Don’t Stop Moving: Hypothermia & Winter Training

8OC (46OF) doesn’t sound too cold and it really isn’t. In university, when it finally reached that temperature after a long Massachusetts winter, I’d start replacing the sweat pants and ski jackets with shorts and a motorcycle jacket. Back then, to me, it was finally getting warm once more.

My cold tolerance isn’t what it used to be. Four years of Hong Kong heat and humidity has made me more susceptible than ever to the cold. Indeed when the temperature hits 20OC (68OF) in the Hong Kong winter, the North Face puffy jackets come out. Of course it gets colder than that, but when it gets to below 20OC we all start feeling it.

Unfortunately, Rich and I didn’t leave Hong Kong in the winter, when we would have at least started getting used to the cooler climates, instead choosing Australian winter for our departure. We went from the hottest time of the year in Hong Kong to one of the coldest times of the year in Melbourne. As much as I’m enjoying being here, going from 33OC (91.4OF) and humid to 8OC in less than a week is neither fun nor easy on the system. This I’ve figured out the hard way.

As we’ve been training here the past few weeks, I’ve been noticing how my body has been reacting to the cold. Though I’ve been doing much better with my running here than I was in the heat of the Hong Kong summer, I’m still having my little battles. Most of what I’m experiencing though are cold toes, swollen fingers, and aching joints. All of this I expected because it’s either an obvious consequence of colder weather or because my joints weren’t all that stellar to begin with.

What I didn’t expect was the onset of mild hypothermia, especially not on sunny, 10OC (50OF) day. We might be able to mark this hypothermic episode down as me not being as resilient as I used to be, but it was quite unsettling for the reason that despite my tolerance having been restyled in the Hong Kong fashion, this was the first time in the past three weeks of being in Melbourne that I felt this bad after a run.

Going through our training run yesterday though, it was pretty apparent that I am a bit of a stubborn idiot. I hadn’t been sleeping in that great of a position the previous few days and woke up on Saturday with an awful pain in my shoulder and neck that seemed to keep spreading as the day went on. Try as I might, I couldn’t stretch, massage or yogi my way out of the pain. Nothing that Rich and I could think of would hit the irritation in the right spot. So we took the day off from training.

On Sunday though, I woke up, feeling quite a bit better, though not perfect. In my need to keep moving, lest I spend the rest of the day feeling lethargic and useless, while annoying Rich to no end with talk about how I was a lazy bum and how I must be slowly starting to expand outwards by having done nothing the previous day, Rich and I went out for a run.

As you can expect though, we only got about a mile into our run before my shoulder started dropping from the misuse, and I decided that I needed to stop. In a stupid move, I walked off the trail, onto the damp grass and sat down. I was wearing my barefoot shoes, so every little bit of damp leaked into my trainers and started to freeze on my socks. We tried again in vain to get my body sorted, but I had pretty much given up on that run by then.

When Rich convinced me that it was time to get my self-depreciating butt off the ground, my leggings were freezing from dew. We walked on until we reached a playset, where we stopped to hang from a set of monkey bars to see if we could release any tension in our shoulders. I’m not as strong, upper body wise, as I used to be, so it was a bit of a struggle to say the least. Hurting and not wanting to keep on stretching like that I contented myself with watching Rich swing around the bars. I should have continued to keep moving, walking around the playset in order to keep myself warm, and potentially dry out my socks and leggings via body heat, but I had already given up on the day and felt useless.

Rich Swinging Around the Monkey Bars
Rich Swinging Around the Monkey Bars

Other than the usual swollen and cold toes, neither of us realized anything was wrong with me until about an hour after we got home. Feeling oddly exhausted for having done very little, I had my feet pressed up against the heater we have sitting under a desk in the room we use as an office, begging it to warm my toes and legs. It didn’t seem to be working though, and I had to ask Rich if he had turned the heater onto the right setting. The heater we’re using has three settings, cool, hot, and very hot. I was convinced that he had turned it onto the cold air setting by mistake.

Unfortunately for me, it was on the hot setting; my body just wasn’t taking notice of it. My body was likely so concerned with making sure my vitals stayed warm that it was redirecting any heat from my feet into my system, keeping my feet cold. I was immediately put into a heavy jacket, shoved into bed, and laden with hot soup. It took me a good hour or two to feel like a normal person again, and another hour to feel warm without the jacket.

Clearly, I need to take more care of my body, and especially now when I’m in the training phases to take the pain seriously and only train when I’m feeling well and capable. My irritation with myself when I’m not able to perform only causes me greater problems. When I feel like I’m not doing as well I as I should be, I give up, stop moving and get myself into trouble. Additionally, I really need to start wearing better clothing when I go out, especially when I’m still getting used to a lack of Hong Kong summer to keep me hot and sweaty.

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