Autumn running: coping with wind, rain and the dark

At this time of the year, the weather can make it difficult to want to get out the door and go for a run. Should we find the motivation to head out, the wind, rain or dark can then make that run so uncomfortable we begin to question why we even bothered.

With a bit of forward planning and some sensible clothing choices, however, there is no reason why the worst of the autumn and winter weather should hold us back. Read on for our tips on how to run well, despite the howling winds, torrential rain, and long, dark nights.

Wind

High winds offer two challenges.

  1. You can get cold very quickly, especially if you’re wet.
  2. You can feel like you’re running uphill through treacle if you’re pushing into a headwind.

Clothing

If you’re going for a run in high winds, consider wearing long sleeves or leggings. Just covering up your limbs, even with a thin layer, can be enough to counteract some of the temperature-stealing effects. A hat or headband to cover your ears can be of benefit if you’re someone who gets earaches in cold, windy weather.

Try and keep your clothes fairly close fitting. They don’t have to be skintight, but the less baggy your clothes are, the less they’re going to flap around in the wind.

Routes

Think about your route choice. Exposed areas (coastlines, open countryside, hilltops, etc.) are always going to be particularly hard-going on a windy day.

‘Out and back’ routes (where you turn around at the half way point and retrace your steps home) will be easier if you run into the wind for the first half. Then, when you’re getting tired during the second half of the run, you should have a tailwind to give you a little boost on the way back.

Alternatively, do the opposite if you want to make your run harder. Start off with a tailwind, then battle home through the headwind during the second half. The effect will be similar to running uphill.

A hazard to be aware of at this time of the year is the threat of falling acorns, conkers, twigs, branches, or other bits of tree being blown off. Sand whipped up from beaches, or waves crashing on sea walls can cause problems too.

Headwinds and tailwinds

Something else to consider when running in the wind – and this is of particular interest to people trying to run quickly or get a personal best – is to think about the effect of the wind on your pace. You might think that the positive effects of a tailwind will cancel out the negative effects of a headwind – and that they’ll balance each other out over the course of a race – but unfortunately, that isn’t the case.

Consider the effect of the ‘apparent wind’ – that is, the wind you feel. When running on a day with no wind, you will generate your own headwind, as you push yourself through the air. Add in windy conditions and you have to contend with the real headwind caused by the weather, plus the headwind that you generate.

With the wind behind you, the positive benefit of the tailwind is reduced by the effect of you moving through the wind. The exact dynamics of the wind’s effect on your running speed is complex and nuanced, but as a very rough illustration, consider the following example:

A runner moving at 5 mph into a 20 mph headwind will feel like they’re running into a 25 mph headwind (5+20). This is the apparent wind speed relative to that runner. If that runner turns round, that 20 mph tailwind will be reduced by the 5 mph headwind they generate (20-5), giving an apparent tailwind boost of only 15 mph.

This is why headwinds and tailwinds don’t cancel each other out. There are ways around this though, with the best one being to use other runners as a windshield.

If you are able to tuck in behind another runner, then they will block some of the wind for you, reducing the apparent wind that you feel. The benefits of this can be significant, as shown by Eliud Kipchoge’s recent ‘1:59 Challenge’, in which he successfully used a team of pacemakers to shield him from the wind on the way to running 26.2 miles in under 2 hours.

Just make sure you don’t tread on the heels of the person in front of you!

Rain

Put simply, you’ve got two options:

  1. Get wet.
  2. Stay dry.

Given the choice, most people would pick option 2. However, staying dry often involves being hotter than you might prefer, as a result of wearing a waterproof jacket – especially as temperatures in the autumn can still be fairly warm. With this in mind, on a warm, wet day, you may happily prefer to accept you’re going to get wet in exchange for being comfortably cooler.

In these instances, unless you’re wearing a sports bra, it can be a good idea to put a little bit of tape over your nipples when running in the rain to avoid the chafing effect of wet clothes rubbing against sensitive body parts. Microporous tape (available from all good high street pharmacists) is a tried and tested, cheap option. You might also want to put a waterproof running lube on anywhere else you would rather not have rubbed raw.

If your preference is to stay dry, then consider investing in a lightweight, breathable waterproof running jacket. They can be pricey, but can make all the difference to your continued running enjoyment in times of wet weather.

Other advice to bear in mind is:

  • Avoid puddles, unless you want wet feet.
  • Sometimes, insoles can slide around in wet shoes. A bit of double-sided tape between the underside of the insole and the shoe can stop that happening.
  • Keep your eyes peeled for cars that might splash you as they come past.
  • If you are entered into an autumn or winter event, don’t shy away from training in the rain, because there’s a good chance you’re going to have to race in the rain. Do you really want your first soggy run to be on the day you want to run your best?
  • Have a towel waiting for you by the front door so you can get dry as soon as possible!
  • Get a good weather forecasting app so you know what to expect. Darksky, for example, offers hourly rain updates.

The dark

The long nights, with dark mornings and dark evenings present their own challenge. While the dark may not make you run slower, it can be demotivating, and it can add an element of danger.

Getting out there

Hauling yourself out of bed for a morning run when it’s dark outside can be tough. Make life easier for yourself by getting everything ready the night before. Leave your alarm just beyond arm’s reach and you’ll have to get up to turn it off. The less you have to do to get ready, the fewer things to slow you down or convince you to stay at home.

Look after yourself

Some of the safety risks associated with running in the dark, plus ways of dealing with them, are:

Getting run over by people in cars who haven’t seen you.

Anyone driving a car in the dark should be doing so in a manner that allows them to avoid collisions with runners and other pedestrians. But, this doesn’t always happen. If you run on the pavement, rather than on the road, then you’re helping to keep yourself safe.

If you have to run on the road, wear white clothes or reflective clothes (in complete darkness), or fluorescent clothes (in partial darkness). Wearing a light can make you more visible too. If you wear headphones, make sure you can hear vehicles coming.

Tripping over hazards you haven’t seen.

You can avoid tripping over unseen hazards by sticking to easy terrain you know well, or using a torch to see where you’re going. Head or chest-mounted torches keep your hands free, but many runners prefer handheld torches. Use a bit of trial and error to find your preferred option.

Getting lost through the disorientating effect of not being able to recognise where you are.

Again, use a torch so you can see where you’re going. Alternatively, have a map with you, stick to routes you know well, or run with a friend.

It’s also worth being aware of the personal safety risks that can come from running through places where a personal attack may be more likely.

Responsibility for any kind of personal attack lies with the attacker, not the victim. That said, there are ways to reduce the risk that you will become a victim:

    • Avoid known trouble-spots or anywhere you feel uncomfortable running through;
    • Stick to well-lit places you know;
    • Carry ID;
    • Tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to be home;
    • Run with a friend – or a dog!
    • Consider carrying an alarm.

It’s not nice to think about the worst that could happen, but anything that can keep you safe is worth doing.

All of the above are common sense, but well worth repeating just to be on the safe side.

In summary

It doesn’t take a lot to adapt your running to the conditions. As mentioned above, a little common sense can go a long way when running in windy, wet or dark conditions. Experiment to find the clothing options or route choices that work best for you, play it safe, and you might even find that you enjoy running in bad-weather more than you expected.

If you have any tips of your own, please share them via our Facebook, Instagram and Strava channels.

 

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