Why runners need to chill out and prioritize recovery

Why runners need to chill out and prioritize recovery

The reasons to run a marathon are as individual as the people registering. The motivation to run a marathon can be to improve health, challenge your fitness, set a personal best, or raise money for a charity. And sometimes, it might be that you just really, really like the medal. But when you hand over your credit card information and press the submit button, you might not realize that you are committing to o much more than running 26.2 miles.

You are also signing up for sore legs. Tired feet. Inflammation. Fatigue. Mood swings. Blisters. Overtraining. Bruised toenails. 

(When you think about it like that, you do have to wonder why anyone signs up for a marathon!)  

It’s true — marathon training can take its toll on you, mentally and physically. But you can avoid some of the downsides of long-distance running — and even enjoy marathon training — with a solid training plan that incorporates intentional recovery.

Whether it’s a soak in a cold tub or an aqua jogging session, recovery is essential for any athlete but it’s especially important for marathon runners. Recovery can play a pivotal role in your performance, helping you feel ready and refreshed for each session while preventing injuries. 

running cold water

Balancing training and recovery for injury prevention

Running marathons has gone from a fringe activity to a mainstream sport. Just look at the New York City Marathon. In 1970, in the event’s first year, there were 127 runners and just 55 finished.  Most recently, in 2022, there were nearly 48,000 people to finish the race. And that’s just the people who ran. About 84,000 people entered the drawing for just a chance to run the iconic race through the five boroughs. 

Alongside the dramatic increase in the popularity of running marathons and running in general, there has been an increase in the number of running related injuries. 

The rates of injuries among runners vary widely. Some studies say that the report of injuries among those training for a marathon can be as high as 90 percent. [source] So of those 48,000 people who ran the New York City Marathon, as many as 43,000 could have experienced a setback while they were preparing for the race.

The most common running injuries are runner’s knee, IT band syndrome, tibial stress syndrome, plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, and meniscal injuries. Many injuries are related to a a lack of prior conditioning — or a base as runners like to say. For example, runners who had participated in a half marathon were less likely to experience an injury during marathon training.

There’s another factor, though, that can contribute to a runner’s risk of injury: recovery. Poor or insufficient recovery will increase your risk of getting hurt. 

But taking time off between sessions can be hard to balance when you are trying to adequately prepare for a marathon.  While running three days often allows for 48 hours between sessions, many training plans include five to six runs per week and weekly mileage can often exceed 40 miles.

It’s critical, then, to dedicate time to recovery. Recovery allows the body to repair damaged tissues, reduce inflammation, and replenish energy stores. Moreover, consistent recovery promotes muscle growth and strength development, which are fundamental for improved running performance.

cold water therapy

Cold water therapy for runners

Popular forms of recovery include stretching, massage, compression socks, and carb replenishment. Active recovery, such as swimming and aqua jogging, are also a way to keep your body in its best running form.

But the hottest form of recovery is actually going cold. Really cold, for some. Cold water immersion, generally referred to as ice baths, can be a powerful recovery tool in your arsenal as a runner.

A study in the Journal of Sports Science Medicine showed that cold water immersion  can help athletes return to baseline performance more quickly compared to other recovery methods.

When you expose your body to cold water, it triggers vasoconstriction, which narrows your blood vessels. As you exit the cold water, the vessels dilate, causing a rush of fresh blood to circulate through your muscles. This process helps flush out metabolic waste products and delivers oxygen and nutrients to the muscles, promoting faster recovery and reducing the risk of delayed onset muscle soreness.

But there are additional benefits for runners who practice cold plunging.

Reduces inflammation and muscle soreness

Intense running workouts can lead to inflammation and micro-tears in your muscles. Cold water therapy, such as cold water immersion or ice baths, can help reduce inflammation by constricting blood vessels and limiting the release of pro-inflammatory substances. The cold temperature helps numb the area, reducing pain and alleviating muscle soreness. This can speed up recovery and prepare your body for the next training session.

Decreases body temperature

During intense training or racing, your body temperature can rise significantly, leading to discomfort and decreased performance. Cold water therapy can help cool down your body quickly and effectively. By immersing yourself in cold water or taking a cold shower after your run, you can regulate your body temperature and restore a sense of comfort. This can also aid in reducing post-exercise fatigue and improving your overall well-being.

cold water therapy

Relieves joint and tendon discomfort

There is no doubt that running is a high-impact sport. Depending on your workout and biomechanics, and depending on your workout, running can subject your body to forces that are 2.5 to 5 times your own body weight. This force is exerted with every single step, making it a significant factor to consider.

The excessive load primarily affects your joints, particularly the knees. We have encountered numerous runners who have expressed discomfort in their knees with each step or the need for more supportive footwear to alleviate the impact shock.

Runner's knee is one of the most common running-related injuries. Some data state that up to 30 percent of female runners and 25 percent of male runners experience the condition known as patellofemoral pain syndrome.

Plunging into a cold tub is like putting a giant ice pack on your entire body. The Michael Phelps Chilly GOAT Cold Tub was designed to allow comfortable submersion, even if you are tall or have an athletic build. It can help alleviate symptoms of tendonitis and joint pain, allowing you to continue training without exacerbating the problem.

Mental and emotional benefits

Cold water therapy not only offers physical benefits but also has positive effects on your mental and emotional well-being. 

“Cold water therapy increases dopamine, an important neurotransmitter for motivation, which can lead to the desire to repeat the action,” says Dr. Suanna Søberg, a scientist and author of books about cold water therapy and winter swimming.  

In addition, cold water immersion can help reduce stress, improve your mood, and provide a sense of invigoration. And what runner wouldn’t want to feel that way, especially during peak marathon training.  

Cold water immersion can also improve your sleep quality, aiding in overall recovery and mental clarity. Sleep is key for everyone but especially athletes and runners who want to perform their best.

cold water therapy runners

Incorporating cold water therapy into your running routine

To incorporate cold water therapy into your running routine, consider the following tips:

Cold tubs

You might have seen videos or photos of your favorite pro runners sitting in a trough of ice water. Literally a trough, sometimes an inflatable tub.

But for the everyday runner, it can be cumbersome to fill a bathtub with cold water and ice to get the temperature just right. And very few people will want to make an extra stop after their long run to pick up a couple bags of ice.

An at-home cold plunge tub, like the Michael Phelps Chilly GOAT, is designed to help improve your recovery. With the Chilly GOAT, you will have cold, clean water whenever you need it. The spa-like tub has a built-in jet, which moves the water around you and prevents a thermal barrier. You can set the temperature between 40 degrees and 90 degrees.

For cold water immersion, though, it is recommended that the water temperature is between 40 degrees and 59 degrees. Keep in mind that the colder the water, the less time that you should stay immersed.

Cold showers 

Cold showers can be a way to incorporate cold water therapy into your running routine, especially on days that you are time crunched. Take a cold shower immediately after your run or use contrast therapy by alternating between hot and cold water. Start with warm water for a few minutes, then gradually turn the temperature to cold for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Repeat this cycle a few times to stimulate blood flow and aid in recovery.

Cold packs

If you have specific areas of discomfort or inflammation, apply ice or cold packs to those areas for 10 to 15 minutes. Repeat this several times throughout the day to reduce swelling and alleviate pain.

As with any recovery method, it's important to listen to your body and consult with a healthcare professional if you have any underlying medical conditions. Gradually introduce cold water therapy into your routine and monitor how your body responds.

cold water therapy

The best at-home cold tub

Do you want to enjoy the benefits of cold water therapy without buying bag after bag of ice? Having a Michael Phelps Chilly GOAT Cold Tub allows you to realize the impact of cold water. Enjoy clean, clear, cold water on demand.  You can click here to find out more about the benefits of incorporating a Michael Phelps Chilly GOAT cold tub into your routine. 


Please note that all information, content, and material provided on this website is for informational purposes only

Cold water immersion can be beneficial for most individuals, but it is important to be aware that it can impact circulation, heart rate, and blood pressure. If you have an underlying health condition related to any of these areas, seek medical advice before exposing your body to cold water.

Prolonged exposure to cold water should be avoided. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. 

If you are new to cold water therapy, ease into the practice. Start with warmer water and shorter durations of exposure. As you adapt, be cautious when lowering the temperature or extending the duration of your cold soaks. Avoid deliberate hyperventilation before and during cold water immersion.