Since posting about cold weather running a couple of weeks ago, emails have flooded in (well OK, I’ve had two of them) from runners telling me that sub-zero running can actually make your lungs freeze.
Naturally, this was not welcome news to someone who gets his biggest kicks playing Icelandic roulette, a game of my own devising, which involves running along the beach wondering when I’ll next stray onto a stretch of completely smooth and invisible ice on top of the sand. It’s a tremendous game BTW. And if I ever get someone to video me in the act, the resulting YouTube video will doubtless be called ‘Bambi Goes to Casualty.’ But I digress…
Returning to the subject in hand, these emails certainly gave me pause for thought. Can sub-zero air really freeze your lungs? Time then, for a little on-line research, which brought both good news and bad news.
First the good news: medical opinion and several scientific studies have definitively proven that in temperatures as low as -50 Celsius, the human body retains the ability to warm air on its way to the lungs, ensuring that they won’t freeze. The exception to this rule, naturally, is that when you die of exposure, your lungs will indeed freeze. But only when you’ve been dead for a few hours, so that’s probably not your number one worry then.
The bad news though, is that there is a well documented case of a runner in the States who, while testing the theory about cold air freezing the lungs, actually received the first inklings of frostbite in his, well, his, er…well, let’s just say it was in an extremity that most chaps wouldn’t wish to lose anything off the length of and leave it there shall we?
For those of you who are now sitting cross-legged and whistling nervously, I feel duty-bound to relate that the tale had a happy ending. And possibly to also recall that a similar fate befell the late, great David Niven while skiing, when his pride and joy was saved by a swift immersion in a large brandy. No, really. It’s in the second of his autobiographies: ‘Bring on the Empty Horses.’ Which is very nearly as good a read as the first one, ‘The Moon’s a Balloon.’
Gosh, I really do seem to have gone slightly off topic don’t I? So, to get back to the point, no, running in cold air won’t cause your lungs to freeze. But if you find frozen air uncomfortable to run in, why not do what I do, and run with a Buff covering your mouth, which filters out quite a lot of the ice crystals before you can breathe them in.
Anyway, I’d love to stay and blog a bit more, but I really need to get to the thermal underwear section of my local outdoor shop before it closes…