What to wear for Tough Mudder, Spartan Race and other obstacle course races

This Sunday I’m doing Tough Mudder Sydney again. I’m in the back of the field and there are always two or three obstacles I can’t complete, but I love it nonetheless. I don’t know exactly how many I’ve done but it would be at least five Tough Mudders by now and about twice that many Spartan Races.

It seems like I get asked about what to wear by a newbie every time, so here’s my guide.

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Should we get a team uniform or try to wear the same colour?

Tough Mudder is too tough for any attempt at a uniform — it’ll be a mud brown within 400m. If you really want to get a team uniform made, do it, but wear it to the event, change into your race gear before you do the bag drop, and then after the event, shower and change back into your team uniform. Because otherwise your nice new team uniform will be eternally grey, brown, worn and saggy.

What should I wear on my legs and butt?

There will be scratches and bruises whatever you wear, but a lot of people wear long or short lycra leggings, or skins. It’s not a bad idea to wear shorts over the top of that, or you’ll tear the lycra and end up showing some butt.I l

When choosing shorts choose something with the least number of pockets (they will fill up with nice little sandbags of mud) and no gusset (ditto). A drawstring waist is a great idea too.

I look more buff in a tank or singlet, is that a good idea?

Don’t be tempted to wear a tank or singlet top unless you like picking gravel out of your shoulders and shoulder blades. Don’t go topless either, no matter how buff you look. You will be one big gravel rash by the finish line and you may not have enough antiseptic at home (remember: Tough Mudder mud often contains a lot of cow shit).

Cotton or synthetic?

Don’t wear cotton as it will take on about a kilo of water and mud and you are going to run 20km. Go for breathable synthetics — Coolmax is best.

On my head?

A cap you can afford to lose in muddy water at some point is a great idea. A headband is a terrible idea, even though Tough Mudder gives them to you for doing the event. The famous orange Tough Mudder headband is great marketing for them, a terrible idea for you unless you really enjoy a slow trickle of muddy water in your eyes as you try to see the obstacle you’re traversing.

Sunglasses are utterly pointless. If you need prescription eyewear definitely get them on a neoprene strap with a thing on the back you can tighten them with (sorry, don’t know what that’s called).

Remember you can run round the side to the far end of an obstacle and leave your hat and glasses there before returning to complete the obstacle. There’s almost no way to not lose your glasses and hat in 2m of muddy water if you have to jump in from head height.

Accoutrements

Take watches, jewellery off and piercings out. Tape them if you can’t. Don’t wear a watch unless you don’t mind it getting scratched. If you want to wear a smart watch or heart rate strap, take it off before attempting the Electroshock obstacle or risk second-degree burns and a trip to the Apple Store to buy new gear. Yeah, I’ve done that.

How about my feet?

Low-cut tight synthetic or hybrid wool/synthetic running socks are best as they don’t hold a lot of water. Water at Tough Mudder is 50% mud, and mud is 30% gravel, and gravel causes blisters and abrasions. High socks may protect your shins a little if you can keep them up, otherwise deal with the scrapes and you won’t have to run carrying even more water and mud.

Shoes with mesh tops are best as they shed water better. Snug fitting shoes and socks will allow less water and mud in. Double-knot your shoelaces and tie them really tight or you’ll lose them in the mud holes.

Be prepared to donate your shoes at the end of the event — normal street trainers are never the same again no matter how many times you wash them after. If your shoes should focs on one thing it’s GRIP IN THE WET — wet, muddy timber and steel obstacles are hard enough without them being hard to run across or climb.

It’s not all about grip

Liberally apply a sweat-resistant sports sunscreen except your hands, which you’ll need to be grippy for those damn monkey bars and rings. Consider a little lubricant for the crotch, armpits and other sensitive chafe points, but only a little as grit likes to hang around when you apply too much lube.

Have fun out there!

You are, by definition, certifiably insane to be doing this. But it can be the best fun ever. Don’t try to win or nail a goal time, focus on completing it, making some new friends, and helping some good friends out.

I’m Alan Jones, an EiR for startup accelerators, GP at M8 Ventures. Previously investor, founder, and early Yahoo PM. Opinions mine (but should also be yours).

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