How to Prepare for Snowy and Rainy Races

By Paige Smith

The best running weather is the kind you don't notice. But what happens when the forecast says rain or snow? You may think you're doomed. Yet battling the elements is totally doable—and sometimes even fun—as long as you're prepared.

“A snowy or rainy race isn't a catastrophic end to your training cycle," says Laura Norris, Road Runners Club of America (RRCA) run coach. “It is simply a different opportunity for pushing yourself beyond your limits."

Here are seven steps to prepare for a race in the rain or snow.

1. Train outside

It's crucial to train in the conditions you'll be racing in. “You need to know how to scale your effort for the cold," says Norris, “and how it feels to alter your gait against puddles or snow." This will help teach you how to maintain your pace on slippery surfaces and avoid falling. More importantly, she says, you need to practice running in harsh weather so you're mentally prepared.

Training is also an ideal time to experiment with different types of gear. “When you see a layer of black ice on the ground," says Mary-Katherine Fleming, also a RRCA run coach, “be grateful and view that as an opportunity to use the spikes you would use on race day."

2. Layer up

“For racing in the rain or snow," says Norris, “you want to strike a balance of staying warm without being weighed down by wet, heavy clothing." Choose base layers made from breathable fabrics, she says, like merino wool or dry tech.

Keep in mind that “any gear that keeps the rain out keeps your body heat in," Fleming says, which is why you need to factor in the outside temperature, too. To avoid overheating, layer with a thin long-sleeve shirt, light jacket, and a third layer only if necessary. “Once your core is warm and you feel the sweat forming," says Fleming, “you can toss that upper layer at the next water station."

Other key items include running gloves and a hat. A brimmed hat layered over a thermal cap will keep your head warm and prevent rain and snow from getting in your eyes. If it's a sunny, snowy day, you may want to consider wearing running sunglasses so the glare from the snow isn't so harsh.

3. Get the right footwear

The shoes you wear during a snowy or rainy race play a big role in your overall comfort. Wet shoes can become heavy, Fleming says, and make you feel colder than you actually are. That's why a rainy race “may be a good day to run in lighter, less-cushioned shoes that won't hold much water," she says.

For snow, though, you'll probably need to wear bulkier shoes. Heavily lugged trail shoes are best, says Norris—they help keep out water and can transition onto concrete if necessary.

As for socks, opt for a dry-fit pair so they don't become soaked. On the morning of the race, Fleming says you may want to tie a couple plastic bags around your shoes to keep them dry and warm until the gun goes off.

4. Don't skip your warm up

It may be tempting to skip your warm-up and go straight to the start line if it's cold out, but this is a bad strategy. “A warm-up will lubricate your joints," says Norris, “send oxygen-rich blood to your muscles, and slightly elevate your core temperature." When your muscles are cold, Norris says it's harder to run fast and you may be more likely to tear or strain a muscle.

Before a 5K or 10K race, she recommends the following: jog 1 or 2 miles, do a few strides, and perform dynamic stretches, like leg swings, lunges, hip rotations, and arm circles. For a half marathon, Norris says, five to 10 minutes of jogging followed by dynamic stretches is sufficient. For a marathon, “you definitely want to include dynamic stretches," she says, “but you may only jog around for a couple minutes to warm yourself up or treat the first mile of a race as a warm-up."

5. Increase your carb intake

Your body spends more energy, and therefore burns more calories, trying to stay warm during a cold race, Norris says, so it's a good idea to up your carb intake slightly. That doesn't mean incorporating foods you don't normally go for. It just means eating a bit more of your usual pre-race meal, whether it's oatmeal with peanut butter, or scrambled eggs on whole wheat toast.

During the race, carry gels or chews for energy, foods that are easy and quick to consume on the go. “Whatever you choose," Fleming says, “make sure it's calorie-dense, light on sugar—too much sugar will absolutely give you GI issues in these conditions—and doesn't require too much chewing or concentration to open since your fingers will likely be gloved or mittened."

6. Drink water constantly

Good hydration starts early. In the days leading up to the race, “be sure you are hydrating with water," Fleming says, “and limiting caffeine and sugar, which dehydrate you."

Keep in mind that you may not be as thirsty during a cold race, but staying hydrated is critical. “If you are very bundled up," Norris says, “you may actually sweat a lot and could risk dehydration, even if it is cold outside."

To maintain your fluid intake, slow down and sip water at every aid station, Fleming says, but don't feel obligated to finish an entire cup of water each time.

7. Focus on effort and attitude

“The colder temperatures," Norris says, “change in footing, and accompanying conditions such as winds, will make it harder to run fast." Instead of forcing a certain pace on race day, Norris says you should scale your goals and focus on effort.

No matter how much training or preparation you've done, finishing a race in the rain or snow takes grit. “Endurance events hurt towards the end if you've executed them correctly," Fleming says, especially when they take place in tough conditions. Focus on your breathing, she says, and use a mantra like, “It is cold but I am on fire!" to get through.

Above all, remember to stay positive and have fun. You can't control the weather on race day, but you can control your attitude.

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