LGN 112: Return of the Cramp

I haven’t had muscle cramps for over two years … until last weekend. 

I’m training for the Seagull Century, a 100 mile bike ride starting at Salisbury University, going to Assateauge beach and back. I don’t remember why I wanted to do this and I’m kind of regretting it — endurance events aren’t really my thing — but unless I or my riding partner is injured in the next few weeks, it looks like it’s happening.

A lot of people were talking about doing it. Not anymore. You know what?  I can dig it.

BETHESDA TO NATIONAL HARBOR AND BACK

Last weekend I came up with a great route starting in Bethesda, going through the National Mall in DC through Old Town Alexandria, over to the National Harbor and back through Arlington. Capital Crescent Trail to the Mountain Vernon Trail, back up to the Four Mile Run Trail, to the W&OD, to the Martha Custis Trail, and back to the Capital Crescent. Beautiful ride on a hot day. It was supposed to be 50 miles but was spec’d to 48. 

I get bored easily doing the same routes and out and backs. I’m not the most goal oriented person. The thrill is in the journey for me, as opposed to doing a route for numbers, although that does provide comparisons for training.

47.6 mi Bike Ride with MapMyRide 

Duration: 4:24:41 

Pace: 5.6 min/mi 

http://www.mapmyride.com/workout/1145605037

The first 37 miles were strong and then time kind of slowed down. Uh oh. Arlington is hilly. Fatigue is real.

With 10 miles of inclined grade to go my body started falling apart. My first muscle cramps in over two years. I’ve had twitches, glitches, and spasms but these were the real deal. They were only warnings in the left quad at first but they matured. None of them went to full 100% clench, though, which is good.  These got up to about clench level 7 out of 10.

The cramps went from the left quad, then the hip flexor and inner thigh. Then the right inner thigh. And then something new. A stitch/cramp in my right side over the ribs. What the hell was that? Then the left side glitched.

I stopped, got off the bike, tried to stretch a little bit. I could feel the heat radiating from my skin and with no biking breeze the sweat was pouring.

I scared people on the trail, violently thrashing the Camelbak bladder against the ground  to break the ice block apart so it could melt.

The rest of the ride was one pedal stroke at a time. For ten damn miles. Many rests. No strength. Unstable. Frequent cramping. The more I tried to grind it out, the more systemic the issue. Pain. Frustration. Concern. Stress. Danger.

THE CRITICAL MISTAKE

I was eating stuff and hydrating but I made a mistake. A big mistake. 

I had:

  • 100 oz. (3L) of ice cold water in the Camelbak (started frozen but a third of it never melted so I ran dry)
  • 24 oz. water bottle with Infinit Go Far
  • 20 oz. water bottle with Emergen-C (plus extra packets).

Not good enough. I did some googling for century ride cramping.

THE ADJUSTMENT

Calories and energy. Hydration is fundamental.

The distance alone is part of the issue. Like a friend said, “It’s a long time to be exercising.”

But here’s the thing. You’re going to sweat like crazy out there for that long. I’m going to sweat more than that. Drinking lots of refreshing water but not replacing the salts and electrolytes can result in hyponatremia. One of the effects of hyponatremia? Muscle cramps.

THE EXPERIMENT

So this past weekend our goal was 55 miles on the B&A Trail. That’s the Baltimore Annapolis Trail. It starts near BWI (there’s a great 11 mile trail that loops around the airport that feels like another world) and goes to Annapolis.

45.23 mi Bike Ride with MapMyRide 

Duration: 3:18:31 

Pace: 4.4 min/mi 

http://www.mapmyride.com/workout/1154957649

This time I had:

  • 100 oz. (3L) of Infinit Go Far
  • 24 oz. water bottle with Emergen-C
  • 20 oz. water bottle with Emergenc-C

Infinit Go Far — I get a prepared formula and not a custom blend — has multiple salts, multiple carbs, a little whey protein, etc.

I also had some energy gels, jerky, and half a pizza as backup. The froyo stop round mile 27 was magical. I was feeling physically unstable. It was tough after that but I felt a little boost. Got a second wind for a while.

We got to a point where we were about 2 miles from the car at an intersection with the BWI loop but had “only” done about 35 miles. I was done. J wasn’t having it. So we made the left and hit the loop.

I was weak and had to granny gear on the inclines. Turned on the lights when the sun set and handled the biz.

At 38.5 miles MapMyRide told me we were 3/4ths of the way to 55 miles. I cursed and died a little inside.

THE RESULT

About 48 miles. We ran out of daylight. No cramps. A spasm or two after but no cramps.

NEW PROBLEMS

My ass was killing me for most of that ride. Any longer and there would have been blood. Literally. The Chamois Butter deals with friction but there’s still pressure. Man. Especially when things are already sore.

So I bought a new saddle today with a big cut out in the middle. It’s a little bendy so it’s supposed to adjust to your sit bones.

Got new pedals and shoes — the Shimano Click’rs. No more cramped toes. Very easy getting in and out of the pedals, which can be tricky and even dangerous when you’re fatigued and unclipping requires a lot of effort.

Took a quick 10 mile spin tonight. Improvements. The saddle will have to be put to the test — it may have too much padding — but I think it’s a good move.

RESERVATIONS

I really don’t like riding long distances. Anything over 20 miles is a chore.  At this point I’m not looking forward to tackling 100. Not at all. Maybe when I’m more confident?

“Ugh. Why are we doing this?”

“You’re the one who started this.”

“Yeh, I said I wanted to do the century. I didn’t say I wanted to train for it.”

But I am digging these trails and long routes. They are magical. We’re lucky. You’ve got to check out these places. Like the little sculptures on the B&A of the solar system placed along the trail, spaced out to scale.

I may need to enlist some help so I can do point to point rides.

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