How to Run in the Rain

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The chilly rain and frigid winds of the 2018 Boston Marathon separated runners into two soggy groups. Those who could endure and those who couldn’t. In the latter category were U.S. Olympic medalist Galen Rupp, New York Marathon champion Shalane Flanagan, and a typically favored Kenyan contingent. But the weather produced unlikely successes, including a lesser-known men’s champion, Yuki Kawauchi, and a female runner-up who paid her own entry fee. But it was Des Linden of Charlevoix, Michigan, who powered through the rain to secure the first American victory in the history of the race. We talked to Seattle-based running coaches Beth Baker and Alison Gillespie, D.P.T., to find out how you can channel Linden’s all-weather fortitude and thrive when running in the rain.

Why You Should Run in Any Weather

Linden grew up in Charlevoix, a city perched on the Lake Michigan coastline where an annual 32 inches of rain complements 116 inches of snow. So it’s a place that breeds hardy people. When asked in an interview with Deadspin about whether the Michigan-esque conditions of the marathon favored her, Linden said, “It’s more about just not getting rattled by conditions. We train in it all the time, and it’s about recognizing that everyone will be uncomfortable. You just have to keep it out of your head.”

As a running coach, Baker’s job is to convince her athletes, and herself, to lace up the trainers and get out the door on every one of Seattle’s 150 rainy days per year. “If you’re training for a race, it’s most likely going to rain on race day,” she says. “If it’s torrential rain when I wake up, I have to put my big-girl pants on and go do it.” But there’s an advantage to the suffering. “It’s fun being miserable with a group. Seriously, you feel like a badass to be out there when no one else is,” she says. As the famed University of Oregon track and field coach Bill Bowerman said, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just soft people.” Running in the rain steels you for harder efforts on race day. That’s exactly why you should do it.

Gear Up

Your rain gear may not always be necessary, especially in warmer weather, so it’s important to learn how your body regulates its temperature. “If it’s 50 degrees plus, and I’m out there for 45 minutes or less, I tend to not worry about getting wet. I dress mostly for breathability,” Gillespie says. It’s all about having a progression of layers to get you through fluctuating amounts of rain, wind, and cold. Here’s how Gillespie and Baker do it.

Upper Body

In warmer rain, Gillespie layers a lightweight, long-sleeve wool shirt underneath a vest and wears a trucker hat. “I like the feeling of keeping the rain off my face,” she says. In colder rain, she’ll go for a waterproof jacket and gloves with a mitten component to pull over the fingers when necessary.

Lower Body

In warmer rain, Baker puts on her regular running shorts. “I like shorts because you’re either sweaty or wet—same thing,” she says. “The least amount of clothes you can have on if it’s raining and warm out, the better.” Bearing in mind that running increases her body temperature, Baker assumes that her perception of temperature while running is 20 degrees warmer than the actual temperature. “If it’s 50 degrees out, I dress like it’s 70 degrees, and I have a layer to take off,” she says. In chilly rain, Gillespie says she prefers tights with a weather-resistant coating down the thighs.

Footwear

Gore-Tex and waterproof shoes abound in specialty running stores. But they come with a trade-off. “Once the weather gets into a shoe with Gore-Tex, it’s going to stay in the shoe. You can end up running in a puddle,” Gillespie says. Instead, many road and trail runners prefer to wear wool socks inside breathable shoes with grippy rubber outsoles.

How to Make Running in the Rain Fun

Embracing the suck is key to performing well when running in the rain. “If it’s raining now, and it’s a nice day for your race, then that’s always good,” Baker says. “I don’t change workouts for weather at all. If anything, I encourage it.”

As a trail runner, Gillespie uses physical metrics such as heart rate to judge her effort rather than worry about how bad weather affects her pace. “I’ll say I want to hit this heart rate for this period of time. Or I’ll do intervals where I run hard for X period of time,” she says. Once you’re already wet, she says, it just gets better. “As opposed to seeing it as a problem, I think, ‘This is why I’m not on a treadmill. This is exactly what I was hoping for,’” Gillespie says. “There’s something joyful in running straight through a mud puddle.”

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