Trying ice baths
Which are very uncomfortable, as it turns out
I went for a four-kilometre run in a storm, in wild rain and wind, on the deserted seawall in downtown Vancouver — a route normally so crowded that it can only be run with constant dodging. I ran a little harder than I usually do, manic in the intense weather, but my body can't take much of that pace, and so I was already unnaturally sore when I got back.
This was early in Project Try Everything. (New here? See the intro post.)
It was a few months ago, when my inspiration was very fresh, and I was excited to try something, anything (not yet “everything”). So I filled a bathtub with the coldest possible water, and tried my first-ever "ice" bath. Something I had been meaning to try for years.
Why ice baths?
I do not know if the obnoxiously disproportionate soreness and oogy fragility that settles into me after almost any significant exercise is actually "inflammation," but it sure feels like the right word … and ice baths do kinda seem like the right thing to attack that feeling with.
So science! Very data. Amaze.
Ice baths might reduce muscle soreness after exercise, and there is actually some evidence to that effect — though nothing actually impressive, of course. But ice baths are also accessible and probably harmless, so they are an obvious thing for me to try.
It would be a game-changer if I were to discover that ice baths can actually take the edge off my symptoms. Many of the treatments I want to try are like this: low risk long shots I have to give a fair shot. All they need is a little focus, a little organization…
On the other hand, maybe ice bathing isn’t so easy…
Holy 🤬! Ice baths are intense!
But I would never have been able to get in that bath without the storm energy. It was brutal.
Submerging myself seemed like the hardest physical thing I had ever done. The same soreness I was trying to quench made me feel fragile, like I would break in that cold. For a couple long minutes I paused halfway in, unable to force myself to go the rest of the way. There was a lot of deep breathing.
Finally a wave exasperated determination finally pulled me down: “I! Can! Do! This!”
And then it was fine, in that strange way that cold water suddenly becomes tolerable when it’s all over you. It felt as invigorating as the storm. First I felt lively, then pleasantly exhausted. I had a really excellent nap, and that's not nothing.
But I was no less sore that night, or the next day. If the ice bath tamed my inflammation, it was not obvious. I enjoyed the immediate aftermath of the bath, but seemed otherwise probably unaffected.
I wrote in my log at the time: “Obviously I will have to repeat the experiment several times to be sure.”
Ha ha, good luck with that buddy
I could not bring myself to do another ice bath until yesterday.
Every time I tried for the last few months — several earnest attempts — I was defeated. It just seemed impossibly hard. Absurd. Unthinkable! Dip my body in THAT? My body refused as emphatically if I had asked it to crawl into a pizza oven.
I finally managed it yesterday, after only four months of trying. Maybe Vancouver's current heat wave made it thinkable again. Legs groaning with double the soreness they should have from a workout, and successfully got in … half way. I managed to get my legs in, and I managed to keep them there for a while. Since I was mainly dealing with leg soreness, I figured, Good enough, sir. “Victory.”
No apparent effect.
And so it goes. I do intend to try several more times before giving up on it, though. If you have experience with this, tips are welcome.
P.S. Not actually an “ice” bath
A cold bath, yes — but limited to what comes out of the taps, which appears to be about 16–18˚C. That doesn’t sound all that cold when I say it out loud, but it sure as hell feels like it.
Unfortunately, colder baths are just logistically impossible. It would completely eliminate the “accessibility” feature.
I really, really wanted the next post to be my might list of diagnostic theories — all the things that might explain my symptoms. But it’s a tough one to write, and it’s just not ready yet.
So 🧊🛁 instead.