Monday, September 30, 2013

Running and Muscle Cramps: Cracking The Code

First of all - Hello. Sorry it's been a while. Since the Iron Girl Tri I've just had my head down and have been focusing on running again. I've had one or two bike rides and ZERO swims.

Instead, I've wanted to really, really focus on cracking the code on the cramping issues I've been dealing with.

There hasn't been one race since the Hollywood Half (April 2012) that I haven't been foiled and faced with painful cramping. And the cramping isn't limited to running alone. As I reported in my IronGirl race recap, I dealt with awful, awful cramping in the water that made me worry that I'd be unable to complete the race at all.

Hollywood Half. I've got a monkey on my back

The cramps aren't in one place. I get them in my toes, the arches and the tops of my feet, calves, hamstrings and even the tibialis anterior.

The biggest problem with the cramping is that it has put fear and apprehension in me. It is paralyzing me before I even lace up my sneakers. With all my talk of "dreaming big" and "going for finish lines," the cramping is stopping me dead in my tracks. In my heart I want to run another full marathon someday, and even possibly a 70.3 distance Tri someday. But I hesitate to even dream that big because if I can't get thru 13.1 or a sprint triathlon without cramping then how could I ever think to go for something bigger? It also doesn't inspire me to try to PR or run my best, instead i slow my roll and pray that being conservative will help me not to cramp later. It's really messing with my head.

I have finally come to grips with the fact that I've been limiting myself because of this issue.

And that shit has got to stop right now.

It's one thing to make decisions on races because of time constraints or other reasons. But being afraid of cramping up and possibly failing is not going to fly.

Recently my friend Angela sent me this video from Runner's World called, "Inside the Doctor's office: Cut Out Cramps." This was a terrific eye-opener. Up until this point most of what I've read had to do with making sure i had enough electrolytes during running and making sure to be trained. I've been consistent on that front so what gives?

Well. A lot. I have work to do.

Some of the key contributors to cramping according to the video are: Dehydration, lack of strength and lack of flexibility. I'm probably guilty of all three of those things. I am a big sweater and even after a 3 mile run I can be caked in salt. So right off the bat, yes, I have to hydrate and figure out electrolytes. I have days and even weeks at a time where I'm coming no where close to what I should be drinking in water. I always try to hydrate the days leading up to a race but that's just not enough.

And flexibility and strength? Bah. I've been amiss in paying attention to those things. Not on purpose. Remember I had that brief stint with yoga (I was going to and then just didn't stick with it - I wasn't a big fan) and I take a strength training class here and there but when training it all falls by the wayside and I focus on running (or biking and swimming.)

That's gonna change. First off, I'm sucky, sucky at hydration, which is stupid. This is a no-brainer, easy thing to do. Drink freakin' water all day. That's it. This shouldn't be a big whoop. I've got water drinking apps and playful cups - I'm going to drink water and keep hydrated.

It's the first time I have ever heard that flexibility and strength could help cramping. I have heard that it would improve my running. I took yoga to help the tightness in those muscles but for some reason I never put it hand in hand with the cramping part. It makes sense though. So I've started taking this strength training boot camp class every Tuesday night that I'll be continuing with. I've also added a few extra strength moves at home. I'm using my foam roller consistently and I no longer blow off dynamic stretching before my runs. Maybe I'll even (gulp) give yoga another shot.

It has only been a few weeks but I think it's paying off. My runs are feeling better and my legs don't feel as spent after. We'll see. The proof will come when I do my 10 mile race in two weeks.

The good news is that I now have a plan and some hope.

Hope all is well with you! What's your running fear that holds you back? Any races coming up?

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