Tips for Running in the Rain

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Running in the rain can be great fun, but it does offer some interesting challenges.

I love running in the rain for short periods, but it can be a real problem at the marathon distance, and a serious risk during longer ultras. Even a light rain can soak you through and cool you off dramatically. A heavy rain in cool conditions can rapidly cause Hypothermia, and if you stop running, you can become chilled very quickly.

  • A thin rain jacket can provide important protection and comfort in cooler conditions. It is unlikely to keep you dry as you will probably sweat under the jacket, but it will prevent a lot of the evaporative cooling as well as the cooling effect of heavy rain. This heavy rain can act like you are standing under a cold shower, with the flow of water during heat away from your body.
  • In warmer conditions or light rain you may not need a jacket, but conditions can change, so if in doubt wrap a light jacket around your waist. If you expect conditions to warm up, a disposable poncho can be a good approach.
  • Choose a jacket with a full length zipper so you can control your temperature. Half-length zippers may save a bit of weight, but they're not so flexible.
  • A windproof jacket will work as well as a fully waterproof jacket in many situations as you will be wet from sweat anyway. However, in heavy downpours the waterproof jacket comes into its own and prevents the cold rain from reaching your skin. This works a bit like a wet suit; you're wet, but the water near your skin doesn't move much so it doesn't chill you. See Gifts for Runners for suggestions.
  • Rain is a pain if you wear glasses. Wearing a baseball cap can help protect glasses from the rain and keep the rain out of your eyes and face (the Halo Hat works best). A wide brimmed hat can make running in the rain much easier, especially if you are running for a protracted time. I have used the Outdoor Research Seattle Sombrero and found it worked well, though it looks rather strange. See Running Hats for more details.
  • If you are running in the rain for a protracted period, it will cause problems with your skin. The skin will absorb the water and become softer (maceration) which can lead to blisters and chafing. The use of compression clothing can minimize chafing and should be the first line of defense.
  • There are various creams that may help protect your skin in the rain. However, these tend to be of limited value, and if you're sweating heavily they can even make things worse by holding up the sweat in the skin. See Blister Prevention.
  • The cold that comes with running in the rain can be fatiguing, and if you're forced to walk this can compound Hypothermia. Try to think ahead, and if possible try to run to some type of shelter or support.
  • Think ahead for after the run. If you're soaking wet, and your skin is already chilled, your body temperature can plummet. It's much harder to remove wet clothes, and wet skin makes it harder to put fresh clothes on. You may also find that even mild hypothermia affects your coordination, making zippers problematic. More serious hypothermia can affect your decision making ability, leading victims prone to making dangerous mistakes. Read the section on Hypothermia for details on this dangerous condition.
  • It's important to protect any electronics you carry when you run. Most sports watches and Heart Rate Monitors are waterproof. Cell phones and MP3 players are generally not. For good protection, a dedicated case, like Otter Box works very well, but I have found a simple Ziploc bag, sealed and folded over works remarkably well in drizzle.
  • In heavy rain or fog at night, having your light source on your head can just blind you. See [Best Running Lights]] for details.
  • Wear clothes that do not absorb much water. Cotton should be avoided in any weather, but some synthetic materials absorb more water than others. This is a bit trial and error, as I have some gear that's great in dry conditions that acts like a sponge when it rains. For detailed advice on socks, check out Blister Prevention and Socks.
  • Remember that lighter colored clothing can become see-through when it's wet.
  • Use common sense and caution for thunder storms. A lightning strike can kill, so it is best to avoid running in thunder storms.
  • I have tried various waterproof styles of running Shoes, and would not recommend them. For running through puddles they may help, but in any serious rain it is hard to stop the water from running down your legs and into the Shoes, or going over the top of the shoe. Once a waterproof shoe is soaked, it stays wet. I find it much better to wear a shoe that drains well than one that is waterproof.
  • I've found waterproof socks cause more problems than they solve. Unless you're wearing water trousers and gaiters the rain will run down your legs and puddle in your socks. If you're sweating, then the sweat will build up in the socks as well (you have a high concentration of sweat glands in your feet.)
  • After the run, dry your shoes thoroughly. The best approach I've found is to put my wet shoes in front of a fan to blow dry them. This enjoys them thoroughly, and quickly, and without applying any heat that can damage the fabric. Another approach is to stuff the shoes with a newspaper.
  • It's extremely rare, but running for many hours in near freezing, wet conditions can lead to a condition called trench foot. I've had this after 100 mile race, and it's extremely unpleasant. The race had heavy, cold rain and my feet were frequently submerged. I'm not sure what I could've done to avoid this, other than dropping out of the race.