I now live in the Bay Area, so it’s pretty easy to be lulled into a false sense of security when it comes to the possibility of terrible race day weather. We may get the occasional sprinkle in winter, but chances are it will be fairly nice during training and more of the same on race day.
But that’s not always the case, and you always need to be ready for any possibility on race day.
Expecting the Unexpected
Several years ago, I was (I thought) doing a trail marathon in Death Valley. I’d been training for months and had been carb loading all week while I traveled to Las Vegas and on to Death Valley. Only to wake up on race day to find out the marathon was canceled.
Death Valley was in the midst of a cold snap and it was 6 degrees at the start. The National Park people didn’t want their people to potentially have to go out and rescue us runners in those conditions.
So instead of the scheduled marathon (a point to point course dropping around 3500 feet), we could do the half-marathon twice (an out and back- twice!- that would climb nearly 5000 ft). I wasn’t remotely trained for that type of course. I, and many others, called an audible and ‘only’ did a half marathon instead of the full that I had been training for so long.
[Just a quick aside to note the very cruel irony of being in Death Valley, surrounded by signs warning visitors of the precautions to take in severely high temps while I am freezing in my parka]
A few years earlier, I was running the Twin Cities Marathon when the highs were in the mid-90s instead of the mid-60s, (which was the average temperature that time of year). The unexpected heat wave forced any thought of time goals out the window.
And then there is Lagoon Valley. Ah, Lagoon Valley. What I thought would be a nice little trail half marathon in a slight drizzle turned into wind, hail, and all-around world-is-coming-to-an-end kind of weather. It was the worst weather I have ever been outside in, let alone run in.
How to Prepare
While you never know what you will get on race day, You can be prepared for whatever may come:
Don’t bail on training runs because of bad conditions
Did you wake up to find its really hot on a long run training day? Or maybe it’s rainy and gross.
Still get out there and run.
Use the less than ideal conditions as a chance to practice adjusting to different conditions. How much slower should you run in the heat? How will you carry extra water? Does your rain jacket actually work when it gets wet? Do you prefer a hat in the rain? The best way to find out is to get out there in the actual conditions and see.
One caveat: if it is truly unsafe (for example: lighting storms) stay home. I’m talking about less than ideal conditions here, not truly unsafe ones.
Know how your race director will communicate in the case of emergency
Most race websites note how race directors will communicate with runners: website posts, email, twitter. Find out how information will be conveyed and check for last-minute communications as race day approaches.
For Death Valley, there was a communications advantage that all the runners were staying in pretty much one of two hotels (the only ones for miles and miles), but even so, the race directors had been good about communicating about the cold weather and the possibility of event cancellation via email.
Many larger races have weather policies and ‘flag warning’ system (green, yellow, red, black) which details the kinds of weather that could postpone or cancel a race. If your race has one of these, take a few minutes to read it through.
Remember: bad weather = great stories
Trust me, there are only so many ways you can milk the storytelling potential of great weather races: “yeah it was sunny and 65, light breeze.” That may make for great running, but a very boring story.
Contrast that with: torrential rain, wind, and hail on a trail run that turned the course into at 13-mile long mud pit. I can’t tell you how many times I have (and will continue to) tell my Lagoon Valley story. I haven’t even told you guys the best part (consider that a teaser for a post yet to come). [rev: the Lagoon Valley Story has been told!]
If conditions start to go south, just think of the storytelling fodder you’ll have for your running partners for years to come.
Keep it in perspective
Would I rather have perfect weather for every race? Of course. But you can’t change the weather, and there is nothing you can do about it.
And sometimes it just flat-out sucks. I’m still bummed that I couldn’t do Death Valley and I haven’t been able to get back there, but there’s also a silver lining: while I was ready for cold, 6 degrees may have been pushing it.
So roll with the punches. It will be what it will be on race day.
You can’t change the weather, you can only change your attitude towards it.