Running in the rain may seem like self-inflicted torture, but pounding the pavement under less-than-ideal weather can actually be a smart training strategy. Just ask anyone who's ever run a race in the rain, cold or heat without logging any training miles in those conditions.
"The golden rule of racing is to never do anything for the first time on race day," says Steve Stonehouse, CPT, USATF-certified running coach and director of education for STRIDE running studio. "That includes new socks, new shoes and new conditions."
To reap the mental and physical benefits of running in the rain — and make it as enjoyable as possible — keep a few rules for the road in mind.
1. Check for Lightning, High Winds or Flash Flood Warnings
It may seem obvious, but it's absolutely worth reinforcing: Avoid running in any sort of severe weather. "Check the radar for signs of lightning, hail, high winds and even tornado risk," says Rebekah Mayer, CPT, RRCA-certified run coach and national run program manager for LifeTime Athletic. Running in any of these conditions puts your safety at risk.
A little rain won't hurt you, but ultimately, running in more extreme conditions puts you at unnecessary risk. "There's only value in training in the rain if you don't cross the line when it comes to risk and reward," says Stonehouse.
So always use your common sense and best judgement. Do you really need to run that already-sketchy trail in the rain or head out during a late-night downpour? Probably not.
2. Have a Back-Up Plan
That said, even if you don't see anything sketchy in the weather forecast, "stay close to home (or the gym) and follow a route that has 'safety spots' you could duck into if severe weather should strike," says Mayer.
If you have access to a treadmill, consider starting your run outside and stashing dry clothing and shoes in your car or locker, Mayer says. If the weather turns stormy, you can change and finish up your run indoors.
3. Consider the Temperature
Though a rainy run can feel quite satisfying in the warmer months, colder temps totally change the game. "Cold, windy and wet conditions can dramatically increase the risk of hypothermia, especially if a runner is not dressed appropriately for it," says Mayer.
If it's hot and humid out, don't worry about your clothing too much; otherwise, take care to pick water-resistant clothing and wear a few layers. When in doubt, you're better off wearing too many layers than too few, as you can always remove a jacket a tie it around your waist mid-run. (Water-resistant gloves are a life-saver here.)
4. Keep Your Core Warm
When you select your rainy run layers, focus on keeping your midsection warm. Protecting your core is crucial for keeping your body temperature up, says Mayer. (Lowering your core body temperature can make you more susceptible to picking up a virus.)
"In cool but not frigid temps, adding a waterproof vest or light waterproof jacket may be enough." The colder it gets, the more layers your upper body needs.
5. Wear a Hood or Hat
This one is a must if you want to stay sane during a wet run and not have to constantly wipe away a ton of water from your face. Luckily, lots of water-resistant running tops and jackets have hoods you can cinch quite tight, says Stonehouse. If that doesn't do the trick, a cap with a brim is sure to keep the water out of your eyes so you can watch your footing and feel comfortable, Mayer says.
6. Pick the Right Kicks
Both brand new and super-worn shoes can do you in on a rainy run. While older, worn-down shoes may not have enough grip left to keep you secure on slippery, wet surfaces (more on that in a sec), brand-new shoes can also be a bit slick for the first few runs, says Stonehouse.
Pick a new-ish pair of kicks that still has plenty of 'stickiness' left to the sole, Mayer says. More aggressive soles with deeper lugs can be helpful on rougher surfaces when it's raining, too.
7. Prepare for Potential Chafing
Chafing — every runner's worst nightmare — is almost a given in wet conditions, which is why Mayer recommends using a skin lube like Body Glide on sensitive areas.
"The inner thighs, underarms and nipple areas are usually the most sensitive," she says. If you're concerned about blisters, too, you can also use a skin lube between your toes and on your heels.
8. Be Reflective
"Even during the day, people just lose visibility when the weather gets a little sketchy," says Stonehouse. Adding some type of reflective gear — like a jacket or vest — will help other people (namely drivers) see you. It's a good idea during daytime hours but an absolute must at night.
9. Opt for Roads Over Trails
"You never really know how terrain will respond when it gets wet," says Stonehouse. For that reason, he recommends avoiding running on trails — even trails you're familiar with — when it's raining.
So where should you run? As long as you look our for pooling or running water where roads and sidewalks are uneven, they're your best running surface when it's raining, Stonehouse says. With a little extra care and a moderate pace, you'll be fine.
10. Shorten Your Stride
For added stability in rainy conditions, both Mayer and Stonehouse recommend shortening your stride. "Ideally, you want to keep your shoulders over your feet," Stonehouse says. "This helps you stay balanced, especially should you hit a slick spot." A long stride leaves you more unstable and likely to wipe out if you slip.
11. Embrace the Mental Game
Yes, running in the rain can straight-up suck — but that's half the beauty of it. "Training in conditions like heat or rain or cold can be a really mentally-strengthening part of people's programs," says Stonehouse. "Putting yourself in those challenging conditions builds confidence and resilience." Your inner-dialogue may not be so happy, but you'll be stronger come race day.