The ice bath. One of running’s greatest rights of passage.
The need for an ice bath signifies a milestone in your training. You have passed into double-digit mileage. You are well into your training and getting physically and mentally prepared for one of the greatest challenges a runner faces: the double-digit race. Whether you are running 12 miles or 20 miles, taking an ice bath will greatly decrease your post-long-run recovery time and have you back to walking normal faster than you would have thought possible.
Since I started running half and full marathons in 2007, I have taken numerous ice baths. Through trial an error, I have finally come up with a tried and true way which allows me to not only not fear the ice bath, but actually look forward to it after each long run…even in the winter. So I thought I would share with you my tips on how to survive an ice bath.
Water First, Then Ice
When I first started taking ice baths, I would fill the tub with water, dump the ice in, and then try to slide in. Needless to say that did not go very well. There were choice words spoken at the water. My body protested. My mind screamed for me to give it a second thought. In a word, it was painful.
What I have learned over many ice baths is that by getting into the water first, and THEN dumping the ice in, the water still gets as cold, but much more gradually. Your body is already accustomed to the cold water, so as the temperature drops you do not notice it as much. You still get the benefit of the ice bath without the unnecessary shock value.
Wear your clothes
The first thing we tend to think of when we hear “bath” is that we need to take our clothes off. I mean, it’s a bath right? We do not want to soak our clothes! Think of the mess that we would have to clean up! Well, I have some advice for you. Get over it. I learned early on that by wearing my running clothes into the bath (which, by the way, are already wet/sweaty) it helped lesson the blow on the parts of my body that did not need the ice bath. 15-20 minutes is a long time when sitting in ice-cold water, so why not keep covered? Leave your shorts and shirt on, and even throw on some gloves and hat if you want. Try it, you will thank me later.
What is something we as runners are always consumed with? Time. We want to know how long the last mile was, how long an entire run took, what our splits were over a course, etc. So it only makes sense to bring our watch into the bath with us. Whether it helps you to watch time going up towards your goal or down towards zero, having the time to check on gives you a psychological assist to help get you through the entire bath so you reap the full benefits.
If all else fails and you still need something to help you through, go for distractions. Give someone a call on the phone or have your significant other join you in the bathroom. Blast your favorite songs and sing along. Use the time to go over your run from the day, strategizing ways to improve for your next one. Or, one of my favorites, fantasize about the delicious and well-earned (and warm) meal you are about to devour. Before you know it your 15-20 minutes will be up and you will not even have broken a sweat.
The bottom line is that the benefits of ice baths on your recovery far out-weigh the minor discomforts. After your first few ice baths, they will simply become so routine that you might even look forward to them…even mid-winter when training for a Spring race. So fill that tub, jump in and let the ice rain down!