Running with Raynaud’s Disease
Why are you such a wimp?
It’s not even cold outside!
I hear some version of these statements every winter. Even after relocating from New England to North Carolina and then to an even warmer climate in Texas, I still hear it. Why?
Because I am still cold.
I have something known as Raynaud’s Disease or Raynaud’s Syndrome. Raynaud’s is caused by the narrowing of blood vessels, generally in the fingers and/or toes, known as a vasospasm. This means that the fingers and/or toes temporarily stop receiving enough blood to function normally. The result is numb extremities that turn completely white in color or, in some cases, blue. Mine turn white— ghostly, freakishly white.
Raynaud’s most commonly occurs in women over 40. Mine started much earlier. I regrettably blame my early diagnosis on the exposure to cold that came with growing up in New England but there is no known cause for Raynaud’s. Nor is there a cure. Doctors know that cold temperatures bring it on, but it has also been linked to smoking, stress, and consistent vibration from something like jackhammering or vacuuming. But don’t think that having Raynaud’s will get you out of your household chores! If you are a Raynaud’s sufferer there are plenty of precautions you can take to help alleviate or even eliminate the symptoms.
Most people can avoid an onset by not going outdoors when it’s cold or by wearing large gloves, wool socks, and boots. However, if you’re a runner like me, it is nearly impossible to escape the white-fingered foe. As someone who has experienced a full-fledged bout in weather as warm as 60 degrees, I had to develop some strategies if I was going to be able to run with Raynaud’s. So here are four tips for my fellow “wimps”:
I know you’re probably laughing because this tip seems like a given. High tech gloves for running are essential and obvious. The key to Raynaud’s prevention, however, is to keep your entire body warm. If your core temperature drops you will find yourself having an attack even if you have managed to keep your fingers nice and toasty. You must keep your head covered and the trunk of your body warm. In addition to a good base layer I always stock up on disposable hand and body warmers at camping or sporting goods stores. If you get them towards the end of the winter season, you can find them on clearance. These are great to have on hand (pun intended) in case you need some extra heat.
Do your warm-up indoors.
I have been in one too many races where I have to stand outside for a long period of time before the gun goes off. This will inevitably bring on my Raynaud’s and then I find myself starting the race on numb toes with numb fingers. Eventually they will warm up, but why start off this way if you don’t have to? When I set out to run on a cold day, I start the minute the air touches my face. In order to be ready to run right away, I suggest doing some jumping lunges or jacks indoors prior to a run. The key is to be able to begin your run right out the door. I find that this can trick the body into not constricting the blood vessels. Do not get too sweaty indoors though because it is essential to…
Moisture can exacerbate Raynaud’s. If it is cold and rainy outside, you may just have to go on the treadmill. If you’re like me, though and you despise the treadmill, you will do whatever it takes to run outside. Wearing warm gloves on a cold day is ideal, but you do not want to let your hands get sweaty either. If I find that my hands are building up moisture, I air them out. Exposing my hand to 2 seconds of cold air in order to dry it out is completely worth it in the long run as long as I can tuck it back into those warm gloves afterwards. I do, however, prefer thinner gloves even on cold days because they allow me to wear them for the entire run without my hands getting too hot or damp.
Put your running shoes on at the last minute.
If you are driving to a race or just gearing up to go for a run, try to remain in cozy boots or slippers for as long as possible. Running shoes tend to be fitted and that constraint can already restrict blood flow, even on people without Raynaud’s. I always wear alternative footwear to a race that I can put on before and after the run. (Note: Only about 40% of Raynaud’s cases occur in the feet as well as the hands.) I generally put my running shoes on right before I start my warm up and, if it is very cold outside, I get out of my socks and shoes immediately following a run. This inevitably means that I’ve collected a trophy or two in big fuzzy boots rather than in my running shoes, but hey, that’s what we “wimps” do!
Raynaud’s can occur in isolation or it can be secondary, meaning that it is the result of another underlying condition. That underlying condition is most commonly an autoimmune disease. If you have Raynaud’s and have not been seen for it, I highly recommend going to a doctor and having them do a blood test for antinuclear antibodies, or ANA. If these numbers are elevated, it could signify that you have an autoimmune disease. Fortunately, this is rare, as is Raynaud’s in general. Both primary and secondary Raynaud’s can be painful, especially as the blood begins to return to your extremities but, as a whole, it is merely a frustrating annoyance. I hope if you use these tips, you will find that you can still hit the pavement in any temperature. Happy running, “wimps!”