Will Your Lungs Freeze?
The perils (or not) of running in the blistering cold
By Brian McLellan / BALLnROLL.com

Last winter, we ran an article on the right gear for running in the freezing cold. Did it work for you? That thermal running gear eventually pays for itself, you know. You get to run outside for free, while your friends shell out insane fees going to the gym. That warm, heated gym...

Well, cast off the chains of that gym membership and strap on your thermal running gear. Oh, and prepare to be a popsicle. That's the thing that earlier, obviously naïve article forgot to mention. Your exterior is going to be very warm, a blazing ball of fire scorching the Arctic landscape, impervious to the frozen wastes. But inside?

Picture an advertisement for sore throats. In high-def animation, coils of flame crisp the inside of a trachea. Numbing liquid, sheathed in a dissolvable coating enters the mouth and falls towards the fire. An explosion of ice, crackling white-blue snowflakes smashing out the fire and transforming it into an uninhabitable glacier.

You go running in -10 and higher? That's your throat. Also? Your lungs. And it's going to feel like the world has gone topsy-turvy, with high-tech winter gear keeping you white-hot, while your insides freeze you out from within.

You've got the ice lungs. Are they going to freeze?

Before you freak out and picture yourself staggering home with two solid blocks of ice where your lungs used to be, you should know that that's not going to happen. So, winter running tip #1: your lungs will never actually freeze over. The heat exchange system built into our bodies rapidly heats up cold air, so freezing cold will never reach your lungs. Feel free to wipe your brow in relief.

Instead, the opposite will happen. The more you trek across snowy country, the more your lungs will acclimatize.

But there are temperatures you should prepare yourself for. At -40 and above your throat may start to burn, badly. At even colder temperatures, you'll hardly be able to talk or breathe. If you're really hardcore, you may develop what is known as skier's hack, a cough developed when exercising in extremely cold weather. Your throat will constrict because of this, and it'll make breathing harder.

There are a few ways to help make your winter run more comfortable until you develop your sasquatch lungs, however.

I'll be the first to admit – the first time I went running in very cold temperatures, I thought more than once that I was going to keel over—thermal gear or not. But that's not going to happen—instead, I learned that, with a little effort, perseverance and grit, we can cross the frozen tundra with the best of them. And pray for a warm spring.

Posted on Jan 23, 2012

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