One factor that you cannot control on marathon race day is the weather. And if recent months are anything to go by then who knows what it will do next?! You can however make sure that you optimise your performance in whatever weather conditions you are faced with. The ideal conditions for running a marathon is cool and dry, little wind, and with temperatures in the range of 7-10c. But what should you do when the weather doesn’t play ball?
In the heat
Adjust your time goal & pacing strategy
If the weather is warm you may need to adjust your time goal and therefore pace. In warmer conditions your body experiences ‘cardiovascular drift’, whereby your heart rate gradually increases due to dehydration. In essence, your heart will have to work harder for you to maintain your desired pace in the heat. If you are running a marathon on a hot day then it often better to run to ‘feel’ and perceived effort levels rather than be a slave to your splits. You should realistically expect to be running at a slower pace for the same amount of effort.
The dangers of hypernatremia or water intoxication have been well publicised over the past few years, to the extent that some runners are now almost afraid to drink! Dehydration is likely to be your biggest enemy in warm conditions and even mild dehydration can have a significant effect on your performance. Drinking a sports drink containing electrolytes little and often (at least every 5km) is the best strategy to ensure that you remain hydrated and prevent any gastrointestinal issues.
Wear a cap
Wearing a white cap will help to keep the sun off of your head and will therefore reduce the risk of heat stroke. If it’s really warm you might want to soak the cap in water before the start to help keep you cool for those first few miles.
Go for sponges!
If it’s a hot day and sponges are available then you should make the most of them. Squeeze a water soaked sponge over your head and neck for an instant cooling effect. It’s a good idea to use a sponge for your quads (thigh muscles) too as this one of the biggest muscles groups and therefore generates the most heat.
Apply some Vaseline to any areas prone to blisters or chaffing before the race. I always use some between my toes to stop unwanted blisters.
In the cold
Stay warm before the start
Don’t waste valuable energy and risk a muscle injury by being too cold at the start. If possible wear an old item of clothing to the start line that you don’t mind discarding before the race gets underway.
If your marathon is on a cold day then you should consider wearing thin, breathable layers. Arm warmers or compression sleeves are ideal as you can peel them off later in the race if you warm up. Gloves and hats can also easily be discarded if you get too warm.
Be slightly flexible with your time goal
Remember that your body will be working harder to stay warm so again you may need to adjust your time goal and pacing strategy slightly. Running to ‘feel’ in this instance is often better than being a slave to your splits.
Don’t forget to drink!
Even on cold days it’s amazing how much water you lose through sweat. You may not feel like drinking when the weather is cool but even mild dehydration can significantly impair your performance and makes you more vulnerable to cramping in the later stages of the race.
In the wet
Wear a cap
Wearing a cap can help to keep the rain out of your face and helps to shelter you from the worst of the weather.
Wet weather gear!
I’m not suggesting that you should run a marathon in a full-on waterproof coat but if the weather is likely to be wet then you should consider your choice of kit carefully. If possible try to wear apparel with wicking qualities and avoid cotton at all costs.
If it's windy
Accept that it may be difficult to hit your splits
Wind is more likely to hinder rather than help you as the benefits of running with a tailwind are generally outweighed by the additional effort needed to battle against a headwind. As a result you should be realistic with your time goal. Focus on your effort levels rather than your splits.
If you’re tall then you might struggle with this one but if possible try and take some shelter behind other runners. If you are running in a group you could even take turns to lead into the wind. That way everybody benefits and you all help each other to a better performance. I hope these tips help you to feel ready to race whatever the weather!
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