I like to run. I've learned that it really isn't about where you're going, it's about the getting there - the how, the why, the who with. This blog is just a little repository for my thoughts along the way; the setbacks, the lessons learned, and the occasional triumph.

Monday, September 15, 2008

It’s All Nice on Ice, Alright

I used to think you had to be nuts to take an ice bath on purpose. I know that pro athletes do it all the time, but hey, it’s their job to abuse their bodies like that. Sure, I thought, if you’re putting your body through that much stress, I can understand why extreme counter measures like an ice bath would be necessary. I just never thought I would ever need to resort to anything that crazy, right? Well…

I always thought the ice bath was just to control swelling, you know, like putting a piece of meat on your eye after you get punched in the face. Well, that is true, but a lot more happens with the ice bath.

After a hard run, there is a certain amount of microscopic tissue damage, and that damage tends to collect in muscle tissue. The body will also pump a quantity of Lactic Acid into your muscles. In the short term this helps you complete the exercise, but the LA is bad for you long term, is difficult for your body to flush back out again, and is one of the primary causes of muscle soreness in the days after the workout.

When you dip into the ice bath, your body responds to the cold temperature by pulling your blood away from your skin surface and toward the center mass of your body to help maintain your core temperature. This flushes blood away from your muscles faster than it would otherwise go. Yes, this controls swelling, but when the blood evacuates, it also carries a lot more of that damaged tissue and lactic acid with it. Even more than that, when you get out of the ice and begin to warm back up, lots of fresh blood rushes back into the muscles. This carries away even more of the junk and compounds the benefit. The process requires just about 15 minutes under the ice.

After I learned all that, there was no denying anymore that the practice actually made a lot of sense. It’s such a blatantly logical little process. So, this past March, when I decided to try a weekend double, I couldn’t think of a good reason not to give icing a try.

My original idea was to run the Clinton Lake 30-Mile Ultramarathon here in central Illinois on Saturday, then fly to Atlanta that night and run the Georgia Marathon on Sunday, but my winter schedule made training for that very difficult. Instead, I fashioned myself a "mini-double", running Clinton then staying in Chicago for the Shamrock Shuffle 8K on Sunday. Following up the 30-Mile race with a 5-mile race was far less daunting, but I was still worried about my recovery turnaround. So? You guessed it. I tried out my very first ice bath on Saturday night as soon as I got home from Clinton Lake.

I drew a bath of cold water, then dumped in three large bags of ice from the convenience store. I measured the water temperature and the thermometer read about 38 degrees. I was seriously not sure about this, and was really nervous! My stomach got tight just thinking about getting in. I felt like I deserved a little protection so I pulled on my compression shorts and my warm, skin-tight Under Armor shirt. I stepped in with my feet first. The pain of cold was searing.
And then I sat down in the water.

I think I just kept repeating over and over, “this is not a good idea, this is not a good idea,” until I finally gave up, stood up and got the hell out. Elapsed time? About 10 seconds.

OK, so I may be a wimp, but I’m not a quitter. Instead I ran hot water into the tub until the water temperature was about 55 degrees. Then I was able to get back in, adjust to the cold and wait out the full 15 minutes. I have since found articles on line stating that even a 50 degree bath has real benefits, so my “ice bath” was still legit.

Did it work? Well, even though I’d run a difficult, six and a half hour, 30-mile trail race on Saturday, I was able to rattle off a personal best 37:52 in the 8K the very next day. Since then, I’ve been an official ice bath convert – the 50 degree version, not the 38 degree misery. After every weekend long run, I head directly home, draw a cold bath and soak for 15 minutes. It’s made a huge difference in my running and recovery this year.


Anonymous said...

Hey crazy man. Try filling the tub with cold water, getting into that, and then adding the ice on top of yourself. It's much easier to endure that way. It's like boiling a frog, only you're freezing him instead!

From: A friend in Atlanta.

GTI said...

Well, I did figure that out after the first time. Sometimes the logic doesn't hit you in the head until the second time around. But I'm still too much a wimp to handle water temps much below 45 degrees.

You sound like you've boiled a frog or two in your day. Do they really taste like chicken?

Anonymous said...

No, despite my southern heritage, there are no boiled frogs in my background, and none that I have eaten either. I have, however, enjoyed my share of ice baths. Hurts so good!