I have been tapped by Obstacle Racing Media to give you my ultimate gear prep list for The Spartan UltraBeast World Championship. It will be taking place this year in Iceland, I was there last year and am excited to be making my 2nd trip. I also just finished the World’s Toughest Mudder which took place in near freezing temps in Atlanta. I also have raced all 4 years of WTM in Vegas, along with several other Spartan Ultra Beasts.
Here’s a summary of what I wore last year in Iceland, and what changes I’m making for 2018. At the start of the race the wind was whipping, it was quite cold, but not terrible, and the sun was out. I started with the following gear:
Zensah compression socks in Altra MT King 1.5 shoes. I wore compression leggings underneath windbreaker pants on bottom. On top, I wore short sleeve Tesla fleece lined compression top under a Zensah long sleeve compression top and a Patagonia Windbreaker jacket with reinforced seams. On my head, I wore a fleece lined winter hat and a buff around my neck and the hood of my jacket up. On my hands, I wore 1mm Blegg Mitts. It was mandatory to run with a foot care kit and a mylar blanket. I also wanted to carry fuel and hydration so I wore a low profile backpack with that in and I also threw in extra gloves.
Lap 1 was a 5k road run through the city of Hvergerdi and then right into the 6 mile-ish actual obstacle course part of the race. During that first lap, we got hit with heavy rain that lasted maybe 6 hours! During this time the sun went down and we were starting out 20 hours of darkness. Everything we had on that was able to absorb water got saturated. After each lap we were able to pit inside a turf soccer dome which was heated so our extra gear was in a lighted area, dry, and warm. I carried too much out on lap one and ended up needing to change everything from head to toe at a certain point. The rain washed away any light snow that was on the ground and made the little thermal rivers we had to cross many times wider. For example the first couple laps the rivers may have been a foot or two wide and we were able to hop skip and jump on rocks and only get minimally muddy, but as the rain kept falling we were trudging across mid-shin deep water and mud as we approached and crossed these thermal rivers that were now more than 20 feet wide. The air temperatures were well over 30 degrees and maybe even low 40s, but due to being wet it was tough to keep our body temps up. After the rain stopped the temperature began to drop. All that water began to freeze and it literally became Ice-Land. Because studded shoes, yak traks, and anything else to improve traction was outlawed for the event the new icy conditions became super challenging. As the hours ticked away the temperature continued to drop and in the wee hours, snow began to fall and cover the ice. It looked very pretty, but this made the ice even more slippery as now you lost visibility on where to step to avoid slipping and falling down. As the sun rose the temps didn’t rise significantly enough to decrease the difficulty of the course.
Looking back I have a much better idea of what to pack this year. Studs are still outlawed so I’m just going to go with Altra Mt Kings and Altra Superiors. I had neoprene waterproof socks last year and wore them for a couple laps, but didn’t feel like they helped as water got into them from the tops and couldn’t drain. So I ended up running in bags of water and my feet stayed wet. I’m packing them again, but I’ll decide on putting them on after I do a lap or two. Otherwise, I’ll wear my Darn Tough crew length socks and also pack some knee high Zensah compressions too. I didn’t use gaiters last year. I never thought during the race that I should have packed some, but this year I’ll bring some in case I decide that I want them.
On my legs, I will start in full-length leggings with windbreaker pants over them, but plan to wear my 3mm XCEL Long John wetsuit as the temperature drops I snagged this last minute from Wetsuitwearhouse.com.
I wore this suit at WTM 2018 and it was the most flexible wetsuit I’ve ever worn. This suit was super flexible and was able to run for 12 hours in it with very little restriction. I really liked the protection factor on this suit as well. A huge overlooked challenge by all in 2017 was the fact that you were constantly falling down. I would describe it as a boxing match and every time you fall your whole body contracts to attempt to catch your balance and brace for impact and then as you hit the ground it’s like a body blow. The first time you might giggle and then after a few more you might feel a little tipsy, but after hours of falling down each time you hit the ground, you won’t be able to just pop up as you just want to lay there and stare up at the sky. I’m also going to pack some McDavid Knee and Elbow pads to throw on as the night progresses so that my joints are just a little more protected.
I’m planning long sleeve compression and a NorthFace windbreaker with reinforced seems to start in. I’ll also pack a fleece top to add as a layer as the night goes on in case I need an additional layer. I’ll have a couple extra long sleeve compression tops to change into something dry if need be. I’m also going to bring a 1mm neoprene top and a 2mm neoprene vest as an emergency core layer.
I learned last year that if you keep your arms warm than you can literally run with no gloves and your hands will still be warm and sweating. I will have Blegg Mitts and Neoprene gloves to wear under them though. In Atlanta 2 weeks ago I used the neoprene gloves under the Blegg Mitts and they worked well. When I was running my hands stayed comfortable, but when you are touching frozen surfaces, or at Iceland where you’ll be doing 100s of Burpees, your hands will get really cold really quick. Pro Tip: If you have hand warmers you will get a greater benefit from them by putting them in your sleeve against the underside of your wrist as it warms the blood going into your hand than just holding them. Dry gloves are far warmer than wet ones, so have a strategy to keep your gloves from getting soaked as I did in case of crazy rain. Last year I brought these super insulated fleece lined gloves that got soaked at the beginning of the rain and were rendered useless.
Find a waterproof or resistant winter hat. Also, grab a buff to cover your face during the crazy wind so the snow doesn’t hurt your face and can warm the air as you breathe it in. I also brought snowboarding googles which were great in the windy snow but sucked in the pouring rain. Bring vaseline to smear on your cheeks, lips, and nostrils to protect against windburn.
Athletes either ran with Ultra Vests, or Hydration or SPI belts to carry fuel and hydration. Because it’s super cold you won’t need to drink a ton of water, but if you overdress you will over sweat and you will need more fluids. Have a plan to get warm/hot fluids/foods into you between each lap to keep your core temp up, but don’t take too long in the pit!! The soccer dome had plenty of boiling water to make hot chocolate or soup with throughout the night.
Multiple Headlamps. I like the Black Diamond Waterproof Headlamp and have 2 of them for Iceland as well as multiple other backup lights and a small hand flashlight as an emergency if my headlamp dies while I’m out there. Also, pack extra batteries!! Rock Tape in case you need a mid-race tape job. Dry towel to dry off when in to change your clothes. Bring some big garbage bags to put all your gear in post-race to get it all back to your hotel. Lastly, you obviously need to pack a clown mask to wear in the deep dark hours to keep the spirits up.
Get to Iceland, enjoy the culture, get some pictures of the Northern Lights and be ready for a whole lotta headlamp running.
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Matt B. Davis