people, the mud, the sportsmanship and most of all, the obstacles! I never knew my body could climb like it did that day, I never knew I could hang from rings and I never thought I could survive 5 miles deep into the Florida jungle, on a sunny & humid, Spring day. There was cussing, grunting and crying, and many cuts and bruises. But we  DID survive, and I immediately decided, that this is exactly what I needed to add to my life and goal setting with fitness. Get faster, get better and win those medals.

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