When you can’t feel your ears, you can see your breath, and you wear layer upon layer of clothing to lock heat in, it’s that cold time of year again. It gets darker earlier, bedtimes are more snuggly, and you might even shiver just by being outside. It’s the season for bad weather.
Training in bad weather can be used to your advantage
“There is a great advantage in training under unfavourable conditions. It is better to train under bad conditions, for the difference is then a tremendous relief in a race.” Emil Zatopek
Running whatever the weather, in good and bad conditions, will make you a more durable and successful runner.
If you’ve trained through a treacherous few weeks, come race day you will be more than prepared and find the ‘normal’ weather a walk in the park.
To understand how running through difficult, bad weather can be used to your advantage, think of something you’re good at. It could be anything.
Cooking, playing the piano, writing, managing a team at work, football, and so on. You’ve probably got to a high ability level in what you’re good at.
Now imagine doing that thing to a lower level. If you’re a grade 6 pianist, play a grade 3 piece. If you’re a gourmet chef, try cooking simple and easy to whip-up convenient meals. Chances are, you’ll find dropping a few levels incredibly easy.
This is what it’s like when you go from running in bad weather, to usual weather conditions come race day. Clearly, training through poor weather develops running skills and makes you a more efficient athlete.
Bad weather and runners…
When it’s cold and miserable outside, it can be tempting to skip a run.
Popular excuses include: “but it’s cold outside”, “my bed is more comfortable”, “It’s too dark”, “I won’t be able to feel my fingers.” and “the ice and rain have made the conditions too dangerous” or “I’ll get soaked!”
“Bad weather always looks worse through a window.” Tom Lehrer
These excuses don’t have to be used. Running can, and should, take place in bad weather! Once runners have the knowledge and understanding of how to do it safely and efficiently, there will be no need to put the running shoes away on a gloomy day.
Without further ado, here are 10 tips for running in bad weather
1. Dress using the layer system.
Wearing a series of lightweight layers of breathable clothing, which can easily be taken off or put back on again, is important for poor weather running.
The NHS recommend adopt this method for colder, windier runs, and it’s called ‘The Layer System‘.
Conditions change for runners all the time, particularly when running in bad weather. One moment you’re shivering uncontrollably in the rain, the next your sweating buckets and gasping for air. With unpredictable weather conditions, the flexibility of the ‘layer’ clothing system makes life 10 times easier.
An example of a layered system would be:
- A base layer consisting of breathable synthetic fabric to keep sweat away from your skin, but thick enough to keep you warm.
- A mid layer like a fleece or a heavier top to further ventilate moisture from the base layer, whilst locking in additional heat.
- An outer layer consisting of a light-weight water-resistant jacket. This will help rid any moisture, like sweat, from the base and mid layers, whilst keeping you warm and protected from the elements such as wind, rain, sleet, snow, and so on.
If you dress to the layer system, it’s easier to overcome changes in the weather. When it rains, put your light-weight water-resistant jacket on. If you’re getting too hot, take the jacket off and wrap it around your waist.
Use the layer system for flexibility in the unpredictable, sometimes surprising nature of running in bad weather.
2. Avoid running during the coldest times of the day
The coldest part of the day is usually just after the sun rises, or late at night. It’s a good idea to avoid running when the day is at its coldest.
Running through the daytime, when the temperature tends to be at its highest, means you will reduce some risk of running through the colder weather. Some risks of being in the extremely cold weather for too long (low temperature and lots of rainfall) include frostbite and hypothermia.
Not on any runner’s agenda!
The risk of hypothermia will be drastically reduced, and you’ll have a much more enjoyable run (you should be able to feel your ears for a bonus!)
3. Wear warm clothing before you run
It’s important to keep your muscles warm before you set off in the running gear. Keeping the muscles warm ensures proper blood flow and the muscles are ready for physical activity. Doing so greatly reduces the risk of injury, will make you feel looser and will lead to an enjoyable run.
Suggestions for warm clothing to wear before your run include:
- A full body tracksuit
- A thick jumper
- Thick socks
- A coat
- Body warmers
4. Cover the extremities (ear, fingers, toes)
The body prioritises blood flow to its core, so major organs (like the heart, kidneys, and brain) are supplied with proper nutrients and oxygen to do their job. Therefore our extremities (like the ears, fingers and toes) feel much colder because of reduced blood flow.
The body doesn’t place as much importance on you being able to move your fingers properly, as it does ensure your kidney extracts toxins from your bloodstream. Cold extremities can be an unpleasant, painful sensation, and not something runners look forward to experiencing.
To reduce the effects of cold feeling extremities, try covering them with protective clothing.
Covering the extremities, during bad weather, with protective clothing locks in heat and leads to a more comfortable, safe run.
5. Stay hydrated
Water is essential for the human body to operate optimally. Not only does water enable the body to properly transport nutrients and minerals around the bloodstream, it’s also essential for regulating proper body temperature.
In poor weather conditions like rain, wind, and the cold, it’s easy to not drink as much water as you should. It’s not like summer, where sweat and high humidity serve as a constant reminder to replace lost fluid. Not drinking enough water can be a massive problem for runners.
When running without enough water, dehydration will set in. The body will become weak, muscles start to cramp, the mouth becomes dry, sweating may stop, and there’s even the possibility of fainting.
Try to drink a glass of water before and after every run. Even in bad weather conditions like rain, wind, and the cold.
Water is essential to maintaining safe body conditions.
6. Check the weather conditions and wind chill before heading out
Learning what the conditions will be for your run is a good way to prepare yourself.
A moderate temperature (10-18 degrees) and low wind speed (3mph), will not be much of an issue and will probably require a long-sleeved running top and some leggings.
However, a 2-degree temperature with 25 mph wind speed will make the air feel extremely chilly and increase chances of running into issues like hypothermia if proper preparation is not taken.
In this scenario, proper use of the layering system (discussed above) combined with extremity coverage (like discussed above) is a must. Wear a lightweight running jacket over a middle and base layer combined with extremity covering earmuffs, headbands, gloves, thick socks, and so on.
Checking the weather conditions before heading out will make you more prepared, and literally takes a minute.
Make sure you check the forecast!
7. Stay safe with proper precautions in darker weather
Night time running means reduced visibility, with the added burden of poor weather conditions and colder temperatures.
Staying safe on nighttime runs is important, and can be achieved with some of the following precautions:
- Take a mobile phone with you to contact someone should you have an injury.
- Wear bright clothing with bright clothing like orange, yellow, and light blue.
- Wear flashing LED lights so you can be seen by traffic on the road and any pedestrians nearby.
- Run in well-lit areas. Use one earphone only.
- Have a form of identification on you like a driving license or road iD.
For more information on staying safe when running at night, check out the blog post here:
8. Learn the warning signs of frostbite
You might think this would never happen in a million years, but it can and does happen to runners all over the world.
Frostbite is an injury caused by the skin and underlying tissues becoming incredibly cold, from low temperature and high wind temperatures which can lower body temperature. Once the hypothalamus in the brain detects a dip in core temperature, it constricts blood vessels in the extremities and diverts this warmth to its core.
Your body knows it’s more important to protect its core (lungs and intestines), so it prioritises blood flow and warmth to these regions. If your extremities are denied warmth and blood for too long, the tissue begins to slowly shut down and die. Therefore, frostbite can make fingers, toes, and the nose turns black or blue.
Look out for the warning signs. On a cold day, your extremities should feel cold, to begin with but then warm up quickly a few minutes into the run. If they do not warm up, and you notice the skin becomes hard and pale, it may be early onset of frostbite.
To be safe, get out of the cold and apply some warmth to the area. Seek some medical treatment as soon as possible.
You might think it’s over the top, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. You only get one nose, a pair of ears, a set of fingers and toes. Know the warning signs of frostbite.
9. Look out for ice and water which could make you slip
Bad weather conditions include rain, snow, sleet, ice, wind, low temperature and high wind speed. These conditions can make the terrain you run on dangerous and cause you to slip if you’re not careful.
Take your time when running in bad weather. Look out for water and ice which could make you slip. Okay, it might shave a couple of minutes off training times but it’s better to be safe and sorry.
Ice grippers for running on potentially slippery surfaces
Ice grippers are a handy accessory for running over slippery surfaces. slide right over running shoes and provide traction and predictable grip. Grippers are lightweight and feature no spikes on the coils, for an effortless run.
No more slipping or losing grip, grippers can make running in bad conditions safer.
10. Try to run with others
Running as part of a group is safer than running solo. Being in a group means other runs will have your back should anything bad happen in the poor weather conditions.
Whether you slip over, feel cold and need another layer, forgot your water, need someone to help point out slippery surfaces, there’s a good chance of running in a group can help.
If you have no friends or family who want to join you on your poor weather runs, join a local running community like a running club or parkrun.