Saturday, October 23, 2010

Runners, Do You Suffer From WTW Syndrome?

Well, it finally felt like fall today. When I headed out for my long run this morning it was around 39° to 40°. It was nice to have a little nip in the air. That cold air filling my lungs was a nice change from the moisture-laden air of our typical NC summers. It's this time of year though that many a runner is struck ill with a very common disorder that's pretty common among runners—WTW Syndrome.

Some runners have such a bad case of this syndrome that it may make them late for a group run or it may even make them miss the run entirely. What are the symptoms of WTW Syndrome? Well it can vary from runner to runner but most with the disorder experience some degree of
  • anxiety
  • fretfulness
  • panic attacks
  • dread
  • nervous stomach
  • mental confusion
  • neuroticism
  • problems with decision making
This very complex disorder usually affects runners (possibly cyclists too) during the onset of fall. Not to worry. It's not an airborne contagion. Usually a runner with WTW suffers in silence the first few weeks of fall and then it mysteriously disappears. So what is WTW Syndrome?

Each year during those first few days of fall when there's a nip in the air on those early morning runs, thousands of runners all across the world are struck down with WTW or What-To-Wear Syndrome. One weekend you're running in shorts and a singlet and the very next weekend you're faced with how many layers do I need? Coat? Gloves? Hat? Tights? To make matters worse, this nerve-racking angst, is compounded by the fear that you'll be the only one to show up for the group run looking like an Iditarod dog-sled musher. So what often happens is that the runner goes out way underdressed and experiences the most body-numbing run of his life. He's scared to even bend at the end of the race in fear that something important might break off.

Or, you'll have the runner that drives to the group run all slouched down in his car as he scopes out the rest of the runners deciding if he's overdressed only to put the pedal to the metal if he is. Not realizing that his pals are saying, "Wasn't that Bob!"as you pepper-spray them with dust and gravel pellets fish-tailing out of the parking lot. "Yep, he must be overdressed again."

Well, there is an easy way to avoid WTW Syndrome all together. It takes a little planning, but nothing you can't handle. First of all, a good rule of thumb to use when planning your running attire is to dress as if it's 10°-15° warmer than it really is. So, if the forecast says 40°, then dress as if it's going to be 50° or 55°. As you run, your body temperature will increase and once you "warm-up" it will feel as if the outside temperature has warmed-up.

Secondly, it's a great idea to bookmark a weather site, download a weather widget to keep on your desktop, or (now in the age of Ipods and smartphones), download a weather app. Then the night before your run, just before you go to bed, check the forecast for the next morning. Go ahead and lay out what you'll wear based on it being 10°-15° warmer than the predicted temp. Weather predictions can often change overnight, so it's a good idea to double check the temp when you wake up to see if you need to make any wardrobe modifications.

Dressing for those early-morning runs will be made easier too if you stick to a routine. Find a spot to place your clothes, shoes, socks, and other runner gear each night. (My spot is my chair and space at the kitchen table.) Be proactive and plan ahead. If it's calling for rain the next day, go ahead and find your rain gear and put it at your spot. If you're going for a dark early-morning run, go ahead and place your headlamp by your shoes. Going to need water on that next long run? Go ahead and fill your bottles, put them in your hydration belt and put the entire thing in the fridge. (Can't tell you how many times I filled the bottles and put them in the fridge the night before only to wakeup and not be able to find the belt...only to discover later that my youngest was using it as a tool belt.)

On cold days, it's best to wear layers. Layers act as insulation. Also, as you sweat, the perspiration will travel from the lower layers to the outer layers keeping you dryer (if you're wearing technical fabric clothing and not cotton). And, if you overdressed, you can easily remove a layer. Here are a few of the types of layers you'll need:

Base Layer: This is the layer closest to the skin. This layer should be made of a technical fabric such as polyester, CoolMax, DryFit,  polypropolene, Thermax, Thinsulate, etc. This layer may also have some technical fibers that provide some stretch such as Lyrca or spandex. The technical aspects of the fabric and often the weave of the fibers, allows perspiration to be wicked away from the body and to the outer surface of the base layer. When it's 40° or warmer, all you may need is a base layer for your top. On colder days when it dips around the freezing mark and below, you may need to top the base layer with a warmth layer.

Warmth Layer: On colder days (mid 30s or below), a warmer layer may need to worn over the base layer. Insulating fabrics like fleece are perfect for this. Be sure that the fleece fabric is also made from a technical fabric such as microfleece, Dryline, Polartec, polyester, Thermax, etc. (Note: on really cold days, I'll often wear two base layer shirts and then a microfleece layer on top.)

Outer Shell Layer: On cold windy or wet days a protective outer shell may be in order. Be sure to purchase an outer shell made from a technical fabric like Gore-Tex, ClimaFit, or Supplex that will protect you from the elements while at the same time breathe so you don't overheat.

Running Tights or Pants: Shorts can be worn during cold weather, but when the temps dip near freezing and below, running tights or pants are great for keeping the the ole gams warm. Running tights come in snug and loose-fitting styles. Be sure the tights or pants are made from moisture-wicking fabric to help prevent chafing. 

Every runner is different. For example, I can wear shorts in very cold temps with no problem, but if my core gets chilled, I'm done for. So, I'll often run with three upper layers and shorts while my running buddies may only have one or two top layers. So, experiment and see what works best for you.
  
A few more cold-weather tips for runners:
Remove any metal jewelry from body piercings (yes, ears included) before running, if it's freezing outside? Metal conducts low temperatures to your skin with amazing efficiency. So efficient, that it can increase the risk of frost bite! Ouch!

You can prevent the burning sensation in your lungs during cold runs by doing a 5- to 10-minute warm-up inside before heading outdoors. Doing this gets rid of the chemicals that cause that pain-inducing inflammation in your lungs. Try it. You'll be surprised.

If it's zero degrees or a wind chill of -20 degrees outside you should find a treadmill or an inside track for your run. Running in these conditions vastly increases your chance of frostbite.

Cover your hands and your noggin, not only to protect them from the cold, but to help retain your body heat. A runner with naked digits can lose up to 30% of his/her body heat! A naked head can let 40% of a runner's body heat to escape! Yikes!

Be sure to hydrate! You can sweat just as much in the winter as you do in the summer. The dyer air allow the perspiratoin to evaporate more easily so you may not look like you're sweating as much, but chances are you are.

18 comments:

misszippy said...

Major WTW sufferer! I tend to overheat so I need to be far more minimalist than most of my friends. The hard part is getting out the door not overdressed when it's still so cold...but I've learned from experience that less is more for me!

Mark U. said...

With cold weather being my absolute favorite (it's a shame therefore that I live and train in Houston!) I favor as little clothing as possible. It's far too easy to leave the house thinking that you're appropriately attired, then realize ten minutes into your run that you're sweating profusely. Accordingly, if I'm not genuinely cold upon my departure I know I'm over-dressed. The sole exception are my hands, where I wear gloves and eventually mittens on the earliest hint of cold conditions (often, to the amusing glance of fellow runners solely with a thin singlet and shorts as my sole remaining attire).

As three safeguards:
1) In an out-and-back cold weather windy run I leave with the wind in my face, such that the return leg will feel warmer owing to less wind-related cooling (especially important if you end-up slowing down as the run progresses);
2) I wrap a very thin Tyvek jacket around my waist, which should I get in trouble (e.g. with a sudden cramp that unexpectedly forces me to a walk) has saved me from a cold walk;
3) Carry a cell phone.

Paul said...

nylon shell jacket is my first choice. Light, keeps you super warm, and easy to tight around waist when your finally up to temp!

RunnerDude said...

Hi misszippy! What I hate the most is when you have to be at a race really early prior to the start and it's cold. BRRR! I usually go to Goodwill and buy some cheap old sweats to wear before the race and then I don't mind tossing them.

RunnerDude said...

Hi Paul! Good idea! Then it's not so heavy to tote later in the run.

Cynthia O'H said...

I'm getting better with the WYW syndrome. I hate being cold so tend to layer; I can always peel off if I'm too warm - rarely happens.

My biggest problem with winter is finding things that stay dry. Even with the best tech. clothing on, I tend to get back drenched; it would help if someone came out with a jogbra that wicks sweat as well as other clothing pieces do.

Lauren said...

Hilarious post. I really got a kick out of this one. In Southern California, I rarely suffer from this (except for maybe dressing too warm) It never gets below freezing here. : )

Julie @ "Hotlegs Runner" said...

Thanks you for this. I've been wondering what to wear during my first full marathon in Vegas this december. They said the temp will be around 40degrees but of course it will get warmer. I'm bookmarking this post =)

seanb724 said...

Where is wool in your materials list? By far my favorite over any and all synthetics!

RunnerDude said...

Hi Cynthia! I can see the print ad now..."Wick the Tah Tahs!"

RunnerDude said...

Hi Lauren! I'm so jealous!!!

RunnerDude said...

Hi Julie! Glad I could help! I'll be sending good vibes your way in December!

RunnerDude said...

Hi Sean! Yep, fabrics like smartwool are great more natural atlernatives. Wool has come a long way, somehow they've mangaged to take out the stink and itch. A little pricey though. A light-weight smartwool crew runs about $70+. They're are probably cheaper versions out there, so definitely worth checking out.

Lesley @ racingitoff.com said...

Excellent post. I live in Texas so I don't deal with many super super cold days, but when I do, I am at a loss. I am a habitual overdresser because I'm a total wimp in the cold. I plan to link to this post from my blog... probably this evening...

Dena said...

Ha ha, love the "WTW" syndrome. I was out Saturday in shorts and gloves. All I was missing was the big "L" taped to my forehead. LOL.

Joan said...

I had WTW syndrome for Saturday's USMCR 5k. My final decision of long sleeve shirt & shorts was the right choice.

Boris Terzic said...

I think I got this too, I dislike winter running never seem to get the clothing right.

FruitFly said...

Fabulous post - made me laugh, yet was very informative. Now excuse me while I continue to sit here bundled up by my heater. :)