#AboutTrail Episode 10: Weather and Environment

Pro Tips to Survive in Extreme Weather Conditions

When you trail run, you are exposed to all kinds of weather. Sometimes you can plan for it, sometimes it’s unpredictable and can change within minutes. This is not an article about what to pack for all types of weather, rather – it’s an article with advice from experienced trail runners and pros who have run, competed and survived in all types of extreme and sometimes life-threatening weather. Their all-weather survival tips come from years of experience in all kinds of conditions, from hot, arid deserts to windswept, freezing snow-capped mountains. Take their advice on board and survive (and even enjoy) extreme weather conditions!

Ryno Griesel says “get proper waterproof gloves and jacket”

Ryno, who recently placed fourth in the Addo 100miler, has spent a lot of time traversing high mountain peaks (Drakensberg Traverse sound familiar?), and is familiar with quick-changing, extreme weather. True to the common saying heard in trail circles, ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear’, Ryno insists that ensuring you have proper gear will go a long way in keeping you protected through extremely cold weather. For him, a proper waterproof shell with a hood, that can keep your core dry is an absolute must. “Always carry a fully waterproof shell with a hoodie. Your biggest risk is being wet and having to deal with wind chill. If your shell does not have a hoodie - water will run down your back leaving the clothes against your body wet.” Of course, the waterproof shell will be useless if you wait until you’re wet before you put it on. “Put your shell on before it starts raining hard, as it does not help putting a shell over wet gear.” Other than a high quality waterproof shell, Ryno suggests carrying fully waterproof gloves. “Your extremities (fingers) will feel the cold and wet the most, and once your fingers are numb you can't work a map or GPS, can’t handle your equipment, unwrap food, etc - which leads to panic and other risks,” says Ryno. So stay dry and keep your fingers warm!

Linda Doke says “use water to regulate your temp”

Linda Doke is a pro trail runner and travels the world to all types of trail races, most recently to compete in the Greek Zagori Mountain Race, an 80km ultra with around 5100m of elevation gain. From the fish River Canyon, to Iceland and the Thar desert in India, Linda has contended with both hot and cold weather.  In extremely hot weather conditions, Linda suggests using water to regulate the body’s temperature. “I find managing the body temperature in extreme heat is easiest using water. Water is a great conductor of heat, so splashing it liberally over the head, back of the neck, the wrists, and the full length of the arms is highly effective to help keep the body as cool as possible. Saturating a Buff and running with it on the wrist, or even better, across the back of the neck, will help keep the temperature down. Similarly, soaking your cap in water and popping it back on your head will help - it's essential to keep the head as cool as possible,” she says. And while it may seem counterproductive to what you want to achieve, she also suggests using sleeves. There are specific brands that are specifically designed to prevent UV rays reaching the skin, and when sprinkled with or dunked in water, will keep you nice and cool too! For extremely cold weather, Linda’s advice is simple – keep moving. “As soon as you stand still for any length of time, you'll chill down, so keep moving,” she cautions. And like her fellow Salomon athlete, Ryno Griesel, Linda encourages trailers to stay dry by using high quality water and wind protection.

Armand Du Plessis says “use your emergency blanket as a base layer”

Armand bounces from ultra to ultra, spending all of his spare time travelling the world to wild destinations to complete extreme ultra trail races, his most recent adventure taking him to the southern-most point of Chilean Patagonia to run the 100-mile Ultra Fiord, a gruelling race through Fiords, forests, over glaciers and up mountains. The race involved stomping through knee deep mud, crossing snowfields and wading through chest deep rivers that were flowing full with glacial run off. Consider how cold that must have been for a second!  The weather is unpredictable and fierce, and without a doubt terrifying to regular people, and according to Armand is the coldest he has ever been during an event. If you ever find running in extreme cold conditions like Armand did, take his advice to keeping your core warm.  “If you’re really, really cold, wrap your space blanket around you as a base. Then put your normal layers on over it. That works like a bomb,” he says. Keeping your base layer dry is a must, if you change it late in the race and allow your core to cool too low you could risk hypothermia, and keep your fingers warm in gloves. In races where you know you’re going to get wet crossing rivers etc, and still have to content with cold weather, pack spare base layers in a dry bag!

Thabang Elias Madiba says “never forget a cap”

Thabang spent six days racing through the tropical, red island of Madagascar earlier this year at the 150km Racing Madagascar stage run. While South Africa certainly has its hot summers, running around an island ramps the hot, humid conditions up a touch. For Thabang, a cap and sunglasses will help get you through extreme heat. Not only will the cap keep the sun off your face, it’s something to constantly dunk in water to cool you down. “A cap and sunglasses are my priority. I always make sure that my cap is always wet to reduce heat on my head,” he says. When questioned about freezing water in one’s hydration pack, Thabang warned fellow trailers against the idea based on his experience. “I tried to freeze my water once but I didn't enjoy my running because the ice block bounced around on my back and it was impossible to drink until some of the water had melted.” In cold weather, his advice is simple, keep your head and hands warm with a beanie and gloves, and pack waterproof gear to stay dry.

Nicholas Alexander Lykiardopulos says “the earlier you kit up the better”

Nicholas Lykiardopulos has had ticked off a large number of South Africa’s most beautiful, hardcore and unique runs, from the Lesotho Ultra Trail to the Skyrun, the Marloth Mountain Challenge and most recently, the Hout Bay Ultra, each race presenting its own unique weather system on the day. From scorching hot and dry conditions in the Drakensberg, to freezing cold and hailing conditions on the Skyrun, Nicholas has also had to deal with four seasons in one race, and has a fair amount of advice for South African trail runner’s that get stuck in crazy weather. To keep warm, think ahead and kit up earlier rather than later.  “Look up when you are on a big climb, take note of the clouds and wind, prepare mentally and get any extra layers on so you are ready when you enter the storm,” he says. “As soon as you feel the chill coming on, put your waterproof jacket on, have a spare dry buff to put around your neck and when it really gets nasty, some decent water resistant gloves are a life saver.” And if you’re running through dry, relentless heat then make water your friend, he suggests. “Pour cool water from aid stations on the back of your neck and don't be afraid to get your legs wet crossing rivers. etc. Even splashing a little water on your calves and quads will help prevent cramps.” On top of that, drink loads of water too! “Make sure you are getting in enough water, the hotter it is, the more you sweat and as your core temperature increases.” Lastly, if like him you’re tackling a race that might spew out every season in just eight hours, then remember to be versatile. “Make sure your gear allows you to adapt to both hot and cold situations. Compression socks and arm warmers allow you to take them down or off when it's hot and pull them up when the chill is coming. Make sure your jacket is accessible for when the cold comes.”

To understand more about reading the weather, planning for it and how to respond when things change quickly, watch the latest #AboutTrail episode here