There comes a time in every runner’s life where they will face dreaded, inclement weather. Before you go into battle and endure your inclement weather run, spend a few minutes reading some ways on how to help you push through the bad weather. The ultimate question is, does running in the wind and rain affect chip time?
Wind, rain, and other adverse weather conditions can all affect running times but the relationship is not simple. “Substantial” wind might reduce your speed by as much as 12 seconds/mile with a headwind, and increase your speed by 6 seconds/mile with a tailwind. At the same time, headwinds may also enhance performance, e.g. by giving a cooling effect on a hot day.
Weather is unpredictable and regular runners are bound to sometimes face the experience of training or racing in wind and rain. But how much does it really affect chip times? Are there benefits as well as disadvantages? Do beginners really need to think about this? Read our article to find out more.
Running in the wind and rain might not sound like very much fun but it isn’t all bad news. There are potential advantages to running under these conditions and with proper preparation, it could work well.
If the weather is hot or you’re running very fast, some rain or wind could cool you down, potentially increasing personal comfort and overall performance.
Regularly running in rain and wind can increase your fitness because it’s much harder work. This kind of “resistance running” can improve running stamina, running power, and overall technique.
Building up your mental familiarity with running in rain and wind can create resilience to them. Knowing how it feels, and being sure that you can handle running in challenging weather conditions, could give you a strategic advantage on race days.
Running in a tailwind might also provide a very direct boost to your performance, pushing you forwards, reducing the overall effort you need to make, and increasing your running speed.
There are certainly disadvantages to running in wind and rain.
Running against the wind or in rain requires more energy and therefore higher oxygen consumption, forcing your body to work harder than in normal conditions to cover the same distance. This makes it less likely that you will give your best possible performance in wet and windy weather.
Wet skin is more likely to blister as waterlogged fabrics chafe against damp skin. Blistering often occurs to the feet, thighs, nipples, or around the edges of a sports bra.
Running in mild to moderate rain and wind can make you feel both cold and miserable, especially if you’re not accustomed to the experience. In extreme rain and wind, you could be in danger of hypothermia if you spend too much time outside in these conditions, especially if temperatures are already low. Core temperature can fall rapidly when you’re very wet and the wind is chilling you.
Whether you’re running on pavement, grass, or trails, rain can make the ground more slippery, increasing the risk of twisted ankles and falls. Very high winds can present the additional danger of falling branches or flying debris.
Knowing that the ground is more treacherous than usual can make you cautious about your step, altering your natural gait and slowing you down.
If you try to stay dry by wearing heavy layers of rainproof and windproof clothing, you may overheat and this could adversely affect your performance and comfort.
Mild to moderate wind and rain shouldn’t ruin your running as long as you’re prepared for this weather, physically and mentally. But when weather conditions become very heavy or extreme, they could pose a significant risk of causing injury or illness.
You should obviously not run during hurricanes or when rain is heavy enough to cause flooding or make the ground slippery or unstable to the point of being unsafe. You should be cautious about running during electrical storms when there is an additional risk of lightning strikes, especially on higher ground or if sheltering beneath trees or high structures.
If you are feeling ill or extremely tired, it is also probably not a good idea to run in bad weather. Running in wind and rain requires more energy and perceived effort than running during optimal weather conditions and could leave you feeling worse than before you began.
Beginner and novice runners should certainly consider weather conditions carefully. More experienced runners are likely to already have a good feel for running in rain and wind and an informed view on suitable clothing and pace. Beginners will need to learn this.
While it is inadvisable for beginners or advanced athletes to run in unsafe weather conditions (e.g. hurricanes and flooding), running in ordinary levels of wind and rain is largely a matter of personal judgment and learning to dress appropriately for your route, weather conditions, and personal comfort.
Light to moderate rain or wind is unlikely to be harmful to beginner runners on ordinary training or recreational runs. Training under adverse weather conditions could have benefits if you dress and prepare suitably. At the same time, these weather conditions are likely to slow most people down and it’s sensible to adjust expectations on speed and achieving personal bests.
Statistical analysis of marathon running data indicated that slower runners were more negatively affected by adverse weather conditions than faster runners. While we should be careful about drawing too many parallels, (e.g. not all novice runners are slow) it makes sense that beginners may need to consider the effect of weather on their performance more than those who have trained for it and are accustomed to it.
There are a number of actions you can take to make running in the wind and rain more manageable, comfortable, and even fun.
You might decide to run against the wind on your outward run, acknowledging that this is going to be slower and harder, and then run the return route faster with the wind at your back, following negative split methodology. Alternatively, you might choose to run faster outward with a tailwind, and then return running against the wind to train your body and mind to work with tired muscles.
In wet and windy weather, you’re likely to be more comfortable running in close-fitting long-sleeved and long-legged clothing which will keep you warm and won’t flap around or drag in the wind. Research on running in wind tunnels has shown that clothing material, shoes, and even hairstyle can improve a runner’s aerodynamics and lower their wind resistance by 0.5% – 6%.
Choose comfortable anti-blister socks and smooth-seamed clothing. You can also apply vaseline or tape to body parts liable to chafe in wet weather.
When the weather is bad, you may want to choose routes that are less exposed to the wind and rain. Running through streets will offer more shelter from the elements than running along the coastline or through a hilly area.
On a windy race day, you might try the tactic of ‘drafting’, effectively tucking yourself behind other runners to minimize direct exposure to air resistance.
Research published in 1971 found an 80% decrease in air resistance when drafting off another runner. This corresponded to about a 6% drop in oxygen consumption for the given pace. As a ballpark figure, drafting can reportedly gain you a second per lap even on a still day, if running at a 4:30 / mile pace.
Ideal running and racing weather is cool, dry, and still, and runners are more likely to perform well and achieve better running times in these conditions. However, the chances are that sometimes you will have to train and race in rainy and windy conditions and you will probably get slower running times. Your running would be very limited if you tried to avoid bad weather completely.
As a beginner, it’s worth acclimatizing to light and moderate rain and wind in order to build physical fitness and mental resilience. It’s also important to learn how to dress well for adverse weather conditions, plan a sensible route, and judge accurately when conditions are becoming unsafe.
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