I’ve been doing an inexorable amount of thinking since finishing Around the Bay. How is it that I can train for months on end abusing my body without so much as a twinge in my calves and yet on race day completely fall apart? Let’s go back in time a bit and review some history.
My first half marathon was last April, I ran a 1:44:39. Excellent result, right? Mostly, I felt my calves starting to go at 19km and adjusted my pace, including walking up a slight hill just before the finish to complete the race.
My first marathon was a month later, I finished in 4:27:19, not too shabby for a first timer, except I cramped up at 23 km. My half split was 1:57:12 and I was running 10 and 1’s with the 4 hour pace bunny. My cramping issues became a problem while running up a hill, although I had commented to my pacer that I was starting to have a problem earlier than that. I knew if I tried to stay with the pace group going up that hill, I’d lock up. I still remember the feeling as I watched them disappear over the crest of the hill.
So what did I take away from those experiences?
First, I began seeing a chiropractor on a regular basis. I had an issue with a trapped nerve that cost me valuable training time. While I continued working out in the gym, I only ran once over 30km. I was fitted for an orthotic to help with a constant, irritating Achilles issue that is really a stuck STL joint in my right foot. While better, this problem still affects me. I also began supplementing by daily multivitamin and Omega 3 with Cal-Mag, Vitamin D, Potassium, B12, and CoQ10.
My training over the summer was exceptional. No injuries. Three long runs to Port Stanley all 32km or longer. Unbelievable mileage, high hopes and a most successful training run at the Scotia Bank Half Marathon finishing in 1:50:45. The thought of cramping never even crossed my mind. I was ready for marathon number two.
My GoodLife Toronto Marathon was an epic disaster. I ran with the 3:40 continuous pace bunny. We rocked the first 19 km, but as the group ran down Front Street, I knew I was in serious trouble once my calves began twitching. I came though the fist 21.1km in 1:48:35 but I had already began struggling. I was never so frustrated in my life in finishing that event. I set a PR which still stands by gutting it out to a 4:19:06 finish but I’m not the least bit satisfied with the result.
What stands out in my mind was how tired I felt going in to that race. I may have strained my left side quadriceps in the final speed workout on the track. I had tightness in my left shoulder, an annoying popliteus irritation, again on the left side and while running I felt considerable tension in my lower back. I’ve been thinking that I may have peaked my training about three weeks too early and simply over trained the event.
Given the results, what were my take-a- ways? I attended a gait analysis clinic and began seeing a ROLF Registered Massage Therapist.
My video during the gait analysis showed how badly my left side was locked up. Granted it was a week after completing the marathon but it was ugly, I wish I had a copy of it to show the total lack of movement on the left side, the entire kinetic chain was locked from my shoulder through to my ankle.
I worked on trying to correct my form. I trained by myself for the Goofy Challenge in January while most of my running peers rested their bodies. Work begain to interfere with my training schedule and my long runs weren’t very long. I seriously considered cancelling my trip to Orlando but my wife encouraged me to go and enjoy myself. Take it as a mini-vacation, I needed to relax, the conditions at work were not good and there was a considerable amount of uncertainty in what was going to play out in the new year.
I ran the WDW Half Marathon slowly, finishing in 2:15:22. Wearing Zensah calf sleeves there was no indication of any calf cramping. The next day was the WDW Marathon. Again I took it very slow. My half split was 2:19:37. At the 20 mile (32km) mark I still felt good, so I pushed the pace when I could covering the last 6.2 miles (10Km) in about 56 minutes, finishing in 4:24:38 Not even a hint of trouble with the calves over 39.3 miles in less than 36 hours. Needless to say, was extremely happy and felt I conquered a demon.
This weekend was the Around the Bay 30 km Road Race. My race goal was to validate my 4 hour marathon pacing plan completing the event with an average pace of 5:40/km. I had every confidence that I could accomplish this goal. My concern was the hilly final third of the course. I knew my time would suffer running through the hills so I planned on running by feel and banking some time to offset the hill deficit. That plan worked right up until the end of the first 20km, where my split was 1:49:38. I ran out of gas in the hills and by the time I got to the final 3 kilometers and the cramping in my calves had me walking, I had hit the wall. My 5:44/km pace is misleading as it wouldn’t have held for a full marathon. In fact, I’m quite sure I would have walked off the course and accepted a DNF. My will power to walk another event to completion has evaporated.
So, what the heck is going on?
Denise Jenderzak L.Ac., M.T.C.M writes in her article Runners, Say Goodbye to Calf Cramps, “Pushing the muscle beyond it’s conditioning can lead to cramping. Increases in intensity or duration of activity can cause cramping.” I’m suspecting my conditioning. It’s common thread and now that more evidence is presenting itself, I’m beginning to feel a little more confident in understanding my dilemma.
It is relatively easy to work a hydration plan during training, in fact, I hydrate less on training runs knowing that I cramp. If hydration was my issue, I should easily be able to induce cramping on any run over 90 minutes, which seems to be a threshold number for me.
I’ve addressed any potential calcium and magnesium imbalances through supplementation. I’ve been supplementing CalMag for almost a year now.
Then there is stretching. I’ve done more stretching in the past year than in my life. I’ll do more, I’ll add yoga to the mix and see. Whichever way you look at it, done properly, stretching is not going to hurt me.
So why am I suddenly focusing on my conditioning?
My DailyMile results are interesting.
Overall, things look like they are going swimmingly (for a guy who can’t swim)
However, the overall results are misleading, once you separate the running from the cross training activity.
I really haven’t been doing that much running since last October.
Last summer, I did no cross training at all.
I’m not a winter runner, I said that many times. The cold really affects me and I believe it has contributed to past injuries which resulted in some of last spring’s issues.
So, to answer myself truthfully, “Were you capable of running 20km at a 5:30 pace on Sunday?” The answer is no. I didn’t have the conditioning to do that and get through the hills. I set an unrealistic goal and given my predisposition to cramping actually set myself up for failure.
What’s that mean for the GoodLife Toronto Marathon is six weeks?
That my friends, is a very good question.