Obstacle Race Shoes
The single most important thing you wear to Tough Mudder or your obstacle race of choice, goes on your feet. You could rock nothing but a banana hammock or go in full-out chicken suit but if you don’t get some decent shoes to run in you’re going to be hurting.
What they recommend: normal running shoes.
My they I mean the peeps who put on these events, which I definitely agree with. My first inclination when hearing about the first mud run I had planned on running, was to wear an old pair of cleats. If you thought the same thing, think again, because sadly they don’t allow cleats of any kind.
Bummer I know.
So that leaves you with boots and running shoes. Boots may be sturdier and hold out water better but once they get water in them it isn’t coming out and they can get slick sometimes. In events where you need balance, the running shoes end up being a much better option. Plus you want the lightest things on your feet possible and five pound water-logged boots just aren’t fun to lug around.
Some people will opt to go even lighter wearing Vibrams or some other minimalist shoe. Running barefoot isn’t adviced and my not even be allowed but going as minimal as possible helps. I’ll get into those further down the page but for now lets talk about running shoes.
Buying New or Using Your Old Kicks?
A good question. If you have time to work-in a new pair of shoes you may want to do it but if it is a week or two before the race, stick with the beat up pair you have. If they have a hole in them, it will just be easier for the water to drain out. Another good thing about an old pair of shoes is they can be disposed of at the end of the race. Less muddy gear in your car on the way home.
Of course with any type of strenuous and repeat motion you put your body through, you want to take the care to use proper equipment and footwear is one of those things.
Before starting any new exercise routine it is best to talk to a doctor and get checked out first. These are still running events and you need to train accordingly. For that reason I recommend going and getting your shoes fitted by someone who knows what they are doing like your local jogging shop. There should be someone there who can watch your gate and check out your feet and give you a little better idea what type of shoes to get besides just picking a pair that look cool your size.
I mentioned holes in shoes. If you have a pair of old shoes you are going to wear that you plan on throwing away at the end of the race you want to cut a hole or two in them. A week or so before the race put them on and submerge your feet in water. Find out where the water collects and cut a hole where you can so that water drains out faster. The shoes shouldn’t fall apart in the course of the event and you can keep your feet a little dryer. Less weight to carry as you run and hopefully less blisters.
For real muddy events you need to make sure your shoes are real tight. Mud will sucks the shoes right off your feet. Lace them up tight. One little trick is to wrap them up with duct tape. Wrap around the arch of the shoe and then around your ankle.
You probably already know, are doing, or have seen people swept up in the barefoot running craze. And there is some benefits of doing it. Ultimately it is your decision if you want to run barefoot or close to it or stick with running shoes.
If you need some more information about barefoot running, here are some links that should get you up to speed:
- Here is one Mudder from Arizona’s account of doing a Tough Mudder in Vibram Sprints.
- Basics of Barefoot/Minimalist Running
- Evolution and History of Jogging
And of course if you haven’t read Born to Run, the book that really brought barefoot running mainstream, you should definitely check it out. In a nutshell the book talked about the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico and their amazing ability to run crazy distances barefoot and without any sort of foot trouble.
Benefits of Running Barefoot
Besides the fact that it just feels better to run barefoot — here are some of the specific reasons why minimalist shoes are good for Tough Mudder. First, you get the lightest possible shoes on your feet you can get. The less weight you are carrying the better. Second, you can sometimes get a better feel for the ground, so your balance can improve. A lot of these shoes wick water faster, so your feet can be dry for the longer running areas of the course. If you have to swim, I’d also take these shoes over clunkier running shoes.
Negatives of Barefoot Running
But of course there has to be some downsides as well. I cannot speak for every course but you should expect to be covering some rocky, sharp ground. This is mostly dirt, mud and gravel, so you may have some pretty sore feet at the end of ten miles. Minimalist shoes also don’t provide the same ankle and arch support you can get from a running shoe.
If you are already used to running in minimalist shoes than go ahead and use them in the event as you probably will do fine, but I don’t recommend someone trying them out for the first time here. You’ll be in for a world of hurt if you do.
There are a number of Vibram pairs that would work reasonable well for scaling walls and slogging through mud. If I had to choose just one I’d go with Vibram Komoto Sport. They have a large outsole as far as Vibrams go, so the rocks shouldn’t be as bad and still be very good for grip.
At a little more modest price and for people who still want to be in shoes, just real light ones, I think the New Balance Minimus Trail shoes are a great way to go, and not just because I have a pair that I wear pretty much everywhere I go. Mine are red not the orange ones. Personally, I’ve never been a fan of having my toes exposed so these still give the barefoot feel in your step without that uncomfortable watch where you step feeling. Maybe I’m just clumsy but I’d rather have my toes protected and these do just that. They do pretty well in water, even swam in them a couple times. Mine are thoroughly broken in so they’ll be on my feet for the 2012 Tough Mudder and a few other events. I’ll try to write a review when I’m done.
Women’s Minimalist Shoe Recommendations
If you want to go with Vibrams the Komotosport and a good option for obstacle races. Light yet still rugged enough for the course and a durable sole a bit thicker than some of the other Vibrams. The upper is a little bit thicker which is good for people a little newer to running in minimalist shoes.
New Balance offers a couple different minimal shoes, all of which with a Vibram sole. The New Balance Women’s WT00 Minimus Trail Shoe is a good option for obstacle races. You can get some with a little less padding in the sole if you want to be truly minimal but I recommend the train running versions for obstacle races where you can’t trust the course is going to be very forgiving.
Running Shoe Recommendations
When picking running shoes don’t overcomplicate things. No amount of tread on your shoes is going to keep you from doing some slipping and sliding. Your shoes will be completely submerged in water and mud multiple times during the event. So the primary thing to look for is weight. The lighter your shoes the better. Waterproofing doesn’t exist in these events, so making sure your shoes can drain well.
Comfort is the next most important thing.
You also want to make sure your shoes are tight. Tape them on if you have to. Big deep treads aren’t going to do any more good than a typical running shoe. Find a shoe that you can run 5 miles in. When you have that, go ahead and get them wet and run through some water and see how they do. It isn’t ever going to be totally comfortable but you can deal. As long as your feet don’t blister up you should be good to go.
I’ve always been a fan of New Balance. The best pair for obstacle races are the New Balance MT110 Trail Running Shoe. They’re built for trails obviously and air out well. Not to mention they’re only 7.8 ounces. Only slightly heavier than my Minimus.
Sort of ugly to be honest but they’ll be covered with mud so it doesn’t really matter what they look like.
Since the writing of this page over a year ago New Balance has introduced a lot of different minimalist shoes for trail running. I don’t have to the time or money to try them all but the links to the reviews are there.
Seems like they’re getting a little wacky with the colors to me.
Another popular brand for trail running and adventure racing is Inov-8. They’re shoes are a little pricey but they’re also made for these types of events. The Inov-8 Men’s Roclite 315 Trail Running Shoe are a great pair of shoes for both training and the event itself.
Another heavy hitter for trail running and adventure racing are the Salomon Speedcross 3’s. Check out the treds. They’re light, sturdy and great for tearing up hills. If you’re off road training or running your event these will do you great.
Since, cotton anything is a bad choice for this event, your white tube socks aren’t going to be the ideal choice. I really had no idea what all was going on with “sock technology” these days but there are a bunch of cool socks out there to keep your feet comfortable and as dry and free of blisters as possible. For me that is my main concern, blisters. Having wet shoes rubbing against your feet for 10 miles is just asking for problems, especially if some sand and mud gets in there. That mix of water mud and sand can turn your shoes into a cement mixer grinding up your feet.
But there are other concerns too. There are now some socks that can actually give some ankle support. Especially, great for this event and if you are wearing low-top or minimalist shoes without a whole lot of support. They can be a little pricey but being able to walk the day after may be worth the price.
From my experience I’ve had great luck with Injinji socks. I’ve bought a couple different pair and they last a reasonable amount of time, haven’t had an blister issues and they do reasonably well with water. About as much as I can ask for.
Why Toe Socks?
I’ve had problems with blisters in between my toes and these have eliminated that problem. Especially, when running with wet feet it can be a real problem so I suggest investing in a pair or two. Distance runners use them so I figured I’d try them for my own running and they seemed to help. It definitely felt odd at first but you will get used to it. Aside from putting them on, you won’t even remember you’re wearing them thirty minutes into your workout.
Socks for Minimalist Runners
For minimalist runners you obviously want the lightest thinest sock you can find. So for you I’d recommend the Injinji Performance Lightweight. Like all of the socks I recommend they are made with a blend of CoolMax (some sort of polyester), Nylon and Lycra. I’d be lying if I told you why they use these materials. All I know is that they stay reasonable dry, reasonably comfortable, and can dry out faster than the other socks I’ve tried.
If you are looking for more support Injinji also makes a Performance Compression sock. Personally, I’ve never found the need for compression socks but I know a few people, mainly long distance runners, who swear by them. They help by enhancing circulation to the leg muscles and muscle recovery.
For the complete list of mud run and obstacle race socks check out the best socks for mud runs guide.