When you are inching through mud under barbed wire or grasping at that rope to climb to the top, the last thing you want to think about is whether your shirt is going to dry and how your shoes are going to handle another obstacle after this one. You’ve trained hard, and you need to trust that what you’re wearing isn’t going to get in the way of crushing your OCR goals (or, in the time of COVID-19, your next Virtual Race).
That’s why we decided to make our own gear in the first place, and why we partnered with Craft, specifically, to make it. “What we try to do is help an athlete so they are uninhibited to be unbreakable,” says Craft Sportswear North America CEO Eric Schenker. “We make clothes you don’t even know you’re wearing, so all you’re focused on is the sport.” And it’s not just Spartan athletes he’s talking about: The European sports endurance brand makes gear for Olympic skiers, elite ultra-marathoners, and Tour de France champions, pioneering apparel that’s helped propel them to victory.
Just ask two-time Spartan World Champion Robert Killian.”I would guess that MOST people choose clothing based on the way it looks, fits, and unfortunately not so much on functionality,” he says. “But we’re not MOST people, are we? We choose our gear based on what advantages it can provide so we’re able to maximize performance.”
He goes on to give this example: If you’re running for many miles and it’s raining, would you wear a cotton sweater that will absorb a ton of water, steal your body heat, become heavy, and even chafe your skin? Or would the better choice be an ultralight membrane-layered lightweight jacket with tapped seams and Nano base layer? If you want to stay dry and perform — which, of course, you do — then the jacket and base layer combo are the clear choice.
“We treat the Spartan athlete like Olympic athletes we support, applying that same level of effort, research, and science to developing clothing and footwear for them,” explains Schenker. “We think through the complexities of the OCR challenges.” For example, when Spartan pros requested exterior pockets on their Delta collection race items, Craft designed them with drainage ports similar to those used in their professional triathlon team’s race suits, preventing them from getting weighed down after the dunk wall. That’s just one of the small details that makes a difference when you’re training and racing. Schenker shared a few additional design and technology secrets behind why our proprietary apparel actually helps you perform better.
Ergonomically Designed to Tackle All of the Obstacles
Take a minute to think about all the different ways your body has to move in order to complete a Spartan race: You need to be able to reach high, crawl low, and pivot quickly. There aren’t very many sports where you have to train to be this versatile, or where your clothing needs to be so flexible. “Ergonomics is something we really focus on,” says Schenker. “Our designers develop sport-specific cutting lines so you have total freedom of movement.”
After testing many styles, Killian says that the Craft Active Intensity crewneck base layer has the best properties to support wicking sweat and prevent chafing. As an added bonus, the ergonomically-placed seams provide extreme comfort. “Craft went above and beyond by stitching lines that draw the water away from the normal hot spots — your back and armpits,” he says. “It’s genius.”
The compression-style two-layer or single-layer shorts are also built to stand up to the course. “As far as bottoms, it’s important to have freedom of movement without worrying about torn or ripped stitching,” he explains. “I’m more confident going through the obstacles knowing my apparel isn’t going to take a beating, and will still come out in one piece on the other side.”
These design decisions aren’t made on hunches: At Craft’s Science Institute in Östersund Sweden, you’ll find samples upon samples being tested out for their sport-specific fit, thermal regulation, and how they enhance performance. Compression technology is another facet to the ergonomics of your workout clothes: Research indicates that, in addition to helping with recovery, wearing compression gear (like our knee socks) can actually promote focus and psychological comfort during hardcore exercise.
For Killian, the full compression tights are the way to get maximum protection in the woods and prevent rope burn on your legs during the climb. “And once they’re wet, forget about it if you don’t have a way to tighten them!” he says. “For this reason, I move over to a compression type of design versus the normal active base layer pants while competing in Spartan races.”
Tough Fabrics That Help You Thermoregulate (and Stay Dry)
Ventair. Dyneema. These are just a few of the futuristic fabrics that Craft integrates into Spartan workout clothes in order to make you feel supported and cool on the course. So what exactly do those names mean? Ventair is Craft’s proprietary wind and waterproof breathable fabric that represents the latest in cutting-edge fabric systems. It’s a highly advanced system that offers water and wind protection, in combination with excellent ventilation and moisture transport.
“Ventair is an incredible fabric that will not only help keep you dry, but prevent you from overheating as well, which can be a problem with wind and waterproof fabrics,” Schenker explains. “Just ask the winner of last year’s Ultra World Championship in Sweden. Ryan [Atkins] wore a jacket made from Ventair the entire time!”
“Eventually in OCR, you’re going to get wet, either from sweat or an obstacle like the swim or dunk wall,” Killian says. “That’s why Craft hot-weather gear is critical. Why even wear a shirt if it’s hot? Why not just go topless? Well, we also know that, in OCR, having a shirt provides a lot of protection from bushwhacking, rolling around in the dirt, and from sunburn. On top of that, Craft dry wicking products are designed allow airflow and breathability.”
Dyneema is the superhero of fabrics: It’s literally 15 times stronger than steel, and is used in Craft’s pro cyclist shorts — and in our Delta singlet — so when they crash, they don’t tear up their skin. Spartan is the only other pro sport that is allowed to use this fabric in its apparel.
“We built in these abrasion-resistant panels so when you’re climbing rope and crawling under barbed wire, you’re protected,” says Schenker. One of Killian’s favorite aspects of the Craft tops is the protected shoulder sections. “The Pro Team knit top has two reinforced, almost abrasive, skid-prevention-type layers up top that, in my opinion, help with carries to better keep sandbags in place,” he says. “This could definitely give you a slight advantage to go the distance, versus needing to continually shuffle the bag around.”
Smart Scandinavian Design That’s Athlete-Tested
Maybe minimalism isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Spartan, but it was something that we took into serious consideration when we partnered with Craft The Swedish brand is known for evolving the concept of performance sportswear, taking very technical, advanced design and translating it into workout clothing that’s simple and clean. “You’re getting the most superior-engineered products that are going to make you look good, too,” says Schenker. That design is also what makes our gear appeal to an audience beyond the OCR obsessives. The advanced simplicity benefits all endurance athletes.
But the ultimate proof for this apparel? All of our unbreakable gear is tested by our pro athletes, both in the Craft lab and on real courses. Schenker refers to this as the constant feedback loop, where “we integrate their input directly into the product design.” And it’s feedback from top athletes like Killian that enables us to put those seams in the perfect places, and those panels where they need to be, to protect you on the course.