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.

 

Two For One Training Update

IRONMAN CHATTANOOGA 2019 TRAINING

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WEEKS 3 AND 4 – Monday 3/18/19 – Sunday 3/31/19

I am a little behind in the weekly logging of my Ironman training due to leaving for spring break and not having access to a computer, as well as not having any desire to post about it as I was trying to enjoy my vacation.  So I will wrap up the past two weeks with one post.

Week 3 was going just fine until I strained another high leg/groin muscle, this time in my left leg.  This left me very sore and unable to run.  The same injury happened a few weeks ago in my right leg, which left me unable to get in the mileage I was hoping to do while training for a spring marathon.  Due to that lack of training due to injury, and the fact that I had signed up for this Ironman, I decided to pull the plug on attempting to run another marathon and try for another Boston Marathon qualifier.  I ran Boston for the first time in 2018 and it was really all I needed to accomplish with it.  I found the journey of getting there to be more rewarding than actually running Boston.  By the time Boston rolled around I was overtrained, tired of killing myself, and thanks to one of the worst weather days in the history of the race, it wasn’t much fun.  The emotions of finishing my first Boston Marathon were special, especially on that day, but I will cherish the effort it took to get there more than the race itself, as I ran it much like a victory lap that I couldn’t really enjoy due to the weather.  Enough about Boston.  I pulled the plug on the upcoming marathon because there was no way I would be ready, and I didn’t want anything messing up my Ironman training.  Boston will have to wait until a time in the future when I really want to do it again.  I will get to enjoy watching my son and his girlfriend run Boston for their first time instead of running it with them.  Actually, running it “with” them isn’t even a possibility, as they are much faster than I am.

So in Week 3, I was only able to get in one 5-mile run.  Biking wasn’t affected and I was able to get in what I needed to.  I rode the Saturday 1 hour 45-minute ride on Friday instead because I was leaving on vacation Saturday.  One thing I was able to accomplish with my bum leg was to work on a small portion of my running path that is plagued with potholes.  I took a shovel and filled them in and was proud of my work.

Week 4 was a week for touring the Confederate South, as my wife and I took our daughter on a college visit tour of two southern colleges, Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tennessee, and the University of South Carolina in Columbia.  On the trip back home, we also stopped in West Lafayette, Indiana for a look at Purdue University.   There was a lot of walking involved in these tours, a lot of sitting in cars, and not a lot of great opportunities to workout.  I did squeeze in a spin bike workout in the hotel gym with a short two-mile brick added to it on Tuesday and decided not to worry about missing anything else.

We did a 4.5-mile hike in Gatlinburg, Tennessee through some relatively tough terrain.  Lots of uphill walking, stones, and climbing.  It was a good alternative workout.  I’ll take it.

 

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Becca and I hiking in Tennessee

 

We walked a ton during the tour of Purdue.  It was a big campus and the tour guides walked us everywhere.

Upon getting back home on Friday, I was able to do the planned 90-minute bike workout but chose to do it on the spin bike at the gym instead of outside.  After having some decent weather on our trip, I was a little disappointed to find Illinois was rainy and colder.  Sunday’s 60-minute run went well on a windy but sunny 30-degree day.

So I think I will benefit a little from taking a little break to get back on track.  I had originally planned to follow the “Just Finish” plan but I have given in to peer pressure a little from my training buddies who are all following the competitive plan.  I will make sure to stay in the planned zones and not overdo it.

On to Week 5!

Week 3 & 4 Training Totals:

Swims:  None     >    Rides:  5 total / 87.75 miles     >     Runs:  3 total / 14 miles

 

 

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Time to get back on the Ironman Choo track!