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Snow, heat, ice, humid­i­ty, rain, or wind—none of them is fun, but what’s the most chal­leng­ing ele­ment a run­ner must face? Any run­ner you ask will have an opin­ion but, as you might expect, few will agree.

Chances are many runner’s minds imme­di­ate­ly pic­ture win­ter con­di­tions, includ­ing the extreme cold, ice, and snow, when posed the ques­tion of what the worst ele­ments are to run in.

Win­ter Cold
“Cold, snow, and ice!  I don’t feel safe between slip­ping, slid­ing and crazy dri­vers!” Said Lau­ra, a for­mer col­lege run­ner, and cur­rent recre­ation­al runner.

Snow and ice def­i­nite­ly force a run­ner to slow down and like­ly change her stride to com­pen­sate for the insta­bil­i­ty that slick ground offers. Plus, frozen toes make for awk­ward run­ning; there’s just no way around that. Know­ing this, of course, win­ter run­ning deserves a nod for its addi­tion­al challenges.

Sum­mer Heat
Sum­mer and its exces­sive heat and humid­i­ty are known to slow a few run­ners down. Any run­ner who has dealt with the unpleasant—and some­times scary!—side effects of dehy­dra­tion and over­heat­ing will attest that heat can and will defeat an unpre­pared runner.

Rain
Rain should also not be over­looked, as it neg­a­tive­ly affects run­ners in ways rang­ing from inhibit­ing our vision (when seep­ing into our eyes, car­ry­ing the sweat from our heads, painful­ly near­ly blind­ing us at times), to soak­ing our clothes and chill­ing us to the bone, to over-sat­u­rat­ing our skin and lead­ing to blis­ters that make grown men cry.

I would nev­er be so bold as to state that cold, heat, and rain are not pow­er­ful ele­ments that deserve great respect and prop­er prepa­ra­tion from run­ners. How­ev­er, I don’t believe they are the worst ele­ment most run­ners will face in their lives.

Wind
A strong argu­ment can be made for an even hard­er ele­ment to run with—or against—as it not only makes all oth­er ele­ments all the harsh­er when com­bined togeth­er. But, wind can break us down, men­tal­ly and phys­i­cal­ly, all on its own.

After 16 years of running—experiencing at least to some degree all afore­men­tioned ele­ments while running—I’d give the hon­or of worse run­ning con­di­tion to the wind.

The wind is nature’s equiv­a­lent to a best friend who lets you down at a crit­i­cal time, only adding insult to injury. Wind will tease you push­ing and pulling you in a help­ful and encour­ag­ing way—only to slap you in the face as soon as you turn around. After inter­view­ing fel­low run­ners with some years and expe­ri­ence under their hydra­tion belts, it appears I’m not alone in this conclusion.

“Wind is the worst. It tor­tures you in one direc­tion, but lets you fly in the oth­er,” sum­ma­rized Nate, a run­ner of 13 years.

Lau­ren, a run­ner of five years, agreed, “The ele­ment I down­right despise would be run­ning in the wind. I find I per­form about the same but exert so much more ener­gy when there is wind. It’s like I’m work­ing 20 times hard­er to pro­duce the same result…not fun!”

To be fair, any ele­ment in its extreme presents chal­lenges that make run­ning hard­er, less com­fort­able, some­times unsafe, and oth­er times just plain crazy. Per­son­al­ly, I think Moth­er Nature just likes to mess with us.

What about you? Let’s hear from the run­ners out there! What do you think is the most wicked ele­ment to run in, and why?