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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Trouble with cramp - some solutions

Dear Gary,
"I thought you might be interested in a de-brief from the Rotorua marathon and I would value some advice.

My biggest worry with Rotorua (apart from fitness!!) was getting cramp. I tried to overcome this by good training including 7 of my long runs over 30 k's, some hard short runs, and some hill work. Serious training started in Jan and included the Franklin 1/2. I had probably never been fitter leading in to Rotorua and injury free. I was also taking magnesium, calcium, and joint repair.

I had a good breakfast on race day and plenty of water. Also plenty of water throughout the race, some power aid and leppins squeezy later in race. But still I was stricken by leg cramp at exactly the Whakatane turnoff (30 kms). I could feel it coming on a k or 2 earlier and knew it was a matter of time. It struck hard in my right calf and left knee and I immediately dropped to the ground in a press up position and stretched out my legs. I carried on and forced myself to run through the cramp (I could feel it moving around my muscles) until it was bearable and then it would strike m further on. I went through that agonising process time and time again (knowing that my wife was only minutes behind me!) until it left me at about 2 kms from the finish and I was able to finish quite freely and quite fast. "


World champion marathon runners generally spend at least 10yrs preparing and are world class 5 and 10km runners. Even if you are not world class, you can still copy the general principles of their training.

My Advice:
If it were possible to invent a cure-all for cramp, I would be a very wealthy man! The sad fact is there is no single solution. The most effective approach to prevention is to try to cover as many of the possible causes and hope that one, or a combination of them works. Prevention requires attention to training, diet, what you do in the days before the race and what you do duing the race and how you run it. When reading this, please refer to the updated Guide to Training for a Marathon.
  • Train, race, train, race and even more training. I ran my first marathon in 2hrs 42 minutes with no special training, other than running competitively for about 15 years and doing big 2-3 hour Sunday runs on an empty stomach with the boys (and one girl - sister Lorraine) over the mountains overlooking Dunedin. That marathon was in Southland during October immediately following a winter of cross-country and road racing. Your buildup to any marathon should be at least 6 months and include the combination of long runs and short races.
  • Top up your body's mineral stores, principally calcium and magnesium. While some benefit may be noticed, after supplementing with these for a few weeks, it may take several months of taking more than the recommended daily allowances to fully replenish body mineral stores. These minerals are essential for muscle and nervous system functioning, including preventing and treating cramping. It is very common for these minerals to become depleted; especially in women, teenage boys and men and women from about 40 years on. Heavy exercise; especially if sweating heavily increases need. You can purchase these supplements from the store.
  • Train your body to use fat. It takes at least 3 months following the diet and training guidelines in the Training for a Marathon Guide for the body to show improvements in fat useage. You will notice this by fewer intense carbo cravings when on really long runs and your ability to go longer and faster on an empty stomach will be markedly improved. Your body learns to spare its muscle glycogen and this means less chance of muscle cramping glycogen depletion at about 30km (hitting the wall!).
  • Learn to run steady effort pace. I ran the Crazy Man a few weeks ago. This was 18km of muddy mountain trails, followed by 38km of even muddier mountain biking. I finished in about 4.5hrs in second place for my age group. Although I was running at a very steady effort, I was being passed by the same competitors again and again during the run. They were running at an uneven pace. Every time a runner accelerates - even slightly - this costs precious muscle glycogen stores. I passed every single one of these runners towards the end of the run or during the bike, as exhaustion and cramp disabled them. When running a marathon, start slow and gradually build the pace so that your 2nd half is slighly faster than the first.
  • Replenish glycogen stores as you go. During a marathon, this is next to impossible if you are running at about 3.30 hrs pace or faster. This is where the gels and electrolyte drinks come into play; but take special care with these if running hard. Refer to the guide to Training for a Marathon for more details.
  • Get caffeine free. If you are a caffeine addict, your natural fat metabolism processes are compromised. Caffeine is only of any benefit to an athlete if they are not habitually taking in caffeine. Then, if you are caffeine free and if you are following the Training Guide, you will have no need for dosing up on caffeine on race day.
  • Do not travel long distances within 24hrs of racing. If you spend more than about 4-6 hours sitting in a car or plane, the blood stagnates in your legs. While it may not clot like happens in deep vein thrombosis (DVT), it still goes off a little. This is why you feel tired, heavy and mentally lethargic following travel. The runner might notice that their resting pulse is slightly elevated for a day or so. It has always been traditional among the running professionals to go for a brisk 20 minute run immediately upon arrival to blow out the cobwebs. They also know that it is impossible to produce a personal best performance immediately following travel other than a few hours duration. So, travel to your race destination 2 days before the race. Failing that, stop and go for a quick jog every hour of travel. Take extra fish oil with vitamin E around the time of travel to improve circulation and to reduce any possibility of clotting. I also recommend a quality antioxidant to reduce any degradation of the blood cells through oxidation.
  • If you suffer disabling cramps during a marathon. Slow down, gently stretch the offending muscle group. But do not stop altogether for more than a minute or two, lest you completely seize up. Keep the muscles warm. If dehydrated, get fluids in. Definitely try to ingest crabohydrates, best in liquid form. You might like to take two Magnesium Complete capsules: Break them open and disslove in water and ingest (magnesium is a mild laxative, so be prepared!). Power walk, if necessary for as long as 20 minutes while doing these measures and giving time for them to take effect. Resume running cautiously and see what happens.


Anonymous said...

This reply is right on the money Gary. As an ex-national coach for Distance, I can endorse all the measures you recommend. I have been reading your postings with great interest. You are making people think instead of taking usual advice as gospel.

Bruce Milne

Gary Moller said...

Thanks for the endorsement Bruce and its good to hear from a name from the distant past!

While trying to be a wee bit provocative to keep reader's interest and to challenge what are often questionable truisms, I am forever conscious of the fine line that often exists between good advice and quackery.

Wayne said...

always eat natural unprocessed whole food, refined food has the minerals and vitamins stripped out of them thus using up teh bodies stores of these nutrients to be able to digest the empty calories, even brown bread is still mainly made from refined white flour.
try juicing vegetables and fruit as it is an excellent way of receiving extra vitamins and minerals. I follow these principles and never suffer cramp on my long runs.

Anonymous said...

Yes Gary, experience has told me that the main factor in getting cramp is actually exercising above your optimal fitness level!
The cold can also be causal, but mostly its when you havent done the required training, or the required intensity. Heres my Crazyman story:
...and a link that was sent to me regarding Phiten