Against the Wind–Tips for Running on a Windy Day
Maybe it’s just a Maryland thing but it seems the no matter in which direction I’m running, the wind is always in my face. Honestly, I would rather run in snow or rain than wind any day.
But, it’s important to train in all types of weather conditions in case race day is windy, wet or snowy. There are some things you can do however to better prepare yourself for training and/or racing in the wind.
What is the (energy) cost of running in the wind?
If you are like me, you find running in the wind exhausting. But is it really that bad or do I make it worse because I dread it so much?
Turns out that running in the wind IS exhausting as proven by British researcher L.C. Pugh in 1971. His study, the findings of which were published in The Journal of Physiology, showed that oxygen consumption, and so consequently energy cost, increased with the square of wind velocity. So, for instance, running into a 10-mile-per-hour wind uses four times the energy than running into a 5-mile-per-hour wind.
Additionally, Pugh’s research found that running behind another runner who is bearing the brunt of the wind—known as drafting—decreases wind resistance by 80%, which translates into a 6% decrease in oxygen consumption.
Batten down the hatches!
Of course, if the wind is such that it has the potential to bring down tree limbs and power lines, you are wise to stay indoors and hit the treadmill or head to the gym for your workout. Dangerous blizzard- or hurricane-force winds are going to cancel any road race so don’t even attempt to train through life-threatening conditions. Learning to run and race in the wind is important, to a point.
Pick the right course
Although it won’t help you learn to run in windy conditions, if the circumstances are necessary, you may try to avoid the wind. Maybe you had a tough workout the previous day or maybe you are recovering from or running through an injury and you aren’t up for the extra work of running into the wind. If you don’t want to stay inside on the treadmill, you might opt for a route that is at least somewhat sheltered from the wind. If the winds aren’t too strong, a tree-lined street or trail can offer some respite from a steady wind. Maybe your local high school or college track is surrounded by trees, which can offer a bit of a windbreak.
If you can, particularly in cold weather, pick a course with the wind at your face on the way out when you are less tired and the wind at your back on the way home.
Tips for running in the wind efficiently
Is this even possible if you aren’t drafting behind someone? Although you can’t entirely negate the difficulty of running in the wind, there are certain things that you can do to maintain the running economy and energy expenditure on a windy run.
In won’t be easy and you might have to remind yourself periodically, but try to relax on a windy run. When you run into the wind, you tend to hunch over as you bolster yourself against being blown about. Lean slightly into the wind and relax your upper body so your back, shoulders, and neck don’t get tight. Tension will make you tire faster so running as relaxed as possible—both in body and mind—will make a positive difference.
Dress appropriately for a windy day. Moisture-wicking, close-fitting clothes are a better option than garments that are loose and that will flap in the wind, making resistance even greater. Likewise, a close-fitting beanie type of hat or an earband/headband is better options than a hat with a bill like a baseball hat or a visor. Wind can blow under a hat’s bill, making it hard to keep on. If you have long hair, tying it up or back can make you a bit more aerodynamic and you won’t have hair whipping in front of your face which can also make it difficult to see.
If you are able, run with a group or at least another running buddy. That way you can take turns drafting behind one another to decrease wind resistance for a time. Since your need for oxygen decreases when you are drafting, you will enjoy a periodic bump in efficiency, which can translate into a more relaxed run or race.
Change your mind
I will admit that most of the dread I feel before heading out on a windy run has to do with my mindset. I know what’s coming so with each guest I tense my body to brace myself against it. Sometimes I even curse a little. No wonder every step feels like I’m plodding through quicksand…uphill.
It may be hard at first but try to embrace it both mentally and physically. Think of a windy run as the resistance workout it is. Why do you think they sell those speed chutes to simulate wind resistance?
When you are running in the wind, focus on effort rather than pace since you will most likely be at least a bit slower than usual. I do this with the athletes I coach when certain weather conditions, especially winter wind, make hitting a specific time or pace difficult. I would rather have them complete the workout at a slower pace rather than quit halfway through because the pace was too difficult to maintain and they became fatigued earlier than expected.
Training in windy conditions can make you mentally tougher and better prepare you for race days when the conditions aren’t ideal. You will be more flexible and able to adjust your race-day plan to accommodate for those conditions be it wind, rain, snow or a combination of them.
It may not be always at your back but with preparation and a positive mindset you can turn a windy run to your advantage, giving credence to the saying “run like the wind.”