First time: Right hamstring. Seconds after crossing the finish line at the Coeur d’Alene Marathon 2011. Literally froze in my tracks, unable to take another step.
Second time: Right foot. About 45 minutes after finishing the Eugene Marathon 2012. Took my shoe off in the car and my foot was literally stuck in a flexed, crocked position. Kind of freaked me out.
Third time: Right calf. Middle of cycling class two weeks ago. Had to stop for a few seconds then take the rest of the class easy. Sore for the rest of the night.
If you ask a seasoned runner if they’ve ever cramped, I mean rolling-on-the-ground-someone-put-me-out-of-my-misery cramp, I guarentee he or she will remember the place, location and almost the exact time. That’s how much pain and dissapointment a cramp can cause. It can ruin a race within seconds, rendering the runner helpless and defeated.
There are three different “classifications” of cramping that typically occur during running:
1. Side cramp = a pain in your side or lower abdominal area. Typically a result of shallow breathing
2. Stomach cramp = pain in your middle core area, a.k.a your stomach. Again, typically a result of shallow breathing but also can occur from too much fluid or food before the run
3. Muscle cramp = physical pain and/or tightening of a centralized muscle, typically occuring in the leg
How can an athlete avoid cramping while running?
1. Practice deep breathing = Place your hands on your stomach and breath deep. Also, try breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth…slowly.
2. Slow down = Side cramps typically occur with new runners who start their run too quickly. Slow your roll at the beginning of a run and pick it up after the first mile. If the cramp still persists, walk it out for a few minutes. Seasoned runners naturally shift to deep breathing, so give yourself time to naturally make the transition.
3. Relax = Nervousness can lead to shallow breathing. Take a few deep breaths before the race and try to put your mind at ease.
4. Eat Earlier = A general rule of thumb is to eat 2 hours before a run. However, if you’re still experiencing stomach cramps, try eating 3-4 hours before a run. Also, try to avoid drinking copious amounts of fluid right before the start of a run. This can cause cramping and also just be plain uncomfortable.
5. Eat What Works = If you find you always eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich prior to a run but always get stomach cramps, perhaps you should try eating something different? Each runner is different and will be affected differently by different food. Find what works for you by experimenting…but I’d recommend experimenting before race day!
6. Hydrate = Make sure you drink enough water. General rule of thumb suggests 15-20 ounces 45 minutes before a run and 2-4 ounces every 15 minutes. But again, don’t overdue it or you’ll suffer the consequences of stomach cramping.
7. Balanced Diet = Make sure to eat your fruits and veggies to ensure you are taking in adequate amounts of sodium, calcium, magnesium and potassium, which can help prevent muscle cramping.
Fact or Fiction: If I eat a banana before my race, I won’t cramp?
Fiction. There is a common misconception associated with the magical power of bananas to ward off any sign of unwanted cramping. Does the potassium in bananas help prevent cramping? Yes. What about sodium, does loading my pre-race stir fry with salt help prevent cramping? Yes. And even drinking a class of milk packed with calcium will help prevent muscle cramping. However, most often than not, cramping occurs from a lack of improper hydration. It is true that an inbalance or deficiency in one of these elctrolytes can lead to a muscle cramp; however, most of us are not running ultra marathons (in which case you need to supplement with salt blocks due to loss of sodium) and are eating a balance of fruits and veggies through which our bodies receive adequate amounts of these electrolytes.
So the moral of this story, make sure you drink plenty of water throughout the day and be sure to eat a healthy and balanced diet!