Marathon training in all weather

Be prepared for any weather

When you're preparing for a marathon, the weather can make a big difference to how you're able to train. Learning how to effectively train in all weather conditions is the key to marathon success. Here's how to do it.  


Hot and humid conditions

Running long distances in hot and humid conditions can be the most difficult and potentially dangerous for a marathon runner. If the temperature is too hot our bodies can easily over-heat. The added factor of humidity makes that even harder and once relative humidity goes over 40%, it really will affect your training performance.

In humid conditions, the sweat the body produces can’t evaporate because there is so much moisture in the air. As a result the body gets hotter and hotter and this can be dangerous because major organs are forced to work overtime to try to cool us down. But as the body’s heat has nowhere to go, over-heating and heat stroke/exhaustion can become a factor.

The way our bodies respond in hot/humid conditions depends on our age, size, body weight and where we live. If you live somewhere humid your body will be used to those conditions. How we sweat is also a factor. Some runners lose more salt than others when they exercise and that can cause problems with cramp if extra electrolytes aren’t taken on board. But the good news is there are things you can do to mitigate the impact of heat and humidity.

  • Try and go out early in the morning when the heat and humidity is lower. Avoid running in the heat of the day so don’t train between 10am and 4pm.

  • Wear light coloured clothes. Anything black will absorb the heat, so go for light colours and don’t forget your sun cream and sunglasses.

  • Find the shade. If you do want to run outside choose a shaded route where you can stay as cool as possible.

  • Running close to water is another handy tip as there tend to be breezier conditions near rivers, lakes and the ocean. That will be a huge help in stifling heat.

  • Stay hydrated. You must keep drinking, before you go training, during the run and afterwards. Check your urine to make sure you are not dehydrated. The darker the urine, the more dehydrated you are.

  • Walk. There is no shame in walking a little in extreme temperatures. Take lots of walk breaks to cool your body down.

  • Eat plenty of salty foods before and after your session to replace lost salts.

  • Adjust your pace. Your body will be working super hard to send blood to your skin to cool you down and as a result, your muscles get slightly neglected. So slow down, it will help.

  • Don’t beat yourself up about a session that might not feel the best. The conditions will make you feel sluggish. It is not a sign that your fitness is in question.

  • Heat exhaustion. Be aware of the potential signs of heat exhaustion; dizziness; confusion; nausea fatigue and tingly skin. If you start to feel any of these symptoms, stop running immediately.

  • Stay indoors. And of course if the heat/humidity is too high, why not stay indoors and train in an air-conditioned gym on the treadmill?

In the cold

Sometimes training for a certain marathon will mean that winter training is unavoidable. If you do have to brave the elements on winter days when watching a film in a warm place feels like a much better option, then there are several things you can do to make it more bearable.

  • Remember your goal. Think about all the reasons you’re doing this marathon. Keep feeling positive about your target and visualize positively. It will help you master any last minute indecision about going out at all.

  • Get your outfit right. Stick to light tops that wick away sweat. Layer up with thin breathable tops, but avoid cotton as it stays wet when you perspire and that will only make you feel cold.

  • Don’t be tempted to overdress. When the snow is on the ground or your breath freezes in mid-air, it is tempting to opt for lots of layers. But bear in mind you will warm up fairly quickly into your run. Aim to dress for weather that is slightly warmer than it actually is. Too many layers will make you overheat.

  • Wear bright colours. If you are running early in the morning or in the evening, let people know you’re there with a neon coloured top.

  • Wear gloves. There is nothing as depressing as a long run on a freezing day with numb fingers. We lose a great deal of body heat through our hands and fingers, so gloves or mittens will work wonders. It will also help avoid potential frostbite.

  • Wear a hat. We lose a significant amount of body heat (around 40%) through our heads, so a hat will keep that heat in. That in turn will help keep the rest of your body warm.

  • Don’t forget to hydrate. If you need to, warm up your water/juice/sports drink before you put it in your drinking bottle, to avoid freezing.

  • Try to run at the ‘warmest’ part of the day. So when the sun is at its highest get out there. It will make you feel better, even if it is still freezing.

  • Run into the wind on the first half of your run. That means you will have the wind at your back for the home stretch when you might be vulnerable to feeling the wind chill. If the wind is strong it can penetrate your layers and make you feel decidedly cold.

  • Be careful if there is snow and ice on the ground. No one needs a freak ice injury close to marathon day.

  • Don’t forget to stretch properly and warm up. Becauseit’s so cold it will be tempting to hurtle straight into your run. Don’t. These conditions are ideal for pulling a hamstring or a muscle, so make sure you stretch your legs properly and follow your usual warm up routine.

  • Stay indoors. If it’s too cold (below freezing) it might be a better idea to head to a warm gym and do a workout on a treadmill.

  • Hypothermia. If you do go out and the weather closes in, look out for signs of hypothermia. Hypothermia occurs when the body’s temperature falls dangerously low and can’t heat itself up. If the air temperature is cold it absorbs your body heat quickly, so if the temperature suddenly plunges, you need to be aware of the warning signs. Symptoms include; disorientation; shivering; a feeling of euphoria and a demeanour that can look like you’re drunk.

  • Frostbite. Look out for numbness in the extremities, so that means toes, fingers and the tip of your nose. If the affected area feels stiff and is also a pale colour, get inside as fast as you can, and gently warm the affected areas with a hot bath.

  • Have a treat! The thought of a big fat treat when you have finished your session is a brilliant motivating tool. A hot chocolate with marshmallows will definitely do the trick when the run is over. You’ll have earned it.  

In the rain

When the rain is pouring down, just going outside seems like a bad idea, never mind running through it. But unless you’re extremely lucky or live somewhere hot and dry, it will have to be done at some point during marathon training.

  • Wear layers. If it’s chilly and raining, then you will have to layer up. But choose light tops that wick away sweat and wear a water resistant top that is brightly coloured, so you can be easily seen in the gloom.

  • Wear a hat with a brim. The last thing you want is rain running down your face for an hour. So choose some headgear with a brim so that excess water can run away from your eyes. And if you wish, wear sunglasses, to keep the driving rain out.

  • Vaseline up. When our clothes get wet, things tend to chafe/rub. So if you are prone to certain areas getting sore, slap on the Vaseline to avoid any discomfort.

  • Socks. Most cotton socks become blister magnets in the wet. They bunch up when the shoes get damp and rub on vulnerable parts of the foot. So go for non-cotton socks. You may need to experiment with various types before you find the right socks for you.

  • Have dry clothes ready. Take a change of outfit with you if you drive to your training location. That way you can get out of your wet things as soon as you finish.

  • Try and warm up under cover. If you can avoid getting drenched until it is absolutely essential, do it.

  • Be careful. If it’s wet it could be slippery, so moderate your stride pattern to accommodate the conditions. And be careful around deep puddles. You don’t know what they’re hiding and could turn an ankle.

  • Dry out your running shoes. When you get home, dry out your shoes by stuffing them full of paper to absorb the moisture. You might want to take out the inners to dry them separately.

  • Have a treat. Again a hot chocolate or a latte is the perfect way to warm up after a very wet morning/afternoon in the rain.

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