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!