Running a Marathon in the Rain: Tips for a Good Race in Bad Weather

Read the full article for advice on running a marathon in the rain (or any other distance), including what to wear when for a race in the rain.

No matter where you live in the country, rain can happen on race day. The 2018 Boston Marathon was a notoriously cold and rainy race. Racing in the race is not ideal, but it certainly is a reality. Inclement weather does not have to result in having a bad race. With the right gear, adjustments, and mindset, you can still run a strong race with these tips, whether you are running a marathon in the rain or racing a rainy day 5K.

Is It Bad to Run in the Rain?

Despite a common myth, running in the rain will not make you sick. However, getting cold from being in the rain can increase your risk of hypothermia – a condition where your body temperature drops too low. Some of the tips in this article can help you reduce the risk of hypothermia, such as dressing appropriately. However, the risks are never completely removed if running in cold rain.

While not necessarily bad, running a race in the rain will be harder than running it in ideal conditions. Slick roads may affect footing, which may alter your running gait. While it is unlikely that you will injure yourself from this, you may run at a slower pace. If your race is in heavy rain, you may need to adjust your pacing goals.

Preparation in Training

Unless the weather is dangerous, opt outside whenever you can. The treadmill may be dry, but you aren’t racing on the treadmill. By training in rainy conditions, you will mentally and physically prepare yourself for racing in the rain. You will learn how to cope with the sensation of being drenched during a long run and how to pace yourself in a downpour.

Before the Race

Stay as dry as you can for as long as possible, especially if you are running a marathon in the rain and have to wait at the start line for hours before. Use a new garbage bag with holes cut in or a poncho to keep yourself dry up until the start of the race. If you are worried about your feet getting wet, tie plastic shopping bags over them. Bring an extra garbage bag or poncho so that you are not sitting on dry ground if you will be waiting in the athlete’s village for hours before the race.

If you are warming up before a race, try to keep your warm-up as close to the start as possible. You want to avoid raising your core temperature and then letting it lower again before the race. If you do not have time to warm up, adjust your pacing strategy so that you ease in over the first mile.

What to Wear for a Race in the Rain

If you’ve trained in the rain, you will have a good idea of your ideal race day outfit. Stick with what has served you well in training. However, if you have never trained in the rain, you may need to break the rule of nothing new on race day in order to stay dry.

What to Wear for Racing in the Cold Rain

It can be tempting to bundle up for racing in the rain, but you don’t want to overheat. Rain jackets (even ones designed for running) have a tendency to trap heat. Take into account your own personal temperature: if you tend to overheat easily or sweat a lot during a race, don’t pile on layers due to the rain. You will just end up weighed down by soaked, soggy clothes. Opt for wicking layers that will keep you warm but do not hold in heat. Hypothermia can be at risk when racing long distances in the cold rain, but it can also occur if you sweat heavily due to overdressing in the cold rain. Stay warm with layers that you can easily adjust: arm sleeves, gloves, Buffs, a warm pair of wicking socks, and ear warmers.

If you do wear a rain jacket, do not fasten your bib to the jacket. Attach it to your shorts/leggings if there is any chance that you will remove a top layer during the race. If you have to stop to remove your rain jacket, you do not lose extra time having to re-pin your bib.

Finally, don’t forget anti-chafing balm and a visored hat! These two are essentials for staying comfortable. Anti-charing balm (Body Glide, Aquaphor, Vaseline, etc) will prevent unpleasant chafing and blistering, which is more likely to occur in wet clothing. The hat will keep the rain off of your face, which will allow you to see better. Additionally, a visor will encourage better running form, as you will not be tempted to tuck your head to block the rain.

What to Wear for Racing in Warm Rain

If the forecast is for warm temperatures and rain, you will dress differently. Hypothermia will not be a concern. However, overheating could be, especially if you overdress. If you wear a rain jacket, keep the layer underneath it thin and wicking. The jacket will trap heat and, in warm conditions, could elevate your core temperature. Alternatively, you could wear a disposable poncho. While not the quality of a running rain jacket, when you decide to ditch it at mile 8, you aren’t leaving a $100+ jacket on the side of the road.

How to Race in the Rain

Race by Effort, Not Pace

Slick roads, winds, higher humidity, and the discomfort of the rain may affect your pace. According to a 2019 study in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, cold rain does increase the metabolic cost of running. Rather than pushing through and risk fatiguing later in the race, you want to adjust your race strategy.

The longer the race, the more the additional metabolic cost adds up. Running a 5K in the rain will not be as affected by the conditions as you will experience with running a marathon in the rain.

The best approach is to focus on effort, not pace. You cannot precisely predict how whether the combination of factors will slow you down by 5 or 15 seconds per mile. Focusing on effort will allow you to run your best in the conditions for the day.

These tips for pacing a half marathon can be applied to running a half marathon in the rain. Likewise, an effort-based pacing strategy will be beneficial for running a marathon in the rain.

Related: 5 Tips for Running in the Wind

Nutrition and Hydration

During any marathon or half marathon, you want to be mindful of fueling adequately to avoid hitting the wall. Eating gels may sound less desirable in wet conditions, but fueling still remains highly important in the race. Stick to your fueling plan, no matter the conditions.

If your core temperature drops or you start to shiver, you will burn more carbohydrates. So, not only is dressing appropriately important – fueling needs may need to be increased. Even if you do dress appropriately, plan on bringing an extra gel or pack of chews. You could accidentally drop a gel due to wet, cold hands or end up taking longer to finish due to the conditions. Either way, extra fuel will help you avoid the wall.

You can easily lose dexterity in cold rain, which can make opening sports nutrition products tricky during the race. Gels may get messy when you open them with numb hands. However, do not let the mess deter you from following your fueling strategy. The mess is worth having enough energy! You may find it helpful to place your chews in accessible places rather than in zippered pockets or belts. If you use whole foods or chews, place them in a Ziploc so you aren’t dealing with any wrappers during the race (this will also keep your food dry). Leave the Ziploc unsealed to easily reach for your fuel mid-race.

Mindset & Mental Strength

Out of everything, this is the most important. You can wear the most water-resistant gear, but if your mind has succumbed to defeat, you will not have a good race. (Here’s more on how to overcome negative thoughts on race day). The weather is like the discomfort of racing: if you focus on the negative and convince yourself you can’t overcome it, then you will have a tough race. If you embrace it and refuse to give up, you can have a strong race day no matter the conditions.

  • Shift Your Attention: You can’t ignore the rain, so acknowledge it, remind yourself that you are stronger than it, and shift your focus to anything else: the race itself, runners around you, engaging with the spectators.
  • Focus on What You Can Control: You cannot control the weather, no matter how much you obsess about it. Obsessing over the weather only creates unnecessary stress and wastes mental energy. Instead, focus on what you can control.
  • Practice Gratitude: You get to run this race! Whenever the weather feels awful, remind yourself of what a gift running and racing are. This is particularly true after the racing hiatus of the Covid-19 pandemic. During that time, most runners would have gladly raced even if it was in the rain!
  • Draw Strength from Past Experiences: At the start line, recall a training run where you ran well in tough conditions and draw confidence from this run. Reiterate to yourself that you are stronger than the weather. 
  • Smile: Even if you have to force it, a smile reduces your perceived effort and improves your mood. When your mind drifts to a negative place or the intensity of the rain increases from a drizzle to a downpour, smile. Smile at the spectators, volunteers, and other runners. Chances are, you will feel better throughout the race – and possibly even run faster despite the conditions.

Post-Race: Prioritize Warming Up

As soon as you cross the finish line, you want to get out of the wet clothes. Now that you are done running, your body temperature will drop. If you stay in wet, cold clothes, you will increase your risk of hypothermia. If there is any chance of rain during the race, pack your gear-check bag accordingly with a towel, and dry clothes, including dry undergarments, a sweatshirt, sweatpants, and additional warm layers if needed. 

Try to eat or drink something warm as soon as possible: hot soup, a hot cup of tea, etc. Warm food and drink are comforting and will help you warm back up!

Learning to Race in the Rain, Recapped

Rain in the race day forecast requires some adjustments – but running a marathon in the rain can still be a rewarding experience! Some tweaks to your race day outfit, pacing plan, and mindset will all aid you when running a race in the rain.

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36 Responses

  1. Every single marathon I’ve run has been in the rain. Gah. I don’t mind a little rain but a cold downpour is no fun. I laugh at people who say running in the rain is their favorite. Clearly they have not spent hours and hours running in it! But like you said, mindset is the best way to get over it. You’re going to be soaked from head to toe so make do and run!

  2. These are great tips! I remember running the Houston marathon in the pouring rain and cold. We had already traveled there when the forecast changed to rain so I had limited race day outfit options. I ended up with quite a bit of chafing and I don’t think Ive ever been as cold as I was walking back to the hotel after the race!

  3. I love running and racing in the rain! I remember in high school cross country, our championships were in the rain and I had my best race and ended up setting a city record. There’s just something thrilling about running in rain 🙂

  4. I’ve lucked out and I haven’t had to run too many races in the rain…and the ones that were wet, it didn’t rain the whole time. But, if I ever have to race in the rain (especially a longer race), I’m definitely coming back to these tips! Thanks, Laura!

  5. Oh yes….I have run in the rain. Ugh. While awful, your comments about your mental game is SOOOOOO true. If you show up the morning of your goal race and it is raining…yes, your goal might need to shift. But that does not mean you will have a crap race. Personally, I have a love-hate relationship with running in the rain. As you know, here in the PNW, unless you want to resort to training inside from November – March….well….get used to running in the rain. 🙂

    1. I agree – not quite hitting your A goal doesn’t have to make for a crap race! And I would much rather have rain at Boston than heat… for the exact reason you said, that training out here would built up resistance to it!

  6. Yes to the brimmed hat! I also recommend gals with long hair opt for braids instead of a pony tail (much less of a rat’s nest to untangle afterwards). I once ran a 5-miler with a drycleaning bag…it weighed nothing, my bib showed through, and I cut slits along the sides so I could access my phone, etc. (and the slits also gave me a little ventilation).

  7. I always wear loose shorts for rainy races (if it’s raining then it’s also above freezing….) They’re generally made from lighter, quicker drying fabrics than capris/leggings – plus your legs aren’t encased in soggy fabric if you get totally soaked.

  8. Love this, Laura- and it’s perfect timing, as you know! I need to remember to throw in arm warmers and a visor- and body glide! I’m thinking the rain will be okay- just hoping it’s not too crazy windy!

  9. These are excellent tips! When I ran the Broad Street Run a couple of years ago, it was POURING rain! I never thought I’d be the runner wearing a garbage bag before the race but it really works and makes a huge difference! I think it’s important to embrace the weather no matter what it is!

    1. That’s awesome that it made a difference for you in that race! I agree – you can’t control the weather on race day, so might as well take what it gives you!

  10. Thanks for the tips. I haven’t raced in the rain yet, but it’s definitely something to plan for. I usually don’t mind rain, but I imagine it to be tricky when it is also cold.

  11. Great advice. I’ve run races in the rain, and it’s not always fun. However, embracing it and making the best of it is the right way to go about it. In fact, I have a race today, and it’s probably going to be raining (by the looks of it now) so I will take your advice. The worst time I ran in the rain was when I was running hills. I slipped going down a busy road, but it was fun. Anyway, thanks.

  12. I love the section regarding mindset and mental strength! This is after all why I at least stick with running (sometimes even in the rain). Neurocognitive science agrees with Coach Laura that simply smiling and training your mind to focus on positive thoughts while practicing gratitude not only improves your performance, but life generally. Thank you for preparing an article focused on looking at an opportunity in a rain soaked race.

  13. Unfortunately I have run quick a few races in he rain.

    I wear a cheap poncho while waiting and then toss.

    It does make you run faster and I don’t mind it that much except when it’s a COLD race.

    Always bring a towel and dry shoes and clothes to change into.

  14. Unfortunately I have run quick a few races in he rain.

    I wear a cheap poncho while waiting and then toss.

    It does make you run faster and I don’t mind it that much except when it’s a COLD race.

    Always bring a towel and dry shoes and clothes to change into.

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