Before I begin, I will make you a promise.
I’m not going to share any pictures of my feet.
No one needs that kind of horror in their life.
Let’s move on.
I have Raynaud’s syndrome. It’s a condition where the small arteries that supply blood to the skin constrict, reducing blood circulation to those areas. A flare up can be triggered by stress, severe emotional reactions, and cold temperatures. In my case, it’s nothing serious, and at this time, I am not at risk for further complications.
It is, however, something I have to watch while running.
Even though I live in a typically warmer climate, I am not in the clear from flare ups. Being in winter temperatures or too-cold air conditioning, or even holding something cold like a cup with ice or bowl of ice cream can lead to the constriction of those small arteries. I have also experienced incidents if I am really upset about something.
In layman’s terms, it means that when I get cold, or really upset, my fingers, and sometimes toes, turn a vampiresque shade of purple white. They tingle or go numb, and are like ice cubes to the touch. It’s a neat party trick.
I’ve always had cold hands, but I first noticed a specific issue at a race four years ago. Temperatures were in the mid-20s at the start, and I thought I was dressed appropriately in lots of layers, with an ear warmer and gloves.
I clearly remember that in the first few miles of that race, I couldn’t feel my toes. They were absolutely numb, and I was so nervous that I was going to lose my footing because I had no control of what those toes were doing or not doing.
After that, I started paying more attention.
Primary Raynaud’s affects women more than men, often beginning between the ages of 15 and 30. Obviously, those who live in colder areas are more likely to suffer from the syndrome. It’s also noted that the syndrome can be hereditary, which makes sense, because my mother also has had some bouts of it.
All my cold weather running and racing this season has definitely led to an uptick in flareups.
I’m not really in any pain, but it is uncomfortable in the moment. The numbness leads to a lack of dexterity so it becomes difficult to use my fingers or find my balance. The imbalance can lead to trips or missteps, so I always have to pick my way very carefully when I’m on my feet. What hurts is when the circulation comes back, usually facilitated by a hot shower. I can best compare it to the return of senses after your foot falls asleep: this is a throbbing feeling with the bonus of some severe prickling. Good times.
While there is no cure, in my case, it is also not very serious (please note this is not the case for everyone and if you think you suffer from this condition, please schedule an appointment with your doctor). However, I do my best to prevent incidences.
First, I am incapable of controlling the weather. As Floridians, we are fortunate that our freezing days are limited, but I am not going to spend all winter holed up at home in front of a roaring fire cuddling with the pugs, tempting as that might sound.
When I head out for a run and I know it will be below 50 degrees or particularly damp, I make sure that I am wearing nice socks and gloves. I stock up on cheap gloves at Target during winter, and keep them in every bag, pocket and drawer. Usually, that’s enough to keep my extremities from turning icy and sometimes I can even remove the gloves during my run, but it’s an easy thing to keep me comfortable.
This past weekend, I had to go one step further, by using Hot Hands in my gloves and Toe Warmers in my shoes. These are also readily available at Target, on Amazon, or anywhere camping gear is sold. Each package comes with one pair, activated when the package is opened and the warmers are kneaded a bit. I used them religiously when we were in Banner Elk to stay warm in the snow, so it was easy enough to slide them into my “running” gloves.
I had never tried the Toe Warmers for running before. It was a little odd having the slight bumps adhered to the bottom of my socks, but it didn’t impede my stride or cause blisters, so it was more than worth it for warm feet.
After colder runs or activities, I make it a point to get in the shower as soon afterwards as I can. Cooling down in cold and sweaty clothes can definitely prolong the discomfort, so my goal is to warm up and get my blood flowing again. Even though I prefer going barefoot at home, I have accepted that socks or cozy slippers do make a difference in keeping my feet comfortable and we make sure to never have the air conditioning too cold so I don’t struggle in our house.
The physical limitations our bodies set for us are certainly frustrating, especially when there is no effective treatment. No matter how hard I work or train, this is a (minor) speed bump with which I have to contend. Being prepared and proactive is half the battle in dealing with this condition, and I will be good to go as long as my stash of gloves and Hot Hands holds out.
Do you have Raynaud’s Syndrome?
How do you cope with the limitations you can’t control?
For more information on Raynaud’s Syndrome, please visit the Mayo Clinic informational page. If you are exhibiting symptoms of Primary or Secondary Raynaud’s please get checked out by your doctor.