If you’re a runner, you may have been lucky enough to experience one of those runs where everything just clicks. You feel like you’re running on clouds and floating through the air – no, it’s not the latest super shoes providing that comfortable ride, but your rhythm. Time and pace are forgotten in this trance-like state, and you are fully immersed in your surroundings in a deep meditation between you and the run. It’s a feeling like no other, and although you don’t want it to end, the memory of the run and the endorphins surging through your body giving you a natural high that can last until the next run or the next curveball life throws at you, whichever comes first. While these runs are a rarity, I have a secret that can help you replicate this feeling outside of running and speed up your recovery time (legally) so that you can potentially increase the frequency of these magical runs and hopefully translate that flow into your races.
Float therapy at Water Temple involves floating in a dream pod, an egg-shaped tank filled with a solution of Epsom salt (magnesium sulphate) and skin temperature water. It is an Epsom salt bath on steroids. The high magnesium concentration provides the buoyancy to safely and effortlessly float atop the water with ¾ of your body submerged in the water. This zero gravity effect gives your body the chance to be weightless, taking all the pressure off your poor joints, ligaments, bones and tendons that get a pounding every time you run.
A float session typically goes for an hour, and inside the dream pod, it is dark, warm and silent. As a runner who likes to be active and moving, this may sound like absolute torture! Lying in an enclosed space just listening to the chatter in your head…but I encourage you not to knock it before you try it.
As a competitive runner myself, who is currently in the middle of a hectic track season, racing almost every week from the 800m to the 5km, my body is constantly being hammered with a variety of training and racing. My nervous system is overloaded with adrenal stress from racing, and hard training sessions and sometimes a slow jog simply doesn’t cut the mustard in terms of recovery. A good night’s sleep is sometimes elusive due to pre-race nerves and post-race adrenaline. To say I need regular float sessions in my life right now is quite an understatement.
My regular float routine at Water Temple Floatation & Holistic Health Centre goes as follows: every week, I choose a day that is one to two days out from a key session or race. I prefer to float around 3pm on days when I have no training in the afternoon. Floating in the afternoon allows me to train in the morning and metabolise my morning coffee by the time I’m ready to float so that it is easier to relax whilst in the tank. I then have time after the float to rehydrate and refuel before going to bed. By this point, I am so relaxed, and the magnesium absorbed through my skin during the float starts to take its full effect as I drift off into a luxurious, uninterrupted slumber. I wake the following day feeling refreshed, recovered and itching to get out the door and run hard! The float continues on my run as any stiffness or niggles from the day before seem to dissipate, and I feel mentally sharp and ready to push to new limits in my session or race.
Floating has numerous physiological and psychological benefits that will not only help your running but also your everyday life. Below are some of the top benefits of floating for runners:
- Floating decreases cortisol levels
Cortisol is a hormone naturally produced by our bodies in times of stress. It is made in response to a fight or flight situation. Cortisol peaks in the morning, and exercise and stressful events increase cortisol levels in our bodies. Too much cortisol can hamper our ability to recover from training, interrupts sleep and our ability to fall asleep, and contribute to weight gain, acne, and irregular periods for women. Research on the effect of floating on cortisol levels shows that floating decreases your cortisol through the relaxation induced from floatation therapy session.
- Reduces lactic acid build-up
Floating in a dense concentration of an Epsom salt solution in a floatation tank creates the unique anti-gravitational effect that helps to improve blood flow to the extremities and thus flush out the lactic acid and toxins that can build up during and after training.
- Aids in the healing of injuries
Injuries are the bane of a runner’s life. They stop us from doing what we love and can make us not so fun to be around. Again, the antigravity effect of floatation therapy relieves tension in the body and allows your muscles to relax fully. This takes the pressure off your spine and central nervous system, giving your joints and tendons a reprieve. This will allow any soft tissue or joint issues to recover and speed up the healing process. The magnesium absorbed through the skin during a float also contributes to muscle relaxation and relief of any tension stored in the body.
- Improves sleep
Floatation therapy allows you to access a deeper level of relaxation, helping the body and mind to get a better quality of sleep that improves recovery. The tank also has a high concentration of magnesium solution in the water. Magnesium is known to increase GABA in the body, a neurotransmitter that promotes sleep. You will feel the benefit of floatation therapy even after you leave the tank.
- Builds mental fortitude
Being in a float tank with zero distractions and zero stimulation can make running circles around a track seem exciting! Taking the time out of your day to disconnect from technology and reconnect with your inner mind will bring you new ways to problem solve and a new sense of patience and gratitude that you can lean on during those mentally tough runs.
With the reduction in cortisol and lactic acid build-up, recovery from injuries, a better night’s sleep and a stronger mind, it is no wonder that floatation therapy allows for faster recovery from training and racing. Runners will always try to get an edge over their competitors, and when everybody is training hard, the small advantages come down to one’s ability to recover from stress and training and have the mental toughness to push through anything!