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January 17, 2008

Snot Rocket Science

I had originally planned on using this space to introduce my most recent Monterey Herald column, but an unusual thing happened during the article’s transformation from Word document to newsprint: the whole thing got canned by my editor.

My editor is a great guy. He’s enthusiastic about promoting participatory sports like running, cycling, and triathlon alongside traditional reporting on the major spectator sports. I mean … how many newspapers even have a running or cycling columnist? He’s a runner himself, and has done the Big Sur Marathon a couple of times. And he always gives me free reign to write about whatever I feel like.

This is the first time in three years that an article has been pulled based on content, and here’s the funny part: the article is about blowing your nose.

In the past, I’ve used my (admittedly, thinly guised) column about running to discuss such topics as migrant labor, gangster rap, reality TV, local criminal cases, and sex among athletes (which - now that I’m trying to link to it – I realize was lost when I shut my old website down. I’ll have to republish it here sometime.). So it’s kind of surprising that the column which ultimately got pulled was a story about boogers. On the other hand … maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that my column was censored; maybe the only surprise was that it took three years to happen.

I didn’t take the decision personally – in fact, I knew this column might have pushed the envelope of “mainstream journalism” just a bit. (I even included a disclaimer at the beginning – but whatever.) There are no hard feelings. My editor has to answer to a different audience than I do, and I’ll live to write another day.

Thankfully, I’ve got the Internet to fall back on, where the bar for things like common standards of decency and good journalistic taste are set remarkably low. With that, I give you - using my best Access Hollywood voice here –
the article the Monterey Herald DIDN’T want you to see!!


Running Life 1/17/08 “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, I’m going to explain how it’s done.

That’s right … I’m 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 gooey 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 proceeding 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? It’s not called 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.


momo 1/17/08, 3:21 PM  

i think you've outdone yourself with this one. i can't imagine why they'd pull it. :-) really. i'm not joking. it's great.

and i want to proudly proclaim that i can blow a snot rocket with the best of them. just ask that guy who was behind me on my bike last winter - 'cept i didn't know he was behind me. that guy can vouch for me.

we should have a contest!

JohnF 1/17/08, 3:36 PM  

Great article. Should be required reading for all.

David 1/17/08, 4:58 PM  

This is the same sport that tolerates women squatting behind a transparent bush to relieve themselves and nobody notices.
Whats the big deal?

21stCenturyMom 1/17/08, 6:00 PM  

'Tis true - I knew I was no longer a rookie cyclist when I quit sniffling and started shooting. What a relief! I have snotted up my jacket, though - EW! Snot rocketing while running was a natural extension but the dynamics are a bit different. Nothing a little time and experience can't cure.

Sarah 1/17/08, 6:03 PM  

The first snot rocket was awkward. Now its so second nature I have to catch myself from blowing one on my walk to work! : )

Rainmaker 1/17/08, 9:34 PM  

That's absolutely hilarious! So accurate. And the best thing is you get some much extra pratice during the winter. I think additional chapters are in order for both cycling and swimming (uhh...OW) snot rockets.

Makita 1/18/08, 7:54 AM  

ROFL! Right On! Perhaps if you polled your readers and show your editor, you'll get it printed after all. :)

Taryn 1/18/08, 8:41 AM  

Ohhh Donald... I am so glad I've started out my day reading this - you're the best! ;) The Double Texan... awesome!

(&& thank you so much for writing this - it's perfect fodder for my case against my husband that I am not unladylike while I run!)

olga 1/18/08, 8:47 AM  

OMG! You shoudl have posted a picture of me from pacing at SD100 - I projected a perfect form, though I use bilateral clearance:) I love impressing passing by cars when I do that, makes me laugh. Next time you can write about peeing on the "fly", and hopefully you can nail a technique for women too!

p.s. I sent you a link to NUUN orders.

IronMin 1/19/08, 8:58 AM  

That was absolutely hilarious! Someday I aspire to pull a Double Texan.

Annette 1/19/08, 11:15 AM  

What? They didn't want this article going out to the general public? Well, think of the ramifications. This could cause someone considering taking up running to reconsider. You don't want that responsibilty, do you?

I thoroughly enjoyed this article. Especially the part about the novice runners carrying Kleenex. While I have to admit I do not have the appropriate snot rocket skills, you'd never catch me with a Kleenex. That's what the gloves and shirt are for. And, yes, I am careful about which portion of my shirt is used for what. :)

This is an article for sharing! :)

Addy 1/19/08, 12:21 PM  

*shame* I still don't know how to blow a snot rocket! Perhaps following your clearly laid directions, I should give it a try :)

A very enjoyable read!

Backofpack 1/20/08, 2:06 PM  

Oh, Donald. You have found my secret shame as a runner - my inability to snot rocket. I've tried, I really have. I've even practiced in the shower when I have a cold. Alas, I can't even do it standing still. I didn't get the gene for snot-rocketing. I use my gloves or my arm warmers. Fair warning, never shake my hand when I have my running gloves on, unless it is pre-run!

Anne 1/20/08, 4:17 PM  

I can't blow a snot rocket either, and, trust me, I've tried too. I don't carry Kleenex, though. No, years ago I upgraded to Bounty paper towels. After reading this, perhaps I should give it another try.

'Tis a shame this didn't make it to the good people of Monterey, given every community has its share of snots.

Journey to a Centum 1/20/08, 8:19 PM  

In 1966 I was walking a fence line near my great grandfathers house looking for garden snakes when I heard the upstairs window slide open. I looked up just in time to see my great grandpa blow a snot rocket. I was impressed with the volume and speed of the process. I wondered why my mother hadn't taught me how to blow snot rockets.

I have since become very proficient at this nasal clearing technique. I've had my issues with errant shots but overall I've probably saved thousands of dollars and trees by not using klenex while I run.

BTW - feel free to ask as many questions as you want regarding WS100. I'm excited for you and hope you do well at the 100 mile buffet!

Trail Scat

Pete 1/21/08, 10:26 AM  

Snot shots! I'm trying to teach my 8-year-old, who complains that too much, you know, stuff, gets stuck on the edge of the nostril etc., how to do 'em. I tell him it needs to be a short, sharp blow...

Pretty lame of your editor for not going with this. And newspapers wonder why they're losing circulation. Too timid.

Matt 1/21/08, 4:56 PM  

I'll side with your editor on that one. The newspaper isn't quite ready for Snot Rocket science, but the internet is a willing listener. Great article. I usually leave them on my shoulder. Need to practice more huh?

angie's pink fuzzy 1/21/08, 6:54 PM  

the reason I hate working out in a gym: I can't exactly throw a snot rocket behind me while on a bike in spinning class.

Deene 1/22/08, 8:11 AM  

in one of the trail runner magazines there was an article on "how to" blow a snot rocket only they called it a "farmer's blow"

Andreia 3/27/08, 7:02 PM  

I have been looking for a well-written set of instructions. Is it a gender thing? Are men better than women? I have yet to accomplish this feat and as a true Texan, I am ashamed that my brothers in the great state have exceeded my abilities. Thanks.

Vanilla 11/12/08, 2:35 PM  

Great article. Much more specific and helpful than the one I wrote. ;)

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