How I use the weather forecast to inform my training

For those of us who don’t live in a perpetually hot and sunny climate, the weather plays a sizable role in how we run outside.

Many up north during winter condemn themselves to the limits of the treadmill, with its varying benefits and drawbacks. But many either don’t have or refuse to use a treadmill, and need to work with what nature gives us.

I live in Chicago and do all my running outside. This winter in particular started out very mild and stayed that way until mid-January… when suddenly: Heavy snowstorms, -50°F windchills, perpetually icy conditions, brutal windstorms, unpleasant cold rain that the frigid temps made sure to ice over afterward, and so on. This obviously affected how much running, and what kind of running, this region’s people can do outdoors.

This is nothing new. Chicago weather’s just as important a factor during summer. When Chicago weather gets hot and muggy, or we get the occasional severe storm, that changes the scope of any outdoor training workout. In some cases, it limits how much time you can spend outside (some will run through it but there’s a variety of reasons I avoid running in substantial rain, plus unless you like being an electricity conductor you should never run when there’s lightning). In most cases, it affects your performance, how much hydration you need, etc.

It occasionally surprises me how taken-aback locals are by incoming severe weather, before I realize I pay closer attention to day-over-day forecasts than most people.

Whether you run or not, you honestly should review the weather forecasts every day and know in advance what weather and temperatures are coming. Weather should rarely take you by surprise.

I regularly check the weather through Weather Underground, which I highly recommend over any other resource. They utilize data from a wider range of locally available weather stations (that update constantly) than other weather media (even their owners The Weather Company).

Do NOT get your weather info from news websites or TV, all of which frequently sensationalize forecasts and highly exaggerate their forecasts for effect. This is a big reason people stereotype weather forecasts as mostly inaccurate: Their information comes from modern day mainstream media that prioritizes viewership, web traffic and ratings at the expense of the truth.


Here is what I look for aside from the current temperature and conditions:

ReadingWeatherForecast

This image shows my jam, the 10 day forecast for my neck of the woods off Weather Underground. I customize the forecast screen to show me the “Feels Like” estimated windchill, the anticipated precipitation volume by hour, and the wind speed/direction.

Here’s a rundown of my observations and how I use that info:

  • Currently (morning of 3/5/19 as of my writing this), it’s cold, below 20°F, with a windchill near 0°F thanks to a stiff, consistent 15ish mph wind from the west. So while I should be able to run home as normal after work, that stiff wind will pose a problem. I run mostly north, so it’s mostly going to be a crosswind from my left. That’s annoying, but better than having to run directly into it as a headwind.
  • The temperature will ebb and flow around 10-30°F for the next few days. Thus any ice outside will probably remain ice until we get to the warmer weekend. Most of the previous snow/water got cleared, but last night’s overnight dusting of snow could soldify into slippery conditions along my routes, so I’ll need to proceed with caution along any non-clear areas. The good news is (other than Wednesday afternoon) the wind will calm down, making running easier for the next few days.
  • If I was doing more speedwork during this time, and had a workout scheduled Tuesday, I might have switched it to later in the week to put it in better (less windy) conditions, and done a regular run Tuesday instead.
  • Unfortunately, along with the warmer Saturday weather comes a ton of rain in the afternoon and evening. AND the wind is going to pick up to 15-20+ mph with it (indicating this is a storm system from warmer climates). The wind will stick around into Sunday. While at least the rain will clear up Sunday after some light morning slush, that stiff wind is not going to be easy to run in. I want to run long this weekend, so unless I want to suffer it’s probably best to get it in Saturday morning.
  • While the subsequent temperature drop into Monday isn’t as severe… if temps were dropping below freezing after the storm I’d take notice, because that means any remaining water on the ground would have iced over, making conditions dangerous along those surfaces until it warms up. This is usually more of a concern on sidewalks and the Lakewall, which aren’t cleared as dutiously often as the Lakefront Trail.
  • Since temps will be above freezing for much of the following week, this indicates instead that a lot of our standing ice and snow will finally melt!
  • The potential showers on March 13 (a week from Wednesday) indicate to me I should wear my waterproof Topo Hydroventures to work that day, to avoid getting my feet wet during the run commute that afternoon. Even if it isn’t raining when I run, the ground could be wet. I’ll know closer to that day when to wear them (the rain could happen that Tuesday, or Thursday, or several days, or not at all).

Now, that’s a lot of detail, and admittedly I’m not THAT meticulous all the time about reading the forecast. Most of the stuff beyond the next couple days I’d typically pay little mind other than to be generally aware of it… until those days actually approach and I need to act on the upcoming forecast. The weekend forecast is more important for planning my key long run, but otherwise I’m mostly focused on the next couple days… not to mention today.

Mostly, I wanted to offer a sample of the type of analysis and decision making I put in when reviewing the weather, how I use that information and how I adjust my workout schedule to get the most out of the current situation.

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