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?



Book Dragon said...

Cramps scare me. I use to get calf cramp when I was pregnant. I'm use to seeing my big toe try to leave my looks like a prehistoric bird foot.

Last June, I had another calf cramp at night just like I did when pregnant (not). There was a blood clot and I spent the first week of July in the hospital.

Please, please, please figure out your cramps.

and don't forget your water! Oh, maybe it was the yoga instructor?

Julie said...

One of the biggest cramps that has held me back has been on my arches. I have VERY flat feet, and although I have been properly fitted for sneakers for the caveman-feet, I still had issues.

Until one night I stepped on my dog's tennis ball. It hurt so good! Now, I use my foam roller, and as I'm watching an hour of TV, or at the computer, I'm rolling my arches. This has especially helped before a run. I'm no competitive runner like you, but in my daily runs I have noticed a change.

Hope you figure it out! :-D

Unknown said...

Thanks guys.

Book Dragon - I once really thought I could have a blood clot and went to the ER - I even wrote a blog about it. I was wrong but you can never be too safe. I'm hoping to figure it out too. I will have to try more yoga. I don't think it was the instructor. I am weak and have no flexibility (exactly why I NEED yoga) but that combo makes for a hard, long class.

Julie I am definitely starting to believe in the power of the foam roller - I will try the tennis ball! Thank you :)

Elle said...

After my half last May, I had leg cramps for about 6 hours. It was excruciating and has really done me in for distance running. I have intermittent cramping after exercise, and from sitting too long and during the night too. Dehydrate, and electrolytes are a concern for sure. I also make sure to take calcium and I have started a nightly magnesium drink, too. Also make sure to keep my feet warm. Arghhh... I know what your are going through!

Unknown said...

I'm so sorry to hear that you go thru it too Elle! I appreciate your comment I really thought I was one of the only ones to suffer this. Calcium is a good idea. I should look into that for me too. I take a mag supplement right now.

Lorenda said...

The only time I have cramping problems is in my calves in the late miles of marathons. It always hits between 20 to 23 miles. I know it has to have something to do with fueling. I can't stand gels; that slimy feel just makes me gag. I know that the farther into a marathon I am the less I'm getting out of the packets. I've finally found a couple of gels that aren't that slimy gel consistency so I am hoping that in a couple weeks in Chicago I can make it to the end without the horrible calf cramping.

Unknown said...

Lorender, If you don't like gels you might want to try Salt Stick capsules. I take those and they seem to help with electrolytes. they are small capsules that are easy to swallow with some water.They recommend you take one every 30 -60 mins during endurance sports. They contain salt, potassium, calcium and magnesium. I do take them in tandem with gels because I can't stomach sports drinks. If you want to check them out here is the link: maybe they can help you?

The Scorekeeper said...

Let me just say that I adore you! I started running July 7th and my journey looks a lot like yours so far. I hope mine continues to look like yours! I'm not quite 236 lbs, but I'm close. You can check out my blog (link below). Just wanted to let you know that you've inspired me to keep going!

Frickin' Fabulous at 40 said...

Feeling the need to vomit, poop and pass out all at the same time while profusely sweating after many long runs and my last half is what holds me back. However, with 20 oz of Gatorade, some gulps of water at every station, Gatorade chews and a chocolate decadence GU (which tasted JUST like frosting), I felt great after my Diva with just a bit of soreness. I plan to run smart like that with every long run and hope to think about the marathon distance...