Running through the winter in Central Texas usually isn’t too bad. The temps are certainly tolerable (more so than summer) and unless the precip is the frozen variety, there isn’t much that will keep us off the roads. But, there is one aspect of winter running that bothers everyone: The wind.
Even though running on a windy day sucks, it’s just one of the challenges we all face in the winter. But, unlike all the other weather conditions we experience in Central Texas (too hot, too humid, too cold or a cold rain or sleet) that are a constant on a particular run, the wind is either your friend or enemy—on the same run.
When a stiff north breeze is at your back, running becomes practically effortless and you feel like you’re flying. One problem. If the wind’s at your back on part of the run, you’re going to have to run smack dab into the teeth of it sooner or later.
There’s no way around it unless you want to do what some runners in exceptionally windy areas of the country, such as Kansas, do. I once went on a run with a high-school team in Kansas and it was always so incredibly windy there, that the team drove out to some spot where they could run back to school with the wind entirely at their backs. Evidently, in Kansas, some headwinds are just too strong to run into.
What those kids in Kansas knew from experience was that running into a headwind hurts you much, much more than running with a tailwind helps you. For example, a tailwind of 10 mph will give you about a five percent boost, but when you turn around and run into the same 10 mph wind, it will slow you down about eight percent. Doesn’t seem fair.
Well, there’s nothing fair about Mother Nature. Especially in the winter around here when running into a headwind can have serious consequences, other than just slowing you down. An entirely tolerable 40-degree day can be downright misery when running into a 15 mph wind which will drop the windchill to the point where you might want to reconsider even running.
If you’re looking at going out for a long run on an out-and-back course or a run on a big loop course on a cold day with a blustery north wind blowing down from the plains, there’s always a strong temptation to start your run with the wind at your back. The pace will be effortless and easy and you’ll warm up quickly.
But you’re going to have to pay the piper when you turn around and head back into the wind. The windchill will plunge and if you’re at all wet from sweating on the first part of the run, you’ll be miserable as the cold north wind will quickly lower your body temperature.
Avoid temptation and if at all possible, start your winter runs into the wind and come home with it at your back. It might not be easier, but it’s safer and you’ll be much more comfortable. Running home with the wind, is a lot less dangerous than trying to make it back into the teeth of a howling wind.
How do you deal with the wind? Very carefully. When you’re running with the wind, you should try to run with the same even effort. If you do, you’ll be running faster. But when you head into the wind, trying to maintain that same training pace will be much more difficult. The best advice is to respect the wind and slow the pace down a notch or two. Don’t try to fight through it. Respect the wind and modify your effort.
Leaning into the wind will slightly decrease your resistance to it. Try to remain relaxed and not get frustrated by your drop in speed and increase in effort. You have to ski the conditions and just accept it as one of winter’s challenges.
If you are running with a partner or partners, take turns breaking the wind. (Especially in a race.) When you aren’t breaking the wind, duck in behind the tallest (or widest) runner to cut down on the wind’s effects. It’s amazing how much of a difference drafting can make when running into a headwind.
What you wear on a windy long run can also make a difference. Don’t overdress. If you’re starting off a long run into the wind and are slightly chilled, that’s OK, What you don’t want is to be wet when heading into the wind because it will chill you right down to the bone. Coming back with the wind and with wet clothes isn’t nearly as bad.
Another tip to dealing with a strong headwind is to try to find an area with shelter that gets you out of the wind—even if for just a little. Sometimes, running along a low-lying, tree-lined river such as the Butler/Lady Bird Hike and Bike Trail or a heavily wooded section will allow for some protection from the wind. Anything helps. Even buildings in the downtown area offer a little protection from the wind.
It’s also a good idea to shorten your stride when heading into the wind. It will help you cut through the wind a bit more efficiently, rather than lengthening your stride.
A strong side wind isn’t as tough as a headwind, but it also has a unique set of challenges. A side wind will buffet you and throw you off your running rhythm, making it harder to maintain an even tempo.
With any type of stiff wind, don’t worry so much about maintaining a certain training speed or tempo. Instead, focus on effort and trying to run as comfortably as possible. It’s the effort that counts, not so much your speed.