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saturday, october 21, 2006

The Ice Bath

Many years ago I saw a routine by comedian Billy Connolly where he recounted an episode from his childhood in Scotland.

Taken to swim in the North Sea for the first time he made an interesting discovery... when the cold water hits your testicles it feels like "a hot potato being shoved right up your ass."

That colorful vignette was made vividly clear to me today when I decided to try taking my first ice bath.

The concept here is pretty simple, as a recent Running Times article explains.

Hard running results in the buildup of toxins and lactic acid in your muscles. The cold causes your blood vessels to constrict and your body creates a "blood rush" to force more blood into the region. The sudden rapid transmission circulation flushes the damage-inflicting waste from your system.

Moreover, since the entirety of your legs are submerged, you get a more widespread effect. Which is why it is recommended as a preventive regimen rather than localized icing that is used for post-injury therapy.

Now my Sunday long run had left me pretty sore afterward. I took a nap that afternoon and woke up with burning eyes due to the toxin buildup in my body - the same sensation I get after a very effective massage. Throughout the day, moving around was done with extreme difficulty and it wasn't a lot better this morning.

So I stopped at the Water Plus store to pick up a big bottle of water for drinking and threw in two of the huge bags of ice as well.

Now, to make an ice bath you need to fill a tub with ice and water and submerge your legs into it for between 15 to 20 minutes. I started by just pouring all the ice into the tub and starting the water. Then I got in.

After about 30 seconds I realized the persistent ringing in my ears was actually my own screams. The 'Connolly effect,' as I now refer to it, seemed to be caused by the sensation of my testicles sucking back into my body with such velocity that I fear they may have bruised my kidneys.

I got out and tried to get feeling back into my legs. I also turned the water up to dissolve some of the ice and get the level high enough to submerge my legs.

Turns out, this was a good plan. The recommended temperature is between 54 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Just-above-freezing does little good and is actually pretty dangerous. Not to mention hit hurts like hell.

So, after the tub re-filled I got back in. It was brutally cold and completely agonizing but not nearly as bad as before. I turned on the timer and, never in my life has 15 minutes gone by so slow.

But, after about five minutes, it became much more bearable - although not, by any means, pleasant. I assume this is because of the influx of blood begin forced into the region by the 'blood rush.'

I finally staggered out after a quarter hour and tried feebly to walk and restore circulation. The post-run aches had been replaced by freezing agony but they were, as promised, gone. I actually felt better.

Until about ten minutes later when I couldn't stop shivering. The drop in my body temperature was pretty steep and I was having trouble recovering. I stepped outside into the sun but it didn't help much.

So I hopped into a warm shower. That helped a lot. I let the tub fill with warm - not hot - water, threw in some Epsom salt and lay there for about ten minutes letting my legs get their warmth back. Turns out, this is the method recommended in the Running Times article.

Was it worth it? I dunno. I clearly feel better now but the pain of the experience was as tough as any long run I have done to date. Most of the accounts of the practice I have been able to find on the internet seem to laud the boost it gives the day after.

Thus, the jury remains out on this one. If the pluses seem to be there I'm willing to take it on as a weekly post-long-run practice. But I'll have to remember to do something to muffle the screams.

more:  Injury | Therapy 

posted by kleph @ 11:00 am |

comment posted by: Dave on october 23, 2006 @ 5:06 pm
Excellent, excellent, excellent overview of how an ice bath can feel. I'm sitting in the office right now, but the description of your nuts running for cover brought me right back to my bathtub during my first ice bath ... right down to the phantom wince of pain.

good luck w/ the training

- dave
comment posted by: kleph on october 23, 2006 @ 5:20 pm
thanks much, mate. training for a marathon, you learn more about pain than you ever expected. sometimes it helps to know there are others going through the same agony.

best of luck on your race this weekend.
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