by Margo the Great
[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 www.clockblocking.com -
“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!
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
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 – Full Change of Clothes
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!
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!