I recently wrote a post about my experience running the Disney World Marathon. There was one story that I left out of that post though because everyone who I’ve ever mentioned it to has found it to be so hilarious that I figured it was funny enough to warrant its own post –
Most runners are familiar with Biofreeze (or its over the counter version called Perform). If you’ve ever done a race, you’ve probably either used it yourself, seen booths selling it at race expos, or received free samples of it in your goody bags. If you aren’t familiar with it though, basically Biofreeze is a topical pain killer that comes in a variety of different forms (though for runners it’s typically a gel). The main ingredient in Biofreeze is menthol, which creates a sensation that overrides pain signals to your brain when you apply it to your skin (the official name for this process is Gate Control Theory if you’re interested in the science behind it works). To put it simply though – if your legs start to feel sore and cramped during or after a race, you can rub some Biofreeze on them and the pain will magically disappear for a short period of time.
I’ve used Biofreeze after races a couple times, but never during the middle of one…. and I really wasn’t intending to use it during the 2009 Disney Marathon either until this happened:
Even though the Disney Marathon is in January, it’s still in Florida, which means that it can get hot and humid pretty much any time of the year. The weather in January is usually pretty mild though and the race starts early enough in the morning that even if the temperatures are unseasonably warm, most runners will cross the finish line before it gets too hot outside. This day was no exception – it really wasn’t uncomfortably hot or humid outside but during the last 8 miles or so, the sun came out and I noticed that things were starting to warm up a little bit. Somewhere between mile 20 and 21 I was still running along at a pretty decent pace when I saw a group of race volunteers standing in front of a tent holding out wet towels. Now, I’ve done other races where wet towels and sponges are handed out along the course for runners to wipe off their necks and faces with and they always seem to hit the spot on warm days, so I thought to myself, “ya know, I actually could go for a nice cool wet towel right about now”…. So I ran past the tent and grabbed a towel out of one of the volunteer’s hands and quickly proceeded to rub it all over my face. In the background I could hear the guy that I grabbed the towel from frantically saying “wait… don’t….. uhhhhhh” (he didn’t know what else to say at that point because it was already too late). It was at that moment that I realized:
The towel wasn’t soaked in water. It was covered with Biofreeze.
The tent I was running past was a medical tent and since it was over 20 miles into the race, the volunteers were giving Biofreeze towels to runners who wanted to rub down their legs if they were starting to feel sore, not wet towels for people to wipe off their faces with. It only took a couple seconds for me to realize what had just happened as the smell of biofreeze started to permeate my nostrils and I felt my entire face start to burn and then go numb (so I guess on the plus side, I can vouch for the fact that the stuff really works lol).
Not long after the numbness set in, I also came to the unfortunate realization that I still had more than five more miles to run before I could stop and do anything about it. Luckily the next water table wasn’t too far away so I stopped there and grabbed a cup of water and splashed it on my eyes to flush them out so I could at least keep running without my eyes burning and worrying about whether or not I was going to go blind…. But basically yeah, I finished the rest of the race with a numb face and it wasn’t until I made it all the way back to my hotel and took a shower that my skin started to feel normal again.
Needless to say, I’ve paid closer attention to the sponges and towels I’ve grabbed from race volunteers ever since then and the moral of this story is that towels that are soaked in water can be a godsend when the temperatures start to warm up during the later stages of a race, but before you take one and use it to wipe the sweat off of your face, make sure you know what it’s been soaked in.