Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Raynaud's Disease: how a runner deals with it

I first heard of this condition about a year ago. Honestly, I've had thousands of conversations about people's various running-related health issues while at work in one of numerous running shops. Much of it is seeming to blur into my memory, but naturally, some things will stick in your mind. I do recall hearing someone use this name, one I'd never heard of before; and so I was naturally curious.
A woman mentioned it rather matter of factly, she called it a syndrome.  I suppose it sounds less scary to call something a syndrome rather than a disease. A syndrome sounds like you were unlucky and just got stuck with it.  While people will almost immediately wonder if a "disease" you have is contagious.  Raynaud's is NOT contagious! The Mayo clinic has a good informational page about it online here.
She simply said, "Your hands get cold very easily and can't warm up!" In a nutshell, that's it. How ironic, just as this lady is telling me about it, I simultaneously start to suffer from it! Maybe this explains why my Mother says she is cold all the time? Lame.
This is roughly what I'll experience. Yup, it's uncomfortable both to feel and see.

I know you're going to click that link and take notes...but I'll go on.  While it is not completey undersootd, it affects the extremities.  Simply, your fingers and toes get very cold, because they are losing circulation in response to exposure to cold temperatures.  Usually, it affects only one or two fingers or toes on each hand or foot. I have it. Another cause is stress.  Tough brave runners like you and me go out and run all winter long. If you're training hard, you're cold and stressed. While many of us run for stress relief, some of us train hard.  When you hammer it, surely an epsiode is going to happen.

It happens often enough, that I'm fitting someone for running shoes, and they'll complain "My hands get very cold!" or "I hate running in the winter my toes get cold easily".  For years, I thought, "These people are soft." "What a bunch of crybabies!" I mean, ya' know, just put on gloves or mittens and suck it up! Run faster and you'll heat up! Layer up, it's not like you're crossing Siberia, you'll live!  I'm thinking, this has to be one of those "rich-people diseases", you know the kind that you only find out you have if you're wealthy enough to go for multiple Dr's visits to get a diagnosis for something that isn't that big a deal.

However, in recent years, my body is clearly going through changes (I have a feeling I'm going to get some wisecracks for that one!).  This condition will begin to show up in people age 15 to 30, lucky me, I got it on the late end! So, maybe these folks have it too and they just don't know it?
My fingers and toes simply start to lose circulation when temperatures start dropping.  Even if I start a run when it's 55 degress, if the temp drops 3-4degrees and the wind is blowing, I am likely to loose some dexterity in my fingers by the midway point of the run.  If I start a run at the freezing point, forget it, it's game over for my hands.

 If I fail to layer effectively, I have about 10minute until my hands are going numb.  I've lost count of how many times I've ended a Sunday morning Long run with my pinky fingers numb on both hands.  Even after the car is warmed up and I have the heat blasting; my fingers and toes (again, some not all) will look like something that recently arrived at a morgue. Even if I'm indoors quickly, showered, and dressed warmly, the circulation still doesn't return for quite a while.

Did I see a Doctor and get a diagnosis? No.  Do I need to do this? For now, I think not.  If I were experiencing other odd symptoms, or if it were truely as severe as some image I've seen on the web, I might want to get checked out. The signs are obvious enough once you experience it enough times, especially if you're the only person who is wearing gloves and still complains that their hands are cold!

Potential long term risks: If the problem is severe enough, it could lead to complete closure of arteries to the area, creating a for necessity of amputation to the affected extremities. But these cases are rare.

How this affects your running and related life stuff:
Q: How fun is it to try tying a loose shoe lace with cadaverous fingers?
A: Not much.

Q: How easy is it trying to dig for a key out of a pocket when you can't operate those same lifeless fingers?
A: Not at all.

Q: Do you think it will be enjoyable when your hands feel like they are slowly going to freeze off of the rest of your arm?
A: I assure you, it will not be.

Q: Cooking after an episode of this?
A: Quite difficult.

Combating this problem:
  1. Wear multiple layers of warm clothing, start warm and shed a layer: Starting a run in the cold, when you feel cold already is a bad thing, it makes it very hard to get your body temperature regulated when you're loosing too much heat.
  2. Wool socks for your toes: There are some very well designed wool running socks on the market, I have some from several different brands.
  3. Wear a light, loose glove and a light loose windshield mitt over it: Avoid compression around your wrist. Also, be sure that you do not overtighten your watch strap over outer layers of clothing!
  4. Bring handwarmers: maybe just one and switch hands if your hand starts to get too warm. Sounds like a lot of work, but on a long run you won't mind the distraction.
  5. Duct tape over the mesh of your running shoes: If you don't own water/wind resistant running shoes, this is a cheap, messy, yet effective method to keeping your toes dry and warm through a greater portion of a winter run. It's not perfect, but it's helped me a lot in desperate times.
  6. If running away from home, stash warm dry clothes in your car, change out of wet things immediately! Straightforward, simple.
  7. Move about 600-1000miles South of New Jersey: If you don't mind a lack of diners and people toting hand guns, this could be the easiest solution.

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