The Art of Racing in the Rain…

A rainy mile at the 2015 Boston Marathon

A rainy mile at the 2015 Boston Marathon

…is a really good book, but that isn’t what this post is about.

Nope. Today I’m talking about what to do when you train for a race – maybe even a really big race, say, maybe even The Boston Marathon, and wake up on race day to find that Mother Nature has decided to rain on your parade.

Kurt Cobain said it best – Nature is a whore.

I have run in the rain plenty of times, but it is totally different when you are racing in the rain –especially a distance race, like a half or a marathon. Or a 110 mile bike ride like Day 1 of the Pan Mass Challenge (that would be PMC 2014).

You can’t just change plans. Wait for it to stop. Immediately schedule a rest day.

Nope, you have to put on your big girl (waterproof) underwear and suck it up. For 2, 3, 4, 5, maybe more hours. Ugh. Fortunately, before the torrent that was the Boston Marathon 2015, I googled every tip I could on racing in the rain, tried most out during that wet and windy race, and now I’m gonna share them with you.

1. Don’t Panic. This should be Rule #1 for everything that doesn’t involve locusts or a mushroom cloud. Seriously, don’t panic. It’s rain. It probably will not improve your performance, but neither will freaking out. So take a deep breath, reassess and move forward.

2. Train in the rain. If you do a fair bit of racing, you will eventually have to run in the rain. And if you take your run indoors on a treadmill every time it rains, you will be even more freaked out if you have ugly conditions on raceday. Training in all kinds of weather will train you to race in all kinds of weather. It’s worth a little discomfort during the training cycle to be prepared. I can’t tell you how many of us in Boston’s Athlete’s Village consoled each other pre-race with “Don’t worry – you certainly trained in worse!” (for those outside of the northeast, it was a cold, snowy, icy, endless winter. And yes, we did indeed train in worse.)

3. Dress appropriately. Cannot be stressed enough. Cotton is not your friend. I repeat: Do Not Wear Cotton. Or anything that absorbs. Wear something with wicking properties. If it is cool and you need layers, make sure they are light and close-fitting – loose layers will only weigh you down once they get wet. Wear a hat or a visor with a brim to keep the rain off your face. If it is cold, wear tech gloves. If you have friends or family rooting you on somewhere on the course and it is cold, give them an extra hat, jacket and pair of gloves to switch into when you see them. If you have room in your pockets, at least put an extra pair of gloves in a ziploc and switch to the dry ones halfway through. Had I been able to swap out for dry gloves, jacket, etc. during Boston, I would have been a lot more comfortable and am pretty sure that I would have been able to finish with a faster time. Numb extremeties and a shivering body will not enhance your performance. Trust me.

4. Stay dry as long as you can. You really do not want to start the race wet. Wear something waterproof with a hood over your clothes to the start and ditch them at the last possible second. You can get a disposable rain poncho at most drug stores – pick one up at the first sign that race day could be rainy. Or pick up a garbage bag and shower cap – will work just as well. Bring an extra pair of shoes and socks to change into for the start, or if you can’t manage that, wear plastic bags over your sneakers until the start. You may also want to wear a garbage bag with armholes for the first part of the race. I did not do that for Boston because I thought I would feel claustrophobic. If I could do it over, I would start with a garbage bag over my clothes and just rip it off once I got hot. The longer you can stay dry, the better. Trust me.

5. Grease up like a pig at a county fair. You already know to use Glide for races to avoid chafing – goes double for rainy races. In addition to putting Glide on so-called “problem areas,” cover your feet with glide or aquaphor before putting on socks. I did this for Boston and despite running with soaking wet feet for almost the entire marathon, I emerged without one blister. Seriously – it was a Christmas miracle in April. If it is cold, cover all exposed skin (legs, arms) with aquaphor. It will repel the water and help keep you warm.

6. Adjust your expectations. Especially if it is windy. Rain won’t always slow you down, but a headwind will. You can try to draft with a group to help with the effects of the wind. Didn’t really work for me in Boston, because the wind was coming from multiple directions, but if it is just a headwind, drafting could help. Rain might slow you down and make things slippery. Be careful. A wipe out is never fun. You may be in PR shape but not have PR weather. It’s OK. Run the best you can run safely and keep a reasonable goal in mind.

7. But don’t give up. Many people had PR’s at Boston this year. Depending on the timing of their start, lots of people missed the worst of the wind, and the cool temps counteracted the slippery rain conditions, leading them to super fast PR times. I didn’t PR, but I also lost close to 10 minutes when my hands were so numb that I couldn’t get my gloves off to reach my Gu Chompers and a lovely volunteer had to help me deglove, rip open my Chompers, watch me eat them and then re-glove me. (God Bless Him – I’m not sure that was covered in the volunteer handbook.) Had I not lost the 10 minutes, I would have PR’d by around 5 minutes. No reason to give up on a PR just because it is raining. Go out and try your hardest despite what the meteorologists say. Just don’t beat yourself up if the conditions lead to a less than stellar race. You can’t control everything.

8. Hydrate. Just because you are wet on the outside doesn’t mean you are hydrated on the inside. Make sure to drink enough water regardless of how hard it is raining.

9. Pack dry clothes for the finish. Get out of your wet clothes and into dry ones as fast as you can. Including socks and sneakers. Even in relatively mild weather, you will feel very uncomfortable if you are still wet after cooling down after the race. And in cold weather, it can be downright dangerous. Once you stop, you need to get dry and warm as soon as possible. Once you are warm and dry, you can fully appreciate what a badass you are for running the distance in the rain.

10. Thank the volunteers. They likely were out there in the elements before you got there and stayed long after you passed them. Amazing. Make sure you let them know how much they are appreciated.

Any good racing in the rain stories? My toughest rainy day adventures were Pan Mass Challenge 2014 and Boston Marathon 2015. Here’s to hoping for better weather for PMC 2015 and Boston 2016…

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31 thoughts on “The Art of Racing in the Rain…

  1. If it POURS again for this years PMC, I’m telling you, I’m picking up a bubble, snorkle and some swimmies. That shit was CRAZY. I couldn’t have been more (soaked) or proud of you at Boston. That’s my GIRL! XOXOXO

  2. Haha I was reading this book on the train after work… my mom picked me up at the train station and as soon as I got into the car I immediately broke down. She thought my boyfriend dumped me. But really I was crying about a fictional dog. Boston this year was a beast. Luckily (knock on wood) it was the ONLY race I have ever run in the rain… which was an experience all in itself. Great tips 🙂

    • Such a good book. Colby loaned me her copy a few years back. I think I still haven’t returned it. Must re-read.
      Look at you, the good luck charm for race weather! I’m starting to feel like a jinx. 😦

  3. Great tips! I actually ran my fastest half marathon in pouring rain – I think I just wanted to get done as quickly as possible! But after I stopped running I almost froze to death so I’d rather not do that again :/

  4. Giving a dry hat and gloves, etc to your cheering section is genius. I’ve gotten lucky so far with race day weather, so fingers crossed that my good luck continues this year.

    • Continued good luck! And yes – definitely hand some extra clothes to your booster club if you ever face these conditions. I knew I wouldn’t see my crew until mile 21, so I didn’t bother. Would have been nice to get dry things around mile 13!

  5. Sweet Jesus, tell me we won’t be doggy paddling through another PMC! That was in-sane. I will be prepared with swimmies and flippers just in case. And in case you were wondering… Running in the woods in the rain is waaaaaay more fun ;). Just sayin’.

  6. Great tips…I started reading your post and laughed out loud because every SINGLE RACE I DID THIS YEAR SO FAR WAS IN THE RAIN. Boston. Then Grandma’s – that one was like adding insult to injury because it was like torrential downpours and then at mile 20, after getting soaked, the sun suddenly emerged and it got HUMID. Talk about adjusting expectations there. Oh and I signed up for a 4th of July 15K – guess what it did? Poured! That one was on a trail. It was muddy! I think Boston was the worst because it was the coldest of the three, but I had a lot of fun at all of the rainy races anyway. I hate starting in the rain – I’m okay if it starts raining after I’m already running, but that hasn’t really happened yet this year. LOL! Great post. Sorry for the rant.

    • Never apologize for a rant. WE LOVE RANTS!! I cannot believe that you followed up Boston with Grandma’s – I read about the weather at that one. Good God, I hate humidity. Mother Nature must have had PMS to do that to you. Maybe the 15K was a gift – don’t bad things come in 3’s?
      I agree that rain after the start is fine, but please can we start dry? It started raining when I was in my (Wave 3) corral for Boston. Ugh.
      And I agree – there is something fun about them, especially if you are not stressing about a certain time. It’s just a loooooong time to be wet for the longer races.
      Please come back and rant again soon. We are ranters and welcome kindred spirits!!!

      • I think Mother Nature has had PMS since November! We had a crazy winter of snow and it felt like I was living in the arctic tundra with how cold it was. Then the rain. Now, we have the crazy humidity! One day it’s all going to clear up and I’ll run really fast because of all the crappy weather training! LOL! Hope you’re right about the bad things coming in 3’s – I didn’t even think about that!! I was under one of the tents in Hopkinton and was in wave 1 so I did get lucky to start dry, but I had friends in wave 3 that got rained on before they started to run 😦 It was a chilly, wet day!!!!

  7. I’ve been VERY lucky so far with my races. Plus, I”m such a fair weather racer that I would just not go if it was terrible. But For marathons? YOU GO. I have a feeling that my luck is soon to run out! I just need to get over myself 😀

  8. I will say that being a spectator in bad weather is no fun either! Watching Boston 2015 stunk as well! Plus because you’re not moving, it was COLD!
    Great tips though! I pray that it doesn’t rain for my first half, but if it does, I will deal!!

    • I felt so terrible for the people watching Boston 2015 – wet, cold + not moving is torture. Ugh. What a bunch of troopers. GOOD LUCK with your first half! I ran my first half in 2011 – it was so exciting!

      • Thanks!! I’m looking forward to it.
        Spectating was tough, but my sister was running, and I would have stood in snow to support her…and everyone else. 🙂 (Just might have complained about it afterwards)

  9. I know this post is a year old, but it’s the only one on the web about actually racing during the rain (not just getting through) – so thank you! I’ve trained for months to try and BQ this weekend and now they are calling for rain. I need to hear more “you can still PR/BQ” talk in the rain. It’s going to be 75 (hot for me) and rainy – good lord. ANy tips on shorts? Thin/short traditional shorts vs the compression style (shorty or long)? That is the one place I’m worried my bodyglide will wear off and cripple me.

    • Where are you running, Becca! Is it VT? Colby will up there running the half as a relay! You can definitely PR. Boston 2015 was tough for me (and I really think it was the wind more than the rain – I truly do), but lots of people who ran in waves where there was less wind did GREAT! Very high percentage of BQ’ers, including me and my near-hypothermia. I would really focus on making sure you aren’t wearing anything that weighs you down. Fortunately, it doesn’t sound like you will need a jacket. I like the traditional thin shorts – the double layer compression just will add more fabric to get soaked. You might want to bodyglide and then layer on aquaphor. That’s what i did with my feet for Boston 2015 and it really helped. If you have someone watching you at or during the last half, give them a dry hat/visor and even dry shirt if you think they will bother you. I really think you’ll do great! LMK how it goes and good luck!!

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