Can drafting be as beneficial as a tailwind?
What is a tailwind, exactly?
It seems like a tailwind is an aiding force that would push you along.
It makes sense conceptually.
However, this is rarely the case.
Unless you are running in some exceptionally windy weather, a tailwind is rarely going to exceed your running speed.
In most cases, tailwinds are not significantly aiding. They are essentially eliminating air resistance.
A tailwind is not "free power." It is an absence of power required to overcome air resistance.
Both a tailwind and drafting minimize air resistance. If you choose to draft, then it is possible to essentially run in a "tailwind" all the time.
However, it is a hard to draft in your races all the time. You don't want to feel like you are breathing down someone's neck for multiple hours during a marathon.
Plus, it does not make that big of a difference in the context of a marathon.
Air resistance makes a small difference in a marathon because you are running relatively slower. But, air resistance can make meaningful difference in shorter races like a mile or 5K.
Higher running speeds mean you are overcoming more air resistance.
In the case of a short, fast race, it makes sense to draft from start to finish, if you are given the opportunity.
One paper from the scientific literature found an increase of energy cost of 7.5% when running at a middle distance speed. 6.5% of this energy cost was eliminated when running 1 meter behind another runner.
What does this all mean?
1. Air resistance can matter when running fast, even when it is not all that windy out
2. You can draft to get most of the benefits that you would normally get from a tailwind
It is worth it to think about how air resistance affects you when running.
And, if you would like to quantify many of the effects of air resistance, Stryd can help do that.
Stryd reports the additional power required to overcome air resistance and this can help you make the right pacing decisions to keep a constant effort in windy conditions.
You can get Stryd here: https://store.stryd.com/