Gritstone Grrr, Not Again
What a day out! Fantastic Spartan presence, great results from our guys. And above all the ethos of our club really shone through. It was a great trail, event and day, but the Gritstone Grind was not a smooth one for me. Why? Cramp. And lots of it from really early on.
I was maybe only 16 miles in when it started. This got me thinking, how on earth did I run 50 miles in July and not get cramp at all? I'm pleased with the result, coming in =13th overall, so I hope you'll read this as anecdotal evidence in the fight against cramp...not just a massive long whinge and list of excuses! Read on for my thoughts.
Running somebody else's race
I spent much of the early part of the race chatting to Tom Eagle, then after a while we caught up with Gareth. Somehow we seemed to get in with a bunch of people all of about the same pace. Despite Tom's best effort to break for freedom, we all seemed to be clinging together. Call me unsociable, but aside from the company, I can't say I enjoy this approach. I think that in an ultra I need to run to my own pace and ignore what everyone else is doing.
About 15 miles in I realised I was cooking (literally rather than metaphorically on this occasion) and it really slowed me down. Rather than doing something smart like taking my excessive layers off I just struggled on feeling uncomfortable. The pack got away and I ran alone for a considerable stretch which probably suited me better that day. I am no good at fighting faff and I need to work on it.
The food at the limited checkpoints was mostly sweet. Previous experience has taught me that sweet food makes me sick so all I ate all day was a 9 Bar and a few gels. I had plenty of food in my pack but I was damned if could be bothered opening it. Not smart.
It was quite a hot day – I needed to ration what I had because there were only 3 water stations. This inevitably led to over-rationing and arriving at the water station with a bottle full of water. However, isn't it true that there's no scientific link between dehydration and cramp?
A really hard week at work and broken sleep. Lots of stressy 'late ones' at the office can't have helped either. Does mental exhaustion affect your physical state? It definitely does. I was shattered on Saturday. So maybe I was more tired than usual.
I've not done a huge amount since the 50, but I reckon I'd done enough. I'm pretty sure I was fit for this race so am not going to panic about loss of fitness. Nah. However, I reckon in most cases cramp are caused by lack of conditioning in the muscle group you're currently (ab)using. It's no coincidence that it always seems to be in my calves. More training needed I guess to keep up with ever increasing demands.
One thing I've noticed is that if I have a cold I tend to get cramp. I had a bit of a sniffle but nothing much. Hmmn.
I reckon that a 35 mile race is a whole different thing to a 50. Sunday's game plan was definitely just keep moving. I never took any time out, other than getting lost a bit. 30 second stops at the checkpoints. On the 50 it was a matter of stop, chill out for 5 or 10mins, more if needed, then push on. On sunday I was perhaps a little reckless and abused common sense approach. 35 is not that much less than 50. It's just not. It's still a long way. You still need to eat, drink, be rested, prepare or you'll end up with cramps and other issues.
So there you have it, no one thing in particular to point the finger at. However, whilst cramp is a real grey area, I reckon one thing is abundantly clear:
If you expose yourself to increased levels of fatigue before a race (be it mental, physical, lurg, hydration or just lack of prep) you're more likely to get cramp than on a 'good day'. It's more stating the bleedin' obvious than science, but maybe for me it advocates looking at prevention rather than cure - send the kids to work instead of me and retire to a health spa? ;-)