Weathering the weather
There are three things we can control our effort, our mindset, and our physical readiness. What we can’t control is the weather.
Certain parts of the country experience adverse weather more frequently than others, but at some point, every outdoor athlete will face undesirable conditions. We can’t stop it, so we have to learn how to make good decisions through it.
Weather Condition #1 The Cold
If you are at freezing or above freezing temperatures, you are most likely safe to be outside with proper attire. For practice, it’s a good idea to keep moving. Rather than standing around, spend your rest time in a light jog. The overall intensity should be modified because power output is compromised in cold temperatures. Be efficient and then get inside.
Competitions are a slightly different story. You can’t really modify intensity, but you should not be upset by slower performances. Wear the extra layers of spandex even if they feel restrictive. If you experience muscular pain, talk to your coach about dropping out.
Anything under 32 degrees Fahrenheit warrants careful consideration. Hypothermia is very dangerous.
Weather Condition #2 The Heat
It takes your body two weeks to adapt to heat. Proceed with caution during that transition period. Hydration and cooling mechanisms are important. Drink plenty of liquids with electrolytes (or water with Himalayan sea salt) throughout the day. Bring a cold ice chest with towels to the practice field. Use these on your neck during rest periods.
Practice may have to be modified again. Your intensity can be high, but make sure your rest is also increased. During competitions, it’s easy to ignore signs of dehydration, but this can seriously impair your performance and health. For short-explosive events, embrace the heat! For endurance events, you should be mentally prepared for a more grueling circumstance.
Weather Condition #3 The Snow
If you growing up in any northern state mostly meant that winter track season was always disturbed by snow. It often forces you to stay inside and do stair workouts or treadmill runs. We even spent a few practices shoveling the track.
Trying to perform in snowy conditions isn’t the wisest. For one, snow means it’s quite cold outside. It also indicates a high likelihood of ice. The risks of running on the ice far outweigh the benefits. Your competition should have been canceled due to unsafe conditions, but if not, weigh the pros and cons. Is it worth the injury risk? How important is this competition?
As far as practice goes, choose surfaces that no longer have snow on them. Carefully examine them for ice. The blacktop was typically clean before the track, so we spent many days running “bus loops” instead of 400’s. You may have to take a more general approach to training (paced runs, indoor repetitions, circuits). Specific training modalities (such as hurdling) are not realistic for this weather.
Weather Condition #4 The Rain
There are a time and a place to power through the rain. Will rain cause your competition to be canceled? Most likely not. That being said, you need to figure out how to make adjustments in order to deal with wet conditions. Practice is the best way to figure this out.
If you’ve been injured recently, it’s not a good time to risk practicing in the rain. Likewise, if you have a major competition coming up, play things on the safe side. If it’s also cold outside, the chances of illness may not be worth it. If you’re extremely fatigued, the added variable of slippery surfaces may present extra danger.
For everyone else, embrace it! Practicing in the rain can be a lot of fun if you have the right mindset. Being timid can oftentimes increase your chances of slipping.
Come to your competition with the necessary gear. Don’t get caught without your rain jacket. You may have to change your footwear for better grip. Finally, don’t be afraid to look silly if proper eye-wear will help your performance.
Weather Condition #5 The Wind
For most sports, I’d say suck it up. Yes, wind can alter performance, but it’s no reason to throw in the towel. Everyone in your competition is dealing with the same issue.
Learn to strategize around the wind. For example, study how the wind affects your goalie’s punt. Choose your field position so that you have the wind to your back in the second half. For a runner, be aware of when you have a headwind and a tailwind.
In practice, don’t always use the wind to your advantage. Sometimes you have to run head on into it. If you are intentional about experiencing the wind in every direction, you will be less frustrated during the competition.
Condition #6 The Humidity
Humidity makes hot feel even hotter. Sweating through the surface of the skin is one way we cool off, but humidity prevents the evaporation of sweat. This condition causes a quicker rise in body temperature than heat alone. Beware of heat exhaustion and heatstroke.
Whether you are in practice or competition, take these warning signs seriously: fatigue, dizziness, tingling skin, and headache. Take a rest and find shade when necessary. Leave extra time for warm-ups because they will require more rest-breaks.
Condition #7 Smog, Smoke, Dust, Pollen
Smog is the result of pollution in the air. Smoke is the result of fires. Dust is the result of intense winds in drylands. Pollen is the result of natural repopulation of plants. All of the above can seriously impact respiration.
Smog, smoke, and dust all impact air quality. Poor air quality impacts the performance of our lungs. It will decrease immediate athletic performance, but it also may have long-term effects on the lungs. Your best bet is to listen to your weather advisory. If they say stay inside, find a treadmill or an indoor gym.
Pollen is an allergen. Allergies can cause inflamed airways, congestion, and asthma. If you have asthma, be sure to let your coach know and bring the proper medication to practice. For other allergy symptoms, an allergy medication may help alleviate the annoying consequences of pollen. Make good training decisions based off of your symptoms.
We can’t control the weather, but we can control how we react to it. At times, we need to use wisdom and alter the plan. In other situations, we must make the best of the given situation. Always listen to your body. Don’t let weather defeat you physically or mentally.