Monday, January 10, 2011

Training for an Ultramarathon, whatever the Weather!

This image didn't change all day!

The weather conditions in Queensland have been making the headlines around the world, and even though I’m not in the area that badly affected, it has had an impact on my running. The thing with training for an ultramarathon, is that you cannot allow the weather conditions stop you from training. They won’t change the event date if you are ill prepared, and ultra courses are not known for being all the forgiving either!

So today, after 3 days of over 50mm of rain each, and another 180mm today (so over a foot of rain in 3 days) I had scheduled a run.  I waited until a lively thunderstorm passed and headed out in the rain.

Running in the rain can be an opportunity to be miserable and complain about the cold and wet, but as I was on my own with no one to listen to any complaints, I chose to embrace the conditions and release my inner child!

My shoes were wet before I started as they hadn’t dried out from my last outing, and this was a good thing, because  I didn’t waste any effort on avoiding puddles. The roads to the trails were flowing nicely, but not as well as on the un-drained trails themselves.

This got a lot worse, so I decided to take the road
In the course of 33kms I had to wade through waist deep water on 4 occasions, I’d say that for at least 10kms I was running on tracks which actually had water flowing along them (I always seemed to be running upstream!) and for the final few kms I had to put on the reflective vest (see my previous post) as I had to run along the road itself as the foot path was impassable. That last section was pretty scary in parts as there was a raging torrent either side of the road, as well as flowing across it, and I had to go through this at the same time as avoiding being run down by passing traffic that were ignoring the warning signs and the temporary 40kmh speed limit.

All in all it was a fun run and although I wasn’t always outwardly smiling, the kid inside was having a ball!

But I did learn a few things that are worth keeping in mind when running in the wet.

1) Wear a hat – Running in the rain without one is just plain uncomfortable. The rain can be stinging in your eyes, and you’ll be running with your eyes scrunched up without one.

2) Wear as little as possible – Whatever you wear will become soaked, and that means a load more weight you have to carry around. This is especially important with regards to shoes as the effective weight is amplified because it is carried on the ends of your legs (unless you wear your shoes somewhere else of course!). I’d say that my shoes were carrying an extra third of a kilo (about half a pound) each, and that’s a lot of extra effort when you’re out for 4 hours. I also had my hydration backpack which was just like a sponge, and no matter how much I drank it didn’t seem to get any lighter.

3) Tape and grease those chaffing zones – I tape my nipples to avoid blood stains on my shirt (!) and today the tape washed off (I’ve run for 33 hours in the dry without the tape even coming loose before).  Also because of the wet clothing, I suffered some nasty chaffing on my lower back and armpits, from my pack. I’d normally get mild redness, but with the wet clothing clinging to my skin and rubbing I now have patches of raw skin. These create the most painful experience in ultrarunning when you shower off after a run and wash salt from sweat and then soap into open wounds. Ouch!

4) Keep your kit dry – I have a couple of waterproof liner bags which I use inside my pack to keep all my kit dry. This is essential for your phone, but also very nice to have a change of clothing or medical kit which would be useless when soaked. I actually keep all my race gear in my pack all the time, as it is good preparation, and it really paid off today as I would not have been happy or even safe without my reflective vest (I hadn’t planned on being out in the dark before I set off).

5) Embrace the conditions and have FUN – Just accept that you are going to get wet, and to make the most of it. There were many times today when running was more like canyoning, having to cope with water half way up my shins flowing along the tracks, and it was great fun.

6) Concentrate – With the water on the tracks they are a lot more slippery (especially tree roots) or worse still you can’t see where you foot will be landing as the water is too deep. You need to be prepared for the unexpected, as regularly today I thought I was stepping in water a few inches deep, to actually be up to my knees. This I found a really good exercise in testing proprioreception, and my sense of humour!! On the downstream(!) sections it was incredibly difficult to control speed, and I was running with eyes the size of plates, such was the need to appreciate where I was putting my feet and what the surface beneath them would be like.

7) Run Straight – It may sound crazy, but if your feet are soaked anyway, why dart from side to side to avoid a little more water? This not only uses more energy, but with slippery ground any lateral moment can end up in a fall (and potential injury). What I have also discovered is that with a forefoot/midfoot strike beneath your hips you slip far less and have more control, as there is less lateral or forward momentum in your foot as it makes contact with the ground.

I’ve included a few pictures to give you a feel for what it was like today, but unfortunately it was too wet to get the camera out for the “best” bits.  I have included a photo from earlier in the week which Tylana took with me in it. I didn’t dare go down that track today though as I fear it would have been more like Scuba diving than running!

Have fun out there,
ps Just in case you are interested, it's still raining!

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“Everything is funny as long as it is happening to someone else!” – Will Rogers

The Photos:
This was before the flood! (Photo thanks Tylana)

I found one, a dry trail!

Just another fun stream crossing

One of the river like trails in a light shower!
This is usually dry, but thigh deep today

2 minutes later the rain started and you could hardly see the sign



  1. Wow. Hardcore run. It looks like you are crossing a river! I also tape my nipples for longer runs. I would say that while I try to avoid the rain, it can be a good experience since you never know what it's going to be like the day of your race. Of course, the most I'll probably ever do is a marathon but still good experience to run in the rain for training runs.

  2. I usually avoid poor running conditions but you are right, as I learnt last year, you need to be prepared to train in all conditions because you never know what's going to happen on race day.

    Once you resign yourself to the wet it ends up being quite fun.

  3. Hahahaha! You're insane! That's what I call hardcore running! :)

  4. Great photos and great post. I agree you need to run in all conditions. You never know what the race will throw at you. My last 100 miler it was pouring rain and the temperature was around 34F for about 5 or 6 hours beginning sometime after midnight. Today in the north eastern U.S. its 20 degrees and another foot of snow is coming tonight. Can't wait to run:) Peace EricG

  5. Thanks for the comments guys.
    I always like to look back on the tough training runs when racing as a source of inspiration. If I was prepared to put the hard yards in whilst training, I owe it to myself to push hard on race day.
    Just a bit jealous of you guys in the US running in snow, great fun, just different fun ;-)

  6. I'm jealous of your run. I love inclement weather for running.

  7. Way to go! I can do the rain but can't do bitter cold. Wish it was raining here!

  8. Ah, rain, the joy. We've still plenty of snow and below zero. Sometimes down to -20C. I long for rain!

    I use NipGuards during races and they're great. Hasn't come off so far. They also save the area around the nipple as they protrude a bit. Saves me from a lot of pain.
    A new products I've been using awhile is Intens-Sport that strengthens the skin and makes it more more resistant to chafing.