Surviving the ice bath

I had a fabulous 10-mile run yesterday in neighborhoods around Rock Creek Park and Seminary Road in Silver Spring. I felt so good, I actually added extra hill loops at the end, despite being within site of my building (the point at which I usually say, “Screw this,” and run home).

How did I reward myself? My dunking myself in a pool of ice-cold water, of course.

The ice bath is one of those bizarre rituals of the long-distance runner that’s really hard to understand until you’ve done a few long runs and experienced the soreness that follows. Since I’m now the queen of injury prevention, the ice bath has become a regular part of my training program.

Physical therapist and ultrarunner Nikki Kimball explains the science behind the ice bath here, and notes that her favorite way to employ it is with “a post-race soak in a cold river or lake with fellow competitors.”

Here’s how it works in real life: You limp over to a supermarket or gas station immediately following a long run. You buy one or two bags of ice, and possibly a bottle of Advil as a side dish. You ignore the worried and confused stares of the checkout clerk and others around you. You proceed home, dump the ice in your bathtub, fill the tub enough cold water to cover your legs, and … get in.

Kimball recommends coping this way: “I put on a down jacket and a hat and neoprene booties, make myself a cup of hot tea, and collect some entertaining reading material to help the next 15 to 20 minutes pass quickly.”

I personally like Deena Kastor’s strategy. The Olympic marathoner told Runner’s World recently she likes to crank up a Madonna CD and sing along at the top of her lungs until her legs have acclimated (i.e., gone numb). Might be worth a try. If you hear me singing “Like a Prayer” (broken by some whimpers), you’ll know what’s happening.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Surviving the ice bath

  1. Jennifer

    Although you’ve told me about the benefits of an ice bath a bunch of times, I still can’t fine the courage to try it. Can you take a hot shower right after???

  2. nic

    ohmygod amy. i just cannot imagine. but in honor of you and your ice bathed madness, i will be singing “like a prayer” in my head just for you (ok… and for me too).

  3. Amy

    YES, you can take a hot shower right after! That’s actually helpful, as it speeds your circulation even more (read the Runner’s World story I linked to for the full explanation of how this is all supposed to work). It’s seriously the best way I’ve found to get rid of soreness when you’re sore in too many spots to ice effectively.But it isn’t pleasant, so you’d be forgiven for blasting Madonna and skipping the whole ice business.

  4. Pingback: A long run done right « Amy’s Training Blog

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