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How to handle the wind on race day

Don't let a strong headwind get you down

Ontario runners who participated in the Toronto Waterfront 10K or the Georgina Marathon last weekend know a thing or two about wind. Participants in both races had to deal with a significant headwind for portions of the race, and some fared better than others. Dealing with a strong wind on race day isn’t ideal, but with a few minor adjustments, you can still put down a solid performance.

Elite women’s start at Canadian 10K Championships 2021. Photo: Canadian Running

How much does wind actually affect you?

A study from 1980 suggested that a strong headwind (defined as a wind that is about the same speed as the pace you’re running) will slow you down by about 12 seconds per mile (7.5 seconds per kilometre). A tailwind of the same speed, on the other hand, will only give you a boost of about six seconds per mile (3.7 seconds per kilometre). This means that the negative effects of a headwind are about twice the benefits of a tailwind.

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Tips for a windy race day

It can be frustrating when the wind picks up on the day of your goal race. You’ve put in a lot of work, and now your hopes for a new personal best are in jeopardy. It’s true that a strong wind can dash your plans for a PB, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still run a strong race. Follow these tips next time the wind picks up on race day.

Adjust your race plan

Like we demonstrated earlier, a strong wind can really slow you down. When this happens, a lot of runners panic and try to push harder in order to keep hitting their goal pace, only to run out of gas later in the race. For this reason, it’s important to adjust your expectations for your pace and run instead by effort.

For example, if your plan was to run 6:00/km, a headwind of 15 km/hour can slow you down to 6:15/km or even 6:25/km. Instead of trying to push harder to make up for the effects of the wind, try your best to run at the same effort level that you would have without the wind. This will allow you to finish strong and feel good.

The Halifax Road Hammers race at the Valley Harvest Marathon in Nova Scotia. Photo: Instagram/hfxroadhammers

Draft off another runner

Another study from 1971 demonstrated that running into a headwind causes your oxygen consumption levels to increase, effectively increasing your energy cost and causing you to run out of gas sooner. The study also showed that by running behind another runner you can reduce this effect by as much as 50 per cent. Even running as much as two or three metres behind another runner can help you out.

Don’t wear baggy clothes

Loose clothing can create drag and slow you down even more. Instead, choose to wear more form-fitting clothing, like tights or half-tights as opposed to shorts, and tuck your shirt into your pants to create a more streamlined silhouette to reduce the impact of the wind on your run.

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Stay relaxed

A lot of runners panic when they see their slower pace and tense up as they try to push harder into the wind. This ends up compromising your form and can slow you down even more, so do your best to stay relaxed so you can run smooth and strong to the finish.