With fall marathon season under way, a variety of weather conditions are possible on race day. Here’s how to deal with them.
It’s that time of year again when every marathoner’s favorite pastime becomes checking the weather forecast for the day of their big race. While outsiders find it comical that we runners fret about a whether prediction 30 days away (sometimes further), any real runner knows how compulsive weather watching can become.
That said, regardless of what the weather might be, the race still has to be run. Hopefully, it’s in perfect conditions for you or at least conditions you’ve prepared for. However, if it’s not, there are still some tips and strategies you can implement to make the most out of a bad weather situation and keep your performance on track.
Running A Marathon In The Cold
While I personally find this the best “adverse” condition to run in, I know the southern runners I coach cringe at the thought of racing in anything under 40 degrees since it’s likely many of them never experience these temps in training.
The difficulty presented by racing in the cold is that your body needs to use energy to keep itself warm. The more energy you spend trying to stay warm, the less you’ll have for the race itself, which could lead to premature bonking or fatigue.
To combat this, a week or two before the race, find that ratty sweatshirt, pair of gloves, hat, or pair of sweatpants you’ve been meaning to throw out for years. If you don’t have any clothing items ready to be ditched, head to Wal-Mart or a cheap clothing store and buy some warm weather clothes you could run in for a mile or two. They don’t have to be fancy or even moisture wicking. As long as they are comfortable, you’re good.
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Wear these warm items in the corral when you’re standing in the cold and have nowhere to move. Once you start running and get past the first mile or two, your body will begin to warm up and you can shed the warmer clothes. Most marathons pick up discarded clothing at the start and donate them to charity.
Under this initial starting layer of warm, throw-away clothing, wear layers of moisture-wicking clothes. You’re bound to heat up as the race progresses, so having layers that are easy to remove will allow you to stay cool and not overheat or sweat uncomfortably. You can also experiment with clothing items like arm sleeves if you’re worried about taking long sleeves on and off. What you want to avoid is only having one long sleeve you can’t take off and thus overheat once the sun comes up and your body temperature rises.
Running A Marathon In The Rain
While likely not the most detrimental weather element to performance, running in the rain can make for a miserable marathon experience. Unfortunately, there is no way to stay completely dry, but here are a few tips to help you stay comfortable as long as possible.
- Take a trash bag, cut a whole for your head, and wear it while you wait at the starting line. DO NOT RUN with the trash bag on for any distance; use it to keep yourself dry at the start. More than likely, you’ll be standing in the starting corral for a long period of time before the race with little shelter and the trash bag will be completely waterproof.
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- If you have friends/family on the course, give them a dry shirt or socks that you can swap at 16 or 20 miles. Yes, it will take a minute or two to switch the items out, but the fresh, reinvigorating feeling will provide a much-needed mental boost for the final part of the race. Plus, wet shoes can get pretty heavy.
- If it’s a cold rain, put Vaseline on exposed body portions of your skin, such as your hands, legs and arms. Vaseline is water resistant, which will help keep your hands and lower legs from getting too cold. One caution — Vaseline does not allow your body to sweat efficiently, so don’t put it on your head and neck. You want excess heat (yes, there will be some even in such cold temperatures) to dissipate as needed.
Running A Marathon In The Heat
By far the most difficult element to run in is heat. Not only is it uncomfortable, but it dramatically reduces performance. To illustrate, at just 75 degrees, research suggests that a 4-hour marathoner will run nearly six minutes slower than their fitness. To help you combat the heat as efficiently as possible, here are some of my most helpful strategies.
- Try pre-cooling, which is a technique used to lower your core body temperature before the race starts. One study reported that pre-cooling can boost performance by 16 percent. While elite runners use specialized cooling vests, you can get creative and do some low cost pre-cooling tricks on your own. You can either take towels frozen overnight to the start line with you or simply make a Gatorade slushy and sip before the race goes off. Both methods will slightly cool your core body temperature before the start of the race.
- Pour water on yourself as often as possible. You don’t want to over-drink and it’s likely you’ll get enough electrolytes given how easily available they are. However, water on your head and body will go a long way towards keeping your skin cool and allowing you to dissipate heat — much more than it will by drinking.
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- Adjust your pace and expectations. Throw away the watch, start slow and run by feel. Your body’s central governor will ensure that you run slow enough to remain strong as long as you listen to it versus the watch. Too many runners attempt to maintain their goal pace no matter the conditions. This almost always ends in a very slow final 10K.
Hopefully, you don’t need any of this advice this fall for your race. But, if race conditions are not ideal, implement these strategies to mitigate the weather and run to your best ability.