Friday, February 26, 2010

Prevent Runner's Muscle Cramps

After 41 marathons I have a formula that works for me most of the time. Take it for what it's worth. It has four components:

  • Training;
  • Hydration;
  • Salt; and
  • Stretches.
Training: Muscles are much less apt to cramp when they are conditioned properly. This means 20-mile runs, more than one, with an appropriate taper in the three weeks leading up to the marathon. Sub-optimal training is not a reason to sit out the race, but it will make the race more difficult and cramps more likely.

Hydration: According to my own weight measurements before and after running, my body uses about 5 ounces of water per mile, more when it's hot. However, according to Noakes, my system will probably only absorb about 2 1/2 ounces of ingested water per mile. When aid stations are spaced about two miles apart, one 5-ounce cup at every station usually works well.

Salt: In my last marathon I ran at about the same pace as a small Team In Training group that was shepherding a young runner through his first complete marathon. Calf cramps had prevented him from finishing a previous attempt. For some reason, though, no one had thought to bring salt. He did finish, but he had to fight through some serious cramps.  I wished I had enough salt to share.

Salt makes a BIG difference for me. I have been using electrolyte tablets from a medical supply company, containing about 180 mg of elemental sodium (about 450 mg salt) per packet, plus a little potassium. According to Noakes, a runner uses at least 400 mg elemental sodium (1000 mg salt) per hour, but may not need to replace all of it. I take one packet about every second water stop, or about every four miles, and at my pace that is usually at least 500 mg salt, equivalent to at least 200 mg elemental sodium, per hour. It seems to work.

Unfortunately, the tablets that I currently use are no longer sold. It's too bad, because each tablet is packaged in its own tiny sweat-proof wrapper, so I can just throw a half-dozen in my pocket and fish them out one at a time as needed. When these run out, here are some candidates:
  • Succeed S!Caps. More than twice as large as the packets I'm taking now, so I'd take fewer.
  • Thermotabs. Virtually identical to the tablets I'm taking now, 180 mg elemental sodium and a little potassium per tablet.
  • Lannett Buffered Salt Tabs. Also virtually identical to the tabs I now take, 180 mg elemental sodium per tab. I suspect this is the same product as Thermotabs, with a different label.
I'm not impressed by the products that add other trace minerals and gratuitous vitamins and whatnot. Marathoners don't need it, and those products usually have less sodium, the most important ingredient. By the way, I also take Clif Shot gel packets during a marathon, about one per four miles, for perhaps another 50 mg elemental sodium in addition to the helpful carbohydrates and caffeine.

Stretches: We should stretch after every run for several reasons, and I think that cramp prevention is one of them. I find it very helpful indeed to stretch calf muscles right away after a 20-mile run or a marathon to prevent the cramps that can occur then. Sometimes, in fact, I have to stop and stretch during a race just to get to the end.

Please add comments with your own advice, if you like.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A1A Marathon, Fort Lauderdale

We three flew in & out of Fort Lauderdale to collect Florida, Don’s 25th marathon state and 41st marathon. Sunshine & Sweet Pea collected their 11th half-marathon state, on top of their 12 marathon states. They were shooting for four hours and came in comfortably under that, while I was hoping for five but finished nine minutes over. I watched the 5:00 pace team go by but couldn’t keep up. Happily, the 5:15 pace team never caught me.

The A1A Marathon itself is a good one, maybe not yet a great one:

  • Water stops were all different from each other, with three different fluids but no signs or specially-colored cups to direct you to the volunteer with your fluid. The only sure way to get water or a specific fluid was to ask for it, and even then I got something else once and had to throw it away. Maybe water was always last, but I’m not sure of that.
  • Porta-potties were rather horrible. The first three that we tried in the start area had no toilet paper, even though we were there before the lines had even formed. All of them had hand cleanser dispensers, but few dispensers actually had cleanser in them, even later along the course.
  • Parking, especially at the finish, was difficult for us out-of-towners, because several of the parking lots described in the race brochure did not appear to be open at the time we needed to board the bus (4:30 am).  We parked at the Bajia Mar hotel, across from the finish, and were charged only $10 when we left, but that bargain was not described anywhere, even by the hotel people that we spoke with.
  • Porta potties were less frequent than water stops, and there were just two at each location. What will it take for race directors to figure out that the need for porta potties is MUCH greater in the beginning of a marathon than near the end, especially where the marathon and the half marathon runners are together for the first several miles. Imagine what it does to a runner’s time if she has to wait behind ten other runners queuing for two porta-potties. I saw lots of people breaking for the woods, and almost did myself.
  • Food at the finish was reserved for those who could finish early enough. Sweet Pea and Sunshine, finishing in less than four hours, got oranges, bananas, and wraps with beans and meat sauce, with potato chips. Nice-looking bagels were available too, but we can’t eat them because they are made of wheat. When I arrived a little after five hours, only the bananas and bagels remained. Sunshine did notice that some of the people going through the line were not runners.
The good stuff is more important:
  • The A1A course is delightful, running mostly along the Atlantic Ocean beach front on the A1A highway, and partly through a cool, dense woods. Most of the way, it’s about as close to the ocean as you can legally run without getting sand in your shoes.
  • Water stops were frequent, and none ran out of water. Chicago could take a lesson.
  • 515 runners in the marathon, 2856 in the half. That's a nice-sized marathon.
  • The weather today was about normal for the season, I think. 59 degrees at the start, rising steadily to a sunny 75 for my last hour of the race. Humidity was moderate, with a nice breeze off the ocean most of the way. I was glad that it wasn’t raining, or blowing too hard, and have no complaints about the weather. It’s Florida and we came to run.
  • The course took us directly east at the start, running toward a spectacular view of the sun rising over the Atlantic.
  • Half marathoners had the same six hours to finish as did the full marathoners.
  • The water at the finish was COLD, and it really hit the spot.
  • A children’s 1.2-mile race started from the 25-mile point toward the finish line at 11:00 am, just a minute or so after I passed that point. These kids, aged 5-12, had previously accumulated 25 miles of running with their parents or some other running mentor, and finished their “marathon experience” in this actual marathon with a genuine finish line. I had to slow slightly at the finish, because they were clumping up a bit there. But I have no complaint - this race interfered with very few adult marathoners, and I can’t imagine a better way to teach kids the value of high-quality exercise. It's a great idea!
  • Volunteers and police were cheerful and helpful throughout.
It’s a good marathon - don’t let my negative comments about the little stuff send you away. I started with the 4:30 pace team, faster than I expected to run later, to take advantage of the cool 6:00 am start time.  I slowed more than I hoped, but finished in a better time than in three of my previous four marathons.

No pains, no problems, except sore muscles. I actually like sore muscles. I'll run a few easy miles on Wednesday if nothing is hurting. It's a masterpiece!!

Splits: 9:42, 10:00, 10:00 (really!), 10:20, 9:57, 10:40, 15:00 (potty stop), 10:30, 10:53, 10:35, 11:02, 11:36, 11:29, 14:59 (potty stop), 15:16 (unknown delay or incorrectly-marked course?), 12:36, 12:10, 12:23, 12:25, 24:59 (2 miles), 12:08, 12:27, 12:07, 12:39, 13:44 (1.22 mi), total 5:09:37.

Team-In-Training (TNT) runners raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS), which funds research for most of the blood cancers, including myeloma.  I love these folks, because they may be saving my life, and I try to let them know it.  This group and I ran together a few times briefly, as three of them were shepherding the fourth to the finish of his first marathon.  I finished just ahead of them, and Sunshine took this photo just after they finished.  Go TNT!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Four Miles Indoors

Four more miles in the Stillwater Bubble. I ran a few laps with Bob, who is training to run the Boston Marathon. Go Bob! Then he was done and I finished 20 minutes later.

Time: 40:36. I clocked two different laps, each showing a pace slower than 9:00 and faster than 9:30, so I’m sure I ran more than four miles. No pains, no problems.

Roasted vegetables, by Sunshine.  Clockwise from upper left:  Rutabaga, parsnip, pineapple, fennel, beets, onions, yellow peppers,  & sweet potatoes, all on a little bit of olive oil.  Mostly organic, of course.  Add a little organic catsup or even salsa. 

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentines One Mile

The one-mile race has always been my least-favorite distance, because of the physical intensity that it requires. I love the 200m sprint, though it’s even more intense, because it’s too short to burn out the muscles or the body’s oxygen supply. Exhaustion doesn’t happen, though injuries are possible. I like the marathon, too, even though it burns out everything, because it’s not very intense. A marathoner can take a walk, maybe up a hill or through an aid station. By contrast, the mile is self-inflicted torture, especially the second half, during and after which every muscle complains and I breathe so hard that my throat may be sore for days. I mentioned this to friend Norm one time, and he half agreed, "Yeah, but it’s over in six minutes." For him, maybe, make that seven or eight minutes for me. Nevertheless, he has a point - the pain is brief, except for the hoarse throat.

The Charities Challenge indoor races at Bethel University always include a one-mile race, and until now I’ve watched that race and run other distances, especially the 200m. Today I wanted to test myself, so I set out to run the mile, preparing by running easily yesterday and warming up with a mile or so of jogging today. The goal was eight minutes - could I run a mile at that pace? I thought so, but wasn’t sure.

An eight-minute mile on that 200m track is basically one minute per lap, with a couple of extra seconds in the first lap that get fudged later. When the finish clock read 0:50 as I passed it the first time, I knew I was going too fast for my goal, and didn’t know if I would be able to maintain the pace. So I settled in behind another runner for a couple of laps, and my time remained about 10 seconds under the eight-minute pace. Then the other runner seemed to be slowing, and I passed him. From then on I only looked at the clock to count laps. I felt good, went a little faster in the seventh lap, and actually sprinted the eighth, finishing in 7:20.

Clearly my goal was too low, just as it was in last weekend’s 5k race. Next time I’ll know better what to shoot for, and I can do better. On the other hand, though, I actually did enjoy this one-mile race! I felt good throughout, and afterward I was able to run a couple of easy cool-down miles. Coughing was minimal, compared with prior experiences at the U of M Field House. No pains, no strain.

Today's breakfast/lunch.   Blueberries were gorgeous and cheap at Trader Joe's today, so there is a bed of then underneath.  The gluten-free oatmeal is actually on top, upper right, containing a few raisins and cranberries as always,  Round it out with kiwi, mango, organic walnuts, organic yogurt, and a little Joe's very dark chocolate.  Life is really good!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Frosty & Double Bubble

Three runs.

Saturday, February 13, 2010:

Seven degrees above, no wind at all, but lots of fog in the air and, therefore, frost on the trees. Beautiful, ghostly scenes unfolded as we floated through the early dawn. Gauss and I ran together for the first mile and a half, while the speedsters flew on ahead. Then Gauss turned right, as I went left to take a shortcut and running only 3.5 miles to his 5.0. No hurry - races coming up, the idea is to keep the muscles in tune, whatever that tune may be.

No pains, no problems. My legs did get a little chilly - I guess I need more than one thin layer over my thighs when the temp is seven and the humidity is 100%. But four layers above kept my core warm enough. Two pairs of sox felt good on my feet.

Thursday, February 11, 2010:

Another easy run in the Stillwater Bubble, about four miles in just over 40 minutes. That brings me to about 19 miles for the week, which is just right at this point in the taper. Only one other runner, but lots of walkers. No strain, no pains.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010:

I do like running in the Bubble in Stillwater. Sometimes there is even someone to run with. Today I met Dave again, having spoken with him briefly a week or so ago. We ran the last two of my six miles together. That’s nice - he’s easy to talk to. I hope we bump into each other again.

I actually ran by time again, not by distance, because distance is so hard to measure in there. I didn’t even time one lap, as I sometimes do. I assume that I was running about 10 min/mile, and I ran for 60 minutes. No pain, no strain.

Looks like breakfast, actually a post-run fruit bowl with two objectives: (1) Quality carbs, and (2) Hydration.  Plus it's yummy.  Upper right - a gluten-free date bar, by Sunshine.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Frigid 5 Race

Sunday, February 7, 2010:

I forget, between seasons, what a nice race the Frigid 5 really is. We do run outdoors, of course, but before and after the race we are inside a heated building in the state fairgrounds, chatting with all of the other runners that we’ve come to know and like over the years. That’s enjoyable - runners are good people and good friends. Today the temperature outdoors was 20 degrees, but the roads were clear except for a layer of salt.

I had a good run but not a great race, finishing in 28:03, fifth of seven in my 65-69 age group. All of my buddies finished ahead of me. I didn’t know how fast I should try to go, and thought I was going fast enough, and I think I could have finished a little sooner, though not enough sooner to catch the guy ahead of me. Each mile was faster than the previous one, and I had plenty left at the end.

Maybe that’s all a good thing, I’m sort of learning to run and race all over again. I had three goals: (1) Finish under 30 minutes; (2) NOT get lapped (it’s a two-lap race); and (3) NOT get hurt. I met all of those goals. I’ll get faster and get that 5k time down to maybe 25 minutes, I hope. That would be enough to catch the guy ahead of me.

Breathing was easy for at least the first two miles, four and even five footfalls per full breath. My legs were the limiting factor, feeling a bit more tired than they really were. Later the breathing picked up, as it should, as fast as three footfalls per full breath.

Splits: 9:26, 8:56, 8:50, 0:50, total 28:02, pace 9:02.

I met Mark, a fellow blogger who lives nearby, for the first time. Good to meet you, Mark. See you again soon.

Saturday, February 6, 2010:

I ran with the St Croix Valley Runners again today. We meet every Saturday morning, 7:00 am SHARP, at the Northland tennis courts in Stillwater. Nice group today.

I ran the first mile and a half with Tom, who was taking it easy, doing this run as the first leg of a 20-miler. We chatted mostly about an upcoming marathon that we are both planning to run. After the mile and a half, as Tom and others turned right, I turned left to take a shortcut and cut the miles from 5 to 3.5, because I have a race tomorrow.

I forgot to start my watch, so I don’t know the time, but I had a nice, easy run. Scott and Luke finished the 5-mile course not long after I finished. Good for them - they are both top-notch runners.

Soup mix, some assembly required:

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Pileated Woodpecker

Three easy miles today, recovering from Monday’s 20 mile run, this time in the cool (cold?) Stillwater Bubble. Some joints and ligaments still ached a bit, but were better when the run was over. I sure like running in cool temperatures - I think that was another reason why Monday’s run was so tough on me - the Community Center track is probably about 70 degrees. Outdoors wasn’t in the cards today as the overnight temp was about six below zero, a little too cool for my feet.

Pileated woodpecker at feeder in DecemberA few days ago I saw a male pileated woodpecker on a burr oak tree, very close to the house. What a magnificent bird, his size all the more stunning up close. He started at the bottom of the trunk, stopped for a moment, moved up a little more, stopped again, repeatedly searching for insects. I believe that woodpeckers listen for the sounds of insects under the bark, then strip the bark away, but can an insect move and therefore make noise when the temperature is below zero, as it was that day? Anyway I was somewhat pleased to see that Mr. Pileated didn’t find much to hammer on, because insects tend to be where the tree is decaying, and his inability to find insects might mean that the tree is still sound. Too bad for the woodpecker; what a tough way to make a living.

I didn’t have time to grab my camera. The photo is by Sweet Pea, of a pileated visiting our suet feeder in a snowstorm last December.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Everything Aches

Actually only every MUSCLE aches, which is fine. Muscles are supposed to ache after a 20-mile run, so they will take the next long run a little more seriously. I ran on the N St Paul Community Center upstairs track, 20 miles, 270 laps, 1080 corners all to the right, about 35,100 paces. This was a difficult run for me, much more difficult than the 16-mile run six days ago. I’m not sure why, because I prepared for this one in about the same way, but I suppose it could be partly BECAUSE I ran 16 miles 6 days ago. Maybe. I used to be able to get away with that.

A slight pain in the arthritic left Lisfranc joint came and went, as did a slight ache in the once-injured right hamstrings. Hip flexors on both sides started to complain at about mile 14, but didn’t get too bad. This is normal for the last year or two. The only new pain was in the right leg, just below the knee joint, toward the outside, where some bones come together to support the knee joint. That showed up in mile 19, but disappeared soon after the run was over. Nothing hurts now :-)

The track is banked at the corners, so feet, knees, and hips were spared unusual stress, but evidently that benefit didn’t extend all the way up my body. Most disconcerting was the weariness in my trunk, as I tended to lean to the left, having trouble holding that shoulder up, starting as early as mile 6. That may be another reason why the run was difficult. The track was clockwise today, so all 1080 turns were to the right. One woman actually asked if I was trying to compensate for an injury, leaning so much to the left. It appears that I am sadly in need of core training.

I was able to run continuously for 18 miles, though, walking only briefly for water and gel breaks. The watch never stopped - no bathroom breaks. From 18 on, I did have to walk every fourth lap because I could barely hold myself upright and, besides, my legs were plumb out of energy.

I took 5 ounces of water every two miles, gel every four, and salt every four. No cramps! Splits: 9:47, 9:34, 9:44, 9:40, 10:03, 9:45, 10:18, 9:49, 10:23, 9:46, 10:25, 9:55, 10:32, 11:12, 10:44, 10:44, 11:12, 11:01, 12:20, 12:33, total 3:29:26, average pace 10:28. For the log: 130 paces around one full lap, 12 paces around one corner, so 48 corner paces in one lap. I can use those numbers to calculate roughly how much farther my left foot had to travel than my right foot did. Trivia. Next run: 3 miles for recovery, maybe Wednesday. I hope I can do that on a straight road.

Today's breakfast after the run.  Gluten-free cereal beneath.  The yellow is mango.  Mmmmm.

Hamstring Injury Prevention?

Saturday, Jan 30:

It seems to work for me. Six years ago I had a pretty serious hamstring injury in the Twin Cities Marathon and had to walk to the finish from mile 10. Healing and recovery took months, confounded and NOT shortened by professional physical therapy. In theory, that injury makes me a little more susceptible to a repeat injury. Since then though, whenever I feel any ache in that muscle, I do my butt-kicks, like this: Stand still, kick one heel up behind about as far as it will go, do this 70 times rapidly, then do 70 more with the other foot. It really does seem to help with my particular injury, no guarantees for anyone else. I do these after running, not before, and (when I remember) also on days that I don’t run.

I have a theory that the butt-kicks might help in two ways. First, they run the hamstrings through almost their entire range of motion, stretching the muscles fully and, especially, contracting them fully. Could this somehow help those muscles remember how they are really supposed to work after they have endured thousands of repeats over a very narrow part of their range? Second, it most certainly it builds the hamstring muscles in a way that running doesn’t. A personal trainer may say that it’s not be the best way to do that, but it will have some effect.

For what it’s worth.

Today’s run was four miles on the upstairs track in the community center. No problems, no pains.

Splits: 9:17, 8:51, 8:55, 8:53, total 35:55, pace 8:59. Nice run.

Thursday, January 28:

Four miles in the Stillwater Bubble. Actually, 40 minutes at a pace that presumably was faster than 10 minutes per mile. I timed one lap in the third mile and it came out to a pace of 9:30, so I’m sure the distance was at least four miles.

Several other runners in the bubble today, and lots of walkers. The runners were mostly in pairs, and all of them were faster than me. And younger, of course.

No problems, no pains. Long run next week.

Salad as dinner.  Mostly organic.  Is that bison or is it beef?  I don't remember - this photo is from almost six weeks ago.