For new readers

To get an idea of what I'm trying to do and why I think it's possible, check out the following entries, they'll help get you up to speed.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Cramp my style....

I remember vividly the first time i experienced real 'exercise-associated muscle cramps' (EAMC).  It was in New Zealand during the 'Teva: Big Day at the Office' multi-sport race.  Ouch.  Since then i've cramped to some extent at nearly all of my hard and fast races, but rarely during longer (multi-day) ones.

As such, and in doing research, i have come to accept (more or less) the hypothesis that fatigue is the primary cause of EAMC.  This hypothesis matches my own experiences pretty well - the harder and faster i've gone the more likely i am to cramp.  Or another way of looking at it is that when my race produces acute fatigue levels greater than my training - watch out.

And since i'm only training two hours a week then this happens all the time, and so i've learned to deal with it.  Cramping is something i expect and embrace, rather than seek to avoid.  In fact, it lets me know that i'm working hard - at or near my limit, for significantly longer than i ever did in training - which is what i want to be doing anyway.  But i don't want it to ruin my race either - something that has happened in the past - so i've learned to listen closely to my body and pay close attention to the first signs that i'm reaching the level of fatigue where cramping will begin.

When i reach this point, my race becomes pretty well defined - i aim to sustain an effort that is right at this threshold level of fatigue.  In terms of running this usually means backing off the pace a bit, focusing on cadence, and walking significant hills.  I've gotten pretty good at this - in fact during my recent 30 miler i felt the first twinges of cramping after about 2 and a half hours as we entered the beginning of the hilly section, but adjusted my pace and managed 2 more hours of running (albeit at a slightly slower pace) without any ill effects.  

I don't have quite as much experience in terms of dealing with cramping while biking though - most of my distance biking is during adventure races where the overall pace is significantly slower and the acute fatigue is less likely to reach levels that exceed the stresses of even my low volume training (although it has happened on at least one occasion).  

The bottom line for me is that given the nature of my training and the scope of my ambitions, i'm going to routinely face situations where cramping is unavoidable.  So i don't try to avoid it.  Yeah, if i trained more (and still really intensely) i could probably delay the onset of cramping.  But this kind of goes back to the argument in the More or Less post - that last statement is essentially always true.  And for me, figuring out how to manage cramping as opposed to just postpone it has proven an effective strategy for allowing me to accomplish my goals within the parameters of my schedule.

1 comment:

  1. Andy, I really appreciate your "thinkering" (thinking and doing), as there are many so-called experts that it gets tiring trying to sift through all the information... and I think most people just become more confused with the all the available advice.

    Having the awareness to obtain empirical evidence seems to be a missing skill in our culture, as there is vast amounts of fitness information to take into consideration, but the only outcomes that matter are the ones that come from "research" with n=1 subjects (you/me).

    Thanks again and keep up the good work!

    Maybe, managing cramping is postponing it; postponing cramping is managing it... which sounds like an important skill to be developed (which you have). And on a grander scope, it's about building skills with what we have: physical, mental, circumstantial.