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Monday, December 5, 2011

Ice Bath

People raise eyebrows and bystanders begin backing away slowly and quietly when I say that I will take, or have taken, or recommend that they take an ice bath. Otherwise pleasant and engaging conversations turn - well - cold at such an innocuous reference.

I mean what's the big deal? We converse fondly of going home to take a nice hot shower, or to soak in the tub. What is it about an ice bath that spins this in such a socially unacceptable direction? Like you've never settled into a tub of ice water? No?

So I ponder... What is the percentage of humans who have intentionally lowered themselves into a bathtub of frigid water? Probably a very small number. That small number is no doubt just a shade smaller than the percentage of humans training for ultra-marathons right now. Broadly recognized as bunch of self-destructive lunatics, both of those cohorts include me in their number. Along with other shorter runs, I am now consistently mapping runs of over 20 miles at least once per week - and after those runs I sit in a bathtub chilled with ice cubes for upwards of 20 minutes. I recognize that most Americans find it hard to understand why anyone would choose to run any distance further than that between security and their gate at the airport, and am thus likewise impelled to understand their similar aversion to an otherwise unlikely means of perpetuating the ability to run distances far in excess of the airport itself. What I just said was, if you can't figure out why we run, then you probably won't understand the ice part either.

My understanding of cycling, running, and endurance sports in general has developed over the years - in direct correlation to my list of injuries. A misconception I harbored for many years was that a sore muscle or joint (overuse related) should be heated to relax said muscle or joint. I have since learned that immediately after a workout, heat is the enemy. In the past I have inadvertently been exacerbating the inflammation in those sore muscles with heat and thus furthering the damage. To my chagrin science has proven that ice is the solution.

So, you see, contrary to popular belief a nice hot relaxing shower or bath immediately following a hard workout is not a really great idea. It seems really great - believe me - especially on those bitter cold mornings when the water I'm carrying has frozen and I've been running for hours alternating between sweating my way up hills and freezing my way down. A hot bath just beyond the finish is spectacularly motivating after the tears caused by the cold dry air have frozen my eyelashes together. Unfortunately a diabolical little interlude has become modus operandi.

After learning of my need for ice I began strapping on ice packs after a long run, and I thought that was torture. When I realized that our collection of ice packs stored in the door of the freezer was shy of sufficient, I feared I was missing something. My fears were realized when I learned of The Ice Bath.

OK, so I started out thinking they were nuts too. One website I read recommended letting your family and friends know when you are going to be entering the ice bath, lest they hear your howls, come running, and inadvertently rescue you. Oh boy do I understand.

Now my routine is typically along these lines:
  • Finish running and lightly stretch all leg muscles.
  • Remove all unnecessary clothing items (Hat, gloves, jersey, shoes) because everything is completely soaked with sweat. Steam rises in clouds from my body as the cooling begins. Yes even on those sub freezing runs, my body can't figure out that maybe shutting off the spigot would get me more lovin when I get home. Even my 2 year old has no affection for daddy when I waft in after a hard run.
  • Fill mug with leftover coffee, place heating pad in microwave for 2 minutes, begin grabbing whatever doesn't move out of my way - and eat it. The cooling process has been effective and I begin to be more or less comfortable.
  • Begin running cold water in bathtub while microwave is doing it's job, and add 2 trays of ice cubes. Goose bumps begin forming.
  • Assemble my phone (To surf the web and keep track of time), phone charger, coffee, food, and heating pad near the tub.
  • Place heating pad over shoulders. I'm now getting cold.
  • I sit perfectly still, because after 5 minutes everything under water is numb. If I move...
  • But it takes 5 minutes before I can sit perfectly still. I'm shivering so violently that the bathwater is trembling and my coffee is breaking over the edges of my mug. I don't touch my phone until I've regained fine motor skills lest I drop the phone and become famous as the first person ever toasted in a tub of ice water.
  • 15 minutes pass and I'm struggling my way out. I've never made it all the way to 20 minutes.
  • I cannot walk normal, but not being able to feel your legs after running 20 miles is sort of OK. My daughters know to steer clear of Frankenstein.
  • More coffee, Breakfast, More coffee.
  • Then at last, a long hot shower.

See that's not so bad. I strongly feel that folks shouldn't judge what they haven't experienced themselves.

The beauty of ice is that - it works. No it's not fun, but then so much of what we do can't be classified as fun or any other derivation of a good time. Sometimes we have to do things because they make us better. Not to mention, if you think a hot shower would feel good after a long cold run, just imagine how nice it feels after the ice.