Monday, August 8, 2011

Ice Man Bath Cometh - (Ice Baths after Marathon or Marathon Training Runs)

Runners World states:  Long runs are essential to the training distance runners because they enable the body to adapt to running greater distances safely and efficiently. Unfortunately, long runs also increase the runner's risk of injury, which can result in unplanned—and unwelcome—time off. One simple way to offset the risks inherent to long bouts of running is cold-water immersion, known to many runners as the ice bath.

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.

Though you could use individual ice packs, cold-water immersion generally produces a greater and longer lasting change in deep tissues and is more a more efficient means of cooling large groups of muscles simultaneously. The discomfort associated with sitting in a tub full of ice water scares off some athletes. I admit that after my long runs I'd rather reward myself with a hot shower and a big plate of scrambled eggs than an ice bath. However, I have been running ultramarathons for nearly 10 years without any significant injuries, and I credit my ritual of post-workout ice baths for much of my orthopedic health.  

Over those years, I've discovered tricks to make the ice bath experience more tolerable. First, I fill my tub with two to three bags of crushed ice. Then I add cold water to a height that will cover me nearly to my waist when I sit in the tub. Before getting in, 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.    Now personally I do not recommend filling the tub up with water and ice before getting in.  I have done that (when I didnt know what I was doing and let me tell you its much harder that way!  What I do is usually the night before or definitely before I leave the house for the run itself, I fill the tub up with water so that when I get back its cold; adding ice to water fresh out of the tap seems to melt the ice faster.  Then when I get home, I grab the ice bags from the freezer, and place them next to the tub and I get in the tub clothes and all.  Then I will add 1 bag of ice, then shortly after that, add the other.  You need to make sure that the ice/water is covering the entire leg area including the quads.  Unlike above, I do not make it come up to my waist.  Forget that.  :O)

My Coach actually recommends (and does himself) one of those big garbage cans (but the kind that is split in half), and you just stand in it and then add the ice until its up past your thighs.  If you do this, please wear pants!!!!  The contact of the ice directly on your skin is not recommended!!!  When he told me to do it this way I basically told him he was crazy!

Something else I have done in the past (when the weather is colder and the pool water isnt as warm as bath water), is just upon returning home, go stand waist high in the pool water.   Again this only works if the water is cold cold cold!

Though scientific research exists to support the use of ice baths to promote recovery, no exact protocol has been proven better than others. In general, water temperatures should be between 50 to 59 degrees Fahrenheit, and immersion time should ranges from 10 to 20 minutes. Among top runners, I see ice bath techniques that vary within and on either side of these ranges. My favorite method is the post-race soak in a cold river or lake with fellow competitors.   My protocol is that I am submerged for 10 min, I get out, wait 10 minutes and then go back in (using the same cold water since the ice has probably melted, but thats fine) for another 10 minutes.  I dont read, drink beer or coffee or any of those things.  I just wait it out, and will typically have my phone so I can check Facebook (take photos obviously) or whatever but be careful!  Don't drop your phone in the tub full of ice and water!!!!


Amanda over at Fancy Oatmeal asked when is it recommended to do ice baths?  Well honestly I think that depends.  I know folks that do them after shorter mileage but a harder effort.  Some folks who are new to running might start them while even still in single digits (I have a friend that is doing them after every long run and she is at 8 miles right now for her long run for her 1st marathon).  And then there are those that think they are pointless and never do them.  I know they work for me and have for years so I don't mess with a good thing.

So Amanda, I do not start them until I get to 18 miles for a long run as a general rule of thumb.  I have no reason for that being the number.  Its just typically where I start to have the DOMS set in 2 days later if I dont.  I should have done them last weekend after the 17, looking back on it now and how I felt the next 2 days.  And I certainly felt much much better yesterday (only a bit of soreness in quads). 

Me in NYC hotel after running the NYC Marathon in November 2008 (I had on sweatpants and a long sleeve shirt and I still wanted to cry my eyes out)
I don't have a photo of me after Chicago Marathon last year in the tub, but my roommates were there in the room waiting for me and one of them had even already gone to the ice machine on our floor and started hauling in ice for me.  Quick Tip:  Bring a kitchen sized plastic bag with you in your suitcase for this purpose!!!  Much faster than using an ice bucket I would assume.  :O)

So there you have it.  My thoughts on ice baths and I give them two thumbs up! 
So what do you think?  Will you be giving it a try?  If so, I want to hear about it afterwards, or post it on your blogs so I can read it there!


Even if you have, go do it again and again!  I need enough nominations to be in the top 6 of my category to make it on the ballot!


Tricia said...

I used to only do ice baths after 16+miles. But now, with some injuries behind me, I've been babying my legs so I do them after a hard effort.

Neeraj Rohilla said...

I only tried ice bath once and Holy mother of God I will never try it again. I was so naive that I didn't know the right procedure back then. Basically, I thought if 2 bags of ice are good, 4 would be better. After my first marathon, I filled the tub with water, poured 4 bags of Ice and waited 5-8 minutes and jumped into the tub from ambient 80 degrees and within 45-60 seconds of that cried Holy mother of God and vowed never to return to it. Of course if I had sat first in cold water and added bags of ice slowly, it would have been a different story.

But, runners are weird and I've been mentally scarred by that experience (similar to the crazy one I dated once) ;)

Another equally useful thing to do which I practice is, running last mile of your long run as warm down. NEVER run last mile as part of workout and stop dead in tracks at the end of it (been done that too and it wasn't pretty). In my opinion a careful warm down is equally good as an Ice bath for recovery purpose. Ice for healing an injury is entire different thing.

Very good post though.

Lesley @ said...

I've never crossed the line into the ice bath. I should, I really should. Ugh. I'm gonna whine like a baby!

Amanda @FancyOatmeal said...

Thank you so much for this blog and addressing my question! Part of me asked this to get a response like, "You won't have to do them until you're running like 15 miles...more than what you're planning on doing, so you can avoid them." LOL I'm scared, but I'm pumping myself up to do one after this week's long run. I've done a lot of other reading and I think that I won't die if I try it. =)