Burning Runner: Don’t Take Ice For Granted

"Every human being should be able to perform basic maintenance on themselves."





A simple ice cup.
“Five minutes of ice massage equals 20 minutes of basic icing,” says Kelly Starrett, DPT

“Every human being should be able to perform basic maintenance on themselves.”

Written by: T.J. Murphy

Recently I felt a twinge of pain in a spot on my left heel—right where the Achilles tendon attaches to the bone. It was mild for an Achilles injury–but the flame was enough to annoy in the weeks that followed. Every time I tried to run it seemed I irritated it again and I was starting all over in terms of fixing it.

I asked CrossFit San Francisco’s Kelly Starrett, DPT, and the star of, what I should do. Rather than tell me what I should do he first asked me this: Are you icing? How are you icing? And how many times a day are you icing?

Starrett’s a coach and knows runners well. When he puts on mobility seminars for CrossFit coaches he advises them to force injured clients to ice–if they show up for a workout but don’t ice before the workout, they are allowed in. That’s the policy he’s had to resort to because of the oddness of human nature. In fact, the subtitle of his blog declares: “Every human being should be able to perform basic maintenance on themselves.”

For some weird reason most of us are half-assed about doing any icing at all. It’s so simple, so cheap and relatively so easy. Compare icing for 20 minutes to getting a 60-minute massage. Sure, the massage is far more enjoyable but costs a good chunk of change and requires getting to and from someplace. Not icing. Icing requires putting water in a freezer, or using a gel ice pack like the Moji, or a bag of frozen food (Starrett says that a bag of peas is “low-grade” icing, although it’s better than nothing). Thinking back through all of my injuries I came up with two words that described my icing habits: bare minimum.

If that. And here I was again but this time I got the message, as Kelly knows what he’s talking about (be sure to check out my profile on Kelly in the March issue of Competitor Magazine). His questions identified the culprit.

Question 1: “Are you icing?”

I was. I did get credit for this one.

Question 2: “How often are you icing?”

Once per day was my answer. Not good. “If you ice twice a day, that gets you a C,” Starrett replies. “That’s average. That’s a passing grade.”



Recovery concoction: coconut water and protein powder,

Question 3: “How are you icing and for how long?”

I was using a gel pack for about 10 minutes. Not the perfect answer, Starrett said. “Twenty minutes is when the good stuff starts to happen.” At 20 minutes the capillaries dilate and blood starts gushing into the area.

Unless, Starrett advises, you do an ice massage with the Dixie cup or Styrofoam cup filled with ice. Peel off the bottom and then rub the ice directly onto the spot for five minutes. “Five minutes of ice massage equals 20 minutes of basic icing,” he said. While getting back into the flow of training Starrett told me to be sure to ice before and after each workout.

In addition to bringing in blood flow, icing cools down the pain messaging that stressed tissue sends to the brain. The tissue gets cold and the swelling recesses.

And of course, it works. Within two days of icing 3-5 times per day using both gel packs and the Dixie cup massage, the pain receded completely and I could feel the area heal.

Starrett also advised me to use glucosamine supplements as an anti-inflammatory, as well as fish oil supplementation. And following workouts now I’m using a post-race recovery drink of coconut water and a scoop of SFH vanilla protein powder. The coconut water has calcium, potassium, magnesium and various electrolytes to help hydration. The SFH protein powder is loaded with 18 amino acids and best of all—combined with the coconut water—tastes very good. I’d always thought that protein powder needed to be mixed with milk to taste any good but the coconut water combo is terrific.


T.J. Murphy is the Editorial Director of Competitor Magazine. A 2:38 marathoner and five-time Ironman finisher, he is the former editorial director of Triathlete Magazine and Inside Triathlon. His writing has also appeared in Outside Magazine and Runner’s World.