As one of the larger, sweatier riders on the GamJams Ambassador blogroll, I was excited to be offered a free Aspen Cool Collar for testing.
Recovery from rides is a skill. Most of us do a little bit to recover from a hard ride. We try to get down some carbs, maybe rehydrate a bit, and if it's on the weekend we may take a nice shower and a nap. (Mmmmm... nap.) Perhaps we don't put enough emphasis on it though. A good recovery routine can completely change the way you feel the next day, or even on the same day. Proper recovery is an important part of your training and you do yourself a disservice to neglect it.
I know this because in my prior sporting life playing rugby, I used to play Sevens rugby, a much faster moving version of the normal game, played with seven players to a team. It is played in the heat of the summer, and games are short (14 minutes) and filled with extremely hard running and tackling. The matches are played in tournaments, and when you step off the pitch on a 100 degree day in North Carolina following your 12:15 match, you have perhaps an hour to get prepared for your next match. The sweat was profuse, dehydration profound, and the foot pain and headaches staggering - you don't understand what the verb "to swoon" means until you've just done a half dozen hundred yard sprints and been slapped around a bit in near-tropical conditions.
The quickest way to cool down fast and start recovery was to plunge your feet into a cooler of ice water, and to pull a hand towel out of a cooler filled with ice, and wrap the towel around your head and neck. It would also help to strategically place an ice pack on my body, moving it around from knees to thighs to shoulders or neck, wherever the soreness was coming on. Following the quick cooldown, it was possible to hydrate, to eat some salty foods and stretch to get ready for the next match. I used to repeat the routine at the end of the day, and 24 hours later, I might have a few bruises from the hard contact, but there would be little muscle soreness from the running and little fatigue from the heat. Cooling down quickly was key to reducing inflammation the next day.
So you can understand why I looked forward to getting the Cool Collar. When it arrived, I didn't know what to think. It looked like a bandana sewn into a long rectangular shape, with some velcro fasteners on the end and some tiny beads sealed inside of it. Following the directions, I soaked it for about 20 minutes in cool water. The beads swelled into a library paste-like mixture, which I distributed around the length of the collar before putting it on. I then placed it on my neck, fastening it like a collar using the velcro ends.
At first, it felt like a slightly cool washcloth placed around my neck. I thought that the mere presence of water on my neck was causing some cooling, but after the water mostly evaporated turning the Collar into a damp sock, the crystals gently cooled down my neck. The cooling wasn't as radical or as fast as I like it, but it did the job. It also reminded me of my rugby experiences, where a cool influence on the head and neck was very refreshing.
I have been using it after rides for the last couple weeks with good results. It is not a spectacular product, it does not revolutionize my recovery routine, but it provides added and very welcome comfort, and feeling good and ready to go is half the battle when it comes to recovery. I cannot determine whether it helps performance, but it seems to stave off some of the worst effects of hard training.
The best example of how it helps came after a very hot, hard ride a couple days ago. I had performed a threshold test did a number of hard efforts after that when I fell onto the tail end of a group ride. After close to three hours of riding, I was utterly spent. More significantly, I had a heat / exertion headache coming on. I hate these because they are somewhat debilitating, slowing me down for the rest of the day. I slipped on the Cool Collar wondering if it would help, and mirabile dictu, it did. The collar did not feel radically cold, just cool, but it stopped the oncoming heading in its tracks. I wore the Collar for about an hour, made a smoothie, sat still with my feet up, and just recharged for a little after the ride.
Since that ride, I've tried to wear the collar after other rides, and also after I come home following a tough day at work. It provides a pleasant, relaxing sensation of coolness, and it loosens up my neck a bit, leaving me refreshed.
The ultimate effect is that it has caused me to revive my old rugby ritual of an immediate cooldown after heavy exertion, and true to form I seem to recover more quickly. Will it save your life? No. But it might make it a bit more comfortable, particularly if you wilt in the heat.
Of note, I also tried riding with it a couple times. It wasn't quite as effective while riding, since it dried out pretty quickly, rendering the cooling crystals useless. (Don't worry; get them wet again and they will work just fine).
The Cool Collar isn't perfect. It could stand to be about two inches longer. Not all athletes have petite necks; this endurance athlete's neck ranges between 18 and 19 inches, and the collar was a little snug when fastened all the way.
Other than that, I don't have any complaints with the product and will make it a part of my daily recovery routine, at least when riding in hot weather. The $15 you pay for it buys a remarkable amount of comfort.