Don’t know what Raynaud’s Syndrome is? You’re lucky.
All things considered, Raynaud’s isn’t the worst thing to have. It won’t kill you. But it is very unpleasant. With Raynaud’s, your blood vessels essentially overreact to even mild cold, leading you with numb extremities. My Raynaud’s strikes my hands and feet most severely, but I also sometimes experience it in my lips (which is why I won’t drink a beverage with ice without a straw).
When we were teenagers, my sister and I nicknamed our condition “corpse hands” (or feet, depending on what was afflicted at the time). During a Raynaud’s attack, the affected body part looks white and waxy. The process of blood flow returning to the area is very painful, like burning pins-and-needles. Typically I will also see rapid changes in color, with vivid red and purple streaks on the affected area.
As you might have guessed, having Raynaud’s poses extra challenges for winter running. Not only am I uncomfortable at a warmer temperature than other people, but the process of warming up is actually painful. Plus, when my feet are really numb, I can’t feel them, which means I lose the ability to quickly adjust my stride when my feet encounter obstacles.
Unfortunately for me, there is no cure for Raynaud’s (and mine is primary, meaning it’s not caused by any underlying condition I can treat). Doctors advise things like not being out in the cold and wearing gloves to organize the freezer.
I haven’t solved the problem of my cold, numb hands and feet, but I do have a few tactics I’ve used to mitigate the issue so I can run outside all winter long:
No standing around.
Standing still in the cold weather is the absolute worst thing for my Raynaud’s. If I’m outside, I want to be moving. This means that my winter races are the only ones where I’m frantically jumping in place and waving my arms. I have to get that blood moving! I’m also much less likely to stop and enjoy the scenery during a winter run.
If I do stop, I will try to do so someplace with shelter, like under an overpass (not as creepy as it sounds in Boston, which has a really nice running path going under several bridges) or even inside someplace. On really long runs I stop inside a CVS to buy water and warm up a bit.
Keep it dry.
Wet gloves are the worst, and unfortunately once I get sweaty, my gloves get damp. For a long winter run, a second pair stashed in my jacket pocket (or in a location I can visit mid-run, like my building’s lobby) helps keep my mitts toasty.
Smartwool, Smartwool, Smartwool
As soon as I get home from a winter run, I get myself into the shower. The hot water helps bring the heat back to my body right away.
I’ve found I have a hard time getting my thermostat back on warm after a longer winter run. I tend to feel very cold and even shiver. Accordingly, my post-long-run routine includes comfy warm clothes, getting on the couch with my fleecy blanket, inviting my obese cat to warm my lap, and sipping a mug of hot tea.