Cold weather running. No, your lungs won’t freeze…

icySince 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…


The Nike+ is not a star on ice.

nikepouchHaving praised the Nike+ iPod gadget to the skies a couple of days ago, for its accuracy, its user-friendliness and, heck, just for its all round wonderfulness, I today discovered that it is not a star on ice.

You see, the North of England, where I currently reside, is in the grip of a terrifying cold spell sent by arctic demons with a view to destroying our economy and disrupting our whole way of life. Which, in terms of the British weather, means that the temperature is down as low as -9 degrees at night, causing something of a frost in the morning. A frost that is now lasting most of the day, in places where the sun doesn’t shine, if you’ll pardon the expression.

Now, I know all about the ice storms in North America, blizzards in Siberia and Avalanches in the alps. But look, those guys expect extreme weather and are fairly well-prepared for it. In the UK, our entire transport infrastructure can be brought to a shuddering halt by 2 inches of snow…

So anyway, if you’re British, we’re at the dawn of a new Ice Age. And if you’re reading this from outside the UK, it’s a little bit icy out there. Which brings me to the big cold-weather failing of the otherwise fairly splendid Nike+ unit.

You see, the Nike+ calibrates itself by asking you to run exactly 400m and then telling it when you’re done. In this way, it measures your average stride length. And so, particularly if you’ve performed this calibration after running a couple of miles, and are therefore taking your normal strides, rather  than the long strides of a fresh runner or the tiny strides of someone at the end of a marathon, then the unit is going to be pretty accurate in normal use.

But then, when you go out for a run on icy streets, you will inevitably take smaller strides in an attempt not to fall over, and your six mile run will suddenly become 6.7 miles, according to the Nike+ unit, thus messing up all of the figures on your otherwise accurate Nike+ web page.

Obviously, running on ice is a reasonably rare occurrence. Even so, it possibly suggests that Nike could profitably give some thought to allowing users to rectify inaccurate mileages on the website; which would make the whole Nike+ concept even better than it already is, and by some distance.