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Ask the Expert: Should I Run In The Rain?
A local weatherman gives us some tips about exercising outdoors during a storm.
By Jenni Whalen|Hub Health September 3, 2013 4:50 pm

Storms are almost impossible to avoid in New England and if you’re a runner, you’ve probably been caught in a torrential downpour at least once before. But should you skip your run when it’s raining?

What should you do if you’re running and you notice a storm coming on? We asked NECN meteorologist, Matt Noyes, for the lowdown on outdoor workouts during thunderstorms.

What are some of the basics rules of thunderstorms?
It’s funny; there are a lot of misconceptions out there about lighting. People need to know that Lightning is not attracted to tall things, although it does hit tall things more often. Still, even a blade of grass can be hit. Lightning is also not attracted to metal, and it’s not attracted to water, either, although it moves quickly through it. Lightning can and will hit anything.

So if you can hear thunder, you’re close enough that you could be struck by Lightning.

That’s the accepted practice and rule: when thunder roars, go indoors. And lightning can hit 10 to 12 miles outside of the center of the storm.

To figure out how close the storm is, you can apply the rule of counting. When you see the Lightning, count before you hear the thunder.

Its five seconds to a mile, so a storm is a mile away if there is a five second break between the Lightning and thunder.

Is it safe to run during a thunderstorm?
Well, the first thing I’d say is that you should be prepared for the storm, and should be able to avoid it. Storms aren’t safe for runners, or for anyone who is outside. A lot of folks head outside without checking the forecast and the radar, and with smart phones, it’s almost inexcusable not to look at the latest weather. Around here, most storms that come up have already been alive and kicking for about an hour, so you should be able to look at a weather app or radar and see that storm. The NECN weather app, for instance, has live radar. You can turn the storm tracker on to see what’s coming, and it also has predictive radar. In a perfect world, we’d all be prepared for everything, but let’s be honest— a lot of us still get caught in the rain.

What should I do if I’m running and a storm quickly approaches?
The biggest thing to remember is that being indoors is always safest during a storm. You shouldn’t be running if you hear thunder and Lightning. Instead, head to a sturdy building to take cover. If you’re near your car, head there. If you’re on a backroad or a rural road with no buildings around, the safest thing you can do is to find a shorter grove of trees. That’s because tall objects tend to be struck more often, so you don’t want to be the tallest object around, and you also don’t want to be under the tallest trees. Having said that, it’s worth saying that there is no safe place outside during a thunderstorm.

How can I calculate the amount of time that I should stay inside during a storm?
Storms can vary in their strength and duration, but if you apply the same rule that you use to figure out how close a storm is, you’ll be able to figure out how far away it is. Once the Lightning and thunder are 50 seconds or more apart, you should be okay to finish your run.

How often does Lightning strike during a storm?
Lightning strikes thousands of times each year, and many of those strikes are in New England because we get a lot of thunderstorms. We can get up to 10,000 Lightning strikes in one day with a big storm. In terms of injury and death, deaths from Lightning strikes run at about 20 per year nation wide. That isn’t a lot, until you realize that all of them happen because those people were outside during thunderstorms, which could have been avoided. If you know there’s a storm in the forecast, either don’t go outside or run a route that has some buildings along the way so that you can duck inside when you need to.

Can I run if there’s no thunder or Lightning?
The science-related answer is that running in the rain is totally fine. Your body temperature might be lower than normal, but people run in rain pretty frequently. The real world application answer to this, however, is that during the summer in New England, you don’t know what’s coming when there’s a storm. Thunder and Lightning could follow the rain. Plus, any time you run in the rain, you risk reduced visibility, slipping, and falling. The risks are inherently increased when you run in the rain, but physiologically, there’s nothing hugely detrimental about exercising during a rain storm.

Other things to know:
Rainy weather doesn’t mean you have to take your runs inside. And most races are not cancelled because of rain. So try these tips to make sure you’re prepared for running in the rain:

1. Wear a Hat with a Brim
A hat with a brim can be your best friend during a rainy run. It will keep the rain off your face, so you can see, even in a downpour.

2. Dress in Layers if It’s Cold
If it’s very cold and rainy, you may need to wear a couple of layers. The most important layer is the one closest to your body. Make sure it’s a technical fabric such as polypropylene or CoolMax, which wick water and sweat away from your skin. Your outer layer should be a wind- and water-resistant jacket or vest. Don’t wear a waterproof rain slicker because it will trap moisture and heat.

3. Don’t Overdress
This is one the biggest mistakes runners make when heading out for a rainy run. Wearing more layers will not keep you dry. Unless you’re running with an umbrella over your head, you will definitely get wet. If you have tons of layers on, you will just be wearing more wet, heavy clothes. Dress for the temperature, as if it were a dry day.

4. Use a Garbage Bag
If you have to wait outside in the rain before the start of a race, a big trash bag with armholes and a neck hole cut out can help you stay dry. You can take it off and throw it to the side once you get moving.

5. Be Visible
Select an outer layer that’s light-colored or has reflective strips, since running in the rain often means poor visibility.

6. Wear Old Running Shoes
If you’re running a race, keep your race shoes and socks in a plastic bag while waiting at the start. You can check your old shoes in your gear check bag, and put on your race shoes and socks right before you head to the starting line. If it has stopped raining by then, you’ll be able to run the race in dry shoes and socks.

7. Prevent Chafing
If you’re running long, spread Body Glide or Vaseline on parts of your body where you would normally chafe or get blisters — such as your feet, inner thighs, underarms, sports bra lines (women), and nipples (men).

8. Protect Your Electronics
Store electronics, such as your cell phone and iPod, in a ziplock bag or a water-proof carrier.

9. Just Run!
The hardest part of running in the rain is often just getting started. Once you begin running and warm up, you may find that you actually enjoy it! And it’s good preparation in case you ever have to run a race in the rain.

10. Dry Out Your Shoes
When you get back from a wet run, take off your running shoes and stuff them with crumpled balls of newspaper. This helps the shoes keep their shape, and the paper draws moisture away from the shoes.