With many years of racing experience across a platform of disciplines, I'm often asked what I use during my races. For running, it's shoes, clothes, hydration packs, and food. Swimming usually strikes up a conversation about googles and wetsuits. When I'm talking about Obstacle Course Racing, it's mainly about the shoes, depending on the distance and temperature, a hydration pack, clothes and sometimes gloves. For triathlons, the conversations can drag out talking about bikes, bike shoes, swim gear, tri suits, hydration, food an so on. My typical answer is in all these cases is: "What works for me may or may not work for you.".
The reason being, our bodies probably aren't the same, so the same thing doesn't work for everyone. Finding the right gear for your race is a lot like dating, you probably won't have a winner on the first try. Let's take goggles for example. Aqua Sphere is the only brand of goggles that fit my face comfortably and don't leak. I've tried other brands that have great reviews, yet they all leak. I've also seen reviews about Aqua Sphere goggles where other swimmers have trouble with them. Why? Our faces aren't shaped the same and don't look alike. Maybe Aqua Sphere works fine for me, but another swimmer with different shape or size orbital sockets may prefer Roku.
Unfortunately, this happens with most of the other types of equipment as well. Shoes are a great example of something that many runners struggle with. Brooks is one of the most popular brands of running shoes that I see at every race. However, if I run in them with my wide feet, I'll have blisters by mile 10. Altra and Topo running shoes are engineered with a wider toe box and a much better fit for my feet. If you have a narrow foot, Altra and Topo probable aren't the brand for you, and you may have better luck with Brooks or Saucony.
Food is a whole other can of worms. What you decide to eat on the race course and what your body can handle digesting under stress might send you straight to the next portable toilet. In endurance racing, our bodies will often shut down the digestive system to divert blood to the muscles, hence the reason most aid stations have simple sugar items like electrolyte drinks and gels. The sugar absorbs through the stomach lining and doesn't go into the lower digestive tract. If you've been racing long enough, you've most likely ingested some food along the course that within a few minutes had you reeling from stomach cramps. The body will adapt to the stress you put on it. If you train with gels, gels should work fine during a race. I have a friend who grabbed a gel during a marathon and said she spent the rest of the race running from one portable toilet to the next.
My best advice is not to get frustrated if the first thing you buy causes you discomfort. There is a vast array of brands that you can almost always find one that fits your body. My first wetsuit I ordered off the internet and was made by 2XU, a trendy brand among triathletes. I bought the size that recommended for my height and weight; however, I struggled to get it on, and in the pool, I had half the range of motion in my shoulders. Next, I went with a TYR Hurricane, which fit beautifully, and have never strayed since. Innov8 makes amazing OCR and fell running shoes, but they tend to be too narrow for me. Even they're widest X-Claw is good for only about 6 - 8 miles, so during a Spartan Beast, my feet are suffering for at least 5 miles. Altra finally partnered with Spartan and released their version of OCR shoes, and my feet have never been happier.
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