Monday, November 23, 2015

One step closer: Williams Route 66 Marathon race report

As most of you know, I have battled horrible leg cramps ever since I have been running and really ever since childhood.  I have tried just about everything, sought out all kinds of advice to keep them away but with little luck.  It is my running kryptonite.  I was recently shared this 1998 blog from one of my good runner friends (thank you Stacey) of a then 16 time marathoner “Jim” who had previous problems with calf cramps on his first 3 marathons.  I decided to follow his advice for the Williams Route 66 Marathon which I ran yesterday.  Here are the factors he believed causes these terrible cramps and how following this advice influenced my performance.

1. Pace /weather
Jim stated that pace is the primary factor of leg cramps so I really focused on that yesterday.  Don’t go out too fast, avoid positive splits. We have all heard it before 1,000 times. The weather was absolutely perfect yesterday so I was able to strategize for my actual target of 4:10.  I ran with the 4:15 pace group for the first 8-9 miles around  a 9:40 min/mi then I slightly increased my pace to the 4:10 target pace after that for the 2nd third of the race (between 9:15-9:30) and was able to hold it until mile 21.75.  That course was plenty hilly.  The hills were manageable but they were accumulative.  This marathon for my DRC training folks was the equivalent to running a marathon via running on Shoreview Drive in the Lake Highlands area from end to end continuously.  There were two really long hills at miles 14 and 21 which were at least a half mile long each. Those two hills were similar to the mile 8 Main St Bridge at the Cowtown Marathon for those who have run that race.  I was really surprised that I conquered both hills without having calf cramps as running up a hill is usually what initiates a calf cramp for me.  These cramps usually progress to the opposite calf and cramping gradually takes over both legs from the waist down.  I made it about ¾ of the way up the 21 mile hill before my right quad just tired out.  From there I walk-ran the rest of the race just because the quad had pretty much had it.  However on my 3:1 min run/walk ratio I was easily running an 8 min mile on the run parts with no hint of cramps.  My calves were very strong. In fact everything on the left and on the right from the knee down was fine.  The right quad was twitching a little bit but never seized up.

2. Preloading. 
The Gatorlode product Jim mentioned in the blog in which he carbo-loaded with no longer exists, so I just made sure I ate quality food just like I had been doing all training season leading up to the race; lots of fruit, leafy veggies and avoided junk.  Jim pre-loaded with electrolytes and a potassium supplement 5-6 days before his races.  A couple of years ago I discovered the greatness of Hammer Endurolytes which have helped me be cramp free during training runs and probably did not exist in 1998 when Jim wrote his blog. They have Potassium and other salts in them needed to prevent leg cramps.  I preloaded using these a week out from the marathon by basically taking one with every meal up to race day and hydrated accordingly.  Then I took 1 every 20-30 min during the race.  I used the sports drink provided at the water stations, but I didn’t have to drink that much.  I probably took in about 50-60 oz total of Gatorade during the race and fueled with GU every hour.

3. Training/tapering. 

From Jim's blog:

“Some people say that overtraining tires leg muscles and sets them up for cramps. I do not believe that. However, under-training and/or under-tapering can. I don't believe it is possible to overtrain for a marathon, as long as you avoid injury and burnout.....and taper properly. The taper is miraculous in marathon preparation. Done properly......neither too much nor too little work while tapering.....your body and mind will recover from any level of stress (barring injury) you placed on them during training and they will be at an optimum point of freshness and energy for the race. I do believe that being undertrained can be a factor in cramps, especially in endurance/stamina base. That's why total mileage and a sufficient number of long runs of 18-22 miles are so important in a training program. Going into a marathon, I would be much more worried about being undertrained or under-tapered than overtrained or over-tapered for cramp avoidance.”

This is the one thing that I strongly believe help me hit the “wall” at mile 21.  My training had been spot on up until the end of September.  Things on my personal agenda prevented me from getting in the number of required long runs between 18-22 miles.  I had only one this season and missed a few Thursday runs toward the end of the training season, thinking I could just make up for it by doing extra lower body strength work in the gym.  For me, I don’t think anything substitutes for lots of LSD miles.  My plan was to use the 50k at Ragnar for my peak run, but it did not go as planned and I only ended up with a cumulative 16 miles on 3 separate relay runs that day due to cramping up from not doing #2 above.  Still yesterday I didn’t cramp even being undertrained. 

I followed the tapering phase on the DRC training plan to a “T” per the training schedule and as suggested above. I can honestly say I really never took tapering seriously until I read his blog and I’m not sure or not if I have tapered as I should have in previous races.  I will make sure to do so from now on.

Other things I did that may or may not have been a factor

1.      Lots of foam rolling/stretching leading up to the day of the race.
2.      Laying off of the beer (that was very difficult).
3.      Getting adequate sleep and rest.
4.      Keeping positive thoughts and keeping stress far away from me.

So as I am finding, it’s not one thing that causes my cramps but several things.  Usually these races are very frustrating to me because they don’t end favorably for me, and I am seeing my other runner friends break P.R’s every other week, however my P.R. is still the same as my first marathon (4:13:12) and seems as if it will never fall (but I know it will eventually).  Yes I’m envious but at the same time proud of and in awe of my runner friends.  I know I can be one bad mofo of a runner.  Yesterday gave me hope that I’m one step closer to getting there.  Next up: The Cowtown Marathon 02/28/2016.  But preceding it will be more LSD miles, at least 3-4 runs of 20 miles, and a bit more speedwork.  Eventually all of the planets should line up.

Keepin it movin’

-TNT -

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

STOP CRAMPING MY STYLE! - My continuous battle with the Charlie Horse

I’m on a run, well into the run, I’m on a great pace, and everything is feeling absolutely terrific.  I’m fueling perfectly, hydrating the way I'm supposed to and then I get a twitch in my left calf.  Here we go again.  I know that in just a few miles, my calf or maybe my quad will completely seize up, causing excruciating pain.  If it’s a training run, I probably will cut the run short.  If it’s a race, especially a marathon, I can go ahead and hang up getting a P.R. if that is what I’m after, even after the first twitch I feel in my leg.  No amount of hydration, salt pills or consumption of anything- pickle juice, mustard, whatever will salvage this run. It’s going to be a done deal, when (not if) something cramps up unless I’m pretty close to the end of the run.  And after my muscle completely clutches up, it’s going to be sore for a few days and difficult to run on.  I have avoided registering for several different races which I really wanted to participate in and have cheated myself by cutting training runs short out of fear because the experience is so unpleasant when it happens. 
Cramp at around mile 12.5 during 2012
Dallas Rock N Roll Marathon (It's OK to laugh)
I am pretty sure now that I am part of a unique set of individuals.  Lots of times when on a group run, I hear someone complain that they have a cramp,I look over and they are still running.  This isn’t a real cramp, they don’t know cramps.  Or really, it’s not a Clay cramp.  When I cramp, it completely shuts me down, there is no running on whatever it is that is cramping.  It’s not at all possible. Maybe a fast limp, that is about it.  I know of only two other individuals who have it is bad as me-  my sister Lisa and my online running buddy friend in Florida, Michelle, who runs in just about as much humidity as we North Central Texas folks. Humidity and a few other things I have found, plays a part in initiating these cramps.  And all three of us sweat rivers when we are active.  So it has to be hereditary.  I’ve researched quite a bit and most articles and books, say that the reason for leg cramps is unclear.  It’s pretty clear to me now.  The cause is simply fatigue.
Charlie Horse knot caught in the act on my thigh
These leg cramps have happened for as long as I can remember.  My most memorable child experience with them was when I was maybe in 5th grade and me and a couple friends decided to ride our bicycles from our neighborhood Hamilton Park, which is just southeast of the High Five interchange to Town East Mall which may be about a 20-25 mile round trip I’m guessing.  For what reason we rode our bikes that far I can’t even remember.  But before then, I had never ridden a bike further than 5 miles at the most in one day.  For an 11 year old, that was a lot of stress on the legs all at once.  On the way back maybe just a couple miles away from home, my calf seized up.  I had no idea what it was, but I know it hurt like hell.  I ended up walking, crying the rest of the way home.  And that cramp came back and woke me up in the middle of the night.  I told my sister about it and she informed me that I had a ‘Charlie horse’ and that she has them often as well.  I remember thinking “Well if horses get these, that’s obviously why they hurt.”
Other times in my childhood remember the onset of these being caused by excessive swimming.  I cramped up pretty easily in the pool.  Once I became an adult I slowly became inactive over time, so there weren’t really any physical activities I would involve myself in which would cause any cramping until I started running years later.  However, whenever I would write or type for a long period of time, my hand would cramp up, and I do remember once when I was moving and had to transport a refrigerator, washer, dryer, deep freezer, two couches and a bunch of items unassisted within a four hour period produced back spasms and hand cramps by the end of the day.

So here is my hypothesis.  Dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, lack of stretching, etc does not cause cramping. But they can cause excessive fatigue, which does cause cramping.  One of my running sisters, Jacqui introduced me to Endurolytes which replenish your salts quite nicely, as I sweat excessively and they have helped me some.  But they will only work for so long for me.  After my muscles become so fatigued, they cramp.  High humidity causes you to work harder, which causes fatigue.  After my muscles become overly fatigued, they cramp.  Lack of hydration or lack of salts cause you to fatigue. Excessive hills cause fatigue.  When I fatigue, I cramp.  Most of you know about my “Claying out” incidents.  In those situations, my electrolytes were so imbalanced that every muscle in my body was beyond fatigued, so they cramped in dramatic fashion from my neck down to my toes and sent me to the E.R.

How do you fix it?  Just don’t get tired.  Sounds a lot easier said than done right?  Well this is the solution.  I have already proven it to myself, most recently when I raced El Scorcho 50K and Cowtown 50K in 2014.  Both races, I trained running a ridiculous amount of miles per week.  I built up my endurance and it worked. Simply get stronger. I had muscle twitching toward the end of both races, a lot of twitching.  Both races I was good for just about 31 miles, no more.  Any more and I would have folded into one big Charlie Horse and looked like a pretzel.  Also, do more runs which simulate what your race will be.  This year I’m running the Route 66 Tulsa Marathon again, which has quite a bit of rolling hills.  I caught a Charlie Horse 100 feet from the finish line when I ran it in 2013 and missed my marathon P.R. by exactly one minute.  That it was between 20-25 degrees out the whole race may have played a factor as well.  Speaking of this P.R. which is 4:13 something and is my first marathon and hasn’t fallen after running 10 of these, I remember doing a lot of fast tempo runs during training.  At the time my vehicle was not running and I commuted from work to home 5 days per week 7.5 miles via fast training run for probably 3 weeks or so.  I hit the infamous ‘wall’ around mile 23 during that marathon and ran/walked the rest of the way. I’m thinking I lacked some strength training.  I may have had at least a 4:05 with a little more push.  Last years Ragnar Relay 50K, I half trained for it not knowing how difficult the course would be.  There were a lot of rocky ups and downs and for the last leg I ran it was about 85 degrees and during mid afternoon and about 12 miles. About 8 miles in I started catching cramps everywhere from the waist down.  I was well hydrated and well 'electrolit'.  Didn't matter.  The fatigue from running all night long the night before got me.  I fought through the cramps for about 2 miles but they ended up winning.
But here's what running more miles and gaining extra endurance does for me.  When I first started running, in my first three half marathons I always caught a Charlie Horse in my calf at around mile 12 or 12.5.  When I started training for a full marathon and running more miles, and I participated in a half marathon, these leg cramps did not occur, however I would get them during full marathons between miles 17-22.  When I trained for my first 50k at Cowtown, I ran the first 28 miles without even a hint of a cramp.  I finished the last 3 with lots of twitching, but my muscles never fully Charlie Horsed up.  This shows that the more weekly miles I have during training, the more endurance and for me, the later the cramps will occur.

So this training season, there have been more tempo runs, more strides, more runs at marathon pace. More miles, more strength training, more hills, more time on feet. More, more, more.  Just get the body used to being battered, get stronger, and gain endurance.  I know now that my issue is unique and hereditary.  Where most folks can follow the training plan to a “T” and get results, my body requires just a bit extra.  But that’s O.K.  I’m no stranger to hard work.


Sunday, May 24, 2015

State of the Train Address

What up??
Hello my bloggees, this post is long overdue.  All is well.  It seems that my nagging injuries are pretty much behind me.  About time. I have concluded that I had a severe case of shin splints.  Never saw a doctor for it but managed to run through the pain while fulfilling my pacing duties for the Dallas Running Club’s Spring 2015 season.  Thank goodness I had a strong group and a stronger co-pacer to carry the group when I couldn't.  Thanks Omar.  More than likely running thru pain only resulted in prolonging the healing.  In the meantime, running only twice per week and sometimes once per week and less than 20 miles per week decreased my fitness level, made me fat and slow.  I seem to be snapping back to normal
quicker than I expected.  I don’t know what I would do without my running famly for encouragement, in particular my running sister Jamie who lots of times pushed me to do things in which I had become too lazy to do, but knew that I should.  My diet, fallen off.  Started eating lots of junk, gained some 10-12 lbs which I am struggling to lose now despite all of the running I have done in the past few weeks.  Even though I was not running on a regular schedule, I made sure to sign up and run a few races, even though I knew I would struggle through them and run in pain.  Afraid I would lose interest in running, I just wanted to stay in the mix and in the middle of things.   I usually have a race report after every race.  I know I've been slacking lately.  Here is a summary:

1/1/15 Day One Trail Run: The brief moment I wasn't injured, ran my 2nd fastest 5k.  Hilly very rainy, race was ran on the paved road because the dirt trail was closed.

1/10/15 Frigid 10K. Signed up, but skipped it to work instead.  I know. Bad Clay..

3/1/15 Cowtown 50K.  Cancelled race due to ice, bumped everyone to the 13.1 for safety reasons.  I was never so happy.  There was NO WAY I could have even run beyond 13.1 in the condition I was in.  And that was about all I had in the tank that day

3/21/15 Grasslands 13.1.  Sucked. So much mud.  Hurt the whole time, took forever to finish. It generated a good Facebook/Dailymile profile picture though.

4/12/15 Big D Marathon.  I sucked.  I was assigned to pace that day.  Didn't finish.  Thank God for co-pacers.  I love you Lisbeth.

5/16/15 Whispering Pines 20 mi.  Became afraid of 'Claying out' pulled out after 10 miles.  May have been a good decision, I don't know.  I felt good and was well hydrated and electrolit up.  But conditions out there were rather crazy as I watched others Clay out.

Running at one point this past spring had become not fun and had become a chore.  I figured though, that the injuries and lack of a consistent schedule had a lot to do with it.  And I was right.   Now healthy, last week I put together a pretty good string of workouts.  I have been having that ‘tingly’ feeling after runs that make me want to run more.  It’s on like popcorn now.

I’m not training for anything specific right now, just trying to get myself into shape.  I was recently approached by Vishal, the DRC’s training director and presented with a coaching opportunity for the fall training season.  In February, I took the RRCA coaching certification course and am now a certified running coach.  Funny, I would have never thought in a million years that would happen.  But I guess that is why I am here.  I’m not the fastest or most competitive runner, but I feel that I can help others become that.  Consequently, I am trying to get my ass in shape before the fall season starts (in July) where I can run with the 3:50 marathon training group, the fastest group in which I will be responsible for on a regular basis.

Fall 2015
I am signed up for two races in the fall.  Both redemption races for me.  The Ragnar Relay 50k in which I was short 4 miles of finishing and the Williams Route 66 Marathon in which I was exactly one minute shy of beating my personal record 4:13.  This P.R. believe it or not has stood since my first marathon.  It will take some consistency and persistency to get there.  I can’t be half-assing it anymore.  There will probably be other races along the way which I will use as training runs or pace.  Probably those which Jamie has twisted my arm into running :)

Work has had an influence on my running in two different ways.  First is that after receiving a promotion and change in job duties AND also having to learn to work on a brand new claim system, it had required me to dedicate lots of hours to my desk.  This as you would expect took away from hours usually set aside to train or just had me too tired at the end of the day to crank out run mileage.  Many days I turned down running to work instead.  The minor injuries I had made it that much easier too.  I have made some adjustments recently and forced time in for run workouts.   The other way it has influenced my running recently is rather positive.  Some of you may wonder what I do at work.  I basically review claims that employees for different companies submit for time off work where they have become ill or had an injury and determine if they meet the definition of disability based on what they do at their job.  AKA, Short Term Disability.  All of the claims I am assigned are musculoskeletal claims.  Shoulders, knees, back issues, etc.  Talking to these folks and managing their claims reminds me to keep my ass active.  The common ailments I see are deteriorated discs, ruptured rotator cuffs, worn out knees.  Most end up with joint replacements, disc replacements and some end up headed toward permanent disability.  When I started this job, I was really surprised on how many people have back issues.  Probably 3 out of every 5 claims I receive today are for employees with disc issues.  Back issues scare me to death and from what I see, once you get them, they almost never go away.  The other thing I see is many of my claimants are overweight, don’t exercise and have poor diet which from the physician notes I read, is what causes their joint issues.  I have one account which I manage, a health club which a lot of you are familiar with, but I won’t name on here.  As you can imagine, their employees are in great shape physically.  Every claim I have received from them they return to work before expected.  These claims are usually from an injury like falling or twisting an ankle.  Minor stuff. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see why they heal quicker.  So this has motivated me to get even stronger, stay active and encourage my family members to do the same.   Hips, shoulders, knees and toes, use them or lose them.  So keep it movin’.  I surely am.