On the morning of the New York City Triathlon two years ago, I woke up ready. Over the past six months, I had followed my training plan, practiced transitions and figured out how to change a bike tire. Check, check and check. But when a dark cloud rolled ominously across the sky, I suddenly remembered the one thing that I had forgotten to do: Learn how to swim, bike, and run in the rain.
"To be truly ready for race day, it's important to practice in all types of conditions," said Melissa Mantak, a former pro triathlete and Denver-based coach who has worked with pro and Olympic athletes. So the next time it starts to drizzle, grab your sneakers (or goggles) and put the following rainy day training tips into action. Because even though you'll get soaked, preparation means your next race won't be a wash.
During a swim...
"Rain can make it tough to see in the open water," Mantak said. "So sight more frequently—every few strokes—to avoid drifting and stay on course." Raise your head slightly after each breath to check that you're heading toward a fixed mark, like a buoy or tree on the shoreline. For even more visibility, swap dark-colored goggles for a pair with clear or light-colored lenses.
Take quick breaths. Going for air in a downpour can mean a mouthful of water. To avoid that scenario, breathe to the side and tuck your face toward your armpit. "It creates a little protected area," Mantak said. "But you still need to grab as much air as fast as you can." Try exhaling as your mouth clears the surface, and then inhaling quickly and sharply before returning to your stroke.
Keep your cool. New conditions plus already-high nerves can bring on a full-on freak out. If you feel the panic rising, focus on counting your strokes and breathing steadily. Can't handle the choppy water? Instead of fighting the waves, try diving beneath the bigger ones to conserve your energy.
While on the bike...
Give yourself room.
Like a car, your bike takes longer to slow to a stop on slick surfaces. "Practice on an empty stretch of road to get a feel of how much earlier you need to start braking," Mantak said. Apply steady pressure to both brakes: A sudden stop to the front or back wheel can cause you to flip or skid out. For a better handle on things, Mantak suggests taking a handling class at your local bike shop.
Watch for rainbows. No, not that kind—keep your eyes on the road. Rain forces oil in the pavement to rise, creating shimmery and slippery rainbow-like patches on the road. "Also pay attention to manhole covers and painted street lines," said Ian Tsuji, a bike specialist at Metro Bicycles in New York City. Turning suddenly or stopping short on these slick spots can result in a wipeout, he said, so stay on the straight and steady when riding over them.
Call attention to yourself. Channel your inner Serena Williams, and break out your flashiest gear. Brightly colored clothing and LED lights help drivers spot you on the road. "Drivers usually aren't expecting bikers on rainy days," said Terra Castro, a triathlete who races on Team Luna Chix's pro team. "If it really starts coming down hard, consider riding indoors at a Spin class, on a stationary bike or on your indoor trainer." But if you chose to brave the elements, when you head indoors, be sure to wipe down your bike and apply lube to your bike chain to keep it from rusting.
While you run...
Slip on a hat, visor or light-colored glasses to shield your face and opt for wicking (not cotton) gear and lightweight sneakers. "Soggy shoes can add one to two pounds to every step you take," Mantak said. Headed out for a long run
? Don't forget the Body Glide, because soggy clothes can cause chafing. And stash your iPod, money and other valuables in a Ziploc bag or other waterproof container.
Dry out. A drenched run also means soaked shoes. And padding around in damp shoes for the rest of the week is not a good look. "As soon as you get inside, stuff your sneakers with old newspapers or a towel," said Castro. They'll dry more quickly and retain their shape.
Stay upbeat. "When I raced for Team USA at the Duathlon World Championships in France, it was freezing and dumping rain," Castro said. "It was so windy and slippery that I wiped out twice on my bike." But she refused to get discouraged. "When the conditions are that gnarly on race day, you just have to smile, accept it and have fun," she said.
Sign up for your next race.