I'm a 40 yr old relative newcomer to triathlons and have been having problems
with cramping, particularly in my calves. Cramping is often the major limiting
factor in a race for me. Does anyone know what mechanisms might be responsible
for this and what I can do, in addition to getting fitter and learning another
stroke, to help alleviate them?
My (physician) girlfriend's initial guess is that the *** vessels in my
(fairly unused) legs are constricting during the swim and combined with my poor
ankle flexibility (many many sprains...) cause my feet and calves to cramp. I
also seem to have fairly rapid intestinal transit times, so I may be having
some problems with electrolyte balances. She's going to check the medical
literature on all of this, but there seems to be lots of expertise here, so I
thought I'd ask. I don't know what information might be relevent, so I'll give
everything I think might be relevent below.
Thanks for any help.
For example, I did the Santa Barbara Triathlon last Saturday (1m swim, 34m
bike, 10m run), which was my first non-sprint triathlon. I had cramps so bad
near the end of the swim that if I hadn't had a wetsuit on I would have been in
really serious trouble. The cramps started in my feet and calves, which I
tried to shake out, and then progressed to all parts of my legs. I don't
kick much, and was mostly moving my legs to try to get them to stop cramping.
I stopped and floated alot and managed to get to shore in about 30 minutes (the
last 3-4 were pretty grim) and get my legs working again. The bike route was
very technical (lots of ambulances around picking up crashed cyclists) so I was
happy taking it easy and recovered enough on the bike that I was able to
(barely) finish the run. I felt pretty fresh throughout, but my legs were
constantly cramping. I managed to win my age group against a very weak field,
but I was only 21st overall with a 3:16.
I'm planning to do several (presumably) more competitive races in the next few
months at 1K/30K/8K type distances and want to minimize the damage done by the
swim. I'm a poor swimmer but have a fairly strong upper body and basically
muscle through the water. I'm working to improve my swimming, but would like
to find additional ways to alleviate the cramping. Overall, I'm reasonably fit
(I did a 54:38 40K time trial at USCF districts in May, and could maybe knock a
minute or two off that now). I'm having less trouble with cramps in cycling
and running, but the swimming is still terrible. As long as I stick to very
short races, I'm not too bad, but a 1K swim is a problem.
I'm 6'1", 170 lbs. and dropping (from 185 last year). I'm a Caltech professor
with tenure, so I have enough time to train :-).
I started running track about 5 years ago as I stopped basketball, soccer,
powerlifting, etc. due to injuries. I started cycling fairly seriously last
year and added swimming this year, and have been competing in short local
(SoCal) triathlons. I had frequent calf cramps when I began doing track
workouts, but they eventually became less serious. I again had cramping as I
started biking more, but that has also become somewhat less of a problem. I
eat pretty well, don't overtrain, drink lots of fluids, etc.