Well, I now have been baptized, so to speak, into that crazy running circle known as ice-bath aficionados.
My wife, who had already doubted my sanity, now is convinced I've gone over the deep end.
And that deep end is saturated with cold, icy water that I willinging
plunged eased myself into after Sunday morning's 22-mile run.
For years, I've been reading about marathoners who swear by the ice baths as a way to hasten recovery, post-long run. The (non-scientific) theory is that the icy water takes the blood away from the legs as they reach that chilling state of numbness. Then, when you exit the bath, blood rushes back into the area and flushes all the waste products accumulated during your run, helping to shore up those microtears you normally get during that pounding on the road.
I don't know: It had always seemed to me like that old joke: Man 1: "Why do you keep hitting yourself over the head with a hammer?" Man 2: "Because it feels so good when I stop."
During this marathon cycle, my legs had been feeling quite achy after long Sunday runs, maybe because I've added some steep hill training, as well as a mid-week 12-15 miler. In any case, I knew I had a challenging 22-miler five weeks out from my spring marathon on tap for Sunday, so I decided to give the ice-bath experiment a try.
I did some research online, talked to a few smart running friends and set up a plan. I needed to keep the water between 40-50 degrees -- any colder, and there's a hypothermia risk, apparently. And I would stay submerged for about 10 minutes for my virgin experience. Ice-bath vets sometimes stay in as long as 20 minutes.
Throughout my long run Sunday, I kept obsessing about the ice bath awaiting me.
Will it be excruciatingly cold?
Am I complete idiot?
It can't be much worse than strapping five ice bags on your legs, hips and lower back, can it?
In a way, this obsessing helped me on the run. I found it a good way to dissociate and ignore the pain I was feeling around mile 19.
When I finally finished the run and a five-minute light stretch, I did that post-long-run Frankstein walk to the bathroom and turned on the cold water in the tub. I had my 14-year-old son go to the garage to retrieve from the freezer the 20-pound bag of ice I had bought for the occasion. He looked at me oddly when I told him just to put it next to the tub. (He has long known I'm freaking nuts.) I turned on the radio -- the Car Talk Guys from NPR were on, and their incessant cackling seemed a rebuke to my folly.
When the tub was about 3/4 full, I eased myself down into the cold water and ... It wasn't that cold, really.
Ah, but then I ripped open the bag and started dumping in the ice. By the time half of the bag was emptied in, it was bone-chillingly cold. I started my watch, willing the 10 minutes to go fast. After a minute, I started to acclimate, so I dumped in the other half of the ice bag.
In another minute, my legs were numb. I moved them around in the water to make sure they could still function. I was uncomfortable, but certainly not screaming in agony.
There was one problem: There was a, ahem, certain part of the body, some dangling appendages, exposed to the cold water that got, really really cold -- and I don't mean my toes, dear readers. But even that became tolerable after a while. I was thinking that my ice bath anxiety was misplaced. It really wasn't that bad.
When the 10 minutes were up, I hoisted myself out of the tub and toweled off. From the waist down, my skin immediately turned a bright red -- the blood was rushing back. I put on a pair of shorts, T-shirt and sweat shirt and went to the kitchen to make a post-run smoothie.
Perhaps I should've had hot tea, instead. After a few sips of the smoothie, I started shaking like a scared Chihuahua. My teeth chattered. The feeling subsided after a minute or so and I put on some sweat pants to try to warm up.
So, after going through this ordeal, did the ice bath help? Did it aid recovery, lessen inflammation and nearly eliminate the morning-after DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness)?
It did, indeed, reader.
I took the dog for a long walk Sunday afternoon and felt fairly loose. This morning's recovery run was not as creaky as previous Mondays. I am now a convert.
Call me The Ice Man.