Ice Bath! There I said it!
About a year and a half ago my running partner Becky started trying to convince me to take an ice bath after our long runs. I thought she was crazy! Get in a tub full of ice water! I don’t think so. So of course I had to try it to see if it helped, and boy was it cold! My plan for ice baths is to do them for any run in double digit miles, and soak it in for about 15 minutes.
How it done? I’m glad you asked! Typically what I do is stop by the grocery store or convenience store on the way home from a long run. I will usually get about 4-5 bags of ice. When I get home, I start by running the tub with water as cold as the faucets will give. I set the bags of ice by the tub, with the tops open. I then get into the tub with just the cold water. Trust me this is much easier of the two options, that getting directly into ice cold water. Once I am submerged in the tub, I begin to pour all the bags of ice in the tub, making sure that my hips, legs, & feet are completely covered. I usually go in with my running shorts on, with several long sleeved sweatshirts, gloves, and toboggan on top. I then set the timer on my phone and endure the wrath for 15 minutes. I have since upgraded to add my scuba diving wetsuit boots on my feet, just because they get too cold for that amount of time.
So how do I stand it for 15 minutes? Typically I text running buddies, or recently this is when I will work on my blog posts, especially if it was a new or cool running site I did that day. Do something besides just sit there, so you are not thinking about how cold it is. This will help it go much faster! It is also helpful to have someone sit with you. This is more for safety, so if you get too cold, or your body potentially goes into shock, you have someone to help you. This has never happened but I try and think of all contingencies. Sorry I was a cop, so I try and think of anything that could happen!
So does it work? YES! Here is an example of many I have had. After the 2012 Walt Disney Marathon (my first marathon), I was hurting pretty bad. When I got back to the resort, I did my ice bath, once the cycle was over, I gradually warmed up (start with a dry sweatshirt and sweatpants), eventually making it to a warm shower. I then ate and took a nap for a hour. I was then walking the parks of Walt Disney World riding rides and having a blast! It was as if I had not just run 26.2 miles. Maybe 13.1 miles! 🙂 I do them after all of my half and full marathons, and have never regretted them! Usually after each race, we can then go sightseeing at the location or town, without any major soreness. Now I am not here to tell you that it removes your soreness completely. That would be ludicrous. It just relieves it enough to help you function that day and helps your body recover much faster.
So how medically does it work? Well I am going to bring in some knowledge from other sites here, because I may work at a hospital, but I am not a doctor!
According to an article at Runner’s World, Cryotherapy (“cold therapy”) constricts blood vessels and decreases metabolic activity, which reduces swelling and tissue breakdown. Once the skin is no longer in contact with the cold source, the underlying tissues warm up, causing a return of faster blood flow, which helps return the byproducts of cellular breakdown to the lymph system for efficient recycling by the body. “Ice baths don’t only suppress inflammation, but help to flush harmful metabolic debris out of your muscles,” says David Terry, M.D., an ultrarunner who has finished both the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run and the Wasatch Front 100-Mile Endurance Run 10 consecutive times.
The key to ice baths is the immersion, not just the temperature. Being immersed in the water is far better than just putting ice packs on your lower extremities. According to a 2006 study via runnersconnect.net, “immersing yourself in water (of any temperature) introduces a pressure gradient as a result of the weight of the water surrounding your body. The deeper underwater any part of your body is, the greater the pressure. This phenomenon should be familiar to everyone who has ever swum underwater in a pool and felt the pressure in their ears build up at greater depths.” Further information regarding the temperature is that, “however, it is known that cold water immersion reduces the ability of fluids to diffuse into and between muscle cells, which reduces inflammation and so-called “secondary” damage. This is why doctors recommend icing immediately after an acute injury like an ankle sprain, since the damage can be exacerbated by prolonged swelling and inflammation from fluids pooling at the injured site. It is likely that the same prolonged swelling exists (albeit on a smaller scale) inside muscles after long, hard efforts.”
Here is another article in Runner’s World that did two studies on the effects of an ice bath.
Well I personnally adore the great and powerful ice bath. I was hesitant to do them at first, but I have to say they are really great after long training runs and races!
Q4U: Do you regularly take ice baths after high-mileage long runs? What tips would you add? If you’ve never taken an ice bath, what other strategies do you use to speed recovery after long runs?