Monday, February 28, 2011

A New Training High & a Slice of Humble Pie

Okay, so this is not a "humble pie."
My homemade egg tarts: jumbo & standard.
***WARNING: LONG (but entertaining in a sick way) POST!!

I did a 22-mile training run in preparation for LA Marathon 2011.  Now, I've done many 20-milers in preparation for my (about-to-be-8) marathons, and they have had various outcomes.  But if those really, really long runs have one thing in common, it is that they are nothing to take lightly.  Any way you slice it, 20 miles is just a long @$$ way.

However, I DID start taking them lightly, I guess.  For my last marathon, I maxed out at 21.55 miles for my longest run.  I would have rounded it out to the next whole mile, but I had misplanned and reached my house before I got there.  I felt accomplished, as I had very little cramping and felt like I could have easily finished it.

So when I set out to run 22 miles for my longest run this cycle, I didn't think much of it.  Okay, I take that back.  I had to push my run ahead two days due to forecasted rain (no WAY I'm doing that much running in the rain unless it's a race).  And it was just over two-weeks post-bad cold.  But like all other things, it was now or never, and I don't accept "never" unless I really can't help it.  So on a workday, I embarked at 6 AM for my longest training run to date.

Why 22 miles now?  I am not too sure.  I guess I often feel ill-prepared during a marathon for these parts.  I ALWAYS get leg cramps and attributed those to a lack of training.  These leg cramps, once you get to that point, pretty much cripple you for the rest of your race.  And let's not forget about the time when I tried pushing through the cramp twinges and ended up cramping my calf muscles in front of a bunch of people.  So if adding a little more could push back the cramps at all, adding more is totally desirable.  Plus, I have heard of even first-timers (friends training w/Team in Training and even those SRLA kids) doing 22 or more as their longest run.

So the run itself was pretty uneventful.  Had 3 gels and 2 salt packets; for those who don't know, I down actual salt packets from restaurants to ward off cramping, usually starting at Mile 10 and then another about an hour later.  I was VERY drained toward the end (I would say after 16 miles), and the miles after 20 were truly no-man's land because the way back to my car was hilly and trail-ish.  Around 20.5, in a particularly uphill portion, I walked for a minute because I was exhausted, but soon, I was running again. 

And then came mile 21.45 (close to my previous max).  Out of nowhere, the cramps came.  On BOTH legs (unusual because it's usually just the right one).  I had to walk the next .35 miles and even then, I cramped along and was just hoping not to get a full-on seized-leg cramp.  I was able to run the last .2 miles back to my car.

This is when the drama happened. 

I did the obligatory stretching/walking around before getting into my car to head to the gym (2 miles away) for a shower.  Ate half a banana, some trial mix, drank water, and got out of my running shoes and into sandals.  Surely after 15 minutes of that, all would be good.  Nope... just as I get through my red-to-green light, my right leg cramps and I'm paralyzed with pain.  The other leg was cramping very slightly, but honestly I was hurting so badly that I was lucky to have made a safe left into a quiet street.  However, I could NOT properly stop because I couldn't get my horribly painful leg down to the brake.  I basically had to wait for the car to slow to a stop as I make my way as far right as possible.  All the while, I am breathing hard to try to get oxygen, and just due to pain.  The pain made me sweat even though the temperature was in the 50's.  I finally got to a slow enough speed to switch to Park mode.  I turned on my hazard lights and got out of my car.

This isn't the first time this has happened.  After running 20 miles one time, I pretty much just walked around my car once and got in.  I cramped suddenly, but luckily had been in the parking lot still that time.  I spent maybe 3 minutes walking around my car, got back in, and made it the 6.5 miles home safely.  So spending 15 minutes this time around seemed WAY more prudent but apparently didn't work.

I think I spent another 15 minutes (or more) stretching, eating, drinking, and anything else I could do to be able to drive again.  Took off my compression socks because I felt they were making the issue worse.  After all that, I was still crampy.  A construction worker who had driven by me twice (looking for his site, I assume) came by and asked me if I was all right because my car was awkwardly blocking a right-turn lane -- again, it was a quiet street so no biggie, but I did get a lot of stares.  I briefly said I just had a little cramp and would be on my way soon (half-lie because I wasn't sure if I could!).  Without warning, he started massaging my leg.  My pepper spray was now in the trunk... GAH.  I quickly said I was fine and went on my way.  I had to be VERY careful not to extend my leg to brake/gas too long.  I will admit to using my other leg to brake and then putting the car in Park mode at each (of many) red lights.

I made it to the gym and hobbled inside to the juice bar and asked for salt packets.  I downed three with water and stretched for a while before buying a Powerade.  After 10 minutes of this, I headed toward the shower but on the way was convinced to upgrade my gym membership (really good deal... will now be paying less than now and can now go everyday instead of 4 days a week!).  So while I upgraded, the staff member suggested I foam roll and brought one over for me.  There I was, on the floor while setting up my new contract.  In fact, as I was rolling my calves, my FEET started to cramp.  I am the freaking queen of cramp.

Finally, I showered (lonnnng hot shower), went into the sauna, took Tylenol for my headache, and managed to make the 10-mile drive to work.  Yes, I went to work after all this.  I had told my boss I'd be late and had been working extra hours in the previous days to accomodate this... she didn't seemingly care much.  I was SO wiped out before the day really began!

Here are the morals of this (long) story:

1) No more driving after these long runs.  I usually do them on the weekends straight from my house and rarely worry about driving unless my schedule is packed and need to do the run before/after work.  Not sure how others do it, but I have declared defeat in this area.

2) I NEED a better solution to my cramping issue.  It seriously gets me EVERY marathon.  In fact, I am going to try Salt Stick for my next marathon.

3) The kindness of people makes all the difference when you're in a compromising situation.  (Some help might be unwanted.)

4) These long runs really ARE a big deal!  No wonder people keep thinking I'm bad@$$ when I never thought so at all.  These runs can turn routine tasks into gargantuan feats.  I was seriously humbled by the way my body was so out of control.  While I think I fueled up the day before this run, I will be more diligent next time and make SURE I've had enough.


  1. I remember after I did my very first 20 miler, I couldn't even walk. My legs cramped up so bad that I just collapsed basically. So painful!

  2. In high school, my ankles would lock up mid race. Bone on bone due to spurs! Mid-stride I would fall like a fainting goat.

  3. Salt packets? Hmm, you really should go and get that bottle of Salt Stick, it is more than just salt. It has other minerals and electrolytes in it that helps with this very problem. This was very dangerous!! Perhaps you need to cool-down longer next time or bring the "stick" with you. Also, you probably were not drinking enough water.

  4. hi!! thanks for finding my blog! :-)

  5. wow wow wow! i have never heard of that kind of intense cramping. i am so sorry that it was so crazy jut trying to get home.

    so, i don't know if it works...but at my last marathon, they were handing out pickle juice. i've heard that it's specifically for cramping muscles. supposedly it works super fast....i tried it and i actually enjoyed it. it was nice to have something salty after all the sweet gu's.

  6. Wow, I've never heard of such bad cramps! Poor you.

  7. Oh my gosh, that sounds awful! I've never experienced any excruciating pain directly after a run like that. I'd be so scared driving like that! Running that far for training is extremely impressive though, so you should be proud!!!

  8. that stinks about the cramps!! I wonder what it has to do with! I'm interested to hear how you battle it! the 20 milers def are a pain but are a necessity. I always am afraid I'm not doing enough of them!

    Keep up your great training! You can do it!!!

  9. Good job getting your long run done. I've had that cramping in my foot before, and it just about incapacitates you. Not fun! Hope the salt stick does the trick for your cramping issues!

  10. Sorry about the leg cramps -- that sounds terrible. And, uh, the construction guy rubbing my leg would have made me entirely freak out.

  11. Holy ow...

    I'd definitely recommend the salt caps - I've taken them during long races and they really do make a difference.


  12. I've never gotten into the 20+ mile runs. I've always just maxed out at 20 and called it good. Granted, I've done 3 or so of those for almost half of my marathons....

    Yikes, those cramps sound intense! My vote is salt.

  13. i used to get horrrrriffic calf cramps that would last all night long and I ended up in the ER. what i finally found was that I was probably drinking too much water and it was a really good excuse to start getting monthly massages because that seemed to help!!

  14. It sounds like you are getting plenty of salt, so could it be that you aren't getting enough water? I always thought the purpose of taking salt was so that your body could actually hold onto water, and I also always thought cramping was a dehydration issue. So while the salt is probably helping, maybe take a look at how much water you are consuming on the long runs.

    PS, I get foot cramps after long runs too! Those are the worst..

  15. I just found your blog. That cramping sounds terrible! I cramp a little when I am dehydrated or low on electrolytes, but not that bad at all. Be careful!