Race Day: Rain in the Forecast: What Do I Do?


Although many of the #motherrunners around the country are dealing with frozen eyelashes, not flash floods, on their runs, Disney's Half-Marathon on Saturday was canceled because of rain and thunderstorms. And the forecast isn't looking peachy for the Houston Half-Marathon and Marathon on Sunday.

Coach Mary-Katherine Fleming, who leads the heart-rate training programs in the Train Like a Mother Club, lived in Houston briefly, and, prior to that, eight years in Southeast Asia. She knows a bit about training in crazy rain, and she wrote this comprehensive post about how to assess whether or not to race through puddles. Whether or not you're headed to Houston, there's surely a drop or three of wisdom to soak up. 

You've set your sights on a half-marathon or marathon, trained for months, and done all the things right. Then you get to race day....and it’s pouring. How do you handle it?

Short Annoying Answer: “Depends”

Long Annoying Answer: “You have several options.”

Option 1: Stay in bed, order room service, start looking for a backup race. There's a good chance you can extend the taper for up to 6 weeks (depending on a variety of factors).

Option 2: Go for it. Let’s discuss the adjustments you need to make.

Step 1: Check the long-form weather forecast. Are we talking freezing rain or regular rain? The two are very different. If the rain is freezing and likely to bring ice, you are better off staying in bed.

  • If the rain is not freezing, check the humidity and heat index. Is it expected to rain all day or just a few hours?
  • It may not be better if the rain stops; once it stops, the air tends to get very still and humid in coastal areas like Charleston and Houston. You’ll be soaked, a little too warm, and if the sun comes out, miserable.
  • If it’s expected to rain for the duration, check the intensity of the precip, then the wind situation. If it’s windy and raining, you may want to stay in bed, regardless of the temperature. If it’s a light rain or drizzle, you should be ok, regardless of the temperature.

Step 2: Assess your wardrobe choices. Do you have what you will need to go for it?

Racing in the Rain: What You Need From Top to Bottom 

Sunglasses: You will want to shield your eyes. Definitely wear light sunglasses.

Headwear: Consider a baseball or trucker hat (possibly with an ear warmer: a good look!) in cold rain. In warmer rain, a visor is a good call since you don’t want to trap all that heat on your head. I’m not really a hat person, and I sure as hell don’t willingly wear visors—the minivan is as far as I can go into mom-dom—unless it’s raining and I’m running. Then I’m all about it.

Clothing: Let's consider core temperatures. In longer events like marathons and ultras, your body will generate a lot of heat since you’re working hard. Over time, though, if you aren’t dressed properly your body will work increasingly hard to ward off hypothermia. You need to walk a fine line.

If it’s raining and under 50 degrees, you will want a waterproof layer or thin jacket on top. You may better off erring on the side of overdressing and shedding layers as you go. If it’s under 30 degrees you will want to add a body-hugging layer like tights or compression pants. (Avoid fleecy layers since they soak up water like sponges and get very heavy very quickly.)

Even on Bradley Cooper (swoon!), a trash-bag ensemble is a DON'T.

Option 1: Garbage bag. Conventional wisdom is to cut a hole in a garbage bag and wear it like a poncho. If you think it’s going to be warm and rainy or just a little cooler than you like and rainy, you will not be able to run in it. (Terrarium!) That said, this is a terrific option between dropping your bag and starting the race since you want to start the race dry and warm.

Option 2: Rain jacket. Every time I wear a raincoat I sweat like I’ve just had a workout. (Terrarium, Part II!) Most raincoats are water and windproof, which basically means they are made of some coated, non-breathable material or plastic. You will heat up quickly and that heat will be trapped against your skin. Within an hour you could be just as soaked as you’d be without the jacket. If you aren’t sure you will need it, put the jacket in your drop bag for after the race along with a change of clothes. If you’re looking at a cold rainy day, the rain jacket could be to your advantage; be sure to wear a wicking layer underneath.

Gloves: If it's cold enough to warrant them, make sure your gloves are waterproof or have an optional waterproof mitt. Don’t wear these unless it’s cold because your fingers will prune really quickly.

The squishier and more cushioned the sock, the more water it will absorb. You will want to rub your feet down with Vaseline then wear a super-thin sock. (Dimity is a huge fan of the Balega ultralight no-show style in all conditions.)

Shoes: Before the race, take a look at your shoes. Are they cushioned? Where? On the tongue, under the soles of your feet? Pinch the sides, poke the bottoms; anything that squishes under the pressure of your fingers is going to absorb water. The more cushion in your shoe, the heavier it is going to be once it gets wet. (This is one of the many reasons why On Cloudracers are my go-to racing shoe; there is nothing in the sole that can absorb water.)

If you've got a lot of squishing going on, check your shoe closet and see if you have a better option. If not, that's fine. Just understand that a waterlogged shoe is going to get heavy and uncomfortable really quickly; the ideal shoe may not be ideal once it is holding 2 pounds of water.

Once you've picked your shoes, you will probably want to put trash bags secured with rubber bands around them until the race starts just to keep them dry. Once you’re out there though, there is little you can do to keep your feet dry. (Sigh.)

Chafing: It’s gonna happen in rainy conditions. Lube up really generously; the higher the temps the more generous you need to be with the lube. Male or female, you’ll likely want band-aids on your nipples.


Drenched from head to toe: 26.2 is a long way to go.

Putting This Advice IRL: What Would Coach MK Wear?

Situation: Race Day is 60 at the start, moderate rain and wind, then sunny.
A: My pajamas. That sounds terrible. I'm staying in bed.

Situation: Race Day is 40 at the start and 60 by noon, light drizzle, no sun.
A: #allthewarmthings before the race starts, a visor, sunglasses, gloves, shorts and a tank.

Situation: Race Day is 30 at the start and 50 by noon, moderate rain, no sun. What would you wear?
A: Shorts, a trucker hat, earwarmers, gloves, a tank, Saucony Razor jacket, shorts.

Situation: Race Day is 30 at the start, 40 by noon, heavy rain, no sun. What would you wear?
A1: If it’s a coastal race, it’s likely to be windy too, so my pajamas. Ain’t going out in that.
A2: If it isn’t a coastal race, I would need a really compelling reason to get out there because heavy rain is MISERABLE.
A3: If it’s the Pocono Marathon (I really, really love that race!), I would be torn. I do not like running in heavy rain, but wouldn’t want to miss a chance to be on that course. So tights or compression pants; a tank; my Razor jacket; trucker cap; ear warmers and gloves. Plus, a throwaway fleece or thrift store bathrobe over all of it until the start. Then I'd likely show up, and at the last minute, decide not to get on the bus to the start area since roads are slippery in heavy rain.

Situation: Race Day is 30 and sleeting. Would you get out of bed?
A: Yes, long enough to get on the phone and YELL at the Farmer’s Online Almanac’s customer service people for failing me in my race selection process. Still, I wouldn’t get out of my pajamas.

What other advice do you have to drizzle (ha!) in here?


13 responses to “Race Day: Rain in the Forecast: What Do I Do?

  1. I’m running with Dana above. And we’ve all be irritated by the ever-changing forecast for the Houston Marathon. Fortunately, we’ve run in practically every combination of wind, sun, clouds, rain, lightening, heat, and frigidity that could be possible. Will squishing in my shoes for 26 miles be fun? Nope. Will finishing 26.2 miles even in squishy shoes be fun? Absolutely!

  2. I would run regardless. Training should include running in all kinds of weather. If I trained for it, spent the money on race registration and travel, I would do it, (and have done it.)
    As a side note, when my son was growing up, we camped and did other outdoor activities w/ other families. We rarely cancelled due to weather. Some of the worse conditions make for the most memorable times.

  3. I ran Houston a few years ago in the pouring rain and loved every minute of it.the prediction was rain. When I woke up the wind shifted as I stepped outside. At the meet up place, I could barely open my car door. Exiting 45 to downtown, I couldn’t see out the windshield. At the start rain was sloshing in my shoes. I will take that weather over sunny and warm any day. Husband met me at Mike fifteenths on Westpark, with dry change of clothes. I didn’t even bother. I was just thrilled to run a marathon. Enjoy the day! The support in Houston makes this reluctant Texan proud to be from Houston.

  4. I really needed that! The Houston Marathon on Sunday will be my first marathon (although I’ve run several halfs). The current forecast has me scared to pieces….

  5. I ran two rainy marathons last year – one which was drizzly, cool and very windy and the other was humid then rainy then hot. Both were hard, but I was able to overcome the elements both times to BQ.

    Some clothing suggestions not mentioned here:
    -A vest with a long sleeve shirt underneath if it’s cool but above freezing. Keeps your torso warm and dry, but lots of ventilation so you don’t overheat
    -Capris or tights instead of shorts – less likely to chafe, tight fabric won’t get bogged down as much
    -Arm warmers with short sleeves if it’s mild – lets you adjust temperature
    -Wool socks – your feet may be wet but they won’t feel cold

  6. With my BRFF, ran the Illinois Marathon this past April in steady, sometimes driving rain and cold through the entire day. We decided to just throw out our goals and soldier through the thing, stay together ’cause misery loves company and smile through. Once we reached full saturation, we had surprisingly few problems. No chafing or blisters, (wore compression shorts to avoid chafing) and the numbing cold not a problem until post-finish line, when it was awful. (Try removing the compression calf sleeves with shivering, bloodless hands!) recommendations: a brimmed hat, warm stuff including towel in your gear bag, a blanket and champagne waiting back at the airbnb. (Note: this race provides a fleece blanket for finishers–it would seem they know spring weather!)

  7. Not a what to wear, but a comment about the obvious — don’t forget to drink! I live in the Southwest and pretty much had never run in real rain. In 2015 I ran my 2nd half marathon in Seattle and there was a light steady rain the entire time, maybe 60 deg max. My thirst mechanism got completely screwed up with the humidity and I forgot to drink, and guess what? The wheels totally came off the bus at mile 12! I didn’t even realize why I crumped until I finally peed 6 hours later! Such a stupid mistake! I also wasn’t dressed warmly enough, a trash bag would probably have helped especially toward the end!

  8. I once ran my 8 mile relay leg of a windy, rainy marathon (CIM 2001) in a tall kitchen garbage bag. It was the perfect size to cover only my core and did not hinder my movement but kept my main body dry. One of the best running ideas I’ve ever had in the days when I did not own lots of gear. The leg before me (a seasoned BQ runner) ran in a full blown heavy plastic rain slicker. Our last leg finished in sunshine – go figure.

  9. I wanted to add that as the Hitchhiker’s Guide has taught us, you always want to pack a towel with either your drop bag or your family. Don’t forget an extra pair of socks and shoes with your warm, dry gear.

    If your supporters are super-heroes, you can have them hold onto an extra pair of the cheapo gloves to swap in mid-race. Wet gloves leave your hands cold.

  10. I once ran an entire half marathon with one of those silver post race blankets wrapped around me. I wouldn’t recommend it LOL. I’m fine racing in the rain and have done it in every temperature above freezing (I don’t do ice or lightning). The key thing for me is to make sure I have something warm and dry QUICKLY after a race. The minute I stop moving, I start shivering.

  11. I just have to comment and state that the reason the Disney Half Marathon was canceled this past weekend had nothing to do with rain and everything to do with lightning. I know this is an article about what to wear in the rain, but you should mention that going out in lightning is NEVER a good idea.

  12. My very first marathon was the Marine Corps Marathon. At the start it was 50 degrees and overcast. When I finished, it was 33 degrees and rain/snowy. And the temperatures were dropping quickly. Someone had given me a clear blue plastic garbage bag while we were waiting to start; I wore that thing the entire 26.2 miles. I wore the cheap $1 gloves I planned to throw away. And a polartec long-sleeve shirt and shorts. It was miserable. The walk back to the car was even worse.

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