Ice Baths For Runners: Are They Worth The Pain?

Like most runners, I’m a ‘work in progress’ as our American cousins like to say. With every season that passes, my legs may have a little less race pace in them; but on the upside, I do try to keep on learning new lessons that help to offset the ravages of time.

So, as I’m now running close to 35 miles a week in preparation for the Edinburgh Marathon, I guess it’s OK to admit that training has become quite a struggle lately. I have no trouble running a slow 12-18 miles on a Sunday. But then going out to run six miles at race pace two days later has been killing me, with cramps and heavy legs making it impossible to get into my stride.

Time then, to start acting like a serious athlete, and take the plunge into an ice bath after every long run?

Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow!

OK, there’s no getting away from this: but if you run 18 miles before sitting down in a cold bath with many ice cubes in the water, it hurts like hell for the first few minutes. You might as well ask someone to park their truck on your legs, for all the immediate comfort an ice bath gives you.

Even for someone who has no problem plunging through the icy Bogs of Doom at Hellrunner every November, they’re a really unpleasant experience.

And don’t even get me started on the adverse effects to one’s lower-body protuberances. Which is why guys should always wear shorts for ice baths, if only for the sake of their fragile egos.

In fact, without wishing to get too graphic about this, let’s just say that half an hour ago I was considering changing the title of this blog to Taking Jelly Beans From Eskimos and leave it there, shall we?

Do Ice Baths Work?

Well, every runner knows that ice is their best friend when it comes to taking the pain and swelling out of a sore knee, ankle or lower back. But, generally speaking, you can only apply ice to an injury on a very localised basis.

The chilling beauty of a 10 minute ice bath is that it gets those heat- and swelling-reducing benefits to every single joint and muscle at once, then encourages the body to flow more blood back in: minimising tissue damage and encouraging quick repairs to all those micro-tears that a long run will inevitably bring.

That’s the theory anyway. But does it work? Well, I’m now into my third week of ice baths, and already feel that I’m in better shape two days after my long runs than I would have been otherwise, with far less heaviness than before I took the plunge. Even so, there’s only so much they can do to enhance the performance of an old plodder like my good self.

The real question is: what do the pros do? And the answer is that every serious distance runner (and indeed, every serious athlete) now uses a 10-20 minute ice bath after every training session.

So I have to say, it sounds like a no-brainer for us lesser mortals. And having pontificated long enough today, I’m off to trawl the Internet for a pair of neoprene Y-fronts.

Now, I wonder what sort of websites I might find them on…


Tough Love for Running Injuries? It’s the only kind there is…

With the Edinburgh Marathon on May 27th in my sights, I’ve been gradually upping my mileage for some time now, in order to get it up from my usual 20 or so to around 35 miles per week.

As I’m now pushing 50, this has involved a great deal of pain in just about every joint, not to mention every tendon I’ve ever torn and every rib I’ve ever cracked.

Naturally, there’s nothing else for it but to carry on regardless, and hope that my chocolate ankle, marzipan knee and peanut-brittle lower back will eventually get with the programme; particularly as help and sympathy have been in pretty short supply from those around me. And not just from my long-suffering Good Lady Wife either: even my sainted physio has told me, and I quote, to  “man up and take some painkillers.”

And there you have it. Many years and many injuries later, the received wisdom of the ages is that biggish guys who are pushing 50 shouldn’t expect to train pain-free for marathons, and should instead turn to their only real friends in the world: Ibuprofen and Advil.

So as the sun sets over the beach, I’m about to lumber off into the night again, doped to the eyeballs and with that great BB King classic blasting in my ears. Nope, it isn’t ‘Into The Night’; it’s my other favourite BB track: ‘Nobody Loves Me But My Mother (And She Could Be Jiving Me Too).’

On the upside, however, my physio assures me that nothing major has gone wrong with the chocolate ankle, and she expects me to reach both the start and finish line in Edinburgh, God willing. So if there’s anyone out there who can spare a couple of quid for the wonderful Help The Hospices charity, I’d be eternally grateful if you could do so at my JustGiving page, where I’m hoping to raise at least £1,000.

And if you were minded to share this link with any generous corporate sponsors/suppliers of highly cushioned running shoes, that would also be great…