Are you a fair weather trail runner?

Do you look out the window watching the rain pour down and start to dread your run?

Clients often ask me what to do if the weather is “bad” for a particular training session. I’m not exactly sure what “bad” weather is. If you are looking for a sport that’s only played in “good” weather then you should have taken up cricket!

Trail races are run in the heat, through snow, in freezing cold, pouring rain, gale forced winds, blast furnace heat and oppressive humidity. Performing well in these environments means you have to be comfortable in those environments.

How many of us have been thrust into an uncomfortable environment and performed at our best in any endeavour in life? The more familiar we are in any given environment the better we will perform.

If you’ve never run down a technical trail in pouring rain before chances are you’ll be pretty tentative the first time. You won’t trust your shoes not to slip because you have no evidence to base any trust on. Only through experience can you build up the trust in both your shoes and legs to handle a slippery descent.

Learning to be comfortable in a different environment

Spending hours on end out in extreme conditions is challenging if you haven’t experienced it before and have the confidence that you have the right clothing and skills to handle it. The only way to gain that experience is to spend time in that environment, there is no other way. You can read a million books on what to do in extreme heat or cold, but until you actually experience it, you won’t know how your body and mind react.

A client of mine contacted me to ask if she should change her session for the day as it was raining and the stairs she would be using for her stair session would be wet and slippery. My response was along the lines of, “what if it rains come race day and the stairs are slippery?”

You can guess what she did!

So when the weather turns extreme look at it as a chance to practise some skills that just might come in handy on race day. Please use some common sense though – don’t head out in a lightening storm, hurricane, tornado, cyclone or on trails near bushfires, Carry a phone with you and tell people where you are going. If you are venturing into an environment that is very challenging then partner up with someone more experienced to gain confidence and skills before trying it alone.

Changing your mindset

Many of us have a negative association with extreme weather. You don’t have to be Einstein to figure out that heading out the door in extreme weather with a negative mindset isn’t going to make for a fun few hours.

Try looking at the positives. A client of mine recently commented that the weather was looking dodgy for a training weekend he was planning in the mountains. I asked him if given the choice of doing two minute hill repeats in suburbia in sunny weather, or climbing proper mountains in the rain, which would he prefer?

Yes it might be a case of harden up, but hardening up and still not enjoying it is different to changing your outlook and looking at it in a positive light.

I think most of us would love the chance to get more time in the mountains even if it’s raining rather than our short suburban hills that often make up the bulk of our training.

So whether it’s hot, cold, windy or wet look at it as a positive and find the joy in what the weather brings. It is what it is – learn to accept it for what it is and use it to enhance your training rather than detract from the enjoyment of training .

I remember doing a four hour run in Hampstead Heath in London a few years ago and as I headed out the door it started pouring and didn’t stop for the next four hours. It was one of the best runs I’ve had in the heath. I had the whole place to myself, not a soul in sight and the rain drowned out the sound of any traffic. In a park that’s almost in the centre of London to have the whole park to myself was an absolute joy.

Not long after that I did a 100 mile race in the Peak District of the UK where it rained for 16 hours non-stop. I was pretty glad for that 4 hour run in the heath come race day!

Learning to survive and thrive in extreme conditions

Running in hot, cold and wet conditions take a bit more planning. Cold and wet are relatively easy if you have the right clothing. As the Scandinavians say, “there is no such thing as bad weather only inappropriate clothing”. If you have the right clothing then you should be able to handle almost any conditions.

Running in the heat is more difficult and comes with its own set of challenges. In my old home town of Adelaide, it’s common to have 2-3 weeks of 38+ degree weather in summer. If you wanted to train consistently you couldn’t avoid the heat.

I used to base my runs around places I could access cold water so I could keep cool. It restricted my running routes but meant I could still train effectively. I remember a 200km bike ride in 43 degree heat that my training partner and I did – we had to plan the route to take in a shop every 10-15km so we could stop and buy cold drinks.

You may ask,’where’s the joy in that?’ Don’t we all find pleasure or a sense of achievement in overcoming adversity? Unless you put yourself in uncomfortable situations you’ll never have that sense of accomplishment. At the time I was training for the Hawaii Ironman so to me the more hot days the better. When the weather forecast was for 43 degrees I smiled to myself knowing it was one more hard training session coming up that would help me deal with hot temperatures come race day.

Next time the weather turns from whatever you prefer it to be to something more challenging, look at the benefits it will bring, and learn to enjoy the differences that a change of weather can bring to a training session. It makes for a much more enjoyable training session.