Reader Question: I cramped up badly racing Park City Point 2
Point? What can I do next time to prevent that happening?
Answer: When athletes cramp in a mountain bike race it is
most often the large working muscles in the legs that go first. Cramping is a
painful experience and always slows you down.
So what causes muscle cramping? UmmÖI donít exactly know! The
scientific community does not have a definitive answer, either! There are
theories on what causes cramping but no certainties. The best we can do as
athletes is to review all the cramping theories, compare them to our own
personal cramping history and cover the preventative scenario we think applies
to us in our training and race day plan.
The current cramping theories include fatigue, low
electrolytes (sodium, chloride, potassium, calcium, magnesium), hyper-hydration,
dehydration and personal susceptibility.
Muscular fatigue is currently touted as the most likely cause of cramping.
Pushing your muscles in a different way from how they have been trained by using
a different movement pattern can cause cramping. Pushing harder, longer and
faster than before can cause cramping. For mountain bike racers during the 78
mile Park City Point 2 Point, harder and
longer is the most likely cramping culprit.
are two ways to prevent cramping from fatigue: pacing and training. Pace your
race to accurately reflect the level at which you have trained. Out-pacing your
training is an almost certain recipe for cramping. Hold back in the first half
of your race to prevent cramping. In training, push harder and longer to adapt
to the pace you want to maintain during the race. This is a tough one to
accomplish for a 78 mile mountain bike race that takes on average 9+ hours to
complete - like Park City Point 2 Point.
There is anecdotal evidence that muscle cramping can be
prevented by strength training. Perennial pro-racer and multi-time Leadville
100 winner, Dave Wienís wrote the following in his Road
to Leadville Blog
lift to, hopefully, prevent cramping. So far, this has helped me at Leadville.
I have lifted going into this race the last three years and I havenít cramped.
In years when I didnít lift, Iíd cramp coming down Columbine, but Iíd just kept
spinning my legs, though, and theyíd go away. It certainly isnít doing my legs
any good, though. I experienced the same thing in the Firecracker 50 this year
Ė and in others Ė when I havenít been lifting. Iíll try to get into the gym for
this workout 8 or 9 times before Leadville, my last one being on the Monday or
Tuesday before the race. Weíll see how this works out this year.
Muscle cramping may be brought on by loss of sodium, chloride, calcium,
potassium or magnesium in sweat during exercise. This is the oldest cramping
theory and recent evidence suggests it also the most unlikely cause of muscle
cramping. However, as athletes it is also an easy one to cheaply and safely
cover during a race.
Before the race add extra salt to your meals to top-up electrolyte supplies.
Avoid over-drinking fluids the day before the race as that will dilute your blood
electrolyte concentration. During the race supplement with a solution such as
Elete or capsules such as Endurolytes to replace electrolytes lost in sweat.
Hyper-hydration is linked to the low electrolyte theory as drinking too much
will dilute the electrolyte concentration in the blood.
just the right amount and not too much.
Dehydration may or may not cause muscle cramps. Avoiding dehydrations is a no-brainer
for racers, as dehydration negatively affects race performance in multiple
Maintain hydration status by drinking when you are thirsty.
Some people are simply crampers, while others are not. If you
have read this far, then you probably are a cramper. There is evidence that
cramping susceptibility increases with age.
Regular stretching may help reduce the incidence of cramping. If you are a
cramper you should become a regular stretcher. If you have a pill or tonic that
prevents your cramping, keep taking it. The Placebo effect might be working
nicely for you. Some athletes swear by pickle juice!
Once your legs do cramp in a race, your best option is to
drop the pedal force and spin your way through them. If your cramps are too
intense to keep the pedals moving, gently stretch the affected muscle.
Lynda Wallenfels is a
Category 1 certified USA Cycling coach.
She raced the Park City Point 2 Point and hopes to get a slot to race it
again in 2011. Contact her through her LW Coaching website for information on
training plans, coaching and consulting http://lwcoaching.com