Usually my calf cramps come at night time. However during some long runs (18+ miles) in really hot weather, I've experienced them, to the point that I need to stop at a curb and stretch my legs out.
I've found that often for me it's tied to hydration. I think we all know that it's important to hydrate (but not over hydrate) on the run, however sometimes I'm a little lax when it comes to drinking enough leading up to the run. I try to make a conscious effort to sip water throughout the day. Also, I've found that increasing my salt intake a little during marathon training (especially when hitting the big mile weeks), helps me retain some of the water. That has helped keep me from cramping.
In the winter time when it's cold, too often it's easy to forget about hydrating. You might not sweat as much (visibly), but you're still losing as much water.
One other thing that helps is - post run - get some protein in within 15 to 30 minutes after your run. I also have "the stick" which is sort of a massage tool that I like to roll my calves (and legs) out with after the run.
No problem NC2VA - I went to a seminar a two years ago where they talked about salt intake leading up to a marathon... I found it quite helpful - so I bring it up when people ask :) - btw - best of luck on your 20 this weekend!
One thing I like to do leading up to a marathon, is snack on pretzels. I don't over eat them, I just eat a few here and there, and it helps me with carbs and salt :)
You see calf cramps all the time in football when its still hot in like september. Old school remedy is eating things with salt, which retains water, like potato chips (maybe I just use it to snack out) or foods high in potassium like bananas
I couldn't help but weigh in on this topic because there are many misconceptions about cramps, but research has been equivocal on mechanisms. To my knowledge of the literature and my own experience as a elite level cyclist turned runner, cramps are not likely caused by not stretching or by electrolyte/sodium deficiencies, and probably, in many case, not even caused by dehydration. Now, would I suggest not adding a little salt during heavy sweat periods (ie, warm weather) with extra hydration? No, because it's best to err on the liberal side there. However, I have suffered severe, leg locking, muscle strain cramps in races where I was well hydrated and certainly not deficient in sodium - I salt everything! Besides, the typical American is not lacking in sodium either.
One thing most people fail to understand and therefore overlook is the role of fatigue/exertion in cramping. To understand this, one needs a short lesson in physiology and muscle contraction. Most people have some understand that ATP is the ultimate energy source for activity, but don't realize how it functions in muscle contraction, or that Ca ions are critical to contraction, too. The short of it is that Ca and ATP are both important and if there's a lot of Calcium hanging out (ie, long/super intense activity/ fatigue) and ATP production is even slightly reduced, it seems probable it is somehow linked to cramping. This is terribly simplistic, but I know that I have, most times, accounted for the other culprits, but I cramp under extremely intense periods that are prolonged regardless of weather conditions. My gut tells me I'm right based on what we know about how muscles contract, but trying to conduct a study to prove such a theory would be near impossible because there's no systematic way to induce cramping.
If this seems fatalistic, don't worry, I've got a solution that, while lacking scientific merit, has proven highly effective for myself, clients and other coaches either during or after cramp inducing efforts; QUININE! Once an anti-malarial drug turned popular social beverage (because it was dissolved in soda water to make TONIC water), quinine is also a mild muscle relaxant. Taken (as tonic water) before an event it has shown itself to prevent cramps - neither I nor any client has cramped using the protocol below (yes, this is not a controlled study, but it's cheap and safe, so worth a try). Start at least 2 days prior to an "EVENT" with 1-1.5 liters each day and then at least .5 liter the day of and may some after (if you cramp at night). You can try the quinine pills, but I have never used them, so could recommend a dose.
As for treating a cramp, the best thing is direct compression until it relaxes, then massage; avoid stretching seriously during a cramp, or a muscle strain, as you may do more harm than good.
Another way to reduce the chance of cramping in key events is to do some training that is hard enough to induce cramps. I usually (90%) cramped in early season races when I few races/extreme efforts under my belt. As I learned to train smarter (very hard at times) my cramp rate seemed to go down. In season I never took chances, before any long race, even during stage races, I would use tonic water.
Best of Luck,
Chris Harnish, MS, CSCS, HFS
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Wow....thanks for the great information. I have a 5k tomorrow, but I am concerned about cramping. I cramped so bad last night during my run, I had to call my husband to come get me. Is there anything I can do for tomorrow or am I just doomed? It's so odd. Last Saturday I had a great run....this week...cramps, cramps, and more cramps.
Honestly, I would try a bottle of tonic tonight (it ain't the best tasting) and .5 liter in the AM (probably flat), or the pills, which can be found OTC. But I only have experience with Tonic and I have sucked down a 2 litres over 24 hrs to good effect. At worst, I would bet it reduces the severity.
That said, if your cramps are isolated to this week it may be something less obvious, perhaps even a muscle imbalance, but that is a guess. If you do cramp, COMPRESSION to get it to release. Best of luck.
I have tried different things for calf cramps since I started running (again) in 2003. I do have adequate hydration and salt. My advice from Damian Howell was to train harder and that makes sense I seemed to have calf cramps less when running regularly and putting in the miles. My problem arises when I challenge myself for long distances. I have also tried salt tabs and quinine in tonic water. Neither has helped and my problem seems to be hereditary as my youngest brother, a college runner, and my daughter also have the same problem. A quick note on quinine. It is no longer available OTC and in general, is not available by prescription. Since its only indication is treatment of malaria, there is only one drug, brand only, it is expensive.
One other thing that has helped quite a bit is AIS, active isolated stretching, Phil Wharton. These stretches have enabled me to finish several races when I have had severe calf cramps.
I have one solution that I have not been able to test out fully yet, Succeed tabs, a buffered electrolyte supplement (I am sure there are others out there). I have taken them before and during a couple of races and my evidence is that they are very helpful. I will test them out more fully once I am out running and training again. They are available at Runner Bills and online
My feeling is that you may actually be one of those who has electrolyte imbalances. It certainly can cause cramps, but what has happened is that "we" (the health/fitness/medical community) have, as with some many other things, simply ascribed the easy diagnosis. I believe electrolytes are not the common cause, and that simply exertion is probably the most likely reason.
In your case, if the tabs seem to help then they may actually help or just be a placebo. But who cares? No cramps is better than cramping, no matter what the remedy.
Surprisingly, I will be having a test done to check my electrolyte levels later on this week. I have been drinking tonic water; it helps by making the pain bearable.
I appreciate all the great advice I have received about this issue. It has been very frustrating for me because I am training for my first 1/2 marathon at the end of May. I have the energy, but my legs do not want to cooperate.
I have a slight cramp issue now and then in the achilles/calf area - after pain associated in the butt/hip area, I went to a PT and was told to not only stretch after, but BEFORE.... that muscle imbalance weighs heavily on other areas, causing pain/cramps (possibly) where one wouldn't expect.... I never know when it will hit (although it goes away after I've warmed up; usually in the early miles). I suggest this (although I'm no doctor, and still a rookie for long runs/injury):
1. Drink a lot of water, all the time (first thing in the AM, hydrate; use ice in your water because it can make you crave it.) For early AM runs, if you drink coffee before your run, make sure you drink EXTRA water - I learned a long time ago that as you get older, you are more succeptible to dehydration - caffeine (of course) is a diuretic and, as such, must be balanced with additional water to compensate.
2. Hammer Nutrition Endurolyte tablets - I have cramped in both marathons I've run (after mile 21) even with proper hydration - just got these and am trying them out because I've read rave reviews on ability to relieve cramping - can't hurt and I haven't read anything about side effects
3. Do you drink any sort of electrolyte drink (Gatorade/Accelerade)? Might be a good idea
4. STRETCH STRETCH STRETCH - BEFORE you run - calf stretch with one foot in front, the otheer behind (with foot pointed forward, not angled out).... hold for at LEAST 30 sec. each side.... THEN, make sure you turn that back foot inward slightly and bend the knee - get your soleus stretched (again at least 30 sec).... so far, this has been working for me.... stretch after your runs, stretch while watching TV.... try NOT to sit after runs......
A placebos for cramps... I cramp around the 20mi mark of marathons where I have been on BQ pace and not a real problem when I haven't. My field test was my last Oct when I was running a marathon when I wasn't fully trained and felt the cramps coming on. Pretty sure they took care of the cramps, but I was also doing Galloway so the evidence is mixed. Full field test will be my next marathon BQ attempt, but that is at least a year away.