When I was in the National Guard and Army Reserves, there was an old saying that the training personnel liked to throw around: “if it ain’t rainin’, we ain’t trainin’.” It was meant to be a motivational slogan to make you not hate being wet while you tried to do your work, but it was much wiser than that. Rain is your friend when it comes to improving yourself.
Lots of folks balk when it comes to going for a run in the rain. They’ll push their regular outdoor run off till they can reschedule it for the treadmill at the gym. Or they’ll miss it entirely because it’s just “too wet and dangerous” outside. But to me, that’s exactly the reason that you want to get out there and go. And as you can probably expect, there are a ton of reasons to do just that.
Mud and dirt are good for you
We’ve mentioned it before in a bunch of different posts: getting dirty is healthy. Mud just makes that easier.
Science is catching up to the concept that constantly slathering Purell and such stuff on ourselves and our kids is a bad idea. Even ignoring the evidence that one of the active ingredients, triclosan, impairs muscle activity, killing bacteria isn’t a great idea. Your gut is made up of trillions of bacteria… and you want them there.
Society has this concept that all the digestion in your body happens due to the action of our digestive organs: stomach and intestines. The truth is far beyond that: those trillions of bacteria in our bodies have evolved right along with us throughout history and help to break down the food we eat and release chemicals, fats, minerals, and more to make us healthy. Have you ever taken an antibiotic and then the doctor prescribes a probiotic to you after you’ve completed the previous prescription? That’s the reason. You want those bacteria in there.
Those bacteria help us digest food and turn it into stuff we can use. They help us to fight infections from bad bacteria and even some viruses. They are not part of our bodies, but they are, you know what I mean? They’re truly great friends to our entire bodies – physically and mentally. Many people are calling the understanding of the gut biome the next great medical frontier.
So the more mud and guck we’re working through, the better, it seems. And I don’t think it’s a big leap to see just how training outside in the rain helps with that.
Rain makes training harder
“But the rain makes my clothes all heavy and I hate how it feels!” That’s exactly the reason you should get out there and go. When things are harder, they challenge you more. And heavy clothes when it’s raining may be the best way to challenge yourself – because those clothes are all over your body and weighing you down all over. They’re making your entire body work harder equally.
The downsides of wearing things like ankle and wrist weights, weight vests, and so forth is that in many cases you’re only making things more difficult in a couple places on your body. But being sopping wet from head to toe is going to test you from head to toe. You’re gonna be more tired, for sure, but it’s an all-over tired. It’s a bigger test for your muscle endurance, your cardio, and your strength.
Rain tests your skills more
A pretty universal quality that all obstacle course races have is that you’re going to get wet and muddy. Everyone who’s done a race has experienced the challenge of coming out of the mud crawl or water obstacle only to be faced with a rope-based obstacle. The water and mud are all crusted over the rope and you have to pull it or dangle from it.
You’re going to have to do this in a race, it’s just one of the diabolical things that race course designers love to throw at us. So it always behooves you to prepare for it.
Grip is harder when it’s wet. Balance is harder when it’s wet. You get heavier and it changes the way you move over, under, and through obstacles. Get ready for it by practicing, especially when it’s raining.
Rain forces you to increase your awareness
One of the best things about OCR is that it makes you pay more attention to your environment. You have to be careful doing a race because you can get hurt. So practicing your awareness is a key factor for your racing. And what better way to do that than to work out in a more challenging environment.
That log you practice balance on all the time is going to have slippery spots on it, you’ll need to be aware of that. The trail you run on regularly is going to have more mud, and dirt may be washed away to expose rocks and roots. Those rocks you pick up and throw for strength are going to be more slick. These are all things you need to be aware of as you’re racing, so why not work those awareness muscles in your brain and eyes by practicing?
I wrote an article for my old bike commuting blog about how constantly being on the bike in traffic improved my awareness. This wasn’t because I was consciously working on it, it just happened because I did it a lot. It’s harder to develop awareness like this when you’re working out in a clean gym because they purposefully make it safe and simple. Get out and practice in the rain to get as many “awareness reps” in as you can.
Get over the dirty mental hurdles
So many first-time racers (and even a lot of experienced ones) think that the worst part of a mud run is just that: the mud. The dirt. The icky feelings of getting dirty and having to deal with it for miles of running and activity. So every chance we have to get over that hurdle is a key one. Doing things that are uncomfortable regularly makes us more resilient.
There’s a reason that combat veterans look at a lot of the “first world problems” people complain about and shake their heads. They’ve been through so much crap in their military careers that little problems are absolutely insignificant. And while I would never compare the trials and tribulations of combat to participating in an OCR, that is exactly the reason a lot of people do OCR. You constantly hear anecdotes about how people go from worrying about little things before training and competing in OCR events to an attitude of “I can handle this. Why was I worried about that?” when it comes to the little things.
This is one of the big things that people like Spartan Race founder Joe Desena talk about as their reasons for loving this sport (example: this article he wrote). It makes participants able to handle harder things. Little things become completely non-issues.
Training in the rain and mud is a great way to build some of that resilience.
It can be super fun!
A couple years ago, I wrote a post for MorningCoach.com about the time my daughter and I got caught in the rain walking home from the grocery store. And the thing I remember was just how much fun we had stomping in the puddles, getting soaked, and laughing about it together. Sometimes, you just gotta be a kid and get wet and dirty. The fun aspect of OCR – the throwing aside inhibitions about cleanliness and such – is a big draw for it.
One of the best races I ever had was the 2012 Mud Ninja, which I’ve mentioned before. Part of the reason was that I ran it with a team, which was fun, but a big part of why we had fun as a team is that it literally rained all day during that race. We were wet, filthy, and disgusting from before we even stepped past the starting line. And we loved it! We laughed at each other slipping and sliding through the mud. We worked harder at helping each other to accomplish obstacles because of the weather. We threw mud at each other and smeared it on our clothes. We gave ourselves muddy “eye black” during the race (though it wasn’t sunny and we didn’t need it).
It took an already fun situation – running with a team – and made it more fun and memorable. We still talk about that race and how much crazy fun it was. And a muddy, wet training session can be just as much fun.
Be careful out there!
One of the reasons given above for training in the rain is that it’s more challenging and forces you to be more aware. Well, then, it should go without saying (but I’m gonna say it anyway) is that it’s also more dangerous. Slipping and falling is a risk that rainy day training holds and that’s the reason our awareness and mindfulness grow.
If you have something planned for training outside and you don’t feel comfortable doing it because of the rain, then don’t do it till you are. This is especially important at the beginning of your training, when you’re still working on the obstacles. That balance practice you planned? Maybe not the best day for it if you’re not comfortable with that skill yet.
Don’t be afraid to test yourself, but also don’t be afraid to logically accept your limitations right now and avoid certain situations if you’re not ready for it.
How does rainy training make you feel? Do you have any special workouts you pull up when it’s raining? Share in our message board!