Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Racing - Cramps

Last night I moseyed on over to East Hartford for the weekly Tuesday Night World Championships. This week I remembered some racier wheels (DV46 clinchers), both helmets, and even my kit.

Okay, not my kit. I rode anonymously in Verge shorts and an Interbike jersey, with all my other kits in the wash or something like that.

I also brought... the Helmet Cam!

Yeah, so that meant that I had to play it safe, to play it square, and to do something during the race.

CVC and CCNS both had good representation. I don't know too many of the CVC guys, but I did see two strong CCNS boys, including one of the "C" brothers himself.

We started off and immediately two CCNS guys went rocketing off the front.

Um... after that it gets a bit blurry. I know I was on Aiden's wheel for a while. Also on NCC's Kevin Yarde. And that's about it. I hunkered down, trying not to get shelled, trying to save my legs, trying to get to the finish.

About 20 minutes in I started to cramp. Well, not cramp per se, just the twinges indicating a potential cramp. To signal my first feelings of impending doom, I waved my index finger a couple times in front of the Cam. This way I could see if my racing style, head motion, or something else changed when I started twinging.

To ride through twinges I do a couple things:
1. Pray for Powerade or some other such electrolyte replacement fluid.
2. Use big gears to lower my cadence.

I looked down at my bottles.


Okay, I admit I put the bottle there, even refrigerated it for a day before I came to the race. But still, it's nice to look down and see some blue artificial juice.

The big gear thing is less scientific. Over the years I cramped many times, so many that, unfortunately, I was known for cramping. On one group ride way back when, when "Weavin' Dan" was our illustrious leader, I had a massive cramp session towards the end of a long ride - both hamstrings, both calves, and both quads. I fell over, unable to control my rigid legs, screaming in pain.

Luckily we'd stopped for fluids at Weavin' Dan's place, so I fell over at 0 mph and had about 10 guys trying to sit me up. I had like 4 bananas, water, and, after sitting for a bit, kept going.


Anyway, I've tried everything to get through the twinges, and it comes down to this:

When you twinge, you must balance electrolyte intake against pedal stroke power. Essentially you have a limited number of pedal stroke watts left in your legs, and you need to conserve them to the best of your ability. If you're doing a really, really long ride, you can consume so much electrolytes that the twinge cramps go away (or at least that's my perception).

This means pedal slowly when you must, coast when you can, and only when absolutely critical can you expend any kind of energy.

So, along with drinking my Powerade in a few laps, I started coasting a lot. Soft pedaling. Not accelerating as hard. Letting others close gaps. Seeking shelter from the wind.

Scratch the last one - I always do that so I won't count it as a "cramp-prevention tactic".

Nonetheless I started twinging a bit harder.

I started struggling. I actually stood coming out of the last turn so that I'd recruit different muscles, moving the emphasis from my hamstrings to my quads. I blew my nose, thinking that a bit more air in my nasal passages would help (it didn't).

Kevin did a monster pull at this point, bringing a four man break back a quarter lap worth, from half a lap up to a quarter lap up. Now, instead of a 30 second gap, it looked more like 15, or even less. You could see the group salivating at the thought of catching the break, the mental calculations as the racers gathered the courage to make the big effort.

I was not one of them.

I admit I was making those same mental calculations, but in a "can I hang on" reference, not "will I be able to attack after I bridge" one.

I got some serious twangs from my right leg, and, once again, in deference to the camera, I bookmarked that point, this time by waving two fingers in front of the Cam. I briefly thought of pulling out, but if this was a "big" race, I'd suffer and suffer and hope that things would turn around. I've done that before, successfully, but I've forgotten what that suffering felt like, what kind of mental effort it took to pull through those times.

I kept going. "One lap at a time", I told myself.

I did one lap. My legs started acting funny, doing things on their own regard. I slid way back on the saddle, trying to find some new set of yet-undiscovered muscles. Just in case I hadn't found them in the last quarter century of racing.

No luck. No miraculous muscle group popped up. It was always trading quads for hamstrings, pedal stroke for time.

Of course, at this time, the group started to splinter as the four man break seemed touchable. Riders had done their calculations, gathered their courage, and now blasted away at the front. We rocketed around the course, single file, no protection.

Two laps into my "One lap at a time" effort, my right leg almost seized.

I checked my 5 o'clock, saw it was clear, and raised my hand. Swung out. Coasted. Stretched my calves. Let my hamstrings take a break.

I looked over to see the field disintegrating, the front, more solid end reaching out to the break, the rear splintering as riders exploded one after another.

I got lapped twice in the lap I cooled down, and by the time I got off the course, a new group had formed itself at the front. Essentially a bunch of guys bridged to the break and the field ceased to exist.

We packed up and left.

The missus made an astute observation.

"You need to train more."

I'd been trying to balance work, home stuff, and riding, with riding taking a back seat 3-4 days a week. I committed to riding Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays, with whatever miscellaneous races I could find on Sundays. But the last couple weeks, with rain canceling some of my planned Mon-Wed events, overwhelming fatigue canceling my training motivation, I'd been skipping even my committed days regularly.

We talked of this and other things on the way home. I turned the AC on so I'd cool off, and by the time we got home, I wasn't soaked in sweat anymore. By 8:20 PM we'd rolled into the driveway.

Of course, when I tried to get out of the car, my right hamstring locked up. I clutched my leg, screamed in pain, willed my calves and other hamstring not to follow suit, and I was instantly soaked in sweat again. A hyperventilating minute later and I lifted my leg out of the car, wary of any remote muscle flex which would lead to another painful spasm.


For all the time that we'd been together, I'd never cramped in front of the missus. She shrieked too because it looked like my leg got caught in the door. Picture seeing someone screaming in pain, their leg extended straight out, foot out of sight between the door and car. Yeah, it looked like I'd just amputated my foot or something.

I didn't think I was tired, just crampy (heh), but after a quick shower, I realized I didn't want to do anything but lay down. About 40 minutes after we got home, I lay down, intending to read a bit, but within minutes I'd put the book down, exhausted, and fell asleep.


Michele said...

Have you tried adding Endurolyte powder (from Hammer Nutrition) to your water bottles? (No affiliation, just a satisfied customer.) That's what I do, and it has helped me a lot.

Rishabh Phukan said...

Methinks CDR needs to do some more SST.

Aki said...

I seem to deal well with Powerade/Gatorade, although I'll try the non-caloric version of it/them. I think it's a matter of just consuming some electrolyte stuff (bananas or drink or whatever). And staying hydrated too, something I'm not good at doing.

SST = "training" in my eyes. But yeah, some steadier non-racing miles. My base has evaporated.

Michele said...

Sorry if I wasn't clear -- this product adds electrolytes to your drink of choice; it's a supplement, not a drink mix.

Aki said...

Ah, that clarifies, and it sounds like something I'd want to try. Thanks for the tip.