Got Cramps?

When I was in high school, I ran a cross country race in which I was leading the race, with a pack of runners from another school right off my shoulder. I was feeling very confident, like I was dictating the pace. With about half a mile to go, once we turned onto a different section of the course, I felt a cramp in my calf. I stuttered for a few steps, and the entire pack of runners went by me as if I were standing still. By the time I had realized what had happened and regained my composure, it was too late for me to respond to their move. They were too far ahead of me for me to catch them before the finish line. That’s one race I wish I could run again.

Have you ever been running, enjoying the scenery and the smells of tall pines or eucalyptus, and you get a nasty cramp? Whether it’s a sharp stitch in the side of your abdomen or a sudden, piercing tightness in your calf or hamstring muscle, cramps can downright destroy an otherwise great run. But they don’t have to if you understand how to deal with them when they occur.

Side stitches, called exercise-related transient abdominal pain (ETAP), are caused by:

* eating/drinking too close to running

* movement of internal organs inside abdominal walls, causing their connective tissue to pull on the diaphragm

Muscle cramps are caused by:

* increase in running pace

* premature muscle fatigue, which affects the central nervous system’s ability to relax a muscle after it has contracted.

Dehydration and electrolyte imbalance do NOT cause muscle cramps.

How do I get rid of side stitches?

* Slow your pace a little.

* Take deep, even breaths.

* Try bending forward while tightening your abdominal muscles and massage the area with your fingers.

How do I get rid of muscle cramps?

* Stop and passively stretch the muscle.

* Relax the cramp by contracting the muscle group opposing the cramped muscle. If you get a cramp in your hamstrings, contract your quadriceps, which helps hamstrings relax.

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