Running and Raynaud's

Date: Wed 8th February 2017

Triggered by the cold, those with Raynaud's can endure excruciating pain and numbness in their hands and feet, as well as other extremities. Raynaud's sufferer and keen marathon runner and SRUK Trustee Susie Hoare shares her top tips for managing the condition when running in cold weather.

When it gets cold people with Raynaud's Syndrome can suffer a loss of blood flow, and an agonising knife-stabbing pain, in their hands and feet

If you are unlucky to suffer chilblains on top, and struggle with the resultant burning and itching when you are warm again, you'll probably seriously question your sanity!

The following are tips from my armoury; lessons I've learned from the last 10 years of running with Raynaud's.

Layer Up

To me, anything below 10 degrees is cold and horrible, and below 5 degrees is ridiculously unpleasant! The clothing strategy remains the same except the colder it is, the more layers I add.

When it is “ridiculously cold", I make sure to cover every exposed piece of skin; if I feel cold air on any exposed piece of skin, it sets the Raynaud's off, no exceptions!

From top to bottom: I wear a thin skiing balaclava and a buff for the face, underneath one or two hats. On the neck, another buff. On the body, between two and four thin layers, maybe two of which would be thermal base layers. I pick high-necked close fitting base layers (any designed for running, cycling or skiing do just fine) plus one or two thin long sleeved close-fitting wicking tops over that.

I tuck my tops into my tights to stop a draft getting in around my core. On the top is a windproof jacket, close fitting to reduce drafts around the body.

I choose tops that have long sleeves that can be pulled down over my gloves, or I pull my sleeves down over my wrists before putting my gloves on top over the sleeves. Or wear thin gloves, pull the sleeves over the top, and then put mittens on top of that. You can also use wrist warmers as an extra layer to block cold air around the wrists (if the wrists are cold, it won't help the hands).

As for choice of gloves, I start with a thin pair of 100% silk skiing liner gloves underneath a thicker pair of gloves or mittens, which have some insulation and windproof lining. Make sure they are wicking gloves to remove sweat.

I tend to avoid handwarmers, because they can get so hot they burn the skin, and running with them packed into your gloves is not always easy (if I hold something running, I tend to tense my shoulders and neck, which messes up my running pattern).

For the legs, it will be one or two layers, depending if it's “cold and horrible" or “ridiculously unpleasant". The second layer would be a thermal base layer for skiing or hiking and the top pair would be winter running tights.

I go for socks with a high ankle to avoid exposed skin around the ankle…and keep meaning to try knee-length compressions socks to see if that brings benefit.

Pre-run

I pre-warm socks and shoes with hand warmers and warm my running kit up in the airing cupboard. I have a hot drink not long before leaving and make sure I am not starting to feel hungry.

I warm up before leaving home, running up and down stairs for a few minutes, star jumps, burpees, anything to increase the heart rate and body temperature before going into the cold.

If my feet are cool before leaving (mine almost permanently are!), I warm them up by running them under warm water in the shower - check the temperature of water with your elbow first to make sure it's not too hot to burn.

On the run

My feet usually go numb within a few minutes of leaving the house, whatever I do to try and prevent that. I usually keep running but take extra care to watch where I am putting my feet, to avoid tripping on something where I can't feel the ground properly. Usually after a few miles, the blood will rush to my feet and blood flow will return, making them burn hot and swell. This is as equally unpleasant as the cold numb feet but slowing to a walk for a few minutes helps them return to a more normal feeling and temperature so I can run again.

My hands will often go numb instantly on leaving the house. I know it's going to happen, even if I've done everything to prepare against it, which is frustrating.

I try and dissociate (not think about it) because I have not found a way to resolve it. I just run through it until they warm up and swell after a while, at which point I remove one pair of gloves to help calm them down. After a while they will start to cool again and to prevent them going numb again, I put on a dry pair of gloves (from my pocket) if the other pair had got damp and sweaty (as putting them back on would make the hands go numb again.)

As for sessions, I have found it better to do short sharp runs, interval or threshold sessions rather than long slow runs, so you get warmer by working harder, and are outdoors less time. Probably more effective for your fitness levels, too J. I also found that on a long run, I may warm up after half an hour, then after an hour start to get progressively colder as energy stores declined, and that would then be a trigger for Raynaud's.

If you are training on a track doing an interval session, then stick your hands into your armpits when resting between reps - that's the warmest place to keep your hands warm.

Post-run

Cool down by dropping to a slow jog or fast walk for a few minutes. When you go indoors, be careful to not warm up too quickly or you may succumb to the dreaded chilblains. Don't jump into a very hot shower right away or sit next to a fire or somewhere very warm.

Stretch in a room with moderate temperature. To ensure you don't then suddenly chill too quickly, remove any sweaty clothing and put on dry clothing while you stretch and acclimatise – trying not to warm up too quickly if the room is too hot, nor cool down too quickly if the room is too cold!

Quick Fire Top Tips

1. Warm your clothes – put on clothes off the radiator or out of the tumble dryer to warm your skin.

2. Warm your body before heading out – warm your body under warm water or by doing high intensity exercises

3. Layer Up – add lots of thin layers including close fitting skins to trap as much air as possible. Always wear gloves – running gloves can be teamed with normal thermal gloves to prevent hands getting cold. If you are prone to the cold like Susie, cover up with buffs and hats to keep every area of skin protected.

4. Getting cold on the run – take 5 and do some interval training to warm up your body. On cold days you may want to mix interval training into your routine to limit the amount of time outside and heat your body up quicker.

5. Post run cool down/warm up – drop to a jog or walk to cool down and when inside stretch in room temperature to warm the body slowly. Avoid hopping into a warm shower are blasting the heating as this may cause more pain in the affected areas.