What’s the Deal with Calf Cramps?

IRONMAN LOUISVILLE 2020 TRAINING

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WEEK 3 – MARCH 30 > APRIL 5, 2020

IRONMAN TRAINING IN THE TIME OF PANDEMIC – PART III

It’s a really strange time in the world right now but I am doing my best to keep some normalcy in my life, and training for my fifth Ironman is helping a lot with that.  Many races scheduled for spring have either been canceled or postponed to the fall.  Fortunately, my race is scheduled for mid-October and hasn’t been affected yet but I am training with crossed fingers and doing each workout with the thought in the back of my mind that if things don’t improve with this virus, I may be training for naught.

But since I’m Mr. Optomist, I’m keeping a positive outlook and will keep training for Ironman Louisville until I’m told otherwise.  I’d be doing some kind of training anyway, regardless if I was signed up for a race.

The weather has started to turn a little for the better and with the warmer temps, I find myself riding outside more and relying less on the spin bike.  This has reminded me a couple of things.  First, a spin bike is a decent workout but it’s no substitute for riding outside.  Secondly, riding outside is killing me!  My butt is sore and hates me for making it sit on a bike saddle that was clearly not designed for comfort.  And my calves have decided that cramping up while riding is a fine thing.

 

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Maybe only triathletes will find this funny.

 

As a longtime runner, I don’t remember ever having cramps from running.  It’s only when I started doing triathlons and in particular training for Ironman that they became a thing.  I would get cramps in my feet when swimming, which is really weird because you aren’t even using them much.  I knew when the foot cramps came on it was time for me to get out of the pool because they would get worse before they got better.  Plus it gave me an excuse to quit swimming because I hate it.

Most of my rides are short enough during the week that cramps aren’t a problem.  It’s the longer weekend rides that cause them.  Specifically, I am referring to calf cramps.  I’ll be spinning along doing just fine and then I will get that first warning twinge.  I’ve gotten pretty good at backing off the intensity and avoiding the dreaded “Charley Horse”.  Severe cramps really don’t occur while biking.  No, they save themselves for when you are in bed trying to sleep.  Move your foot just the wrong way under the covers and BOOM – Cramp City.

In all honesty, though, the cramps were a much more frequent occurrence when I was first starting out in the sport.  That first year training for Ironman Wisconsin in 2013 I would experience them much more often after a long ride.  But I am much more experienced now and they don’t seem to bother me as much as they used to.

Other triathletes are always looking at the reason behind the calf cramps.  Some say it’s due to being dehydrated.  Or not enough salt, potassium or other minerals in your diet or hydration drink.  I don’t disagree with those reasons contributing to calf cramps, but I don’t think it’s the main reason.  I have found a correlation to getting calf cramps with an increase in a certain activity that you haven’t been doing and/or the intensity of the new activity.  Calf cramps for me are always at the beginning of a 30-week training cycle when I stop spinning an easy gear on the spin bike indoors and actually have to work when I ride outdoors.  I always want to jump right back in where I left off in the late fall and ride with the same intensity that I had built up over the course of the summer.  That’s a silly mistake that I always make and relearn every spring.  Cramps also generally occur towards the end of a ride, when you have been spinning your legs at 90+ rpm and haven’t given them a single break.

Some athletes will also treat the symptoms of a cramp rather than why they are cramping in the first place.  Somewhere someone decided that pickle juice is the wonder drink to prevent cramps.  What a horrible thing to drink.  And there’s a company out there that produces a drink product that claims to stop cramps as soon as you feel them coming on.  This drink has a combination of ginger, cinnamon and a strong pepper in it that is supposed to re-wire your nerves to stop the cramp.  That seems dumb, but the science behind it kind of makes sense.  The theory is that when you over-stimulate the nerves in your muscles they go haywire.  When you start to cramp you take a drink of their product (or something very strong tasting, like pickle juice) and that strong taste of it refocuses your brain away from the over-excited nerves in your cramping leg.  People swear that it works.  But wouldn’t you rather not cramp up than have to treat it with some crazy drink?  I would.

I do find that after a few weeks of retraining my legs for the workload and backing off how hard I push myself will result in the cramping occurrence to fade and be a lot less of a problem.  By the end of the training period and when race day comes, cramps will pretty much be a non-issue for me.

So I truly believe that calf cramps from cycling come from an increase in the activity from being off for a long period and then working them too hard when restarting your training regimen.  It’s overexertion, plain and simple.  So hopefully I will never need to carry pickle juice with me on a ride.

TOTALS FOR WEEK 3:

  • Swim:  0 / 0 yards
  • Bike:  3 rides  /  53.5 miles
  • Run:  4 runs  /  20.5 miles
Gunners-2-1
I’m not really an optimist.

 

Share The Trail And Don’t Screw It Up

IRONMAN LOUISVILLE 2020 TRAINING

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WEEK 2 – MARCH 23 > 29, 2020

IRONMAN TRAINING IN THE TIME OF PANDEMIC – PART II

When the state of Illinois mandated that we all quarantine ourselves by staying in place or staying at home, the governor allowed us to still be able to go outside to exercise as long as we maintain a safe “social” distance of six feet of separation.  It was great seeing people out walking, riding bikes, and running on sidewalks and trails that were pretty much just taken advantage of by the regulars – runners and bikers like me that I see all the time, and the few neighbors that will go on a daily walk.  People were making an effort to enjoy the time to get some fresh air and utilize trails that are a great benefit to our community.  Until the people ruined it.

People ruin everything.  Give them an inch and they’ll take a yard.  In the case of our gift of being able to get outside, people ignored the mandate of avoiding group activities, openly playing soccer and basketball, and riding and running in groups.  It got so bad in the city of Chicago that the mayor gave them a stern warning.  And what did the people do?  They ignored the warning forcing the mayor to take action and closing the Lakefront Trail, one of the most used trails in the state.  No more getting exercise outdoors.

I was riding my bike on my local trail this week and I also encountered groups of people walking on the trails together and other gatherings of kids playing at parks and team related sports like basketball.  I guess everyone figures if they aren’t affecting you directly there really isn’t any harm.  But that isn’t true, and the reason we are staying in place and avoiding each other is to stop the spread of this deadly virus.  But now I fear that our local trail may get closed as well, and that won’t make me happy.  I’m betting that won’t happen, but here’s what we can do to help make sure it doesn’t happen:

  • Train alone instead of groups.  The runners in our local running club are pretty good about doing the right thing, but group runs were still going on.  Our local running club leaders implored runners to stop posting group photos so that it wasn’t appearing that we were ignoring the rules, and to consider running in much smaller groups or running alone.
  • Follow the safe social distancing rules as well as the trail rules.  The six feet of separation rules apply to families as well as friends and other trail users.  Also, if you are new to using the trail, follow the posted rules that are posted at nearly all of the trail street crossings and trailheads.  The most abused trail rule of them all is “All Users Stay Right /  Pass Left” yet I encounter groups all the time and have to remind them to share the trail.  Other trail users following the rules shouldn’t have to be inconvenienced by someone not following the rules.
  • Be courteous.  We are all trying to enjoy the outdoors and people need to understand that what you are doing shouldn’t hinder what other trail users are doing.  Walk your dog on a leash and keep him on the correct side.  Cyclists should yield to pedestrians.  All users should follow the signage and stop at road crossings. Be safe.

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Training Week Wrap-up

Week 2 was a typical spring training week.  The weather was iffy this week, so I did spend some time training indoors.  This is my fifth time training for an Ironman and I have to remind myself not to overdo it too much in these early training weeks.  This week I found myself pushing my running pace more than I should have and that could lead to bad things.  It’s a long journey to get to race day and blowing myself up in week two is not in the plan.

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More than once, apparently.  

 

TOTALS FOR WEEK 2:

  • Swim:  0 / 0 yards
  • Bike:  3 rides  /  44 miles
  • Run:  5 runs  /  19 miles

 

Gunners-2-1
Getting off my soapbox for now.

Big Hill Bonk Race Update

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My first attempt at doing an ultramarathon distance running event will have to wait, as the race director has informed us that the officials in the town and county in which our event is being held have told him that he cannot have the event at this time.  In a world that has been overrun by a virus that no one really knows enough about, caution must be exercised to avoid a fate worse than the pandemic that has already been declared.

The race director has given us a ray of hope, however, by informing us that the race isn’t canceled but rather postponed until late October.  That made me feel a lot better about this dumb running event because I wasn’t really prepared for it as I would have liked.  After overdoing it in the fall with an Ironman, a marathon, and a couple of local road races in a span of a month and a half, I needed to give my 56-year-old legs a break rather than continue to beat them up.  I had created an ultra training plan and then kept editing it down in mileage after my persistent leg injury just wouldn’t heal.  I finally got it down to what was similar to a marathon training plan, but I was still cutting runs short and running slower to make sure that I could at least get to the starting line of this dumb idea.  After going up to Beloit and running three loops of the course I felt pretty good about having a good chance of at least reaching my goal of getting over 50K.

So maybe I might be better off running the race in the fall and take advantage of a full summer of training.  But then I checked the calendar and see that the new race date falls on October 23, 2020, twelve days after Ironman Louisville.  At first, I thought that the new race date might be too close to the Ironman for me to have enough time to recover, but I think I might be alright.  My current plan is to now train for the Ironman for the next 30 weeks since I have made it my “A” race, and then take the days leading up to the ultramarathon event very easy or off and show up being adequately prepared.  One thing I have learned about Ironman training is that it will get me ready for anything.

See you in October for the Big Hill Bonk – Last Runner Standing!