What to do if Race Day Weather sucks: Prepare for rain, cold and wind

While snow isn't as common in the Portland metro, most of Oregon sees the white stuff on a regular basis. This runner is enjoying a snowy run at Hagg Lake.

The weather can change a lot when it comes to your race plan. First and foremost, you have to consider what you'll wear. What you wear in inclement weather can affect how warm you are during the race, as well as how much you chafe! Men especially suffer more in the rain if they haven't taken the proper precautions against nipple chafing. As with any run, if you don't warm up in the first few miles, you probably won't warm up. For some runners, wet=cold, no matter the air temperature, so we're going to start with some tips about running in cold. You might also want to check out what Runner's World has to say here. I especially like their training tip to consider your route; it's also a good idea to run with someone if the weather is bad. If you don't mind tying it around your waist later, a jacket it always a good idea. Especially one of those really thin shells that is also waterproof. But if you don't want to run with something around your waist and you don't want to throw your $80 running jacket to the side of the road at mile 4, here are a few tried-and-true tips:

  1. Wear a garbage bag. Just cut holes for you head and arms, and then cut it so that it’s short enough so it won’t impede your stride. It will keep your body heat in and the rain out, and when you get tired of it, you can just drop it in a rubbish bin at an aid station.
  2.  Wear a throw-away sweatshirt or long sleeve shirt. If it’s barely raining or dry on race morning, you can wear a (cotton!) throw-away shirt and then discard it at an aid station or even along the road by the starting area. If it’s really pouring, though, the garbage bag is your best bet.
  3. Know your problem areas when it comes to the cold – you might need gloves or to wear tights instead of shorts. Every body reacts differently to cold (and rain) so just do what’s right for you!

The hardest parts of the race when it’s raining are the first few miles before you get warmed up and the last few miles when you’re tired, and usually soaked through and unable to keep your body heat in.

And the rain … if you’re not prepared at the start of the race for rain, you probably won’t be able to do much to help yourself out if it starts raining at Mile 10. Wind can also be very dangerous; even if you feel warm at the start, as some participants at the 2015 Boston Marathon found out. Here are a few tips that are good to keep in mind on any run where rain is a possibility, and even more so for a half or full marathon:

  1. Wear a hat. A baseball-style hat, one that will keep the rain off your face (especially if you wear glasses).
  2. Wear synthetic material socks. Cotton socks are no good for running in the rain.
  3. Wear tech clothes. Even if you enjoy running in old-school cotton, wearing it to race in the rain will just add weight and chafing opportunities for you.
  4. Bring a dry bag. I highly recommend a Ziploc bag. Just so long as it’s big enough for your essentials – even your car key won’t appreciate being soaked if it’s got a chip in it; but keeping your phone dry is a must if you bring it along. If you run with your ID and you have one of those new-address stickers, it’s likely to be unreadable after spending a wet run in your pocket. Trust me – don’t wait until airport security gets a look at your ID.
  5. Bodyglide, Bodyglide, Bodyglide. If there’s one thing you need for a rainy race, it’s one of those mini-Bodyglide sticks. It should fit in your water belt (and if it doesn’t, make sure you have someone to meet you at key points on the course) and will be an absolute life saver for you. Because once you start to feel that burn, it will occupy your mind like nothing else and you won’t be able to ignore it. You’ll start thinking about your post-race shower … and you’ll be afraid.
  6. Take advantage of the on-course Vaseline station. Even if you have your own. If it’s raining and you’re wearing something fairly new (or at least new to this long of a run) you may find you’re chafing in new areas!
  7. Keep hydrating! Just because your skin is wet doesn’t mean your muscles are getting enough water.

AT the inaugural Civil War Relay … it was in the teens for most of the race. Fortunately, the two to three mile legs were short enough that we never got really cold.

After your race, depending on how warm it is, you’ll need to do what you can to dry off quickly. Even if you feel great during the race, wet clothes can cause you to chill quickly once you stop moving. Even shedding layers to put on something dry will let your body warm up more quickly; if you have no dry layers, a garbage bag can do the trick. If you’re at a race handing out Mylar blankets, take one – even if you’re warm crossing the finish, you won’t be by the time you are done refueling. Here are some tips to keep your post-run glow nice and warm:

  1. Keep a bag of dry clothes in your car for emergencies, including undergarments, socks, shoes, pants, and shirts. A blanket’s also a great idea to keep in your car.
  2. Put on a dry hat. If your hair is wet it will not do much to prevent loss of body heat.
  3. While a towel might not do much to warm you up, it can provide some privacy while you change clothes.
  4. Warm from the inside-out – coffee shops are pretty ubiquitous in Oregon, even if you don’t have any money with you, you can ask for a cup of hot water and hold it in your hands. Be sure to keep a lid on it in case you have the shivers; you don’t want to spill on yourself.
  5. Stay inside and get warm, and wait to drive until you’re no longer shivering. If you’ve ever been THAT cold, you know that it can be hard to focus on driving until your muscles can stop shaking. If you can’t warm up despite these tips, call someone to come get you. It is possible to get hypothermia after a run in the rain, so if you think this might be the case, seek medical help. Read the symptoms of hypothermia here, so you can identify it in yourself and your running buddies.
 Stay dry and warm, runners!
About Kelly Barten (1152 Articles)
I started the Run Oregon blog in February 2007, because I felt like running in Oregon and SW Washington deserved more positive coverage. I also wanted to level the playing field so that small, non-profit races could compete with big events; and to support LOCAL race organizers. I'm a Creighton Bluejay (undergrad) and an Oregon Duck (Sports Marketing MBA), and I live in Tigard with my husband and two kids. My "real job" is working for an incredibly awesome math textbook company doing marketing and production.
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