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10 Tips for Racing in the Rain

How to deal with a rainy 10K - Half Marathon - Marathon

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Updated May 31, 2014

Rain on race day can confound your plans for your 10K, half marathon or marathon for runners or walkers. You have probably trained mostly on dry days, or on rainy days when you didn't use gear that was appropriate for a race. On race day, you will want to stay with lightweight gear that will change your stride as little as possible. You want compact gear that you can carry easily, and preferably that is disposable so you can toss it if the weather clears. To keep with the maxim that you use nothing new on race day, try these out during your training walks and runs to see what works best for you.

1. Shorts or a Running Skirt

B-Skinz All in One Skort
Wendy Bumgardner ©

Your legs are drip dry, while racing tights, capris or pants will stay soggy once they get wet.  Even worse, they will wick the water upwards as well as down until you are drenched below the waist. On race day, plan to wear shorts or a short running skirt -- the shorter the better if it is raining. Your shorts should be quick-drying and made of sweat-wicking (and rain-wicking) fabric. Even if it is cold outside, your legs will be warmer naked than they will be when covered by wet fabric.
Best Shorts for Walkers

2. Short-Sleeved Shirt or Tank

New Balance Tonic Top
Courtesy of Pricegrabber

As with shorts -- you are better off with drip-dry skin than wearing long sleeves that get wet. Wear the short-sleeved sweat-wicking racing top that you probably trained in.  Don't worry about your arms getting wet. What you must worry about is getting hypothermia from wet clothing during a long race or afterwards. Select a top that doesn't expose any fabric out the sleeves of a disposable rain poncho. Test this during your training runs or walks.
Top Picks for Short-Sleeved Shirts

3. Disposable Rain Poncho

Rachel at the Seattle Half Marathon in Rain Poncho
Rachel Spanks ©

You will need waterproof protection, but you may not need it for the whole race.  Rather than take along a high tech waterproof jacket you may have to carry for part of the race, use a disposable rain poncho. These can be found for under $5 and are small enough to fit into a fanny pack to carry along if the prediction is for showers sometime during the race. The caveats are that the sleeves probably only go down to your elbow, and some are too short to cover all of your shorts. If they are too long, they may interfere with your stride. They are not breathable, but a poncho rather than a jacket has more air flow anyway.
Compare Prices on Disposable Rain Ponchos

4. Disposable Waterproof Shoe Covers from Hotel Shower Caps

Shower Cap Shoe Cover
Wendy Bumgardner © 2010

Unless you were expecting a rainy race, you probably didn't train in waterproof shoes. It is important to race in shoes you have trained in. You can easily make waterproof shoe covers using free hotel shower caps or Covermate Stretch-to-Fit Food Covers. These work surprisingly well to keep most of the rain out of your shoes. You will still have damp socks, but your shoes won't be squishing out water with every step. Here is my step by step method to use these handy items. Adding duct tape can help keep them secure.
How to Make Shoe Covers from Shower Caps

5. Chafing Protection - Nipples and Crotch

SportShield Single-Use Towelette
Wendy Bumgardner © 2009

While a sports bra protects most women from nipple chafing, men have to remember to protect their nipples during longer races.  Both sexes need to remember to protect their upper thighs and crotches from painful chafing.  Wet weather can cause extra problems, as the Band-Aids many men use for nipple protection may come loose due to a wet shirt. Use a lubricant such as petroleum jelly, SportShield, BodyGlide or other such products all areas that may chafe.  I like to take along the SportShield towlette packets as they are easy to carry along and have handy if my preparation is failing.
Top Picks for Chafing Prevention

6. Keep Your Phone and Electronics Dry

RunKeeper on an iPhone
Courtesy of RunKeeper

Don't forget that electronics hate to get wet. Watches, cell phones, music players and pedometers will stop working when water infiltrates them. While you may have invested in a waterproof cover for your cell phone or iPod, you may not think about other items you might have along on race day. For a quick solution, my theater production friends recommend using a condom. They use them to protect body mikes and other electronics during plays. A clear condom will protect your electronics and still allow you to read the display or push the buttons.

7. Trash Bags for Warm-Ups

For cheap and disposable water protection and warm-ups, grab a large trash bag from your kitchen cabinet and get creative. You will see many racers wearing these before the starting gun with holes for their head and arms. A trashbag makes a great disposable warm-up.  You can continue to use it as you would a disposable poncho, except that it isn't easy to design it to wear as a hood as well as a jacket. If you only use a trash bag, rain can still run down your neck and get your shirt soaked.  Also, you won't protect any sleeves from getting wet if you use a trashbag with armholes. A dry trash bag is great to take along in your fanny pack just in case you start feeling chilled.

8. Newspaper Sleeves as Armwarmers or Legwarmers

If the temperatures are cold, you may still want to cover your arms and legs. If you live in an area where the newspapers arrive in plastic covers to protect them from the rain, save these to use as disposable waterproof arm and leg covers. If you have larger thighs, you might want to save plastic magazine covers to use.  Just open both ends and slip the tube over the desired limb. Use duct tape to secure them if they are too loose. You will usually want to leave your elbow or knee uncovered so you don't restrict its movement.  These can help keep your arm or leg muscles warm despite your shirt or pants being wet. These shouldn't be necessary on races where the air temperature is at 60F or above.

9. Pack Dry Clothes and Shoes

Donna bundles up in a heat sheet
Wendy Bumgardner © 1999

If it looks like rain, check a full set of dry clothes and shoes at the race gear check so you can immediately change into something dry to keep from catching a bad chill. If they don't have a gear check, have a friend bring these to the finish line or have them ready in your vehicle. Be sure to bundle up in the heat sheet they usually give out at the finish. If they don't, have a friend ready at the finish with a space blanket and/or your dry gear. Your body will cool off very, very fast once you stop walking or running. You can get into real trouble if you don't get into dry clothes fast.

10. Get Warm When You Stop

Grabber Hand Warmer
Wendy Bumgardner ©
We got slammed with rain for the second half of the Hop Hop Half Marathon. I was grateful that I packed a disposable handwarmer in my pack and that I had heated car seats for the drive home. After you change into dry clothes, also seek heat to warm you back up. Drink a hot drink such as cocoa (which is also an excellent protein recovery drink), tea, coffee, etc. When you get home, take a warm bath.

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