July 2, 2013

Top 10 Tips to Run a Marathon in the Rain

In seven of the last eight marathon recaps I’ve written, it’s rained (aha, I knew there was a reason I was holding off on finishing my San Diego recap – it improved that stat!). I’ve learned a lot over 92 marathons, but since rainy races are (usually/hopefully) not all that frequent, sometimes I’ll go months between running them – and I often forget to do at least one of the things that will make me more comfortable. Therefore, I decided it’s time that I codify my knowledge and use it as a checklist for future rainy races.

Top 10 Tips to Run a Marathon in the Rain
Original image credit: Katchooo

Before the Race:

1. Choose your clothing wisely. Avoid cotton, which soaks up water like crazy, and aim for layers of wicking materials – except for one thin waterproof layer on top. (Excluding the waterproof layer, this is good advice in dressing for any marathon.) If it’s warm enough, consider keeping your skin as bare as possible – the rain will roll off your skin, while even wicking clothes will soak up some water. Just pay close attention to the temperature – running in the rain when it’s 70°F is glorious; running in the rain when it’s 40°F is not.

2009-10-18 Breakers Marathon
Not a happy camper at Breakers Marathon in 2009 – winds were 35mph and temps were under 40. I DNFed in what is still my worst rainy race experience ever.

2. One of the worst things about running in the rain is the inevitable chafing. When your skin is wet, it’s much more likely to get rubbed raw. I used to think that there was no avoiding blisters in a race, but then I discovered the magic of petroleum jelly. Like Bodyglide, it helps create a protective barrier from you and the moisture that causes blisters (sweat when it’s sunny, and rain when it’s… raining). However, after receiving samples of Aquaphor from some marathon early on, it quickly became my go-to. Because Bodyglide comes in stick form, it’s harder to really cover your feet with it. Petroleum jelly, while messy, allows you to slather it all over your feet and in between each toe – dramatically decreasing the friction that causes chafing. I also apply it to my entire chest, since that area also gets pretty sweaty and can rub against my sports bra; gentlemen (who presumably don’t have that issue) should still apply it to the nipples.

Although I’ve tried all brands of petroleum jelly (particularly when I’ve forgotten mine and am simply hitting up the nearest drugstore/gas station for whatever they might have), I’ve become quite partial to Aquaphor, after receiving samples of it at the Maine Marathon in 2009. Regular Vaseline is made from 100% petroleum jelly, while Aquaphor is made from 41% petroleum jelly plus other ingredients (mineral oil, lanolin, glycerin, etc). The advantage? Aquaphor soaks into the skin a little bit, whereas Vaseline simply sits on top; that means the Aquaphor won’t just rub off on your socks, and some of those extra ingredients (like lanolin) help to soothe damaged skin. As I said, other brands/mixes of petroleum jelly are certainly better than nothing, but I’d highly recommend Aquaphor if you can find it for those extra benefits.

3. After you’ve got the Aquaphor all over your feet and put socks on, there’s still one other layer of protection: plastic bags. It sounds really weird, but putting regular plastic bags (the basic kind they put your groceries in at any supermarket) over your feet before you put your sneakers on does wonders for keeping your feet dry. And as an added bonus, it’s not apparent to others what you’ve done, so you don’t look like a complete idiot. (But don’t worry, the next tip will have you looking like one anyway). I’ve seen runners in many races try to fashion a way to keep plastic bags on over their running shoes – but I’ve also never seen it work. Putting the bags in between the sock and sneaker layer keeps the bags protected so they don’t rip, and still keeps your feet dry. I had amazing success with this at the 2009 New Hampshire Marathon, where my feet didn’t even start to get wet until mile 19 – not too shabby! The only caveat here is that it (obviously) makes it harder for your feet to “breathe,” so the sweat will stay trapped in your socks and your feet may be a bit warmer than usual. But sweat is a lot less wet than pouring rain, and you did remember to put that Aquaphor on first, right?

4. One last step to protecting your body – and it’s not a very classy one. The trash couture garbage bag! Worn over your entire running outfit, this is meant to keep you at least a little bit dry at the start (when you don’t want to have to throw away an umbrella that you obnoxiously carry to the starting line). If you’re staying at a hotel, you can ask housekeeping for a big bag, and they’re usually happy to oblige. Simply put it over your head, use your fingers to poke a hole in the top, and gradually widen until it’s just big enough for your head to squeeze through. Then do the same to make armholes. (The key with this one is making sure the holes are as small as possible, so extra rain doesn’t get in.)

Pre-Race with Zenaida
This was taken after my fashion challenge – oops! But the trash bag did help me to have a great race.

When to take off your oh-so-beautiful homemade poncho? I’ve kept it on as late as mile 18 (of this year’s Country Music Marathon), but I think that was a bit late in the game. By then, enough water had seeped in that my clothing was already soaked, so the bag was just serving as a collector for additional water, which added weight. That said, it’s actually more comfortable than you would think to run wearing the bag – I found that the only real downside was the annoying rustling as I swung my arms. Just keep checking your clothing under the bag for moisture, and when you’re already wet, ditch it.

5. Finally, now that your body is fully protected, it’s time to cover the other valuable you probably have with you – your phone/iPod. (Most GPS watches are already waterproof so we’re not going to worry about that.) The aforementioned Country Music Marathon was the first time I ever killed my phone running in the rain, and I am now hoping it will be the last. Since I don’t run in the rain often enough to make a waterproof case cost effective, I again take the easy way out. First, fold a few paper towels and wrap them around the phone – these will soak up any spare drops that get in there. With your headphones already plugged in, put the phone in a small baggie (Ziplock-sized) with the headphones sticking out the open side, then fold the bag back on itself (along with the headphone cord). Now put that bag into another small baggie, this time facing the other way. You can do this one more time even for extra security, but the idea is that by alternating bag layers, there won’t be an easy way for water to get in. This technique has worked pretty well for me since I started using it, and doesn’t require purchasing anything special that you can’t easily get the night before the race if you weren’t originally planning for rain.

During the Race:

6. Watch your step! You should always be watching where you’re going, but when it’s raining, the road gets even more slippery, and falls are more common.  To combat this, aim for short, light steps – akin to what trail runners do on rocky single track trails. Your gait will change during a 26.2 mile marathon, of course, but taking smaller/lighter steps will decrease your chances of slipping because they’ll make it easier for you to be agile and recover if your foot starts to falter. Also, while you’re looking at the ground, try to avoid puddles as best you can. You’ve done all you can to protect your feet from the actual water/accompanying blisters with the pre-race prep, but your sneakers are still ready to soak up the water like a sponge. Wet sneakers will weigh you down like crazy – just one extra ounce of weight in your sneakers is said to slow you down one second per mile! You’re bound to miss a puddle at some point, and your sneakers will also just get water from the rain that’s coming down, but anything you can do to minimize getting them soaked through will help.

7. Remember that no matter what the temperature, rain cools you off (kind of like sweat). In hot temperatures, it can feel great; in cool temperatures, rain can actually put you in danger of hypothermia. I already discussed the importance of dressing appropriately, but if you’re in a cool race and then it starts to rain, try to avoid coming to a complete stop. As I learned when I DNFed Breakers Marathon in 2009, running keeps your core temperature up in the rain – and stopping may feel good, but it will bring your core temperature way down so you’ll be freezing when you go back out in the rain. Just keep going!

After the Race:

8. You finished – congratulations! Now it’s time to bask in the glory of your accomplishment. How many runners DNFed, or didn’t show up to the race at all? You didn’t let a little rain scare you, and you look even more hardcore wearing your well-deserved medal around town in rainy conditions! (Now just don’t ruin your phone taking it out for a victory photo after you went to so much trouble to protect it during the race.)

9. Assuming that it’s not a super cold day, bring a pair of flip flops in your checked bag (yes, I do check a bag for rainy races) so that your feet can immediately get out of your wet shoes. Even if it’s still raining, the Aquaphor will help the water roll off your skin instead of socks/sneakers holding it in. A change of clothes is probably better left at your home/hotel (since you’ll want to go take a hot shower pretty quickly after the race anyway); instead, it’s a good idea to bring a heat sheet left over from another race. Any marathon worth their salt should provide these at the finish (regardless of the weather conditions), but sometimes the organizers won’t have planned for enough to go around, spectators will have taken them, etc. Better to be prepared on your own! A heat sheet will keep the rain from continuing to soak you, and will also (as implied by the name) help you to retain body heat, which is lost more quickly when it’s raining than when conditions are dry.

10. Finally, regardless of what tips you remember and what you don’t, try your best to have fun! Remember the joy of being a little kid sloshing through puddles in your rain boots? You didn’t care about getting wet; you just enjoyed playing in the puddles and knowing there would be a warm bath and dry clothes at the end. Channel your inner kid and think about how you get to play in the rain with tons of other (soon-to-be) friends, and you don’t have to go home and stop playing for 26.2 miles! I’ve said it before, but to reiterate, so much of a marathon is your attitude and mental training. You can’t control the weather on race day, but you can absolutely control your reaction to it.

Other tips to add? Any questions? Please share in the comments!


93 thoughts on “Top 10 Tips to Run a Marathon in the Rain”

  1. Good tips. The one marathon I almost DNF’ed I wore a garbage bag the entire race! It was misting, hailing, and lightly raining the whole time so I wasn’t soaked, but it was cold in the middle of May. I was also poorly trained for the race (I had defended my dissertation the week before and that got a little bit more priority). The only reason I did not DNF is because I would have been stuck in the middle of Denver on shady Colfax Avenue and I did not have cash or a phone with me and there were no vans picking up runners. So I kept going. But I was so proud of myself for finishing, it was like a huge accomplishment!

    1. Oooh Amy I know right where you mean in that marathon! Congrats on finishing – that is a long slog from there to the finish line in the park 🙂

  2. I don’t like running in the rain. Period. By it is inevitable. Oh well. Thanks for the Aquaphor tip. I did chafe like CRAZY at the Nashville half marathon. I LOVE how the last one is to have fun. I was miserable in Nashville remember? So from now on I’ve made it a point that from now on I will have fun at my races. 🙂

    1. I think having fun at your races is pretty much the BEST goal there is 🙂 Hope to see you at another RnR soon!

  3. great tips! I think it can be helpful to wear a hat on a rainy run to keep some of the water off your face. I haven’t done a full marathon in the rain — just a half marathon. You definitely feel proud of yourself for getting through a race on a rainy day!

    1. Kristen, that’s a great tip as well! I have never minded rain on my face but I know others swear by that trick.

  4. Thank you so much for your tips! I’m facing a raining marathon this weekend and was looking for advice on what to wear for it. I’m definitely trying the plastic bags inside sneakers and also planning on wearing one during the race.

  5. Your post helps a lot! I destroyed my feet and nearly ruined my phone this morning on a 21k practice run in the monsoon rain. I’m definitely going to give the bag-over-socks thing a try later in the week.
    Keep up the good work!

  6. Thank you for such great information. For the first time, I am staring into a rainy forecast for my upcoming race and your experience and suggestions for dealing with this help me feel a bit more brave!

    1. Amy, I am so sorry for the slow response! Yes, I kind of loosely tie the ends and tuck them into my sneakers. Good luck in your race today, and please let me know how it goes!

  7. Looking at a rainy first marathon this weekend. Thank you for the most helpful tips!! I googled a lot and these were the most practical suggestions. Thanks again!

    1. Glad I could help! What marathon are you running? Feel free to email me if I can answer any other questions. Good luck and have SO much fun!

  8. I am running the Garmin Marathon in Kansas City. I am basically just having the taper crazies so when they threw rain in the mix, I FREAKED OUT!

  9. Michelle, I’m running the Garmin Half Marathon too! Rain definitely threw a cramp in my plans, but we can do it. These are great tips! Thanks Laura!

  10. We are running the Garmin this weekend too. Last year we got rained and hailed on – yuck! I noticed some runners taped their shoes at my last race, the Cowtown in Fort Worth. Have you tried this?

    1. What do you mean by “taped their shoes” – I’m not sure what part of the shoe you mean taping? I could see maybe taping the top of the plastic bag shut, though I find it usually works okay to loosely tie it off and tuck it in.

      Good luck this weekend!

  11. Some runners taped their entire shoe (like a football player.) Others just the toe and/or side mesh. It looked like a great idea…

  12. Thanks for these great tips! I’m running my first marathon April 25th and it is saying rain is 100% likely! It’s also supposed to be quite chilly at the start in the 30s so we will see how it goes.

    1. I know this is an old comment, but I just wanted to say hi from a C-U resident. That race got cancelled half way, so I hope you were able to finish Kristy! My husband is about to run this race this year (tomorrow) for his first marathon.. and the weather isn’t looking great either!

    1. It used to be called the Bob Potts in York, PA. I think they are just calling it the ‘York Marathon’ this year.


  13. I’m running the Ogden Marathon tomorrow and your advice will likely come in handy looking at the forecast for tomorrow. Thanks!

    1. Thanks, your advice in the end saved me from what could have been a horrible first marathon. I had a little bit of exposure to both sides using/not using the plastic bags inside my shoes. One of my feet busted slightly through the plastic and got a little wet (although not as bad as going without) and the other stayed perfectly comfortable during the whole run. The rain came down hard from start to finish, but that just makes finishing my first marathon in those conditions all the more satisfying.

    2. So glad my tips helped!! And huge congratulations on finishing your first marathon in REALLY tough conditions 🙂

  14. Yep. I ran the Ogden Marathon yesterday as well; my first full marathon. I wish I had read this blog first! I didn’t get any blisters on my feet thanks to the Injinji socks, but, ouch!, the chafing on my torso and nipples from the wet shirt!

  15. Running my 3rd marathon this weekend, but first that it looks like I’ll get wet. I cannot picture “the bag over the socks in the shoe trick”. So it’s a plastic grocery bag, over the sock, in the shoe. What do you do with the rest of the bag? Are t they too big? Definitely looking for aquaphor though. Oh and bringing a plastic bag to the start! Long wait at the start of this one. So it will help with warmth too!

    1. I’m traveling and don’t have a plastic bag to demonstrate or I’d take pictures! Essentially, put your sock on, then put your socked foot into a plastic bag so that your toe is in the corner. Pull the bag taut and then kind of wrap the excess material around your foot so it doesn’t bunch anywhere. I usually tie the two ends together at the ankle and then tuck it into the shoe once that’s on my foot. Does that help?

  16. My trick is non-lubricated condoms over your electronics…phones, MP3 players, etc. plug your headphones into the jack, roll the condom over the phone and down the cord. Seal it off with a ziptie around the cord. Trim off the excess if you want to. NOTE: Tell your wife why you are buying condoms BEFORE she just finds them in your closet… 🙂

  17. I’m a regular reader but infrequent commenter. I happened to find this post when Googling how to prepare for a rainy race. Your tips saved me in a recent half marathon, especially the one about putting plastic bags between your socks and sneakers! I also used Aquaphor, but apparently missed a few spots haha. Thank you!!

  18. I wasn’t worried about my feet. I’ve never run in the rain, so there’s a bit of ignorance coming into play here, I was only worried about what to wear to be warm enough while being soaked. Now I’m nervous about my feet/blisters etc. I’m running the Pittsburgh Half Marathon this Sunday and it’s supposed to be a wet one! I read somewhere else to wear two pairs of socks but this plastic bag idea has me intrigued – albeit salty.

    1. DEFINITELY don’t wear two pairs of socks – they will rub together and increase the friction/blisters. Think of it like how it is always inadvisable to use two condoms… it makes it worse instead of better 😉

      Have so much fun on Sunday!

  19. Thanks for these tips. I’m running the Derby Half Marathon tomorrow in Louisville and it is looking like it will be a soaker. Will try to have fun, but my puddle sloshing days were 50 years ago, so the memory is a little fuzzy.

    1. Sorry not to get to this sooner, Dick, but I hope the race went fantastically well for you this morning! I ran the Derby Full in 2010 and set a PR there in the rain, so I know it’s possible 🙂

  20. I’m so glad I found this! I’m running the Flying Pig in a couple hours and will stop at the store for Aquafor and grocery bags beforehand!

  21. Along with everything else suggested, may not be a bad idea to wear some kind of leggings, spandex underneath your shorts or in place of your shorts. When it rains I go for half tights because otherwise I am constantly adjusting wet shorts, which gets really annoying.

    1. That’s a great suggestion, Irene! I almost always run in leggings that are either capri length (in the summer) or full length (in the winter) – in general, I think it’s easier to run a marathon without extra fabric flapping around 🙂

  22. Thank you so much for the great tips! I am running the Elk County Boulder Dash, a 20 mile trail race (major hills) this Saturday and we are supposed to get heavy rain and thunderstorms for the next several days. I was desperate for tips and I think I found the mother-load here. I will be using every one of them. Thanks!!!!

  23. Laura,
    Thank you very much for sharing! I was organizing my gear, worried about the forecast downpour for the Portland Marathon last Sunday. I found your tips for preparing to run in the rain. The Aquaphor and the grocery bags in the shoes (held up by my cutoff compression socks), worked great. My feet never did get wet, and I got no blisters or chafing. Misery averted!

  24. Hi Laura!

    Thanks for these tips – I’m running my first half marathon tomorrow (EDP Medio maratón de la mujer in Madrid) and the forecast is for 48 degrees and raining. Glad I found these today as I will definitely be using them!

    It’s a little late, but maybe you’ll see this! Do you think it would be better to run in spandex/tight shorts or long UA leggings that are designed to for winter running with the “moisture wicking” characteristics?

    Thanks again for the tips, I’m feeling much braver for tomorrow now!!

    1. ARGH I am so sorry to be getting to this so late! I am betting you’re off to the race already, but I think your best bet would be the shorts. Leggings that are “moisture wicking” are probably still going to soak up water; moisture-wicking I find is generally more for light sweat rather than full on rain. Hope the race goes well!

  25. Just stumbled on your blog! Great read 🙂 I’m about to run my first Marathon on Saturday… in what looks like low 40s and rain… searching for tips to stay dry! Thank you for all the good advice! As long as I finish Saturday I will have achieved my first goal as a runner … Couch -> Marathon= one year 🙂

  26. Awesome tips!!! I never would have thought of using store bags between socks and shoes. I probably wouldn’t have believed it if others hadn’t vouched for it, so I’m glad I read your reader’s great comments as well. I’ll be running the San Antonio Rock n Roll Marathon this Sunday, forecast is 50’s with thunderstorms. Thanks for all the tips, especially the reminder to have fun!!!

  27. Great useful post. I’m freaking out after 17 weeks of training putting in over 88 hours of running for a total of 537.88 miles, The forecast for Sunday is 60% rain. So I’m trying to get my mindset in order and this has helped.

    1. So glad it’s helping you prep, Jason! Which marathon are you running? It sounds like you’re well-trained – good luck!

  28. I’ve used Reynolds oven bags between my feet and boots for a wet winter backpacking trip, I think they’re more breathable than a grocery bag. I have sweaty feet and they worked great for me.

  29. Thank you so much for the detailed tips, Laura!!! I’m your new fan & will be reading your blog from today onward 🙂 I’m running my 1st full AND my 1st rain run in two days @ the Big D Marathon in Dallas :-O Besides your Aquaphor & grocery bags tips I’ll be adopting, what’s your take on spraying water repellant on shoes & wearing a rainproof jacket the whole way in lieu of a disposable garbage bag??

    1. I’ve run Big D Marathon!!! I’m so sorry to hear that it’s forecast to rain on race day, but know you’ll hae a great time anyway. I’ve never tried water repellant, but if your jacket is truly rainproof (test it in the shower tonight/tomorrow?) that would be a GREAT option that’s much more fashionable than my garbage bag approach 😉 Please come back to let us all know how it worked out for you! And thank you so much for reading.

  30. I am so glad I found this blog before my race! Up until 2 days ago the forecast for the NY marathon was 60 and overcast but now it looks like rain. It is my first marathon so I was trying to go for time but after reading about the ounce of water in your shoes can slow down your time I might have to adjust my expectations. I think you wrote it can slow down your pace a second/mile but when you’re going for time every second really counts. My main worry was the water in the shoes but I will definitely be trying the plastic bag trick and hopefully I can have someone bring me an extra pair of shoes/socks/bags mid marathon in case I do need to change them. After reading this I definitely feel like I have more of a handle on the situation so thank you!!

    1. Arie, you are going to have SO much fun in the marathon regardless of the rain! New York is my favorite marathon and I’m really jealous you’re getting to run it. Please let me know how it goes!

  31. Hi Laura, so we got really lucky with the rain! It was misting/very light drizzling pretty much the whole marathon but it never turned into actual rain. I brought my plastic bags and had my husband meet me along the race track with my extra shoes and bags, which luckily I never needed. I did use Aquaphor on my feet just in case 🙂 Overall it was a great race and I was very happy with the time 3:48! Thanks again! Your blog was so helpful and also a great read!

  32. Hi Laura, thanks for writing this up. I’m doing a 20-mile run this weekend in preparation for my first marathon, the New Orleans Rock N Roll Marathon in March. Weather looks awful this weekend, so I think I’m going to try that plastic-bag-over-the-socks trick. I don’t see any other way I can get the run in.

    Any other tips for practice runs in the rain? Will my neighbors think I’m crazy if I run through the neighborhood with a trash bag on?

    1. How unfortunate that the weather will be so bad! Have you considered a treadmill training run instead?

      Your neighbors will probably think you’re a little crazy, I’m not going to lie! Haha 😉 But sometimes you have to do what you have to do.

  33. Those were some really good tips, Laura. I’m not a full-time runner, but want to do my first marathon and saw your blog title. Just had to read it, and was so surprised by some of the great ideas you had. I look forward to borrowing some of them. Thank you

  34. Thanks for the article. I read this before running Boston 2018. I adopted some of these suggestions. I did wear glasses and a brim hat in order to shield the wind and rain. Ran it in 3:10:38.

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