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Actual Triathlon Question: Cramps from Bike to Run

Just finished Texas 70.3 yesterday. It's the 2nd out of last 3 at that distance where i get off the bike, feel great, and my first mile is a pace that i like (7:45-8:00). Then, almost immediately out of nowhere, I get cramps that seize my legs up and i have to sit down and can't even bend them. After i work it out, i have to basically shuffle at a 9:30 pace for the remainder of the half.

any thoughts on what the hell is going on with me? What i can do to prevent that?


unofficial non-general counsel for TRS Racing and other TRS-related entities

Comments

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    Are there salt stains all over your shorts? Do you drink only water? Did you push too hard on the bike?
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    good questions @Matt

    i made a conscious effort to take in fluids (probably took in 70-75 oz of fluids on the bike which was various mixtures of my infinit mixture - one basically water the others to be nutrients and water).

    not as much salt-stains as normal, so i didn't feel like i lost a lot of sodium (side note: i have other stains because i love my bike and love seeing it but likely not related)

    it's triathlon. i always push hard, but actually followed my plan to hit the wattage that i know i can sustain for hours and didn't push as hard as i normally do.

    based off your questions, is it basically a sign of not enough sodium/fluids?


    unofficial non-general counsel for TRS Racing and other TRS-related entities
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    Which muscles in particular cramp?

    It could be something as simple as minor seat adjustment (up, down, frontwards, backwards, you might need to experiment).

    Or, for some people too low of a cadence (ie: high torque on the legs) can cause cramping on the run.

    Can you replicate this in training?

    If you can't prevent the cramps, vinegar can be an absolute lifesaver after they come on. Carry a small flask (airplane-sized liquor bottle) of apple cider vinegar on the run. It can be any kind of vinegar, but apple cider is probably gentlest on the mouth/stomach. If a cramp comes on, drink a couple of swigs.

    While I very, very seldom get cramps on the run, this has worked for me--within 60 seconds of drinking 1/2 ounce I went from total hobbling to full-speed running again. I don't understand the effect--something to do with the acetic acid hitting some receptor in the throat which releases an electrical signal which somehow "resets" the neurological connection between the brain and the muscle. But don't quote me on that--I really have no idea.
    AaronWebsteyM WareTad_MachrowiczGasBombKenElPescadoPelado
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    Cool @AlwaysCurious! , the ultra guys speak of the mysterious effects of drinking pickle juice. Wonder if it's related.... however, the stories I've heard mention drinking it during the event and before rather than in the midst of cramping as an instant fix.
    I haven't tried either, but will definitely carry a bottle at the next long one.

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    Yes, pickle juice is basically vinegar (and maybe some sugar, so it probably tastes better). I've seen a couple of research papers on what I described (can't find them now, sorry), and those researches could not find a preventive effect of drinking it pre-cramp. Which doesn't mean a preventive effect doesn't exist, of course. My only concern with taking it pre-race or pre-cramp is the potential for it being hard on the stomach.
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    Pickle juice / vinegar does seem to be able to deal with symptoms.

    The likelihood though is that you are pushing the bike too hard for your run fitness. Or at least pushing a group of muscles too hard that aren't used to it (that could be a bike fit issue).
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    edited April 4
    Exercise induced cramps are rarely the result of dehydration/lack of sodium. If that were the cause, it would likely be systematic cramping - not isolated to the legs. Sounds like effort/position/etc are more likely the culprit. Were you in aero position more than normal? I know I tend to get out of aero a lot when I am training then on race day I hold aero the entire time which often results in cramps in my lower abdomen for the first mile or so of the run. When I am better about staying in aero during training, these cramps don't show up on race day.
    AaronWebsteyCraig DKelly O'Marakjrunninfyrehaar
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    who knew @AlwaysCurious did stuff more than funny pictures! Thanks for the tip on vinegar/pickle juice (which i've heard also but never tried).

    Seems like it's either that or it may be fit. i'm on a relatively new bike (year old) so maybe the fit needs to be dialed in. i'm also similar to @Rash where i'll train out of aero or on my road bike, so maybe just utilizing different muscles for a sustained period is the culprit. thanks to everyone, seriously this has been helpful for me!
    AaronWebsteyTad_Machrowicz


    unofficial non-general counsel for TRS Racing and other TRS-related entities
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    The electrolyte-heavy vinegar or pickle juice is what's behind the "Hot Shot" product I've seen around lately. Personally, I'd rather just eat some pickles.
    AaronWebstey
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    I believe the theory behind Hot Shot, pickle juice, vinegar, etc. is the effect the sudden, sour taste has on the brain. It almost works as a diversion or distraction causing the brain to stop firing the signal to the muscle in spasm. Again, this theory operates on the understanding that the cramp is not the result of dehydration/sodium deficit, but rather is caused by overuse/fatigue/injury to that muscle which your brain sends into spasm/cramp as a protective measure.

    I am not a scientist or real doctor, I only occasionally played one when I was in elementary school, so take anything I say with a grain of salt (pun intended). It is likely full of alternative facts and/or fake news.
    EvanAaronWebsteyGasBombKelly O'MaraDark_mark
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    I've been fascinated by the science of cramps for a long time. source: real life scientist with PhD in physiology. As was pointed out here a bit, I think the research on HotShot is really interesting. If I remember correctly, they originally called that product "It's the Nerve" and the back story is pretty interesting. I think I heard one of the co-founders (business guy and not the two scientific founders) interviewed on IMTalk a pretty good while ago and I found the interview to be interesting.

    For starters, it's clear that hydration and salt intake are not the answers to the actual cause of muscle cramps. I won't bore you with all the science and background, but studies in marathoners have shown that, regardless of age or ability, you are likely to be hypo- as hypernatremic and suffer from cramps. This means that you are just as likely to be over as under hydrated. Thus, H2O and salt are not the be all end all.

    Heat dissipation and alpha motor neuron stimulation seem to be much more likely culprits. Anecdotally, tall thin people are less likely to cramp than body types which are more stout. Think Reggie Miller and LeBron James. The reason there is presumed to be a volume to body surface area situation. That is, a tall thin guy (Reggie Miller), with about the same amount of surface area over which to dissipate heat, has less volume generating that heat. The tall muscular guy (LBJ) has the same surface area as the thin person, but much more volume (muscle mass )generating heat. Therefore, heat transfer is less efficient and they suffer from higher body temps. This causes alpha-1 motor neurons which are responsible for muscle contraction to get stuck in a loop and continue firing, causing prolonged muscle contraction.

    The thought is that this is reason you see the muscles which are overworked be more likely to cramp (more frequent a-1 motor neuron firing) than other muscles, although when you are in really bad shape, any muscle that contracts is susceptible to the loop. This is why the theory of dehydration and/or loss of salt never made perfect sense. That suggests a systemic problem leading to muscle contraction that should be as likely in one muscle (the legs), as any other muscle (the face, for example).

    The weird thing is that the original scientific theory, as I heard it explained, makes no physiologic sense in my opinion. The idea was that for every action there was an equal an opposite reaction - for every active neural signal there was a compensatory/inhibitory innervation event. That's simply not true. That isn't the way neurobiology or physiology works. It does seem, however, that this spicy cocktail has been working for people I know who have tried it. It seems to prevent the motor neurons from getting stuck in that contraction loop. It's an interesting concept and I at least give them the fact that they aren't peddling the same old Gatorade Sports Science Institute bullshit that cramping is from loss of electrolytes. That's simply not the whole story and we know that.

    Sorry for the wall of text but I find the topic really interesting and have had the exact same story as the OP in 2 Olympics where race day was really hot
    M WareTad_MachrowiczMattAaronWebsteyEvanKelly O'MaraBrent_RkjrunninfyrehaarElaine K
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    I used to suffer from just awful calf cramps on the run. Didn't matter if it was a sprint or a full, sometimes they came on quickly and sometimes it took a while but they always showed up and it was a major issue. The fix for me was to spend more time in aero on the trainer and to also practice on the bike like it was a race. So more punchy efforts followed by stretches at a steady effort, but no more 1 hour rides at exactly a certain wattage. That doesn't happen in a race. You have to pass people, climb hills, and fight the wind.
    AaronWebsteyEvanTad_MachrowiczCraig D

    Clay Richard Gasway
    King of all Mediocrity
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    sounds like i'm having similar experience @GasBomb

    so i guess i'm going to crush the trainer and work on my fit while trying to imitate race conditions.
    GasBomb


    unofficial non-general counsel for TRS Racing and other TRS-related entities
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    It's what worked for me. The game changer in regards to the trainer was switching from a cheap trainer to a Wahoo Kickr and using Zwift. Before I would literally just leave it in one gear and spin. Now, I have to actually shift gears and occasionally come out of the saddle for harder efforts. I also ride twice a week with roadies. Those nut jobs never spin in one gear. It's always racing to a stop sign or sprinting up a hill. Variety is good.
    Tad_MachrowiczBrent_R

    Clay Richard Gasway
    King of all Mediocrity
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    Interesting @AlwaysCurious . Yesterday on 2nd ride I was starting to get calf cramps. Managed to alleviate by conscious heel drop to give a bit more stretch. After 15 minutes, stopped at a friends house. Got a swig of vinegar and hopped back on. No problems for last 25 minutes, even pushing more. Don't know if it was the 5 minutes stop and standing up, or the vinegar. I'll definitely carry on long stuff now. Thanks for this insight!!!! (I'm sure there's got to be a funny cartoon in there somewhere with vinegar!)
    M WareGasBomb

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    Last year i suffered with leg cramps constantly. I'd even get them on the swim... I sweat A LOT and would lose on avg 2lbs of body weight for every hour the event lasted. So I had to drastically up my electrolyte fluid n gel/chew intake - so much so that I felt like a traveling convenience store at times. Especially being new to the sport my times are way slower than you guys, so I earned a DIY science degree trying to figure out the proper formula and timing.

    A few things that I tried:

    1. Hot Shots. Not sure they actually worked, but did delay when the cramps started during a few training events.
    2. Torq for fluids/gels.
    3. A 50/50 mix of BASE Salt and Iodized salt (not typical Kosher which is NOT iodized)
    4. A crap load of stretching/rolling.
    5. SaltTabs (the pills) - but they did no good.

    I saw a nutritionist mid-year for help on the cramping. She looked at my weekly nutrition and said that a) I wasn't eating enough to support my training and b) was not consuming enough Iodized Salt. That's why I changed the Nutrition around and started salting everything. I'd carry a tube of salt and just lick it throughout the day.

    This year I'm going to try mustard. Plain old yellow mustard. If that works, I'll swipe them from every fast food joint I can and load the bento box before heading out.

    Caveat: I'm vegan, so my food tends to lack salt in general.
    M WareTad_MachrowiczAaronWebsteykjrunnin
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    I know there are mixed opinions about this, but I switched my shoes to more of a midfoot cleat and stopped having calf cramps on the run.
    AaronWebsteyTad_Machrowiczfyrehaar
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    @weicht I had summer jobs in a salt processing plant and the sound of the night shift salt lick machine haunts me to this day. What a great visual.
    KenElPescadoPelado
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    Glad that worked for you @Tad_Machrowicz. To me the funny cartoon in there is that triathletes will pay $6/shot for something called HotShots when they could could spend $5 to buy a 1.5 oz flask of great single malt and then fill the empty bottle with 3 cents worth of vinegar and sugar that does the same thing.

    I just looked at the ingredients of Hot Shots: water, sugar, lime juice, ginger, cayenne pepper, cinnamon (all organic, of course), and something labeled "natural flavor". I'll bet a dollar that the "natural flavor" is a splash of vinegar, and that is the active ingredient that they want to keep "secret". Brilliant marketing to sell 5 cents of product for $6.

    I'm jealous, if it's not obvious. I wish I had their marketing skills.
    M WareTad_MachrowiczAdriennekjrunninAaronWebsteyCraig D
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    @balsdorf , interesting. I found my seatpost had slipped down by 5mm gradually. I am thinking that may have contributed, but wonder if it is contradictory. Dropping my heels helped stave them off. I can see if my seat was too high, that a toe down stroke may result. Or was I trying to keep my feet working with the same amount of toe down I'm used to, but with too low a seat and creating some other type of muscle confusion? Thoughts?
    Regarding your cleats, what products did you try, settle on? How long did it take to acclimate? Do you do this gradually, or does the hardware require an abrupt change?
    Thanks for any advice.

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    @Tad_Machrowicz All at once, but that really was only the 14mm or so that these offered: https://www.competitivecyclist.com/speedplay-fore-aft-extender-base-plate

    If you aren't using speed play I'm not sure what options you have.

    And I guess I should point out that this isn't a true midfoot cleat (like Ryf uses) but it seemed to help me. And I did adjust my positioning as well, though I don't recall what all I did. I would like to try a true midfoot cleat but wasn't brave enough to start hacking my shoes.
    Tad_Machrowicz
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    Cramps are weird and unpredictable in my experience. My left hamstring cramped bad coming out of the water at Galveston, took 20-30 seconds to straighten it out and get moving again. Then off the bike my right hamstring and left quad were quivering like they were going to cramp. I just ran at a comfortable pace to keep the cramps away and eventually I didn't notice it anymore, and by that point my comfortable pace was as fast as I could go the rest of the way.

    This was all after multiple race simulations in training. Jumping right into an openwater swim and going race pace for the distance. Didn't cramp. Did 50 mile ride at 250w with 5 mile run at 6:30pace after. No cramps and it was all pretty easy (in race only managed 230w and was almost cramping).

    Was it just the adrenalin of the race? The swim definitely felt harder than I hoped due to the chop and congestion on the course. Guess I need to practice going harder on the swim.
    M WareEvanAaronWebstey
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    SeanH said:

    Did 50 mile ride at 250w with 5 mile run at 6:30pace after.

    This isn't slowtwitch, dude. We try not to lie around here...

    I have the same issue with races having a greater cramping instance than training for the same effort. Recently, my likelihood of cramping in anything olympic and longer is 1. It's a guarantee. Never in training. I believe someone above hit it on the head with the differing type of riding in a race (more stochastic) vs. training (consistent). A look at normalized power (and VI) will get you somewhere, but may still not indicate why you or I have this issue.
    SeanHMattAaronWebstey
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    Yeah there's got to be something like that to it. During the ride I started noticing that my kit felt really tight on my junk and was like wtf? Then I reached down there to see what was going on and I was completely numb. That's never happened to me before. Guess you really do get locked in your position during a race more than you do in training. Had to purposefully move around on the saddle more after that.
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    Doubled in girth during a bike ride?
    #checkyourprostate
    SeanHGasBombkjrunninAaronWebsteyTad_Machrowicz
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    Matt said:

    Doubled in girth during a bike ride?
    #checkyourprostate

    If there were ever a time for gif-ery........

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    "An Actual Triathlon Question" .... are you sure you have the right site ?
    AaronWebsteykjrunninTad_MachrowiczEvan
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    @MamaCheetah this is new since you've been away, some of us have actually been talking about exercise practice without making genitalia jokes. Neat eh!
    StruangMamaCheetahEvanGasBomb
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    @MamaCheetah this is new since you've been away, some of us have actually been talking about exercise practice without making genitalia jokes. Neat eh!

    With all this exercise talk and @MamaCheetah absent, I started running and stopped eating donuts. It was terrible. Welcome back MC!!!
    M Warembrekk44AaronWebsteyMamaCheetahGasBomb

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