Snot Rocket Science

(Warning: the following column contains graphic descriptions of an unflattering body function. Make sure you’ve finished breakfast before reading.)

During the winter months, there’s an easy way to spot the novices in a crowd of runners: they’re the ones carrying Kleenex.

The rest of us, after enough training miles, eventually become skilled in the delicate practice of clearing our nasal passages using nothing more than one finger and a well-timed blast of air. Today, we’re going to explain how it’s done.

That’s right … we’re talking about snot rockets.

Runners certainly didn’t invent the process of ejecting snot directly onto the ground, but – like everything else we do – we’ve trained ourselves to do it very efficiently. In the wintertime, the combination of cold temperatures and lingering congestion force many runners to become experts in the technique.

The act is also known as “farmer blowing”, but this moniker doesn’t accurately reflect the amount of skill and risk that are involved in the procedure. It’s not exactly rocket science, but it’s fairly complicated nevertheless … so let’s just call it snot rocket science.

Yes, there is risk involved, and several factors to consider in order to launch these projectiles safely. So follow this advice, and no one gets hurt.

The first lesson in snot rocketry is timing. You can’t just run out the front door and start blasting. The human nostril is a complex mechanism, with narrow parameters of operational efficiency. The machinery needs proper lubrication to perform effectively, a process that can take several minutes after the start of your run. If you try to launch from a dry chamber, you’re bound to just push the payload down onto your cheek.

You also have to wait until your snot reaches the proper critical mass for expulsion. The test is to exhale gently through your nose, and if you feel substantive thickness and pressure on the rim of your nostril, you know that all systems are go.

However, before launching, you need to carefully check your surroundings. A typical rocket travels downward with a posterior and lateral trajectory – think of a cone-shaped distribution range - so you shouldn’t be alongside or in front of other runners when you let fly. Proper etiquette dictates that a runner move well off to the side of a group, to ensure that his/her fellow runners remain out of the blast line. Be sure to check your blind spot over your shoulder as well to avoid any friendly fire incidents.

Another consideration if you’re running in a public place is to check that there aren’t any impressionable children – or anyone else who might be offended – around when you blow. Rocket launching is similar to swearing: generally OK for grown-ups to do under certain circumstances, but not something you want kids to go around mimicking without understanding the ramifications.

Once you’ve determined the proper launch time and assured your positioning, it’s time to pay attention to technique. There’s nothing more embarrassing than coming home with a giant booger on your shoulder or thigh because of a sloppy misfire.

(Before we proceed further, here’s one final disclaimer: Please note that the following instructions pertain to unilateral (one-sided) launching. The method of discharging both nostrils simultaneously – sometimes referred to as a Double Texan – is a highly risky maneuver to be attempted only by experienced practitioners.)

It isn’t as simple as turning your head and blowing. The recommended technique for single-nostril blasting is to rotate your shoulders and hips slightly to the “involved” side, leaning partially forward from the waist. Inhale slowly while placing the pad of your index or middle finger beside the opposite nostril. Gently press the nostril shut while you forcefully exhale, expulsing the contents of the full nostril onto the ground.

Some runners prefer the European variation of hand positioning, where the pad of the thumb is placed upon the opposite nostril, with the remaining fingers extended above the blast line. While this is an acceptable alternative, the gesture is sometimes viewed as more offensive in nature, and the finger-on-nose technique is generally recognized as the gold standard.

Once the projectile has launched, there’s probably some cleanup work to be done. Even if you have a clean shoot, most rockets will leave some splatter residue when they exit the blast chamber. After a successful launch, check to see if you need to wipe any such debris from the base of your nose or the margins of your upper lip.

Pay attention when wiping, however, and be certain to maintain adequate separation of wiping surfaces. Many runners use the tips of their gloves or the sleeve of their shirt to wipe sweat off their foreheads while running. When clearing away rocket residue, use a different section of your garments, and then – this is the important part – remember which parts of your clothing you’re using to wipe sweat, and which you’re using to wipe snot. You’ll feel like an idiot – not to mention look pretty gross - if you remove the stuff from your nose only to smear it around on your forehead a few minutes later.

Who knew there was so much to learn about blowing your nose? We don’t call it snot rocket science for nothing. The good news is that most runners become proficient in the technique after a handful of practice sessions.

And once they do, they don’t have to worry about bringing Kleenex on their training runs ever again.

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