The Wind at Your Back (and in Your Face)
A wind at your back can make you feel like you're flying. Trouble is, you have to battle it on the way back. Here's how to cope.
Posted Wednesday, 4 March, 1998
Everybody likes a little help sometimes, and a stiff wind at your back can make you feel like you're flying. Trouble is, if you have the wind at your back on one half of your run, you have to battle it on the other half. And it turns out that Mother Nature tends to the fickle side: a headwind slows you down more than a tailwind speeds you up. Studies have determined that a 10 mph tailwind will nudge you ahead about 5 percent faster, while a 10 mph headwind slows you down by about 8 percent.
When you have the wind behind you, revel in your speed. But when you're running into it, don't hold yourself to your normal training speed, which would cost you that extra 8 percent effort to maintain. Instead, slow down a bit, and you will still get the same benefit as you would from your normal pace.
Not that you're completely helpless when it comes to battling a headwind. You can adjust your running style slightly to make the work easier. Lean into the wind a little to decrease resistance, and stay as relaxed as possible to keep your running form strong and to conserve energy. And there's always drafting. If you're running in a race or with a group of people, use those other runners as windbreaks, ducking in behind them to cut down the wind.
Keep in mind, too, the cooling effects of the wind. If the temperature is already below freezing, the windchill added by gusty winds can actually make conditions dangerously cold. Use caution and be sure to dress appropriately. A nylon or Goretex windbreaker can go far to make the wind bearable on cold days.