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Cramp – youch

leg-crampI’m still smarting from another failed attempt at going sub 4 at the Amsterdam marathon last month.

Conditions were perfect.  I was uninjured, had dropped about half a stone, had been strength training at the gym once a week, doing weekly pilates for that essential core strength and had had a great training period hitting all my target paces. Even the weather was even kind… or was it? It was very warm little warm for mid-October but I wasn’t worried because I’d done lots of long, hilly training runs in the the heat of the summer (and there were some hot days this summer!).

The weather might have contributed to my downfall – cramp. I was having a lovely time, bang on target and running well within myself and feeling rather smug that I was sticking to my 9 min mile target pace so metronomically. But at 15 miles I felt cramp threatening at the top of my hamstrings and by 17 miles it was pinging away throughout both calves.

I ignored it but started taking on the supplied energy drink whenever possible because I knew it contained electrolytes… but the drinks stations were only every 5k and it was all in cups which is useless. By 20 miles I couldn’t ignore it and I felt I was running like John Cleese doing the silly walks sketch. At 23 miles I admitted defeat and resigned myself to getting over the finish line anyway I could even if it was at a shuffle.  I did 4.05. It’s not fair.

So what caused it? Don’t know.  Never suffered before. No one seems to be able to offer much insight, although enter ‘cramp’ and ‘marathon’ into Google or a running forum and you’ll get plenty of posts from people who have had their marathons ruined because of the sudden stabbing agony.  Interestingly, three other people from my running club who did the same race also suffered for the first time.

The obvious problem perhaps was that it was a warm day and I wasn’t able to drink as much as usual; and that makes sense. However, my ultra-running doctor friend pointed out that the electrolytes mainly involved in muscle function are calcium and phosphate, whereas we sweat sodium chloride. She also added that many of her patients have significantly disturbed salt levels and they don’t all suffer with cramp.

Another thought is that perhaps I drank too much water the day before and diluted my salt levels. I’m not  a doctor but I can’t think that I drank that much. Also it was a cold day; I wasn’t sweating or eating anything unusual. However, one or two club mates don’t drink any water the day before a long race. Instead they drink some sort of sugar/electrolyte-replacement drink instead just to make sure they’re topped up with water, carbs and salts.

Long distance running is cruel… but that’s why achieving a target time or distance is something to shout about and be proud of. But I’ll add ‘salts’ to the growing list of things to get paranoid about in the days before my next long distance event.

On the upside – all that gymming and pilates-ing paid off.  In that last six miles I used my arms and upper body in a big way to keep my legs vaguely pointing in the right direction. So all is not lost; and I’ve learned a bit more about my body in preparation for next year’s Big One – an ironman.

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