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Take Precaution to Avoid Cramps

BY Jeff Boelé

Half marathons can really punish your legs, particularly your quads and calves. Here's how you can prevent cramping and that "heavy" feeling. 

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Hi, I’ve just completed a half marathon last Sunday. My quads felt heavy and calves were cramping a bit towards the last couple of miles. What advice can you give me to stop this happening as I’m just about to start training for another half in about 5 weeks. -Mark


Here is the check list that I would go through to help narrow down what might have been happening with your legs.

1. Hydration/Nutrition 

Most races are earlier in the morning, so the tendency can be to go in to races dehydrated and/or depleted. Even though you may be ingesting food and drinking water/sports drink during the race, you are still playing catch up because of how you started.  Start preparing the week and day before the race in regard to hydration.  Stay hydrated (not over hydrated) leading up to the race. Next, try to wake up at least 2:30-3:00 hours before the race.  Start the process of hydration and fueling.  You don’t need to go overboard, but this should allow time for ample food/drink intake as well as time to let it settle before the race begins. 

2. Footwear 

Did you wear a new different shoe or a lighter weight racing shoe for the race?  Not that new shoes are bad, but if it is a new model of shoe, try to get a week to 10 days of running in the shoe before the race.  If the shoe was a lighter weight racing shoe, try to do workouts through out your training cycle in the same shoe you will race in. This can help your muscles get used to how they will function on race day in the lighter shoe.

3. Training Leading up to the Race.

Make sure you are going into longer races well rested.  For many folks, the last two or three weeks of training before a key race can see a reduction of anywhere from 20-50% of peak mileage.  This means that if your biggest mileage week was 25 miles, the last few weeks might only be 13-20 miles.

3b. Training Duration

Specific to the cramping at the end of the race, did your training allow for some longer duration efforts?  Meaning did you ever exercise for the projected time of your 1/2 marathon.  It is possible that if you didn’t train for the duration, your body was just going through the rigors of a long duration effort.  Some training programs recommend that athletes don’t run for the full duration of their projected effort because it may be a long time (ie – if the the 1/2 marathon is over 2 hours). One way to work around this is to supplement cross training.  An example would be if your goal time is 2 hours, you would run for 1:30 and then go for a 30 minute bike ride immediately following the run.  This can be less demanding on the legs, but still allow your body to metabolize fuel for the full duration of the event.

4. It’s Not Your Day.

One other thing to consider that isn’t a favorite option, is that sometimes it just isn’t your day.  Maybe life stress or other issues race morning put a damper on your effort.  Bottom line here is that there are always other races.  This doesn’t happen very often and there are other more probable causes for the way your legs felt, but this is something to keep in mind. 

OK, hopefully these suggestions were helpful and allow you prepare according and head into your next half marathon with confidence!

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About Jeff Boelé

Jeff Boelé has been coaching in varied capacities since 2000. Since 2010 he has served as an assistant’ coach for the cross country and track & field teams at Lyons high school in Lyons, CO. He has earned certifications for endurance events and jumping events from the USTFCCCA and USATF. Jeff ran into the sunset of his competitive career in 2010. Jeff is available for coaching through the TrainingPeaks Coach Match Service. You can also use his preassembled training plans, found’here.’When not coaching, Jeff spends time with his family in the Colorado mountains or trying to whittle down his ever growing reading list.’Follow him on twitter @JBoele2go.

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