In 2013, as I lined up for the NYC marathon the only thing on my mind was running in the WIND.
I knew my legs could handle 26.2 miles.
But was the never ending forecast for 20mph winds and 35mph gusts going to blow my hopes a PR away?
Running a marathon in the wind adds another level of physical and mental stress. (I won’t leave you in suspense, I PR’ed, but just by seconds and the wind certainly slowed me down.)
Which of course lead me to once again put my nose in a book and start researching how to handle wind next time. Just how much effect does wind have on our time? Do we need to dress differently?
I’ve got the answers!
Let’s dive in to all the tips to help you take advantage of time spent running in the wind to have your best possible performances. (Because yes, wind is still one of my least favorite weather issues!)
How much will wind effect running pace?
There are a number of scientific studies which show it absolutely slows you down by creating a higher need for oxygen when running in to the wind.
While it gives you a little boost when running with a tailwind.
Meaning there are negative effects of a headwind, like requiring more muscle power to achieve the same pace and positive effects of a tailwind, like making a normal pace feel easier, so you run faster.
These studies are not written for the average runner to understand, hence my very simple DUH explanation above.
A few different calculators provide some ideas on how much in could slow you, but remember there are a lot of variables! For example, the speed of the wind and your pace are two key factors.
Each increase in wind speed, the impact on running effort goes up by a power of two.
Meaning that a 10 mph wind is four times as harder for the body than a 5 mph wind.
And something we don’t think about is that even running with no wind, the wind resistance for a runner at at 6:30 mile is twice what someone at a 9:00 minute mile is facing. Huh, who knew.
Potential effects running in to a headwind:
- Running in 5mph wind: potentially 10 seconds per mile, though most won’t notice it
- Running in 10 mph wind: 20 seconds per mile
- Running in 15 mph wind: 30 seconds per mile
- Running in 20 mph wind: up to 1 minute per mile
Now you see where all my fears were on marathon day. 1 minute per mile is a huge barrier to overcome!
What’s the big deal about a windy run?
I think Coach Jack Daniel’s says it well:
“Of the many adverse weather conditions that runners face, probably the only one that every runner is confronted with at one time or another is wind — and if there’s anything that interrupts training or racing more than wind, I have yet to meet it.
Wind is as much a part of running in Oklahoma as heat is in Florida or Arizona.
You learn to work with the wind, and you learn to avoid it when you can.”
10 Tips for Running in the Wind
Fall, Winter, Spring if you’re heading out on brisk day for a run with winds and you remember nothing else…remember tip number 1.
1. Start In To the Wind
Golden rule of windy day running: Run in to the wind on the way out.
There are two reasons this rule has served many runners so well:
Expend the harder effort on the way out to ensure you don’t find yourself mentally and physically feeling defeated on the return trip.
2. Body Temp
Because it can feel colder running in to the wind, it’s helpful to have it at your back as you return and are now sweaty. Wind + sweat can create a shiver effect that not only wastes energy, but forces your immune system to kick in to overdrive.
Running this way means that the second half of your workout is going to be far more bearable no matter the temps and mph wind.
Beyond the golden rule, there are a few other tips which can make a windy run more enjoyable…bearable. You’ll notice a lot of this focus on ways to mentally make the run better, which is a huge part of a successful run anytime.
2. Find a Slipstream
Lucky enough to run with a group on these days? Take turns being in the lead, so those behind can get a little buffer from the wind (it’s a common cycling practice).
Run 2-3 feet behind the other runner, to get the benefit without tripping anyone.
An actual study done on this by LG Pugh showed a 6% decrease in oxygen consumption when drafting off another runner.
In plain English, the energy cost went down and they didn’t have to work as hard!
This same idea is going to work for you on race day too. Find a pack and get behind them to reduce your effort.
3. Focus on the Benefit
One of the biggest things around dealing with weather is our mental focus.
Running in to a strong wind is essentially like an extra strength workout. Consider it similar to picking out a hilly run, which is an ideal strength workout to build power in the legs and make you a stronger runner.
The air resistance is giving you more to push against, which means creating more power in the legs. It’s time to use that as a mental advantage, knowing it means you’ll feel faster with the tailwind and on your next non-windy run.
In fact, I love using a high wind day as a bit of a progression.
You start out in to the wind going at an easy effort, which is going to feel slower than normal. Upon the turn around, you suddenly have wind at your back and maintaining the same effort level start running quite a bit faster. That’s a huge boost!
4. Choose the Right Clothing
Beyond a headband to keep your hair from looking crazy, the right gear can make a difference.
Tight fitting clothing will have less drag. On hot days, you may be less bothered by the wind because it’s allow your body to cool down by helping the sweat to dissipate.
In that case, wear whatever outfit feels good and focus on the other tips!
Meanwhile on a cold weather windy daylayers will wick away sweat, but keep you warm.
- Outer layer can be anything from a light wind jacket to a heavier pull over depending on temperature
- Base layer should be a moisture-wicking long sleeve shirt to ensure that regardless of the top layer, sweat isn’t being held near your body which can cause you to feel colder, especially with the wind
- Look for running tights with wind panels, this will also help to keep you feeling warmer.
While I was skeptical (for unknown reasons), wind jackets really do work!
I started wearing them consistently and noticed that:
A. I wasn’t as cold.
B. Mentally I felt better because there was indeed a barrier.
Two that I have been running in consistently because they have a hood that I can toggle to stay on:
5. Consider Wearing Gloves
Though it might not be that cold, gloves can come in handy on a windy day.
Our fingers tend to get colder because the blood has been shuttled to our legs and eliminating that goes a long ways towards a more enjoyable run.
You can wear dri fit gloves, but honestly any cheap pair will work and then if you take them off/on and lose one it’s no big deal.
6. Run By Effort
Focus on effort over speed. (AKA running by perceived effort, RPE)
Consider it a strength training day! Some people pay good money to strap parachutes to their backs for added resistance, you’ve just got it for free with a stiff headwind.
Don’t try to fight the wind, it’s just wasted energy. Much like using effort as a guide on the uphill and then flowing with the downhill try to the same if possible with a head and tail wind.
7. Ease Your Breathing
Another tip I’ve heard is that turning your head to the side instead of straight in to the wind can improve breathing. So, I tested this out recently and I’m not 100% sure if it works or not to be honest. But I figured I would throw it out in case it helps someone else!
This is key as the harder you’re fighting for oxygen the harder your perceived effort.
And we know that our mental perception of a run can change the whole thing!
8. Release Tension
The mental strain can make you start to hunch your shoulders, clench your jaw and create unneeded muscle tension, which also alters your form.
Try to relax and let’s be honest, laugh at yourself because it takes a special kind of crazy to be a runner.
Runners are like mailmen: Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these runners from the swift completion of their appointed training.
One of my favorite visualizations is to think of yourself like water. It doesn’t force it’s way through a rock, it flows around it and over it. Flow easy, instead of fighting it.
9. Embrace the Treadmill
Listen if I’d had the option of a treadmill marathon instead of the 30MPH winds in NYC, I might very well have taken it.
There is no shame in moving your run indoors when the wind is going to prevent you from getting in the desired workout, it’s dangerous weather or you simply don’t want to deal with it!
Yes, we need to practice running in lots of conditions. But this running coach doesn’t believe that means being miserable all the time.
Most of us aren’t aiming for the Olympics. Instead, our run is supposed to be part of the week that we enjoy.
10. Carry Chapstick
The wind can be super drying, so it’s a good day to carry chapstick. The last thing I want is to get home and find that I finished the miles but painful now my lips are cracked and.
Just like you lube up to avoid inner thigh chafing, it’s time to take care of the lips! They already get dry from our breathing in and out through the run, so the wind amplifies this.
It works not just for your lips, but you can rub it on skin when needed! Like your cheeks to prevent wind burn.
11. Wear Sunglasses
Also, a great day for sunglasses so you aren’t squinting and wasting more energy mentally and physically.
Plus, of course, we simply want to protect our eyes from anything that might be flying around. Whether you’re running with allergies and trying to keep out pollen or just being smart to avoid irritation, it’s worth the 10 seconds to grab some running sunglasses on the way out the door.
All right, now we have broken down how running in the wind is harder and some ideas to make it more bearable. Hopefully, this gets you out the door and ready to embrace the work.
What’s the windiest run you’ve done?
Favorite piece of layering for the wind?
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