If you’ve ever been out running walls windy, or if you’ve ever raced in windy conditions, you may be wondering to yourself, how much does the wind actually affect my performance? Does it do anything? Is it bad? It feels terrible. Sometimes it feels like it’s really pushing against you. But you’re not sure if it actually slows you down or if it’s more psychological. Well, I’m Jesse Funk and on today’s episode of Runner’s High, we’re going to talk about exactly what happens and how much does the wind affect you when you’re out running?
Now, first, let me assure you that you’re not crazy. Running in the wind actually does slow you down and it’s not just a psychological effect. It’s not just a matter of saying, “Oh, it’s pushing against me. And it’s tough. I don’t like it. You know,
Now, a lot of the information that we use in this video has to do with a study that was published back in 1971, by a scientist by the last name of Pew. He actually set up a world-class middle-distance runner in a wind tunnel, and study the effects. Now, if you’re interested in wind tunnel science, this is an aside, but I actually had the ability and the chance to interview one of the people that works on the Specialized wind tunnel for specialized bicycles, Jesse Frank, Episode 55 of the Smart Athlete Podcast.
We talked about that, and a lot of other stuff, the kind of cool things they do, putting dogs in wind tunnels. So, if you want to know more about wind tunnels and the effects, in general, and then what they’re working on at Specialized with thermodynamics, all those kind of interesting things that go on inside of wind tunnel science, stick to the end of this episode, I’ll link to that episode of Smart Athlete Podcast where I interview Jesse.
But from the study in 71, what Pew found was that the wind does slow you down. And it’s in relation to the square of the amount of wind going over you. So, the short version, the less mathematically termed version is that the faster the wind’s going, the harder it’s going to push against you, but not in a linear fashion. It’s actually exponential. So, if there’s a five-mile an hour wind pushing against you, and/or a 10 mile an hour wind, the 10-mile an hour wind is actually four times greater resistance than the five-mile, not just two times. That’s that square, that’s that exponential curve that pushes against you when you’re running.
Now, of course, your next question is, “Jesse, what about tailwind? Do they help us? If a headwind pushes against us, does a tailwind help us?” Well, yes, a tailwind does actually help us. But, unfortunately, and the same thing happens in cycling. It’s not just running so don’t feel left out. It’s simply the physics of it. And tailwind does not help us as much as a headwind hurts us. So, if it’s windy, you’re going to lose more speed going into the wind than you can gain going with the wind, just the nature of it. I typically try to think of it as you’re going to lose roughly twice as much time going into the wind as you gain in the tailwind.
Now, this isn’t strictly speaking true. It depends on how fast the wind’s going, how fast you’re going, whether you’re drafting, all those other things. So, it will vary, but you got to know that if I’m racing in windy conditions, I’m simply not going to gain as much time back. Or if you’re going out for a long run, and I’ve been on so many long runs, where it seems like no matter what direction I’m going to wind is pushing against me, you’re going to be slower than what you normally are.
If you’re normally running eight-minute miles, nine-minute miles, just tack on if you’re 10, 20, even 30 seconds slow depending on how hard the wind is that day. It’s fine. Go on RPE, which I talked about all the time on this channel, Rate of Perceived Exertion. Use that as your marker for those long runs, and in the races to know that you’re on pace.
This is something that I used in college. Now, I was at my fastest at that point in time. But you have to remember that drafting does actually have an effect. And that’s something that I always thought, as a young runner, I’m like, “Is there any effect? Is there enough wind to matter to draft?” Well, yes, there actually is. There’s enough blocking pattern and draft pattern behind a runner that you get a break, you get a reduction up to 80% of that reduction in speed is cut down. Meaning, you only get a 20% decrement and you’re only hurt 20% compared to if you’re in the front.
I actually use this to my advantage, the very first time I broke 16 in the 5K. It was a really big day for me. I spent the first six laps sitting behind two guys who were fortunate enough to be running right on the time where I wanted to go. And then they tired out and I had to do the last six laps on my own. But had I tried to run at the head of that group from the beginning of that race, I may not have made it because I would have spent way more energy being the front runner than sitting back behind those guys conserving my energy on such a windy day, and then making a move to kind of go ahead and when they were falling off pace.
That’s probably the most demonstrable time I’ve ever really felt it because everything was going right that day, everything was kind of going in my favor in a sense. But I know you know from personal experience, and just the numbers that drafting does help.
Same thing happens in cycling. Anything you can think about in cycling where they draft and position, all that kind of stuff, it is still applicable in running, though the effects are not quite as great. In cycling, you can get like a 25% reduction in energy, which is huge if you’re thinking about long distances on a bike, but the similar thing kind of applies when you are running.
So, thinking about the wind, thinking about racing, thinking about drafting, all of these things are important to take into account. So, if you’re racing on a windy day, you know, hey, the stronger this wind gets, it’s not just going to be twice as much, it’s going to be four times, eight times as much as that wind kind of picks up. And the amount you’re going to save by being smart and sitting behind somebody is going to be huge compared to letting them take the brunt of the wind.
So, yes, wind does lay down and it can be an increasingly large amount. But that does not mean that you can’t have an awesome day in windy conditions, even though it’s going to slow you down. For even six-minute mile runners, we’re talking about a 10 mile an hour wind going to be slowing you down maybe 12 seconds a mile. So, yes, it does slow you down. 12 seconds can put you off your PR pace. But if you’re smart, you draft, you do all the things right, then you can still have a great day, still hit that new PR and
So, here we are at the end of the video. If you haven’t yet, please hit that subscribe button. Stick around with me for more videos about running. And as mentioned, the Smart Athlete Podcast, the episode with Jesse who works at Specialized in the wind tunnel, got him coming up on the screen here shortly. You can click on that. Learn more about why he puts dogs in the wind tunnel when they come to work at Specialized and all the kinds of things that they’re working on. I’ll see you next time on the next episode of Runner’s High.