Now that I live again in Northwest Indiana, just southeast of Lake Michigan, wind is a frequent occurrence on runs. Chances are, no matter where you live, you encounter wind on your runs at some point in the year. If you’re racing during the autumn months, you face the likelihood of encountering winds on race day. But the wind doesn’t have to confine you to the treadmill or ruin your race day. Whether you are racing or running a hard workout, use these 5 tips for running in the wind to have a safe, pleasant, and successful run.
Why is running in the wind so tiring? Simple physics. The wind pushes back against you at a speed faster than you are moving, thus increasing the energy costs of running. This means that any given pace will feel significantly more difficult in the wind. If you don’t adjust, you risk fatiguing earlier than normal.
Stay Relaxed When Running in the Wind
A common instinct in the wind is to tense up and hunch over. We talk about “battling a headwind” and some runners take that literally, tensing themselves against every single gust. Tension will only fatigue your muscles sooner, burn more energy, and encourage a stressed mindset. Instead, relax your muscles and, consequentially, your mind.
When you encounter a headwind, take a deep breath and exhale. Roll your shoulders down and back, straightening your posture and releasing tension. Avoid clenching your hands and jaw. Focus on a smooth, relaxed stride and arm swing. These cues help you maintain your normal form and keep your muscles relaxed. A relaxed body and mind are primed to run well, even in the worst conditions.
Along with physical relaxation, maintain a positive and relaxed mindset. Yes, it is harder to run in the wind – but hard doesn’t mean impossible. It’s your reaction to windy conditions that determine whether you finish your run, slow down, quit early on.
If you encounter significant winds on race day, don’t despair. Avoid a negative mindset by adapting to the conditions of the day and, if need be, reframing your goals. You may slow down slightly (see below), but your race is not ruined – and with the right mindset, you might not be far off of your goal. Use positive self-talk during the race to shape your reaction to the wind; focus on how you are strong, determined, and resilient.
Focus on Effort, Not Pace
A headwind significantly increases the energy costs of your run, especially if you’re running at marathon pace or faster. Even a mild headwind of approximately 10 mph will add 5-10 seconds per mile to your pace. Instead of pushing yourself too hard to hit an exact pace and accumulating too much fatigue too soon in your run, run by perceived effort. Yes, you may run a few seconds per mile slower, but you will be able to finish your workout strong with the same physiological effects as intended. A slower tempo run is far more effective than a tempo run cut short.
Dress Appropriately for the Wind
The more streamlined your outfit is, the less wind resistance you will experience as you run. Avoid baggy shirts and shorts, hoods, and lots of layers so that your clothes don’t drag in the wind. Opt for sleek yet protective wicking clothing to keep you warm without overheating. A headwind can have a rather chilling effect, but at the same time you don’t want to bundle up – remember that you will warm up as you start running. Adjustable layers such as arm sleeves, buffs, and gloves are useful, since you can easily modify them when you turn around and encounter a tailwind.
Those of us with long hair do not want to leave our hair in a simple ponytail, as the wind will tangle it into a rat’s nest before we finish our warm up. Try a braid or a tight bun with a secure headband to keep your hair out of your face and tangle-free.
Be Cautious of Dangerous Gusts
Finally, if the gusts rise above 35-40 mph, consider delaying your run or pick a fun treadmill workout instead. Winds this strong can knock over trees, send sharp branches flying, and launch any loose objects in your direction. When you do run in gusty winds, practice normal safety precautions, such carrying your cell phone in case you need to make an emergency call and running without headphones.
Windy runs provide an opportunity to become a stronger runner, both mentally and physically. Since you can never control the weather on race day, embrace the weather conditions you face during training.