Out of the last 32 days, maybe 7 of them were good breathing days. This is a bit of a downward trend compared to this time last year. It seems like the ratio of good, to bad breathing days, is narrowing, and that depresses me a little. Oh well….such is life! How does the saying go. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change– blah,blah,blah” Well, here’s something I was able to change:
If you’ve ever read my training posts or race reports , then you know that I’ve always had a problem with severe leg cramps, especially calf cramps. For whatever reason ( and there are many), they occur before, during, and/or after, every long walk. Heck .. I even get them when I yawn and stretch! Many times they occur during the middle of the night and can be quite excruciating.
Even more so than my lungs, these painful muscle spasms have pretty much dictated the finish time of every race I’ve ever done. And if that’s not bad enough, the medication that I have to take for my lungs (prednisone), actually causes muscle cramps! What’s a poor asthmatic endurance walker/racewalker to do?
Well, I’m proud to report that while I haven’t been able to rid myself entirely of these nasty little things, I have managed to at least— tame them.
With some helpful tips from fellow bloggers, a review of my own training archives, and some good ole’ self-experimentation, I’ve finally come up with a simple but effective prevention plan that seems to be working.
Why am I getting so many muscle cramps in the first place? Why is it that some people never get them?
- The biggest culprit , it turns out ( for non-prednisone induced cramps) wasn’t from an electrolyte imbalance…. it was from muscle overuse! I was doing 80% of my long training walks on long steep hills without pre-training for that kind of workout.This also helps explain why my calf muscles were the ones that usually cramped.
- Next up was dehydration. Not only was I fatiguing my leg muscles ,but I was unknowingly drying myself out. Hill climbing makes you sweat, even when it’s not hot outside. I know I was dehydrated because I always weighed less after the walk( several lbs less)
- Thirdly, while I was stretching a lot before a walk, I didn’t do much stretching afterwards.
- Lastly, I’m predisposed to developing cramps. I’m over the age of 50 , I don’t drink enough water , and some of the medications I take on a daily basis can cause muscle weakness ( anticholesterol meds , etc.)
This is how I’ve managed to tame the beast:
- I’ve reduced my hill work and have learned to gradually build up miles .
- I now hydrate religiously with 50% electrolyte drink and plain water anytime I do a walk longer than 6 miles. On hot days, I take electrolyte caps as needed. I’ve also added a recovery drink to my post walk routine.
- During long walks, I now stretch my legs and my lower back about every mile after mile 10 , or when I sense even the slightest muscle twitch. Then when I get home, I continue to stretch and massage my legs until bedtime. That’s right! I will continuously massage them by hand other methods , for up to 8 hours.
- On rest days, I actually rest now.
The reason I believe this plan is working, is because after doing everything I just listed, I haven’t had a single severe cramp during or after any of my 16, 18 or 20 milers!
As far as controlling the cramps that are caused by the steroids ( which is caused by hypocalcemia) I haven’t solved that problem. So, the best piece of advice to myself and other asthmatics is…don’t do any long walk until the prednisone is out of your system.