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 -