Frostnip, frostbite, and the arrival of winter

Last weekend, I went for my coldest run yet this season. It was below freezing, between 20 and 25 degrees Fahrenheit (-4 and -7 Celsius). Because the weather has yo-yoed quite a bit lately, and because I’m a little bit lazy, I haven’t unpacked my “winter” clothes or put away my “summer” clothes – including my warm-weather running clothes. I did pull out one long-sleeve tshirt that I’ve used on cool days, otherwise I’ve been dressed down.

Now admittedly, I am a runner who prefers to be cool while I run. If the conditions allow, I’d rather wear a tank top to sleeves, shorts to pants, that kind of thing. I’ve been known to push the envelope and wear surprisingly little clothing on surprisingly cool days. Until now, I haven’t suffered for that choice.

Last Saturday, I wore a long sleeve tshirt (with a sportsbra, of course), a pair of shorts, ankle socks, and my running shoes. Before I left, I grabbed a knit stocking cap and a pair of gloves out of the coat closet.

The run was uneventful. I only ran 3.54 miles – less than I usually run on a Saturday, but I didn’t have as much time as usual. I was definitely cool, but not dangerously cold. (At least not for the 45 minutes or 1 hour that I was outside – even I know that it would not be smart to stay outside in that weather for several hours.)

At home, I went straight to the bathroom. I was quite looking forward to a nice warm shower. As I began to warm up, my legs began to itch TERRIBLY! My thighs, in particular, were unbearably itchy. They were covered with red and white patches, which I blamed on the surface-level cold. The skin was cold to the touch for at least five or ten minutes – it took a little while for it to warm up.

After my shower, I discovered that I had scratched my thighs to the point that I had some mild surface bleeding. It was not severe, but it was surprising. I bandaged my legs, dressed, and immediately consulted Dr. Internet.

That’s where I discovered that my symptoms were consistent with first-degree frostbite, also known as frostnip. First-degree does not cause permanent damage, but it does cause itching and localized pain, along with red, white, and yellow patches. Treatment consists if getting out of the cold and warming up. If you don’t get to a warm place, it will advance to second, third, or fourth-degree frostbite, which are far more serious.

Frostbite usually affects the extremities, especially the fingers and toes, but my toes were wrapped in socks and shoes, and my fingers were covered by gloves. My legs, however, were completely exposed, and that’s the area that really suffered.

To add to my embarrassment – this morning, I discovered that I’ve developed some colorful bruises where my skin is healing. My thighs are now a lovely technicolor blue and purple.

I’ve learned my lesson. I did not run at all today, and I will definitely be wrapping myself appropriately before running outside again!

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