This week the recreational running community was floored by the change in the Boston Marathon qualifying standards for the 2020 race. The previous time standard change occurred for acceptance into the 2013 Boston Marathon. Changing of the standard over time is nothing new, however runners that were on the verge of “aging up” into a new (slower) time standard, remain working towards the same time goal that may be just beyond their reach, or at least it seems that way.
If your chosen marathon course and race day weather is favorable to achieving your best, you have trained appropriately and are conditioned to achieve your goal, the difference between you meeting your goal or missing it by seconds to a couple of minutes comes down to race day tactics. Notice I mentioned favorable weather to achieve your best. Who remembers the headlines from the 2018 Boston Marathon? Rain, wind, more rain, and more wind, which made for miserable conditions. Even with race day conditions that saw many of the elite runners drop out before the race started and the race winners running 12 and 20 minutes slower than the male and female course records, respectively, a record number of qualified runners applied for the 2019 Boston Marathon, yet were turned away, because faster runners in their age group capped off the accepted field.
The weather during the Boston Marathon is like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates; “you never know what you’re gonna get” until race day comes. This may be one of the many reasons that makes the Boston Marathon so special and runners return year after year if it is possible for them. Knowing how to handle adverse race conditions can help make it more enjoyable or less miserable, depending on if your glass is half full or empty. The 2018 Chicago Marathon is on the horizon and as of now, the forecast calls for rain. Rain? Will there be wind? It can’t possibly be as cold in Chicago in October as it can be in Boston in April, can it? I wouldn’t know, I live in San Diego.
Luckily, this blog post isn’t about what I don’t know, but about what I do know. Let me give you some information about the body and how it works and for crying out loud, do not run with a rain poncho when running a marathon or long distances!
I think everyone knows normal body temperature is 97.7–99.5 °F and when exercising, our body temperature rises, so we need to thermoregulate. This is a balance between heat production and heat loss to maintain core temperature. Heat loss works through conduction, convection, and evaporation during exercise. Moisture wicking materials allow for heat loss by convection and evaporation. Let’s get hypothetical for a moment. If you are running 26.2 miles in the rain in a rain poncho and it is only 65 °F as the Chicago forecast predicts for the coming up marathon, that poncho is going to act like an oven. It will not allow for convection, the transfer of heat from the skin to the air to occur or for evaporation to occur, which is how we lose 80% of generated heat to maintain body temperature. Rain poncho in the rain makes sense when standing around spectating, but racing 26.2 miles, no it does not make sense and puts you at risk for hyperthermia.
Don’t get me wrong, the above was not the scenario at the 2018 Boston Marathon. Due to cooler temps with the rain and wind, those runners were faced with hypothermia, which is low body temperature and it occurs when body heat loss exceeds physiological heat production. This is a hard one to visualize. You lose more heat than your body produces. This is about staying warm while exercising in the cold, but it is hard to visualize because how does one stay warm yet not too warm while exercising? This is why you have always read to layer your clothes in colder, rainier conditions. The layers matter though. You need to have moisture wicking materials as the base layer and you also need the outside layer to wick moisture as well. Some rain resistant materials do not allow for wicking. Just as those materials keep moisture out, they keep moisture on your skin and make you colder. The colder you are, the more your body will shiver as a response. Interestingly, in 2006 the American College of Sports Medicine noted that shivering increases your metabolic response by 5-6 times, which means your body requires more fuel to maintain the response. Who would have known that running in colder weather would require more fuel? It does anyway if you are shivering. I suggest that runners that wish to start with layers, start with a short sleeve shirt on the bottom and a long-sleeved shirt on the outside. The long sleeves can be tossed at some point. If you choose to have the long sleeves as the base layer, you are committed to the long sleeves for the remainder of the race. If you feel inclined to wear a light jacket because of rain, make sure it is wicking material and a quarter zipper pull over is a great option, so you can at least unzip a bit if needed or keep it zipped if needed.
Adapting to the elements on race day makes a big difference on how you enjoy the race or even achieve your best. If you didn’t read my blog post, “The sub-2, you, and the BQ” from 7-2-18 on runwithgina.com, please do.
Good luck to all those that are running the coming up Chicago Marathon. Race smart, including dressing smart!