I am a distance runner. I’m not a fast distance runner, but I run half marathons on a pretty regular basis. I also “coach” a group of fellow distance runners for one of our local running stores. The coaching, like the distance running, is not that illustrious. My main duty is to be the run leader and pace setter. I also send out e-mails with my sage running wisdom. As we just recently hit our high mileage runs, I sent out an e-mail detailing the ice bath. The ice bath is something that distance runners sometimes do to help alleviate soreness. It is also the one aspect of distance running that most people think is crazier than the actual running itself.
For the most part I would agree with that assessment. Sitting in a bathtub full of ice water does not sound like a good time or worth the effort for that matter. But crazy as it sounded, I did finally try one last year. And it actually worked. While I am an ice bath convert, I’m certainly not die hard about it. The run has to be pretty tough before I’ll subject myself to that kind of torture. The past two weeks our long runs have been that bad. So for anyone who would like to try it out, here are my instructions for a tolerable ice bath.
Start by filling your tub with tepid to cool water. You don’t really want any heat in the water, but you don’t want it so cold that it is already intolerable. It should feel like you’re stepping into a refreshingly cool pool on a hot summer’s day. Except it’s not a hot summer’s day and the water really isn’t going to be that refreshing. While your tub is filling up, go make yourself a really hot beverage. Next, take your steamy beverage and a goodly amount of ice (I take the whole ice container from my freezer’s ice maker) to the now full tub. Once you have all your supplies assembled, it is time to get in the tub. If you haven’t started out with overly cold water, this part isn’t too bad. I get in fully clothed, because that’s what was recommended to me and it makes me feel warmer (although I know it is all in my head). The next step is where the ice bath gets a bit less fun: adding in the ice. If you’re lucky like me, you have a toddler who will lovingly fling it in the tub for you. Finally you can just sit back, sip your hot beverage and “enjoy” your ice bath. My ice baths last as long as it takes me to drink my beverage (but ideally you should aim for 10 minutes). My only real complaint (once I’ve convinced myself that taking an ice bath is not an incredibly stupid idea) is that to get my legs in the ice water, my feet also have to be in it. I try to get around this by keeping my toes out, which helps a bit, but my feet still get pretty cold.
For what it’s worth, I do think the ice bath is actually worth the effort. My legs feel much, much, much better on days that I actually take an ice bath after a long run. As I mentioned earlier, I have taken them the past two weeks following two very grueling runs and I haven’t been sore at all. If you ever decide to take the initial crazy step to join the world of distance running, I highly recommend that you follow up with the even crazier move to ice baths.
My ice bath accessories: a tub of cool water, a bag of ice and a tasty soy latte from Cosi.
Here’s me “enjoying” an ice bath. Note the blurriness of the image. I seem to have been having trouble holding the camera still. I’m going to blame the shaky hands on the extremely cold water.