Ice baths - The good, the bad, and the ugly
By Jeff Rondina Team Strength Runner Athlete
As always, I am not a medical professional (although I have recently completed an EMT course) and everything here is based on my own experience or research. You should do your own as well.
Ice baths are controversial. Studies have been done extensively and they best they have come up with is a resounding maybe. Some athletes swear by them, other athletes avoid them at all costs, and most fall in that grey area of why would you do it to yourself. I have been ice bathing for a couple years ago, but only very intermittently because getting in a tub of ice cold water sucks. That is probably the one area all athletes can agree on.I first heard of ice baths about two years ago. I was reading an athlete’s blog and saw it mentioned. First thought was of course, why would you do that to yourself? Second thought was, what’s this whole ice bath thing about? So I did a little internet searching and found the 3 camps of ice bath thought. Let me give a quick synopsis of each camp.
#1. Ice baths are the greatest ever. This camp has staunch supporters who will defend the ice bath to the death. They will insist it fixes everything. It will strengthen the constitution, heal your sore muscles over night, and make you run twice as fast. I am of course being facetious.
#2.Ice baths are the worst. They will tell you how the cold water slows down fluid movement thereby lengthening healing time, it weakens your immune system, and a host of other ill effects.
#3. Ice baths are neither bad nor good. These knowledgeable people will tell you about how the science behind the ice bath is vague and there are no proven benefits or negative effects.
So which camp is right, or the closest to being right? All three are right. When it comes to ice baths, there is no straight answer. For some it works, for some it doesn’t, and no one knows why. The idea behind it is that after intense physical activity, the ice bath will help the muscles recover faster. The cold temperature causes vasoconstriction, which according to some, will help get rid of lactic acid buildup, cause the blood to leave the extremities, and reduce swelling. The blood then rushes back to the muscles when the body warms back up, bringing healing nutrients, and flushing out the toxins. Of course none of this has been proven. The flip side of the coin is that the inflammation is your body’s natural response to muscle damage and that is necessary for healing. By using ice, you are slowing the healing process down. Another negative effect is the sudden immersion in cold water can shock your body leading in worst case scenarios to breathing problems. That’s very worst case and unlikely to happen.
In my personal experience, ice baths help me. I only use them after long runs/races or after a very intense leg workout. They may help for the upper body as well but it’s hard enough to sit waist deep in ice water as it is. I only use them very occasionally, mostly because I don’t like buying that much ice. But when I do utilize an ice bath for recovery, I notice my legs are not as sore the following day. I have done a few back to back races on a Saturday and Sunday and think that Saturday night’s ice bath is one of the only reasons I could get back out there the next day. The most notable was my first ultra marathon, a very technical and steep 50k, followed the next day by a gnarly 12 mile trail race of which about a 1/2 mile of it was flat. I don’t recommend doing that. But I did my ice bath, as well as foam rolling, massage, and plenty of water, protein, and amino acids for recovery and was able to run the next day.
Ice Bath Recipe1 tub filled 3/4 with cold water20-30lbs of ice depending on starting water temp.Open bags of ice and dump into tub. While mustering all of your courage, get into the tub*. Sit for 12-15 minutes. Quicklyexit the water, and towel dry off. If you prefer to get comfortable quicker, take a hot shower immediately afterwards**.*Optional, yell your favorite curse word as you get in.**Contrast baths, one hot, one cold are another form and just as hotly contested.
If you find yourself intrigued and want to try this out for yourself, I have a few tips and tricks:
1. The ideal water temperature is supposedly between 52-58 degrees. I used to have a thermometer but now I just estimate. And believe me, that 6 degree difference can feel huge.
2. Bring a distraction. It’s far easier to sit in a cold bath while reading a book than just staring at the clock.
3. If you position yourself so your toes are sticking out of the water, it can make it suck that much less. Cold toes suck.
4. Even if you take a hot shower immediately after, you won’t be warm for awhile. Be prepared to shiver for longer than you’d like.
5. If you have a significant other, they most likely will not be willing to share body heat. No one likes cuddling with a Popsicle.There you have it. There are many more articles out there about this, and you can see for yourself the controversy surrounding it, but everybody is different. Give it a shot after your next long run, maybe it will help. And remember to hydrate.
The Northeast Suck Review
By Team Strength Runner OCR Elite Athlete Brandon Seale
Gut Check Fitness: The Suck is a 12 hour event that is designed to put people through what the soldiers went through in Vietnam. The term “Welcome to the shit” often meant that that is the worst place you can possibly be because the conditions were very harsh and the mortality rate was very high. Joe Decker’s event The Suck is to put people through just that.There are 12 hour events and there are 12 hour events at 100 miles an hour. This is definitely a 100 mile an hour event!
My first year doing it the conditions were very hard to bare in fact I almost dropped from the cold temperatures alone. This year I had a stomach bug during the event that almost caused me to drop from dehydration. Luckily I was able to overcome the sickness and got lucky from eating some dry food that helped me calm and balance my stomach.
During the event we were expected to complete a few strong man competitions involving 200+ pound atlas stone lifts, dead lifts, flipping a telephone pole which is much heavier than a long ground to overhead 100pound dumb bell, pull ups, and burpees each time we ascended down the mountain from the mountain tasks. I remember doing the strong man work outs each time I came down the mountain and I had no comfort in returning to base camp.
Over the course of the event we carried around 150 pounds of gear up the mountain piece by piece; and in many instances we were carrying our 100lbs of sand in buckets up ½ mile stretches up the mountain. ½ a mile never seems like much to me but carrying those buckets up the mountain even took me an hour and a half on one leg (the Last leg up). After getting up to each station along our way up the mountain there would be a series of work outs such as 100 sledgehammer swings and 100 sand bag thrusters. When we completed that they would send us back down the mountain for another strong man work out before we could then go back up the mountain and begin another long leg up the mountain with more bucket carrying and bushwhacking. At 4am I made it to the top of the mountain and was told to go back down a mile or so and carry one 50 lb sandbag, 2 buckets, a sledge hammer and a tire back up to the top. That carry is what took me an hour and a half because the carry was so uneven that I had to carry half up then the other half of the items up.
This is just a taste of the 12 hours I went through overnight. I honestly do not remember most of it but the small amount I do remember can help you visualize what kind of conditions you can expect. This is definitely a hidden gem as far as fitness events because many people know little about it. Joe and Nichole Decker I believe both have a background in exercise science and monitor your technique. They believe in encouragement over negative reinforcement, which can go a long way in that type of situation.
by Leslie St. Louis (Team Strength Runner Athlete)
Most runners have experienced it: that moment mid race, where you just.want.to.stop.
Or find a lounger and have an umbrella drink.
Until that moment, I was feeling pretty good, excellent actually, considering the day before I had caught a one-day stomach bug my six-year-old had passed to me. 24-hours, 30 Pepto Bismolsand half a jar of Tums later my stomach felt normal at the Start Line (antacids are performance enhancers, right?), and I had been hydrating, hydrating, hydrating all week.
This was my third year running this race and in the past the water stations had sufficed, so I had decided to race with nothing other than my normal gummies and gels stuffed strategically along my body.
The race started with a mile going straight UP and all was good! Add some steep downhills, 6 foot walls, concrete pulls and carries, crawls, rope climbs and even 60 penalty burpees… still trucking along.
But this course was living up to its Beast title and had changed a bit from year’s past, with two extra miles, more hills and added obstacles.
After the bucket carry, a concrete hoist and drag and going down and over a set of mud hills, I started wishing there were more water stations. It seemed as though my gummies werehardening, turning into chalk and making me want to gag. I spit one out, leaving a neon blob of orange on the side of the trail.
Seriously?! Another switchback?
Um, this is mile 9, not 10?
When did my feet become bricks?
I felt sick – light headed, stomach bubbly -- and I pondered the pros and cons of stopping.
It lasted only a few minutes before I finally realized what was happening. as if ripping off a Halloween mask, I suddenly recognized: The Bonk! And it was chasing me.
With only a few miles left, I scarfed down nearly all of myremaining gels, choked down a few chomps and took a few extra moments at the water stations to refill.
My feet kept moving and I made my to the spectator area for some more obstacles. The inverted and traverse wall went by in a blur, “Don’t fall and don’t hurl,” I willed my body.
As I jumped off the wall, the battle was starting to subside. A few more switchbacks and while I didn’t feel as though the hills were alive with the sound of music, I knew I would finish, even starting to run faster. Crawling through one of the muckiest, muddiest and sloppy barbed wire crawls I’ve ever experienced, I swished my way up the (very,very) slippery wall and heard my family cheering for me.
The Bonk never did stop its pursuit, but it didn’t prevail either. I happily jumped over the fire finish!
This race was one of my favorites so far this year. I race for many reasons, but one of them is discovering more about myself and overcoming both physical and mental challenges, even when it’s uncomfortable. While I thought I had my nutrition needs dialed in, I also learned more about what my body needs.
Watch out Bonk, I’ll be even harder to catch next time!
Runners World describes the Bonk or "hitting the wall" as, “the dreaded point (and awful feeling similar to what your body would feel like if you ran into a wall) during a race when your muscle glycogen stores become depleted and a feeling of fatigue engulfs you.”
There have been lots of articles about the infamous Bonk, usually with runners hitting this wall during marathon-length or longer events. However, since even five-mile obstacle events can take three hours or more, Obstacle Racers face unique challenges when it comes to avoiding the Bonk. Here’s what I learned along the Utah trails last weekend:
Obstacle Racers Can Avoid The Bonk by…
By Team Strength Runner Athlete Leslie St. Louis
The entire 2014 list of my equipment, with new thoughts for 2016 in blue. Mostly I am keeping the same things, but a few more changeouts, if I can afford it!
- Trail Toes, http://www.trailtoes.com/ -- I used this instead of other body glides and did not regret. Not one single blister -- crazy!
- Basic, digital watch - I personally, wouldn’t wear something I would be sad to lose or break. My watch broke off jumping off the cliff, just fyi
- Running waist belt or hydration pack -- I used a small waist belt but since I already had a Nathan Hydration Pack I brought that too (but didn’t use it).
- Swiftwick Pursuit Socks -- I used two but more if you have them or can afford them
- Cw-x tights -- I used one but bring spares if you have them
- calf sleeves -- I used one but bring spares if you have them
- compression tank/shirt -- at least two
- Cold gear tops -- no cotton, at least two
- Beanie -- at least two
- Mad Grip Pro Gloves -- I didn’t really use them, but they are good to have depending on the weather, terrain and obstacles. They can be bought at Home Depot and other similar stores, which is helpful for choosing the right size.
- wetsuits --- at least one shortie and one full length. They should be able to be layered, if needed. I used Deep Dee and Xterra Vortex sleeveless and bought both off ebay, for $40 and $60. I am going to make sure these are not too ripped and just mend them, if there are holes.
- neoprene gloves -- I used NeoSport Wetsuits Neoprene 3mm Gloves from amazon.
- Buff -- at least one
- Clear goggles for keeping out dust
- Salomon Speedcross -- two pairs (one new, one used)
- NeoSport Wetsuits Neoprene 5/3 Vented Bib Hood -- a must-have! This saved me!
- EGear Dual Function Signal Light -- two
- Zip Ties -- for the strobe light
- Black Diamond Storm Headlamp -- get a headlamp that can be submerged, not just a waterproof one. Also bring a few spare headlamps. I went cheaper for those, picking up a two pack at Costco.
- Pit area items: Tent, tent stakes, hammer, Multi-Tool, Sleeping Bag, Dry Towels, Basic First Aid ( Advil, Band-Aids, mole skin, ace bandages, chapstick), water jugs
- Wind layers -- DIDNT HAVE BUT needed! Wind jacket (not sure on pants) to go over the wetsuit. I have heard even cheap ones do the job. Def on the list this year.
Transportation and Lodging -- use the WTM website and WTM facebook community page for ideas. I bought through priceline express for 2016, narrow to Las Vegas Lake.
Entry -- there are periodic deals throughout the year, but unless you win an entry from the year before, there is really no way around this one and it will be about $400. This is the biggie expense, so plan for it. While I balked at this, it is actually comparable to other events in other sports. For instance, here in Colorado, the 100-mile Leadville 100 is the same price.
Pit Crew -- You don’t have to have one, but it awesome for so many reasons. You only get two people, so choose wisely. It is $40 per person and they will probably have their own list of items to bring. They should plan to dress warmly too!
Nutrition -- I had a mini crisis in 2014 when I planned to use Tailwind for the majority of my calories, only to realize that I trained by sipping it, but was chugging it during the race -- no bueno! Also, I was excited for poptarts and brought tons but they tasted like gravel to me and I couldn’t even chew them. Also buy WAY more than you think you will need. I weaned myself off of caffeine about a month before the race. 2016 I am planning to use:
- Micro mac and cheese
- Cup o noodles
- Meal bars
- Advocare rehydrate gels
- Gu roctane gels
- Beet elite
- Beta Red (another beet product)
- Advocare slams
Stores and Websites to know, love and use:
- TJ Maxx, Marshalls, etc
- sierratradingpost.com -- use their facebook deals
- rei.com (outlet)
- craigslist/garage sales/friends, etc
- http://www.xterrawetsuits.com/index.php/home -- for wetsuit sizing
Are You Ready?
By Leslie St. Louis
(Team Strength Runner Athlete)
“Are you ready?”
Got that question a few times leading up to my first-ever World’s Toughest Mudder* and was never quite how to respond.
I had long responses:
“Well, yes I think so…but I’ve never raced 24 hours before and I have never tried to run with a wetsuit and I don’t know if it will be cold…. But I have been running a lot, but not sure if I have been working on strength enough. Think I know what I will eat, but not sure if I will carry a pack and planning not to sleep, but unsure how that will pan out…and speaking of which, I have never really run at night….”
I had short:
In the end, I knew I would never quite be a peace with how ready I was for my first time at the World’s Toughest Mudder, but relied on two of favorite quotes:
“If we wait until we are ready, we will be waiting for the rest of our lives.”
“If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough.”
Leading up to the event, I DID know that unless I was physically maimed, I would keep moving.
From the time I was twelve until college graduation I spent nearly every summer backpacking, camping, climbing, eventually becoming an outdoor guide, and essentially mentally prepping for long events like these. In fact, I was really looking forward to being outside in terrain that reminded me so much of my home state of Colorado. And honestly, as a busy mom of two, I was kind of looking forward to a whole day to myself!
In the end, it was a truly unforgettable 24+ hour race with more than 20,000 feet of elevation change and 65 miles with 260 obstacles.
Was I ready?
Turns out all my short answers were right.
Yes: I completed 65 miles and came in 4th place for women, 33rd overall!
No: I did way more penalties than I would have liked and asked for boosts more than I wanted.
“Ready”: I was prepared for the cold but never expected all the wind or fathomed that I would find myself with my husband (pit crew!) huddled in a port a potty in the wee hours of the night eating cup o noodles and receiving a pep talk.
Also, I was unprepared for how emotional this event would be.
There were frustrations:
Small frustrations, like seriously being tired of shot blocks and pop tarts, but big ones too. I was intermittently sobbing on the course at night because it was so cold but I didn't want to stop or quit! Later I was growling (yes, growling) the last 10 miles because again I wanted to be done but didn't want all those nighttime running miles to have been wasted. My Pit Crew and fellow racers Tom, Dayna, Corinne and Josue were giving me updates. At night, I had some 5- mile laps that nearly took three hours. The last lap took me about an hour and thirty minutes and it came down to eight -- eight! --- minutes between me and the fifth place woman in our overall time.
There were crazy, “what the…?” moments: besides forcing my husband Tom to squeeze into a port o potty with me in the middle of the night (just to get away from the wind) where he fed me noodles and squeezed me into two wetsuits, I also found myself diving out of metal tubes into a pool of water, swimming with lit tiki torches, jumping off of 30-foot cliffs and scaling dozens of walls over and over and over….
There were moments of strength:
I definitely (well, mostly) conquered my recent fear of heights and found energy I didn't know I had to just keep going. I also never wanted to run in a wetsuit, but ended up running more than 14 hours wearing TWO wetsuits at once, including a wetsuit hood and gloves. On the upside, I felt no rocks and floated like a giant balloon through the water!
There were moments of weakness:
My legs and arms seemed to just stop working at various points throughout the day, and even though it is a race the friendly WTM community helps each other. So, so SO many times, various fellow racers helped pull and shove my two layered wetsuit booty over and up things. I vow to come back stronger next year!
There was connectedness:
During such a long event, the connections you make with fellow racers and the volunteers are completely unique, whether it's repeated laps or just a few seconds.
There was joy:
In August 2013 when I broke my leg only a few months of breaking my foot ( also tearing my labrum), the doctors and PTs told me to work up to "long" runs and to not expect big mileage. So running the first few hours of the race yesterday, I was holding back tears of happiness! It was the best feeling ever to do what I love and see how far my body would take me if I didn't set boundries on it. I am positive it is a feeling I will chase more and more.
Finally, there were moments of thankfulness:
It was extra special that my husband Tom, who is usually home watching our daughters so I can run these events, could be there for this and both him and my friend Dayna. were the best pit crew ever. They stayed up the entire 25 hours, enduring the cold and horrible wind and walking the course dozens of times so they could show up at obstacles to cheer me on, then running back to get food and supplies ready.
The World’s Toughest Mudder Community is completely unique. My husband and I were not only wowed by the organization but friendliness of everyone, including the volunteers, who held up “Free Hugs” signs and braved through all hours of the storm with a smile, the Pit Crews and spectators, including a bagpipe playing dad!, the Tough Mudder Employees, who mailed me a forgotten finisher shirt after the race, and especially the Fellow Racers.
Even though you often feel alone during the WTM, you are never alone. I had so many great conversations and interactions during the race. Not to mention that every athlete is treated the same. There is no ego and in fact, a wacky, fun humor pervades.
The event is about testing yourself physically, but really, it’s even more about the mental and emotional toll. You’ll learn something about yourself and make connections amid challenging, inspiring and sometimes completely absurd situations.
I would recommend this race or a long, ultra obstacle race to anyone willing to take a chance and try it.
There’s no way to be ready, which is both a lesson and the entire point.
* What was the World’s Toughest Mudder 2014?
The fourth annual 24-hour obstacle race took place for the first time in Las Vegas on November 15th. With a history of being notoriously cold (it took place in New Jersey -- in NOVEMBER -- the last few years), the event tracks how many five mile laps with 20+ obstacles competitors can complete. While the Tough Mudder mantra of teamwork still pervades, this is the company’s one competitive race of the year, so many participants came in hopes of doing personal bests and there are penalties for failing obstacles.
by Brian Lynch (Team Strength Runner Athlete)
As athletes we all understand the need to push ourselves physically to continue to see improvements in our fitness. Our muscles and bodies learn efficiency of motion over time, and as a result if we perform the same workout that originally resulted in gains (whether that means muscle mass, speed, etc…), we will actually see performance decline as the body learns efficient movements to complete the desired task and relies less on pure muscle strength.
So we push ourselves, and we break through barriers, sometimes painfully, to continue to reach new levels. The post-workout inflammation and soreness is something we are accustomed to and even appreciate as a sign of progress. But at what point are we doing more harm than good, how can you recognize when you have gone too far and sidelined yourself by overtraining, or worse developed chronic muscle pain and damage?
Inflammation at the site of a particular muscle exertion is a result of tissue damage. It's well-understood that muscles grow by tearing small fibers and re-growing them stronger, and inflammation is part of the process of clearing broken down cellular material and repairing the muscles. Blood flows to the area initially, which you can recognize through feelings of swelling, stiffness, or heat.
Neutrophils are the white blood cells responsible for clearing the cellular debris while macrophages initiate the re-growth of healthy tissue. For standard workouts, this process takes up to 48 hours to complete and is why many athletes choose to alternate muscle groups day to day to allow time for the full cycle. It has been discovered that the neutrophils become more effective after the first cycle of inflammation, which is partly why soreness in a given area will decline the more you work out that muscle group.
Everyone knows the feeling of soreness a day or two after an especially tough workout, which is aptly named "Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness" or DOMS. It is particularly problematic to athletes as it can lead to higher rates of injury as your body adjusts the way it moves in order to fight through the soreness, putting strain on ligaments, tendons, and joints. Even if you avoid an injury, training through an incomplete Inflammation cycle, before the macrophages have completed tissue re-generation, can compromise the muscle growth by re-damaging tissue and muscle fibers before they have healed properly.
There is a repetition phenomenon in which your body will always produce enough neutrophils to offset tissue damage as was needed in your last workout. Drastically spiking the intensity of your workouts is what leaves your body lacking in neutrophils and elongates the process, which either forces you to take multiple days off, or if you "power through" you run the risk of joint injury from unfamiliar motions or chronic tissue damage before the macrophages have time to repair muscle tissue. It runs counter to a lot of our intensity and motivation, but if you are dealing with prolonged inflammation and soreness you should focus on modest increases in your workouts rather than going "all in" at once.