HANDling the cold


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I love winter running -- the crisp, cold air, and especially the snow, when we’re lucky enough to have some. And on all but the most frigid days, it’s pretty easy to be comfortable on a winter run. Heavier running tights, a fleece, a couple of wicking layers, wool socks and a hat will keep me plenty toasty.

It’s keeping my hands warm that is a challenge.

I have Raynaud’s syndrome, which is a condition that causes limited blood supply to the fingers when they get cold. From what I’ve read about it, the cold causes a vasospasm in the small blood vessels in the fingers (or for some people, the toes). This limits the circulation, and the fingers turn white from lack of blood flow. I know several other runners that have the same problem with their fingers.

It’s mostly just annoying to me, but it can take quite a while for my fingers to warm up again once this happens. That means I think a lot about keeping my hands warm, even in relatively mild temperatures.

I usually wear a pair of lightweight wicking running gloves. When the temperature drops below freezing, I add Gore-Tex shells over the gloves. They keep a lot of warmth in and are also windproof. And if it’s really cold or I’ll be outside a long time, I’ll use chemical hand warmers.

Having gloves or mittens made of some sort of wicking material keeps them from getting sweaty and then staying wet for the rest of your run. Mittens generally keep your fingers warmer because they keep your fingers grouped together, so they keep each other warm. One option is mittens with a flap that will fold back if your hands get too hot or if you need to use your fingers to unzip a pocket or open a gel.

Rundus is mindful of keeping his extremities warm when he’s out in the winter. He has some lingering circulation issues as a result of getting frostbite on his hands and feet years ago on a winter expedition.

He and his wife, Annette Stumpf, biked for more than two hours on Christmas Eve, riding their fat-tire bikes in the new snow through parks around town. The temperature was in the mid-teens to about 20 degrees, with a strong wind.

Their hands were plenty warm on their ride, though, because Rundus had attached bike bar mitts to the handlebars of their bikes. The website bikepacking.com described bar mitts, or "pogies," as "boxing glove-sized sleeping bags" for fat bikes. The large mitts fit over the handlebars, with the brake and gear levers inside the mitts.

"I put them on over the weekend, knowing it was getting cold, and we’d be riding fat bikes in the snow," Rundus said.

He and Stumpf use the bar mitts when it’s 20 degrees or below. If it’s 25 degrees or above, they opt for warm gloves only. Stumpf often rides with ski gloves, and in really cold conditions, she’ll add her ski helmet and goggles. With the bar mitts, she and Rundus can wear thin gloves that give them a good feel for the bar grips, brakes and shifters. The mitts they use -- called the Cobrafist -- have zippered openings to let air in if their hands get too hot, and they have pockets to store snacks such as energy gels or bars and keep them from getting too cold.

When Rundus commutes to work by bike, he uses lobster claw gloves. The gloves look like a split mitten, or lobster claw, with a space for the pinky and ring finger together and another for the middle and index finger. Keeping the fingers together improves the warmth, and enabling the index and middle fingers to move separately from the other fingers helps with shifting.

The lobster claw gloves are warm, Rundus said, but "when I’m riding a mountain bike and doing technical stuff, I want a very good tactile feel for my brakes. Those don’t give me the control I want."

Rundus said it’s important to dress warmly all over in order to keep the hands and feet warm. If your core is cold, he said, your body will draw heat away from the extremities to keep it warm. If you are dressed to keep your core warm, excess heat will radiate out to your hands and feet.

He wears thin, synthetic layers that wick moisture away and he always carries a windproof vest. He also always has glove liners to keep his hands warm and give him the dexterity to make repairs if his bike breaks down, as well as extra clothes to put on if he is stopped for a while fixing his bike.

"It’s all the reality of being comfortable in extreme conditions. The Boy Scout in me comes prepared," he said.

Jodi Heckel, a writer for the University of Illinois News Bureau, is a runner, swimmer and triathlete. You can email her at jheckel@news-gazette.com, or follow her at twitter.com/jodiheckel. Her blog is at www.news-gazette.com/blogs/starting-line/.

Photo: Annette Stumpf and her husband, Rick Rundus, pose in December 2014 across from Dr. Howard Elementary School, Champaign, on their fat-tire bokes while wearing Cobrafist handlebar mitts to keep their hands warm. Photo provided by Annette Stumpf

Jodi Heckel, a writer for the University of Illinois News Bureau, is a runner and triathlete. Her email is jheckel@news-gazette.com, and you can follow her on twitter (@jodiheckel).