Inside: Please allow me to navel gaze and try to think through some things via writing tonight; Cramps; There’s nothing about the storm, cancellation, parking, traffic or other Tough Mudder drama in here; Racism and Tough Mudder??
I am an engineer by training. A software engineer by trade. Engineers learn how to learn. Their job is to solve problems: analyze, hypothesize, extrapolate/interpolate, synthesize a solution and then execute.
Oftentimes, the best way to find the solution to a problem is to ask the right question(s).
I did my second Tough Mudder yesterday.
Despite correcting many of my big mistakes the first one, and despite being much stronger and more fit overall, I started getting cramps at just about the same point of the course — 6 miles in or about 2 hours into it.
I hydrated more, had copious amounts of sports snacks with me. Including raisins. I’ve been supplementing with potassium and magnesium. Bananas. For a while I was even jogging on a regular basis. I had to lay off the running because my shins were hurting.
I got some new running shoes and they feel amazing. Asics Gel. A road pair and a trail pair.
Last weekend I had planned to go mountain biking. I took a long time to get in gear last Sunday and by the time I did the mountain biking trails were closed to do weekend rain. I went for a nice long exploratory (flat handlebar/hybrid) road ride and found a back door to Huntley Meadows Wetlands Preserves, the place where I often go to take photos of birds. I love that feeling. It’s like finding a door to Narnia. Wonder, awe and a sense of accomplishment.
A win for Team “Get up and do something”.
Monday, Labor Day. Again. Late start. Laziness guilt. Not-visiting-family-in-Baltimore guilt. Tough Mudder fast approaching. I decided to drive up to Patapsco near Columbia and do some trail running. Didn’t feel like driving that far so I got a moment of inspiration and decided to see what was up with Jones Point Park in Old Town Alexandria. That place is amazing now. The park is now under the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. It’s all cleaned up and has paved trails connecting Old Town to the Mt. Vernon Trail. And up to the bridge.
I did a 5.89 mile walk/run over the bridge and back. A decisive loss for Team “Sit around and waste your life”.
My typical slow run but still. I covered ground, walked, stopped to take photos with the iPhone every now and then. I was pretty tired, though, by the end. My feet were a little sore and my legs felt wiped. Like they were out of something.
That night I ate a bunch of Muscato grapes. My lips started to swell so I took a Zyrtec. My lower legs were pretty twitchy so I decided that I would roll them out, massage them and find any knots. I found a knot deep in my right calf at the top of the Achilles tendon area(?). I dug in with my thumbs a little. I definitely felt something, a rectangular area. I kept digging, kept feeling it more. Got aggressive with it and BOOM! calf cramp. A localized, crescent shaped cramp in the … uh … whatever the interior calf muscle is called.
I spontaneously sung opera. Luciano Pavarotti and Kathleen Battle would have been proud. Very simple, minimalist lyrics. Only two words.
I rolled out a little. Relaxed for a while and laid down to go to sleep. My legs were twitching and micro-spasming all night. No more cramps, though.
So that all had me a little freaked and psyched out. 6 miles and cramps?
Training the next night my legs were very sore and weak. I started getting cramp warnings. Talked to Justin about the mental aspect. There’s definitely some mind-body stuff going on there. I don’t know how to un-think cramps, though. I know how to usher them in, mentally, but not how to shut them out.
I got a bit of a cramp in my left calf during training on Tuesday night. It started during the Finisher, which I was unable to finish, and manifested in the parking lot when I stepped off the curb. It was a delayed effect from the previous day’s long walk/run. My legs were pretty beat up.
At TM on Saturday I was waiting things out and hydrating at the water station. Every once in a while someone would talk to me or ask how I was doing. I told one guy — older but very in shape — that I was cramping out and trying to stave off full blown fireworks. He said, “I can relate. ” He smiled and said, “Think positive.”
Running for any distance is a LOT of work for me for some reason. Everyone else at the gym who has attempted Tough Mudder has completed it. Varying ages, bf%, weight, existing injuries, etc. You name it. All of those people are also able to jog and talk at the same time, which I’m unable to do. But whenever I’m tempted to be fatalistic about it, I see someone who defies my anecdotal and convenient conclusions. Still, we’re all different machines.
Even though I did more running over the past few months it was never more than 2.5 miles. It was also at my own pace, whereas at TM I was trying to keep up with the group or at least keep them in sight.
Man, it’s like I’m burning diesel while they’re — a herd of Priuses. Prii?? Hm.
I felt it in my lower right hamstring first while jogging. Odd location. Every time I started jogging again I’d get a mini-warning after about a minute. That’s when the right calf started to go. Right before the jump-off-the-platform-into-the-water obstacle.
When I was rehydrating at the halfway water station my quads started feeling — just — done for. Bruised. That was a new sensation. It passed after a few minutes, though. Maybe that’s part of getting fluids back in the cells?
I tried to do some research about cramps. Every once in a while I do this and I came across the usual stuff. The usual stuff being:
Recent research shows that fatigued muscles misfire so the best way to deal with them is to avoid them by training to the flavor, intensity and longevity of a particular event. If you’re training for a race, make sure that you train to, say, run hills similar to an upcoming course. Similar terrain, elevation and even weather.
There’s plenty of research about trying to stop cramps with some things shown to shorten the duration. Like pickle juice. Even though they somehow seemed to reduce the time of induced spasms (not exactly the same as an actual cramp in large muscle groups), the effect occurred before the juice could actually leave the stomach. So there’s some other mechanisms/factors at play.
Genetics. One of my uncles used to run track and suffered from bad cramps. My grandfather had issues with them, too. I wish they were still alive. My grandfather worked in a steel mill (in rooms containing giant steel melting ovens) for decades. Talk about dehydration. I wonder, non-scientifically, if I inherited a genetic expression of heat dissipation at the cost of muscular bio-chemical equilibrium.
The Question Unanswered
Finally, I got a bright idea. I wasn’t asking the right question. I was asking the question the wrong way. Instead of searching for impersonal terms like “muscle cramps”, “charlie horse”, “avoiding muscle cramps”, I searched for:
- “how i beat cramps”
- “how i overcame cramps”
I was looking for personal stories about someone who had similar issues (or a similar build) and found a solution.
There were a lot of people looking for solutions for night cramps. Muscle spasms. Some people swore by Quinine. There’s a product called Hyland’s Leg Cramps that looked interesting. I bought some. They didn’t work on Saturday but there’s obviously something else going on besides electrolytes and things.
A remaining avenue of inquiry — Urine. You’re out.
Ha! Get it?
While I was waiting at the water station, I went into a portajohn to urinate. The urine stream was quite dark, which is a bad sign. After 30 to 40 minutes of drinking water I went again. Better. I decided I could walk back to the start. Less than mid-way my bladder decided that all that water I had recently imbibed — almost half a gallon — needed to be expelled stat.
It was torturous but I finally made it to the johns at the staging area. Urine stream was much clearer and my muscles were feeling much more stable. I don’t think I could have jumped over bales of hay by that point but I was much better off.
In the car on the way home Randy asked me how I was feeling. Specifically, what was I experiencing at that point. Was it pain or what?
I told him that I was keeping my toes pointed the whole time, propped on the feet of the seat in front of me. And that I wasn’t in any pain other than general soreness but the backs of my lower legs were like an old car after you shut it off.
A continuous and constant series of ticks, pings and pops. Liquids returning to reservoirs. A sudden whir.
So, as Justin said, maybe I need to super hydrate?
I’m going to do some longer walk-runs and experiment with that. See where I get glitchy. And when. In the process maybe I’ll increase my threshold for fatigue and burnout.
Anyway, thanks for listening. That helped.
My Crew is Awesome
Kudos to the Underground Athlete crew. Awesome people always making a good showing at Tough Mudder and everywhere else they show up. Congratulations to Heart for her Rank 1 at her kettlebell event today!
And rock on, Melissa, who made the best of a crappy situation and ran the Mudder solo in a later wave than the rest of us. Well … you know. She wasn’t alone on the course but she wasn’t running with the team. I hated the fact that we had to leave her behind (or go without her, actually). Something in me does not like that. Does not compute. Does not compute. System crash. Abort? Retry? Fail?
Going on without one of your own. But she got there and handled her biz on the solo.
And now for something completely different.
When I look at the stats for this blog I can also see search terms that got people here. Today someone searched for “Tough Mudder racist”. I’m very curious about that. Like, what could have lead one to google that. A racial incident between participants? That’s definitely not in the spirit of the event. At all.
Something misinterpreted as racist? Anyway, it got me thinking. This is kind of to my fellow African Americans.
Back when I was in middle school and high school, every time May the 1st came around some white kids would start talking about Mayday and that there was going to a be a race war. Like there were going to be racial fights around the school. So when I saw that search term “tough mudder racist”, I thought that if there were going to be a race war or, let’s say, a competition. Reality TV style. Battle of the Races!
Black people? We would lose. And not just because I’d cramp out around mile 6. Hahaha. Looking at the demographic composition at the various Tough Mudders and other endurance events.
There are black people there, of course. Many of them appear to be in the military from what I can glean, but that’s just my conclusion. But we are under-represented. Much less than 12%.
Sure, you think how many professional athletes are black. But when you talk about mud runs and other events, these aren’t exploding in growth due to professional athletes doing them. These are regular people who value fitness and are looking for a way to put themselves to the test. Take their bioware out for a spin.
Judging from my family’s initial reaction to my signing up for Tough Mudder, there’s definitely a cultural difference. A different mentality. “Why???”
There are lots of reasons for this disparity, sure. You can view this phenomena from whatever angle makes you feel better. Or worse. Whichever you prefer to feel. You can focus on privilege. Discretionary income. Historical segregation of society. Cultural expectations. A stumbling economy. Unemployment. If you wanted to you could probably relate the minimal amount of black people at a Tough Mudder (or any other) event to the Middle Passage. If you really wanted to.
Or you could sign up for one. Or maybe work your way up to one, would be a wiser approach. Local fitness clubs and meetups.
I think we’re getting there, though. I think that fitness is becoming more of a priority for a lot of people. Even if we’re all still struggling with how to reach our goals. I think the tide is turning.
I’m just hoping that black people — like my loved ones — will be on board when the course correction takes place. It would be a damn shame if black folk and others who are typically disenfranchised aren’t a part of that.
I’m looking at you and your obesity rates, Mississippi.
Granted, western culture as a whole is struggling with this. But you know. If morbidity is the Titanic, minorities are below decks in steerage and what not while the ship is going down.
The paucity of black people came to mind while I was on the course because at one point the course was right next to or a few dozen yards from the road. There was the log carry. Then more jogging. Traffic was jammed and had a good view of parts of the course. I heard a black woman from a car on the road commenting about the event. Nothing negative. Just observational. And I heard her say, referring to me, “And look at the brotha out there.”
I turned in the general direction and gave them a thumbs up. I heard them laugh in a supportive, “Oh, he heard us!” way.
A new leaf
Okay. I need to switch gears. Got this challenge/program kicking off tomorrow. I’m not fully prepared but I can improvise (i.e. eat only vegetables) for day one. My refrigerator is going to look completely different in 24 hours.
Click here to see all of my LGN (I want to Look Good Naked) and functional strength training posts.