I’m Grumpy When I’m Injured

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted…and that’s because I ended up with an injury.

After returning from our epic triathlon camp, the next week or two went really well.  Things were on a roll!  Then, on one day, I did a strength training session followed immediately by a long swim.  Halfway through the swim I was really struggling to pull with my left arm, which just made me laugh because I had done a lot of arms during my strength session.

However, later that day at home I was trying to reach for something in a cupboard and couldn’t pick my arm up over shoulder level.  Like, physically could not do it as it was “stuck”.  Uh oh.  Of course I set out with the usual triathlete self-help routine – rolling/trigger ball/self torture and ice.

The next day was worse.

So, I went to get ART therapy, and was making improvements.  To shorten a VERY long story, the pain moved around quite a bit and was in my shoulder, then my back, then my neck.  Ugh.  Here I was getting into the peak of training for IronMan Arizona…and I was missing workouts like crazy.

This is not good.

Then I realized I’m grumpy beyond belief when I’m injured, and do not want to write for the life of me!  I suppose there’s some humor in there somewhere, but I’m not feeling it yet.

So… that’s a long way to say “I’m sorry” I disappeared for awhile.

I did complete IronMan Arizona, but will save that tale for next time.  Probably the next 2-3 times, as it was quite a day with a lot to talk about.

To further the discussion from last time (it was about electrolyte depletion, as a reminder) I found some interesting things happening in terms of muscle cramps.  I expected that I would cramp less, as I wasn’t working out as much.  That would make sense, right?

Well…I was cramping MORE!  I do think I know why, though.  I was so focused on my shoulder/neck/back issue that I wasn’t doing my daily routine of rolling and torturing my feet.  Without that TLC…my feet simply weren’t up to the task of that swimming pool wall.

So, I’m back.  And I’ll try not to be grumpy and disappear anymore, even if I do get injured.  Right now I’m solidly in the off-season which, for me, means some recovery time, adult beverages, and working out only once-a-day for awhile.  With no set schedule, just as I feel.  It’s freeing to train that way for a bit!

Is It Electrolyte Depletion, or The Wall?

We’ve already established that I cramp a lot while swimming.  If you didn’t read my previous post, check it out here:  Swimming and Cramping.

Recently, I had the opportunity to do a massive amount of open water swimming.  Like, 20,000 meters of open water swimming in 10 days.  Can we really call that vacation?  Either way, I learned quite a bit but came out with more questions than answers.

Electrolyte Depletion

I have had my blood tested, and my body seems to have a hard time holding on to electrolytes.  They get depleted within my system rapidly, and I appear to struggle at absorbing them.  Why?  Hell if I know.  And it’s BEYOND frustrating!

So, I assume a large part of my swim cramp issues are related to the electrolytes and how they are not at optimal levels in my system.

Then I did all that swimming I mentioned above… and ZERO cramps.  Really????  Yup.  I had a couple close calls – those of you who cramp will know what I mean.  Twice I was right on the verge, but never crossed over into a full on cramp.

The Wall

So, what’s different between open water swim and pool swimming?  For one, the amount of salt in the water.  I’m going to discount this factor a bit because I haven’t really cramped much in fresh water, either.  During a race, I have been known to come out of the water and get a quad or calf cramp in transition, but they dissipate quickly and don’t have the intensity of one of my famous swim cramps.

Is it duration of the swim?  Nope, I did my longest swim EVER in my open water block, so that can’t be it.

Was it an abundance of electrolytes in my system?  I doubt it.  I was at an endurance triathlon camp for 5 days and trained over 20 hours in high humidity for those 5 days.  I would find it impossible to believe my electrolyte count went up.

So, what does that leave us with?  Could it be the wall?  Not the famous marathon “wall”, but literally the pool wall.  When we do 2000m (or yards) in the pool that leaves us with 80 turns off the wall in a 25m (yard) pool.  And my cramps tend to hit me in the arch of my foot in the pool.  hmmmm…maybe the actual wall is a part of it.

Has anybody else had this experience?

I struggle constantly with this cramping issue, and any and all remedies are welcome.  Better balanced electrolytes definitely help.  A TON!  Like, instead of cramping every other swim I cramp about 1 in 10 or 15…which is massive improvement.

Now I find myself wondering about the impact of the wall.  And how to minimize that impact to get my number to 1 time cramping every 30 or 40 swims.  Yes, that’s a big goal, but it would make me a happy guy!!  Maybe I’m overestimating the impact of pushing off the wall, but I cannot help but think it plays a part.

Depleted electrolytes in my blood certainly start the cramping cycle, and now it’s time to test whether or not the impact of direct pressure to my feet on the wall plays a significant role.  Looks like I’ll be spending some time working on my flip turns!  I know for sure I tend to pull up too soon and have to reach for the wall a bit, so that’s probably a good start.

I’ll update you on what (if anything) I find!

A Great Race!

I’m going to depart a bit from my normal discussion of cramping muscles and talk about a victory today!

2 weekends ago I raced in the Lake Stevens 70.3.  It was my second time racing there, the first ending up in disaster.  The first time there, I’d taken my bike on the plane and somehow my front derailler had gotten banged up during the trip.  My practice ride didn’t show the problem, and somewhere in the first loop of a 2 loop bike course I could no longer shift my front ring.  Thankfully it was at least in the small ring…Lake Stevens is HILLY.

But, the end result was a swollen knee from spinning like a madman and my “run” required quotes…since there wasn’t much running happening.  I was horribly disappointed, but lived with it.

So, my preparation for this year’s race had me left with much higher expectations.  I didn’t have the best pre-race prep, but this isn’t really a race report.  This is about overcoming cramping.

The swim at Lake Stevens is a little unique… there is a buoy line that holds all the swim buoys in place, so you really don’t have to do much sighting.  The water temperature was great, and I got through the swim without a single cramp issue!  Off to a great start!

Then I had to take my wetsuit off.  I swear it felt like it took an eternity.  I couldn’t get it off and actually had my quad kinda cramp while struggling with it.  In my head I was thinking “really, removing the wetsuit.  Come… ON!!”.  haha.

But when I got on my bike, all was fine.  I didn’t have a spectacular bike ride, but it was still pretty good.  And about 10minutes shorter than the last time here.  The course changed sometime over the last several years, and now it is much, much harder.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise…this course is legit.  There wasn’t a flat spot on the entire ride.

And then…the run.  This is where those cramp problems tend to pop up and cause serious problems.  I’m happy to say that I not only avoided cramping, I absolutely nailed this run!  I don’t think I could have done any better.  Not one single twinge of a cramp, and I even negative split the run!

The best part?  A distance PR and my first sub-5 hour half ironman.  What a day!!  No cramps, even with a wetsuit removal scare, and a hard effort all the way.  I’m so happy, and would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to e21.

I’m writing on the e21 site, so you know I’m associated with the product, but that does not discount my feelings.  e21 helped bring me home on my best half ironman race ever.  I took 2 prior to the swim, 4 on the bike, and 4 on the run.  I know, that’s a lot.  But I did NOT cramp!!!

Next time I’ll go back to a more historical perspective, but I had to let you know about this success.

Until next time…

Swimming and Cramping

As unfortunate as it is to say, swimming and cramping go hand in hand for me.  I have noticed that guys seem to cramp more than girls in the pool, which may have something to do with the inability to properly pace.  But for me, it can be absolutely horrible.

The first time I swam laps was in 2002.  I mean, I’d been in a pool and could swim, but the first time I swam laps specifically for the purpose of exercise was shortly after running a marathon.  I thought I was in shape after, you know, a MARATHON.  But nooooooooooo, one length of the pool left me gasping for breath and sinking to the bottom.  It’s pretty funny to think about now, but at the time it was so tough!

I decided I wanted to do a triathlon, so I had to learn how to swim.  I was bad.  Like, really, really bad at swimming.  After a little time training and making some improvements (as in, I didn’t drown), it was time to try a “speed” workout.
BAM!!  The first of many swimming cramps.

If you’ve never had the displeasure of cramping while swimming, let me explain it.  It seems that due to the weightlessness, the cramp seizes in an incredibly painful way and travels the entire length of your body.  As I write this, I realize it’s not that much different out of water, except you can get weight on it faster.  I don’t know if you all feel the same, but when I get weight on it that tends to ease the pain and muscle seizure.  So, in the water, you can’t get that weight underneath to ease the severity.  On a positive note, you can duck your head under water and scream as loud as you want without scaring everyone within the mile surrounding you.  So, there’s that.

I have 2 spots that cramp up, and on both legs/feet.  I cramp in the arch of my foot and my inner quad to the inside of the knee.  The feet cramps are bad…but when it reaches up into the quad?  WOW.  Oh My.  Let’s not do that again!!

Of course, I have gone out of my way to try everything to improve this experience.  Honestly, the best luck I’ve had is with the product this site is about – Recoverye21.  Before finding e21, I would cramp probably 3 out of 5 swims.  Which made me really, really not like swimming.  Even more than the never-ending black line!  Now, I take 2 e21 just before getting in the pool and I’m down to cramping about 1 out of every 10 or 15 swims.  I get close, and fight them off sometimes, but I can finish my workout.  And almost cramping is like 10 billion times better than actually cramping.  It still happens, it happened pretty badly last week actually, but the dramatic improvement in my swim ability is directly attributed to quality and duration of swimming.

There is nothing more debilitating than muscle cramping.  I have a few stories about that very issue, which we’ll get to at some point.  One that still stings.  Okay, I don’t want to think about that.

Anyway, muscle cramping while swimming is unpleasant at best.  And massively painful at times.  I’ve tried drinking tonic water (quinine), which also seems to help a little.  I roll out my feet with a trigger point ball, roll my quads with a foam roller, I even soak my feet in epsom salts.  Hey, it can’t hurt.  And if nothing else, I get a nice foot soak out of it!

Are you getting the idea this cramp thing is a big deal for me?  Yeah.  Pretty much.

I would advise trying any and all of the above.  If it helps, do it.  And keep doing it.  Getting better at swimming helps, too, but I’m convinced that those of us genetically predetermined to cramping will always deal with it.

If you have a suggestion, please share!!  I’m willing to try most anything.

It’s a Dry Heat

When I was growing up, fitness and athletics simply weren’t a part of my everyday life.  It wasn’t until I was an adult that I got exposed to the benefits, and joy, of staying physically fit.

As an adult, I’ve pretty much always lived in Phoenix, Arizona.  So, it’s hot.  Like, really, really, really hot.  In my mid-20’s I started running and participating in 5k’s and 10k’s, losing some extra weight, and gaining an appreciation for exercise.  Fortunately, I didn’t run into a whole lot of cramping problems on the shorter distances.

I also liked hiking the local mountains.  At the time, my favorite was called “Squaw Peak”.  It has since been renamed “Piestawa Peak”, but after tens or hundreds of times up Squaw Peak, in my mind that’s what it’ll always be.  Anyway (and back on topic), I was spending more time outdoors and have been known to hike the mountain at 3 or 4 in the afternoon in August.  For those of you that haven’t had the pleasure of an Arizona summer, that’s a REALLY bad idea.

One thing I noticed was that I got leg twitches a lot.  Like, my muscles would just spasm seemingly uncontrollably for hours and hours (and days) on end.  But other than simply driving me crazy, there weren’t really any other negative issues.  As I think about it now, with 12-13 years of more intense training, nutrition, and cramping experience, I’ve had these muscles spasms my entire life.  I just didn’t think of them as “cramps” as a child.

As it often happens, 10k’s turned into 1/2 marathons and then an idea to train for a full marathon.  But I’m getting ahead of myself, we’ll get to marathons soon enough.  This is about the dry heat.

Ever since I moved to AZ, I’ve heard the summers referred to as a “dry heat” as a way of saying it’s not that bad outside.  I vividly recall golfing (something I don’t do often) on a record 122 degree day one June many years ago.  I don’t care how dry it is…122 is brutal! I definitely remember having those leg twitches for days after that golf outing, which is saying something like 20+ years later.

So, Arizona summers tend to push the body just living life.  Add outdoor activities like golf or long distance training into the equation, and it makes me wonder.  What is worse for cramping – dry and hot, or humid and hot?

When it’s humid, you notice the sweat more, but I think that’s just because it doesn’t evaporate.  In the dry heat, most of it disappears and it’s more difficult to realize how much sweat you’re actually losing.  I personally have had some struggles in humid races, but haven’t noticed an increase or decrease in cramping.  Note to self: pay attention next time you’re at a humid race!

As I write this, we’re in June and heading into a summer of dry heat.  Ugh, it makes me sigh just thinking about it.

So… which is worse?  Dry heat or humid heat?

Confessions of a Lifetime Cramper

My name is Shane.  I’m a cramper.  I’ve always been a cramper, and I always will be.

Too bad there isn’t a “cramper’s anonymous”.  haha.

I’ve been an endurance athlete competing in marathons, then 1/2 IronMan and IronMan triathlons, for over 12 years.  I’m in my, ahem, mid-40’s (the new 30’s, right?!?) and by this point in my life I’m quite certain that my muscles are simply predisposed to cramp.  This doesn’t mean I’m a horrible athlete…I’m better than average.  And when you’re talking about Ironman athletes, “above average” means a lot more than it might in other circles.

Yet, I cramp.  Recovery e21 helps, for sure.  A LOT!  But that doesn’t mean I don’t still suffer from cramps on occasion.  Sometimes…uh, usually… at the worst possible moments.

So I’ve decided to start discussing these cramping problems publicly.  Maybe it’ll help someone else.  Maybe someone will toss out an idea that helps me, too.  Maybe it will lead to the founding of crampers anonymous.  🙂  Clearly, this is not going to be a serious account.  Of most anything.  If nothing else, it’s a great forum to discuss the frustrations of a person who fights muscle cramps on a daily basis.  Literally.

I’ll start with some historic background in the next several posts, and eventually we’ll catch up to current times.  No need to be concerned – I have a ton of cramping stories, including the times I didn’t cramp, to share.  We won’t be running out of things to talk about any time soon…