by Margo the Great

Originally posted in Margo’s “Dirt in Your Skirt”

[Editor’s Note: Margaret Schlachter aka Margo the Great recently placed third at the Spartan Beast and is sharing her pearls of wisdom from her year and a half as an obstacle racer regarding how to prepare for a Spartan Race day.]

Spartan Race 2010, Burlington, VT
The First Spartan Race Ever!

1. Do Not Wear Cotton!
I made this rookie mistake my first obstacle race wearing a pair of cotton capris, cotton undies, and cotton shirt. Repeat do not wear cotton, especially if you are doing an event with water obstacles. It will weigh you down, and not a happy camper. Those cotton capris were rolled up so high by the time I finished that course and I won’t even go there with cotton underwear. I learned my lesson quickly.
2. Do Not Wear White
Know going into a race everything, I mean everything will and does get dirty. Anything white will never be the same again. If you plan on keeping those socks, well they will forever be gray

3. Do Not Race With Your Car Keys, iPod, Sunglasses
Seems simple, you would be surprised how many people I see at their first race have an iPod in or sunglasses, even once saw a dude with his keys clipped to his shorts. Leave any valuable belongings at home. iPod’s will get ruined in water and mud, sunglasses you will most likely loss in an obstacle, and well keys and wallets leave them in the car! Most races now have bag check so you can check all that stuff. I personally like to leave it in the car then to a hide a key

4. Do Not Clock Block
Clock blocking, quoted from -
“What is Clock Blocking?
Clock blocking is when a person either deliberately or inadvertently disrupts another racers flow or stride causing their pace to slip and thus directly hurting another racer’s overall and/or average times for their respective event.”

What this means is if it’s your first race, you might not want to push your way to the front with people who do this all the time. Also if a running in your heat and a later heat competitor is barreling past you or you are barreling past them, PLEASE get out of the way for the faster runner. They may be going for the win, in truth if you are the slower one they will probably between breathes ask you to move. If you are the faster one please say thank you when you pass. I tell each person who moves out of my way thank you!

If you decide to run in a full on costume. Do not line up at the front of the line to start, Guy in the wedding dress you aren’t going for the win, back off. Let the racers who want to PR race!

5. Do Not Run Bandit

Sign up for the race and pay for it like everyone else. It’s really not cool to have someone at an event get a finisher medal when they didn’t sign up to race in the beginning. Support Obstacle Racing and sign-up for the events. Help grow our sport!
Okay, so we covered all the things you shouldn’t do on race day, lets focus on all the things that can help you achieve your goals.


Depending on how long the race is, depends how far out you start hydrating. for a race like the Spartan Sprint or other 5K distance obstacle race, a day or two before is a great time to hydrate, make sure you are drinking water the day of and maybe a half electrolyte drink (Gatorade)/ half water mix if its hot out. For the Spartan Beast I spent the week walking around with a gallon water bottle, I call my water baby. Best if you leave the beer unopened. 

2. Have a Race Pack

Have a pack of stuff for race day. My pack always includes:

2 – Gallon size plastic bags

1 – Sunscreen

1 – Small Towel

1 – Beach Towel

1 – Travel Size Bottle of Dr. Bronner’s Biodegradable Soap (may sure it’s biodegradable)

1- Shammie

1 – Full Change of Clothes

1- Sweatshirt

1 – Pair of flip flops or extra shoes

Post Race Snacks – I prefer Luna Bars, and Clif Builders Bars, and other Clif Products

1- Gallon of Water

1 – Other Gallon of Water

Now is where you have your sunglasses and wallet. OK, I know that sounds like a lot of stuff, try to get to the venue early so you can just leave it all in the car and get it out after you finish. Plastic bags are for your dirty clothes after you race and your small wet towel. Sunscreen well that should be self evident. The first gallon of water is for if the showers suck at the race you can just go to your car and use the small towel to wash off with the Dr. Bronners. The Shammie will help you dry off and the large Beach towel will help you change in the parking lot. A skill I picked up from surfing. (Underwear first, then pull the clean sports bra over the towel and pull the towel down you are dressed again! Full change of clothes including underwear, I have forgotten the extra change before and been pretty unhappy standing around in muddy undies. Even if it’s 100 degree after a race sometimes your body will feel off from exerting the energy, so bring layers. I like to wear flip flops after a race but you need a second pair of shoes. The last gallon of water drink up after your race. Your free beer will not rehydrate you!

3. Do Wear Trail Running Shoes

Post Spartan Beast 2011

I have raced in many different shoes over the last year and a half, whether you choose Vibram Five Fingers (VFF) (done it) or heavy old trail shoes (done that) make sure you can run in them over varying terrain. I personally wear the company Inov-8 now when I race, they are super light and are made specifically for trail running. I have seen many in VFF’s crumble as they are not use to trails in them. Best if to go out and run some in the mud before a race see how the shoes are. If there is swimming a heavy hiking shoe is not going to be the answer. But I think footwear is extremely personal. Just know they are going to be muddy and dirty when you finish whatever you wear.

4. Bring Nutrition 

For a 5K you will probably not need any nutrition, but anything longer than that it’s a good idea to store a gel pack or gummies in a pocket. All races have water stations and some give you bananas as well but just know you may be in the woods for over a mile or two without any options. If you are worried bring some water with you but for the Spartan Beast (Over 12 miles) I only carried a couple gel packs. If this is your plan take the extra time at aid stations to hydrate before moving on, the seconds you take there will pay dividends when you need the calories later.

5. Learn to Love Spandex

Remember how I said don’t wear cotton, so you might we wondering what do you wear then. Simply I wear as little as possible my race day attire is a sports bra and shorts. This is why, the more clothes you wear the more it will weigh you down when wet and muddy. Not comfortable in just you bra, choice a form fitting tank top in a wicking fabric. Wicking fabrics are as key in cooler races are they are in warmer races, like the Spring climate, they help move moisture away from the body to keep your core temperature up. In the summer it will draw away the sweat from your body. Find wicking underwear as well. I know I keep going back to underwear but its important.

For shorter races (5K) I wear shorts, longer races, I switch to capri’s mostly for chaffing reasons. Learn where your bodies hot spots are so you can lube up before a race. A cheap lube that works great is baby diaper rash cream A&D. Also my personal color of choice for clothing is black, it shows no mud or blood you may have incurred along the course.

When you get home dry the clothes out first, shake off excess mud then wash them. It saves you having to wash them a second time when they aren’t clean at first!

Final Thoughts…

These races are not your average 5k, 10 mile or even half marathon. If it’s your first race throw out all ideas of what a 5k time should look like. Some races might take under 30 minutes others might take an hour for the same distance. The terrain in these races can be gnarly and unforgiving, you maybe running up a mountain or in a state park depending on your geographic location, each race venue is different. Obstacles are meant to slow you down, they will, it’s OK. You will get better at them the more races you do. Use your instincts on them, if an obstacle is intimidating take a deep breathe then try it again. It took me 3 times to get over one of the walls at the Spartan Beast and I still finished the race well.

Go into race day with a clear mind and ready to expect the unexpected. Most importantly run YOUR OWN RACE, results in the end don’t matter as long as you know you pushed hard. Don’t get caught up in what all the crazy people are doing around you before a race. Just because the guy next to you decided to do 100 burpees before the race doesn’t make him any faster than you. Or conversely the guy who shotguns a beer with his buddies to show how cool he is on his gopro video. Let him try to prove he is a badass. Have a plan and stick with it. I run a lot of races where the testosterone is so high at the start my ovaries hurt.

My warm-up varies race to race. For a short race it might take me 45 minutes to warm-up for a 5K, where as the Spartan Beast (12+ miles), I just walked up to the line and relaxed into what would be just under a 4 hour race for me.

Overall, have a great time, meet new people who share your interest in this amazing sport. If you are lucky enough to have a group to race with cheer each other on. If it’s your goal maybe you bring home a cool sword at the end of the day! But overall, its about you and finding out a little bit more about yourself and you will have some bruises and cuts to show off at work on Monday!


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21 Responses

  1. avatar

    Hey Margo,
    Thanks for all the tips. I’m going to do the sprint in November
    and this is going to be my 1st 5K. I’m really looking forward to this.

  2. avatar

    Question: whats the best way to carry an inhaler without losing it?

    • avatar

      As another option for carrying small items during the race, I found at a running store an SPI belt. It’s like a discreet, micro fanny back made of stretchy material. It’s extremely small but expands just enough to hold my id and car key. The belt keeps it tight so that I don’t feel it bouncing when I run and it stays concealed under my shirt.

    • avatar

      I am thinking about siginng up for the full, even though I am attempting a FAST half two weeks earlier and will be training hard for that (after this year with 4 marathons + 3 ultras). what to do?!(love from oven proof, anonymous at work)

    • avatar

      there are some fanny bag-kind of pockets you can wear in your arm or waist… great for keys too, they are really light… there are some shorts or spandex capris with a hidden pocket with a zipper… u can find them in nike or adidas for around 70dlls, just they are normally on the lower back or side, so maybe that might hurt if in some obstacles u are on ur ass… i would give it a try on the arm strap… :)

  3. avatar

    Hey Lise,

    The best way to carry an inhaler without losing it is to find a pair of spandex shorts or capris that have the built-in zipper pocket on the back or front inside. I’ve used it many times to carry cards, keys, chapsticks, etc.

    • avatar

      yay! great job!i’m pretty amped about my race… even thgouh as it stands i can only jog 2/13 of it. my goal will probably be 40 minutes, but i think i’ll be happy anywhere under 48. i’m pretty beat today from jogging 2 quarter miles (not in a row, so not a half mile) the last two days, but i’m pretty excited that i’ll never have to double my jogging in one week again! and i think you’re totally right… last night was not as hard as last monday was, even thgouh i jogged twice as much. this is going to get easier.

  4. avatar

    Thanks for the tips. I typically hate running because it is just so boring to me. I was all excited running in the 5k Run For Your Lives this past weekend. It was so much fun. I plan to try the Spartan that is coming up.

  5. avatar

    can I wear XC spikes? or would trainers be better?

    • avatar

      My girlfriends and I often start toeghter (unless it’s a race with corrals, in which case we start in the appropriate one) but none of us feel bad ditching the group. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever finished a race with the people I started with. My husband and I ditch each other before the race even starts, he goes up with the fast people and I look for the group of people who are between the people wearing baggy old sweatpants and the people wearing running shorts. I can usually find a few other gals in spandex Mom capri’s.

  6. avatar

    I have completed the Colchester VT sprint triathlon and am looking forward to getting ready for a spartan race next year.

    Hope to be ready for a spartan sprint…if there is one available. How do i get ready for this…training for the unknown sounds exciting, but i need to be prepared.

  7. avatar

    Hey there! I am doing my first Spartan, the Beast 12/9 Texas. I’ve never done anything like this and have been unable to train due to being diagnosed w Mono. I have a race partner and got the clear from my Dr to go but I’m now terrified! How many tries do I get at obstacles before being disqualified? Is a headlamp necessary? I read there will be 4 water stations. I am carrying gel and Cliff Bloks. Any advice? I’m finishing this race if I crawl across the finish line!

  8. avatar

    I’m doing my first this Saturday, and this column has been very helpful. I’m wondering about the sunglasses, though. Since Lasik 15 years ago, I’ve never been outside without eye protection, and think I’ll squint the whole way without. I’m thinking about going with an old pair of scratched up but good fitting Oakelys that I could live with losing. Or is it better to try and go without.

  9. avatar

    I’ve Been working with a personal trainer
    and lost a crazy amount of weight! This August
    will be my FIRST Spartan Race , well ANY race !
    just looking for any tips ! thank you!!

  10. avatar

    Hi. I’m a newbie. I will be doing my first Spartan this Sunday. Would u recommend wearing some kind of gloves. When I have practiced rope climbing I end up with slight rope burns on my fingers. I’ve been researching gloves without luck. Thanks

  11. avatar

    I have signed up for three different distances and doing them all in Sept. These will be my first Spartan Race experiences. I have lost a bit of weight and am getting stronger week by week. I can’t afford to go out a buy a new pair of shoes just for the race so I am going with what I have (a running shoe). What I feel my biggest issue is going to be the rope climbs. Even though there are knots in them I can’t raise my left arm fully overhead due to wrestling injuries back in high school. I have never been good at it and can’t find anywhere to practice the skill. I am however VERY good a burpees.

  12. avatar

    I did my first Super Spartan yesterday and this article was unspeakably helpful when I was trying to figure out what I would need to wear, leave in the car, and bring with me for after the race. Thank you so much for posting this!

  13. avatar

    Thanks Margo! Just finished Spartan Race Beast in Mexico, your blog and instructios were so helpful!

  14. avatar

    Is it possible to bring my music with a water proof case? I want music for the longer runs for the spartan beast.

  15. avatar

    Hey there,

    I did the Spartan (5k) last year. This year I am going for the Trifecta. I am a little nervous, but also very excited. I have ran 21k before with not too much trouble. I am mostly just worried about the obstacles. I am looking to bring gels with me. What do you use to carry gels? do you have a belt or something or just pockets? and how often do you eat the gels?

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