3 major weather hurdles that can threaten a marathon runner's race

By Ashley Williams, AccuWeather staff writer

Through brutal heat, battering winds or sticky humidity, marathon runners occasionally have to train or race in less-than-ideal weather conditions that might impact their performance.

“You can control many variables when preparing for a marathon – how much you train, your diet and nutrition or your clothing – but the weather is the only one you cannot control,” said Dan Daly, head coach of the Fleet Feet Sports Chicago and Boston 365 Training Program.

He has prepared and accompanied more than 1,200 runners for the Boston Marathon and other spring marathons over the past decade. The coach also braved a nor’easter during the 2007 Boston Marathon, which was nearly called off for thousands of runners due to wet, chilly and gusty weather.

Boston Marathon rain - AP Image

Runners approach the finish line in the rain during the Boston Marathon on Monday, April 20, 2015, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

“You can’t change the weather on that one particular day, but you can change how you respond to any challenges,” Daly said.

Below are three conditions that threaten to thwart a marathon runner’s race.

Heavy rain

While some runners might find a short jog in light rain and mild conditions to be pleasant, it’s a different story when it comes to lengthy runs through torrential downpours.

Drenching rain was part of the problem for Boston Marathon runners in 2007. That year is considered by many to have had the worst weather conditions in the event’s history.

Running long distances during rainfall can pose a number of issues, including for your vision, said physical therapist Dr. Karena Wu, owner of ActiveCare Physical Therapy in New York City and Mumbai, India.

“The amount of water falling over your eyes combined with the basic ability to blink and clear your visual field is not in an equal ratio,” Wu said. “That's compounded by the fact that you’re moving at a certain speed forward, which increases the chances of not being able to see well or at all.”

Slick surfaces and water-covered potholes, debris or uneven terrain can heighten the risk of slips and falls, Wu added.

Infographic - Risks of running in the rain

Additional risks include blistering feet or chafed thighs and underarms, according to certified personal trainer and eight-time marathon runner Cary Raffle.

Raffle advised wearing high-visibility clothing, applying petroleum jelly to feet and friction points and having dry clothes ready for after the race.

The biggest problem with rain is that your shoes get wet and will become heavier, which impacts performance,” Daly said. He recommended choosing specialty running socks over cotton in wet weather.

Windy weather

Wind is oftentimes a big factor, especially when it’s a point-to-point course where you're running in the same direction the whole time,” Daly said.

"[Be aware that] if you're running into a headwind, you’ll expend much more energy,” he added.

Even if a runner feels like they’re moving at their expected pace and are exerting the same amount of energy they’ve prepared for, Daly said to expect that wind might slow their running time.

A windproof jacket should keep marathon runners warm in extremely gusty conditions, said running coach and exercise physiologist Joan Scrivanich.

“Running against the wind can be very challenging and draining,” she said. Remaining behind other runners will help block the wind, Scrivanich suggested, but she advised to take turns being in the lead so that it isn't always the same runner taking the brunt of the wind.

“Avoid baggy or loose clothing,” she added. “Fitted clothing will reduce the amount of drag while you run.”

Scorching-hot conditions

A runner died during the 2007 Chicago Marathon, which was marred by temperatures in the upper 80s F, prompting officials to stop the race for the first time in its history.

Heat impacts runners at a physiological level through dehydration, increased heart rate and reduced blood flow and oxygen to the muscles used during exercise,” said Meghan Kennihan, a certified personal trainer, distance running coach and fitness instructor.

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“At 60-75 F, your heart rate increases by two to four beats per minute,” Kennihan said. “From 75-90 F, it can increase up to 10 beats per minute, and the humidity will make it increase even more.”

High temperatures can make oxygen exchange more difficult, especially in humid conditions, according to Wu.

The heat also quickly raises the body's core temperature as it works even harder to cool itself down. When humidity is present, the body’s attempts to cool off are further exacerbated as sweat struggles to evaporate from the skin, Wu said.

“This is extremely dangerous, and can lead to heat exhaustion or even heat stroke,” she warned.

Kennihan recommended training in warm conditions to help the body adapt to the heat, recognizing the impacts of heat and humidity during your post-training recovery and remaining properly hydrated.

For more safety and preparedness tips, visit AccuWeather.com/Ready.

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