WWCMKD: Rainy Race Day Edition
Updated: Oct 26, 2019
Situation: Monsoon on Race Day. WADOIDOO??????
So you’ve been training with me, probably longer than you think you need to (20 weeks is LONG, yo) and slower than you want to (that heart rate monitor is EVIL). You do all the things, then get to race day…..and it’s pouring. How do we handle it?
Short Annoying Answer: “Depends”
Long Annoying Answer: “we have several options.”
Option 1: Stay in bed, order room service, start looking for a B for backup race like your coach told you to when we started. We can extend the taper for up to 6 weeks (depending on a variety of factors).
Option 2: Go for it. Let’s discuss the adjustments we need to make.
Step 1: check the long-form weather forecast. Are we talking freezing rain or regular rain? The two are very different. If the rain is freezing and likely to bring ice, we are better off staying in bed.
If the rain is not freezing, check the humidity and heat index. Is it expected to rain all day or just a few hours?
I’m not sure it’s better if the rain stops; once it stops the air tends to get very still and humid in coastal areas like Charleston and Houston. You’ll be soaked, a little too warm, and if the sun comes out, miserable.
If it’s expected to rain for the duration, check the intensity then the wind. If it’s windy and raining, no matter the temps you may want to stay in bed. If it’s a light rain or drizzle, no matter the temps you should be ok.
Step 2: assess your wardrobe choices. Do you have what you will need to go for it?
Conventional wisdom is to cut the bottom off a garbage bag and wear it like a poncho. I am dubious of this, for sure if you think it’s going to be warm and rainy or just a little cooler than you like and rainy, this is a terrific option between dropping your bag and starting the race since we want to start the race dry and warm. You will likely not want to keep wearing this after you start since it will be awkward, especially if it is windy.
Some expos sell rainproof warm-ups, these are genius. And pricey. Not a bad option though.
You will want to shield your eyes. Definitely wear light sunglasses. Consider a baseball or trucker cap in cold rain and a visor in warmer rain (don’t want to trap all that heat on your head). I’m not a hat person, and I sure as hell don’t willingly wear visors (the minivan is as far as I can go into mom-dom) unless it’s raining and I’m running. Then I’m all about it.
We need to consider core temperatures. In longer events like marathons and ultras, your body will generate a lot of heat since you’re working hard, but over time if you aren’t dressed properly your body will work increasingly hard to ward off hypothermia. If it’s raining and under 50 degrees, you will want a waterproof layer or thin jacket. You may better off erring on the side of overdressing and shedding layers as you go. If it’s under 30 degrees you will want to add a body-hugging layer like tights or compression pants (avoid fleecy layers since they will soak up water like sponges and get very heavy very quickly).
About that rain jacket, every time I wear a raincoat I sweat like I’ve just had a workout. Most raincoats are water and windproof, which basically means they are made of some coated, non-breathable material or plastic. You will heat up quickly and that heat will be trapped against your skin. Within an hour you could be just as soaked as you’d be without the jacket. My two cents, if you aren’t sure you will need it, put the jacket in your drop bag for after the race along with a change of clothes. If you’re looking at a cold rainy day, the rain jacket could be to your advantage, be sure to wear a wicking layer underneath.
Make sure your gloves are waterproof or have an optional waterproof mitt. Don’t wear these unless it’s cold because your fingers will prune really quickly.
Let’s talk chafing: it’s gonna happen in rainy conditions. I would recommend lubing up really generously; the higher the temps the more generous you need to be with the lube. Male or female, you’ll want band-aids on your nipples.
Shoes. Sigh. It’s hard. You will want to consider putting some sort of waterproof coating on your run shoes. You will probably want to put trash bags secured with rubber bands around them until the race starts just to keep them dry. Once you’re out there though, there is little you can do to keep your feet dry. Take a look at your shoes, are they cushioned? Where? On the tongue, under the soles of your feet? Pinch the sides, poke the bottoms- anything that squishes under the pressure of your fingers is going to absorb water. The more cushion in your shoe, the heavier that shoe is going to be once it gets wet. One of the many reasons why On Cloudracers are my go-to racing shoe is the fact that there is nothing in there that can absorb water (the sole is comfortable and absorbs shock from the road). https://www.on-running.com/en-us/products/cloudracer-silver-lime-w
Let’s also consider socks. The squishier and more cushioned the sock, the more water it will absorb. You will want to rub your feet down with Vaseline then wear a super-thin 5-toed sock. The 5-toed sock is key, with no friction in between your toes you are less likely to get blisters. This is a great option http://www.injinji.com/run-lightweight-no-show-wool.html (this is actually my go-to sock for just about everything).
If you don't have what you will need, and cannot purchase what you need in order to make it through this race, you really need to reconsider participating.
What Would Coach MK do?
1. Race Day is 60 at the start, moderate rain and wind, then sunny. What would you wear?
a. My pajamas. That sounds terrible, staying in bed.
2. Race Day is 40 at the start and 60 by noon, light drizzle no sun. What would you wear?
a. #allthewarmthings before the race starts, a visor, sunglasses, gloves, shorts and a tank.
3. Race Day is 30 at the start and 50 by noon, moderate rain no sun. What would you wear?
a. Shorts, a trucker hat, earwarmers, gloves, a tank, my Saucony Razor jacket, shorts.
4. Race Day is 30 at the start, 40 by noon, heavy rain, no sun. what would you wear?
a. If it’s a coastal race then it’s likely to be windy too, so my pajamas. Ain’t going out in that.
b. If it isn’t a coastal race, I would need a really compelling reason to get out there because heavy rain is MISERABLE.
c. If it’s Pocono (I really really love that race!) I would be torn. I do not like running in heavy rain, but wouldn’t want to miss a chance to be on that course. More than likely I would wear tights or compression pants or shorts and calf sleeves, a tank, my Razor jacket, a trucker cap, ear warmers and gloves with throwaway fleece or thrift store bathrobe over it all until the start, then show up and decide not to get on the bus to the start area at the last minute since roads are slippery in heavy rain.
5. Race Day is 30 and sleeting. Would you get out of bed?
a. Yes, long enough to get on the phone and YELL at the Farmer’s Online Almanac’s customer service people for failing me in my race selection process; but I wouldn’t get out of my pajamas.
What Would Coach MK Pack?
Every time I head out of town for a race I bring #alltheoptions. No joke. I have enough run clothes and do NOT want to end up buying more than throwaways at the expo unless absolutely necessary.
My standard packing list includes raingear, including my Saucony Razor jacket (which is a great option down to temps of 30 or less), small travel sized tubs of Vaseline, band-aids of various sizes, the trucker hat, several pairs of gloves (some windproof, some lined, wool glove liners, mittens), my compression pants, calf sleeves, tearaway sleeves (like arm warmers but thinner and tigher), and a thin, long-sleeved shirt. These items can be layered over my favorite running clothes to be rain-ready. Please note that I despise racing in pants and long sleeves, so in the event that I would need to wear either one I would probably elect to stay in bed.
Also note that I bring all of this along even if I don’t think there is a solid chance of rain. If I care about my performance, if I care about the race, I don’t take chances. You shouldn’t either. This is why I say there is no magic marathon, bad weather can transform an otherwise great race into a miserable experience. I’m better eating the entry fee than letting a bad experience eat my headspace.
EDIT: Forgot to add a note about the shoes: once you've pinched and poked your shoes, check your shoe closet and see if you have a better option you could stomach running in that passes the squish test. If not, that's fine just understand that a waterlogged shoe is going to get heavy and uncomfortable really quickly; the ideal shoe may not be ideal once it is holding 2 lbs of water. Take a deep breath and check your shoe closet again, Remember that nothing about racing in heavy rain is going to be perfect so we need to be sure we can make do. Do you have a shoe that could be do-able? If not it's worth checking with your local run store and asking for help. Most employees at independent run stores are athletes and should be able to give you decent guidance. It not, call me from the store so I can yell at them.