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What to Wear to an Obstacle Course Race: Mud Run Shoes & Footwear

18 Feb 2013

Read the most recent My Exercise Coach post on obstacle racing footwear.

You’ve been working hard training regularly, preparing for your obstacle race. Now that you are ready for race day, what are your feet wearing to endure the race?

What shoes are best for your obstacle race or mud run?

Obstacle race-specific footwear should be distinct from obstacle race training footwear. Training places different demands on your wheels from the actual race.

Let’s review some of the demands of obstacle racing before checking out available footwear options.

 

Demands of Obstacle Racing: 5 Footwear Needs

1. Running

You’ll need to be prepared to run, walk, and/or run-walk anywhere from 3-10+ miles, depending on your obstacle race. So your footwear should have some of the characteristics of a running shoe.

2. Running and Walking Over Mud and other Slippery Surfaces

It’s called a mud run for a reason! You’ll need to step through mud, slippery balance beams, mucky hills, and similar obstacles. You’ll need a shoe that will give you some traction.

Since you’ll be running through a lot of mud and possibly rocky patches, it will also be helpful to have a shoe that can provide some protection against debris.

3. Lateral/Multiplanar Foot Motion

Running through unstable surfaces makes for a lot or lateral and multiplanar foot motion. You’ll need a shoe that offers some stability for you to get over uneven surfaces.

If you’re preparing for a zombie-themed run, you will also need a shoe that offers support and flexibility to cut away and escape from the undead.

4. Swimming/Wading in Water

Swimming and/or walking through murky water is a common obstacle in mud runs. Having a shoe with material that dries quickly is a must.

5. Jumping/Landing

Leaping over fire, climbing to the other side of a wall, getting down a slide — all of these require good landing mechanics.

Having a shoe with some support may help you stick the landing for some obstacles.

Now that we know what to look for in an obstacle racing shoe, we can look at what’s out there for footwear. Here are a few examples.

 

inov-8 – Terrafly

inov-8 - Terrafly 287 GORE-TEX (Dark Grey/Pink) - Footwear

inov-8 offers a wide range of footwear for training and running goals. Their system is designed to gradually progress a newbie to a minimal training lifestyle.

Available in specific designs for both men and women, the Terrafly is designed for trails and traditional runs. It’s supportive and lightweight, with Gore-Tex material to help keep your feet as dry as possible when you traverse passed muddy and wet surfaces.

The inov-8 Terrafly is a great versatile shoe for your first mud run or obstacle course race once you’ve gotten used to minimal training. I like the women’s shoe better for first-time racers as it provides slightly more support than the men’s sneaker.

But if you’ve done extensive training in minimal footwear, the women’s shoe may seem a little stiff and too supportive, while the men’s shoe may be a suitable fit.

Whatever you do, try them on before making a long-term commitment to racing in them. If you order online, be sure you can return them for free (like you can with Zappos).

Terrafly Specs

Women’s

  • Lightweight mesh upper with hardy, supportive synthetic overlays.
  • GORE-TEX membrane ensures waterproof protection from the elements, while maintaining a cool, breathable environment.
  • Extended rubber toe rand for extra protection.
  • Anatomic fit is based on the foot’s shape, making for the most comfortable, relaxed fit.
  • Outsole is designed to handle hardpacked terrain with ease.
  • S (Sticky) Compound was developed from climbing rubber technology to provide optimal wet traction.
  • Average lifespan of 600 miles.
  • Women’s fit is created for the unique shape of the female foot

Men

  • A lightweight, more minimal option for running over both road and trail.
  • Breathable and durable synthetic upper.
  • Extended rubber toe rand for extra protection.
  • Anatomic fit is based on the foot’s shape, making for the most comfortable, relaxed fit.
  • E (Endurance) rubber outsole material is stickier than most rubbers, while offering extended wear in comparison to sticky rubber.
  • Injected EVA midsole provides responsive underfoot cushioning.
  • Contoured foam insole for added underfoot support.
  • Average lifespan is 1,000 miles.

inov-8 X-Talon

The X Talon may be a common shoe you’ve seen in other obstacle racing articles. Obstacle athletes have used these kicks as a go-to racing shoe.

It’s light, but has tread and stability. Made for the athlete with some experience in minimal training, this shoe is lightweight, durable, and offers some support.

X-Talon Specs

  • A super lightweight off road running shoe with a low profile midsole, the X-Talon 212 is ideal for cross country, short trail, fell and mountain races.
  • Performance upper made of a quick drying mesh offers high breathability.
  • Grippy and sticky rubber outsole offers ideal traction.
  • Molded cupped MidShoc midsole offers the best balance between comfort and underfoot sensitivity.
  • Meta-Flex insert offers a natural forefoot flex.
  • Met-Cradle cradles the forefoot behind the metatarsal heads to provide a secure foot hold.

New Balance Minimus 1010

The New Balance Minimus 1010 is a trail running shoe with minimal characteristics. It’s lightweight with some cushioning and featuring technology in the footbed to help keep your feet protected from sharp rocks and debris. You’ll want a safeguard against pebbles and rocks for an obstacle course races.

But is this shoe great for obstacle racing? The verdict may still be out there.

In theory, it seems like the Minimus may be great for a mud run. But some of the negative reviews knock the shoe in terms of lacking comfort and providing minimal protection from rocks/debris.

For your first 5k-length obstacle race, though, the New Balance Minimus may be a suitable shoe, especially if you have limited experience with minimal footwear.

New Balance Minimus Specs

  • Set between barefoot running and traditional cushioned running shoes, this shoe is ideal for the neutral runner or those seeking to conquer their gait issues by learning better form.
  • Lightweight mesh upper and synthetic overlays.
  • Breathable fabric lining offers a great in-shoe feel.
  • ROCK STOP is embedded into the footbed to help keep feet protected from sharp rocks and debris.
  • Vibram outsole offers optimal surface contact and multidirectional traction.

Vibram Fivefingers?

What about Vibrams? I’ve heard some obstacle race veterans regularly wear Vibrams for their mud runs, but I’ve also heard the other side of the argument against Vibrams for obstacle courses.

If you’ve been training and racing with Vibrams Fivefingers extensively, you know they work for you.

If you are a beginner, though, Fivefingers-style shoes may not be the best choice for your first obstacle race. They may not provide enough stability and traction for newbies.

Using them for your training workouts will help ease you into minimal exercise and running. Over time, you can work up to trying them for an actual obstacle race.

 

What footwear do you race in for your obstacle course and mud runs?

 

 

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2 thoughts on “What to Wear to an Obstacle Course Race: Mud Run Shoes & Footwear

  1. Good article! I recently ran my first “mud run” the Savage Race. Had a blast! I’d been training in New Balance minimus (not the trail version). This helped transition to the barefoot style shoes. I actually ran the race in a pair of Vibrams. Had no issues. Though if there had been large protuding rocks or other sharp objects I could see a problem as the vibrams only cover the very bottom of your foot. What they did do well was shed water and mud. While my team was dragging their heavy shoes I was running along without a complaint.

  2. Thanks, Marcel! When I ran RFYL, part of the course was up a steep, muddy hill. Using traditional running shoes was not a good idea — they weighed me down over the hills. But I noticed a lot of seasoned runners in Vibrams and similar minimalist shoes running over these hills more easily. Good thing the course wasn’t too rocky and gravelly – the Vibrams were probably a good fit to go with for them.

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