Any runner who has undertaken distance training for a half marathon or longer race understands the vital importance of post run physical maintenance. Stretching only goes so far when the demands of distance training are placed on the muscular tissue, particularly during the most intense phases of race preparation.
Tissue breakdown is a natural occurrence of distance training, and can stall preparation in its tracks if it is not properly treated after each long run. Injuries can occur at any phase of training, but they are far more likely to occur during the intense phases of running. Ice baths can offer the ounce of prevention that is worth the pound of cure when it comes to deterring injuries.
Ice baths are absolutely as uncomfortable as they sound; but they are not nearly as miserable as a torn ligament or tendon. Runners who get into a tub of ice water for one minute immediately following a long run heal quickly and report less painful post run muscles than runners who stick to stretching. Cryotherapy, or cold therapy, offers dual benefits for the long distance runner. First, it flushes the metabolic build up from the muscle tissue and promotes faster healing. Second, it reduces inflammation and swelling of the muscle fibers that are most common associated with pain and injury.
Ice baths are particularly beneficial for first time racers and runners seeking to set a PR at their next race. Runners in both of these categories tend to push themselves harder and farther than runners who casually run races at a comfortable and familiar pace. When the muscles are developing stamina for distance running, injuries are most likely to occur.
Vascular treatment and metabolic flushing is highly recommended for preventing tears, strains and swelling of these the muscles which can lead to fractures and other serious injuries. Studies have shown that soreness is drastically decreased in runners who hop into an ice bath following a long run.
As a veteran runner myself, I have trained with and without the benefits of ice bathing. I’ll admit; it was difficult to force myself to stay in the tub for the minimum one minute required to actually achieve the benefits of the bath. Even after 25 mile runs in the summer heat, an ice bath was sheer torture due to the shocking cold hitting my already sensitive limbs.
I altered my approach to make it bearable, and found that if I used slightly less ice than recommended by my coach and trainers (don’t tell!) I was able to stay in just a little longer. I definitely noticed a dramatic difference in my recovery times when I chose to take an ice bath and when I did not.
I also set a PR at the race I trained for during the season that I first started using the ice bath method. I am one of those runners who is prone to and plagued by injuries, so anything that would help I was willing to try. Today, I would not dare train for a distance race without hopping in the ice bath afterward.
This article was written for RunnersGoal.com by Kari H., a guest author.