Tuesday, February 2, 2010

PBP Tip # 287- Cramps

Leg camps have been a problem for me for most of my life.  There is a discussion thread on this subject over on the Randon Google discussion group which got me thinking about how long this has been a problem for me.

As a high school jock I ran cross country in the fall, (I was bad at it in a field where there were runners who were very good at it (think rhino running with the gazelles), and played football. I played the offensive line (too light) and linebacker on the defense (strong, quick, and fast enough but too short). In the spring I was on the track team, (a requirement of the football coach).  Never mind that I was the biggest, possibly slowest (and whitest) guy on the team: I went to an inner city HS in Seattle where the combined population of minorities was slightly higher than that of the ‘white’ kids. We routinely dominated track events around the city, and had athletes usually populating the state championships. So I was pack fill for the quarter mile: The coach always wanted to show the schools colors no matter how many heats there were. I also ran the 220 high hurdles, (run on the turn for a little added excitement). Back then it was miles and yards … see we are making some progress integrating into the rest of the world. I was also a pole vaulter (again, think grapefruit impaled on a pencil).  My personal best was 10'6".  I think the HS state record at the time was about 14', the world record was between 16 and 17 feet. Brian Sternburg was a hero to me.

I played baseball through Pony league and then one summer when I was out of a job I played a bit of American Legion league baseball, or as it as was called, Legion ball. One of the rules was that no player could have ever played pro ball or for pay. There were a few who actually had been in the minor leagues. I was just sitting in the stands watching these guys practice at Broadway playfield one day and they needed an outfielder (someone to shag balls actually) so I was ‘drafted’. I had a pretty good arm and would occasionally bypass the cutoff man and gun it into home plate. The first couple times I did this the catcher ran about half way up the first base line before realizing that I had a wicked curve.  He would then have to hustle back to the plate to make the catch. This got me a little cred so I filled in for them at their practices. I also played first base on occasion. I held my own on the field but at the plate it was another story. A little baseball never looks so intimidating as when it is coming down the pipe at 90mph: The pitcher wants to have a laugh and delivers a little ’chin music’. The first time I got this welcome, I found myself on my butt, getting out of the way.  Everybody got a laugh out of that. It only takes one brush back pitch (high and inside) and suddenly the pitcher has a very easy time lobbing strikes as the scaredycat batter stands a foot off the plate.

I’d had a bad experience in Babe Ruth which compounded my problem; I let a pop fly drift into the sun and when it came back into sight there was not time to react. Moments later I found myself waking up in a dusty heap on the deep infield, choking on my own blood. I spit out my two front teeth (uppers) and the coach (who was black) looked almost as white as me. I never totally recovered from that flinch reaction.

But anyway, back to cramps. I had that problem in most of these sports and later in my work life, particularly working long hot hours fighting forest fires. This was in the days before sports nutrition was a science (subsequently an industry), before Gatorade was big, pre-Endurolytes and all the other supplements. Coaches woufl give you salt tablets. My ‘trainer’ (my dad) had a little home remedy back then that helped, or seemed to: Calcium tablets. He’d get these giant horse pills (so they seemed) of calcium and feed them to me.

After particularly taxing football practices in the late September sun I’d often wake screaming in the night with cramps in my quads, calves, and hams simultaneously. That’s pain, and when you are that cramped up there is no jumping out of bed to ‘stretch it out”. He’d often toss me in the tub and run a bath for me, hot as I could stand. Then there were these big old chalky pills. This seemed to help. Not very scientific but there was not a lot of science to be had on the subject at the time.

Obviously research (and product development) has come a long way since the 1960’s and I am grateful for it. Now I use endurolytes (I can’t stomach Gatorade) but I still use calcium supplementation in addition to the endurolytes, especially when I have undertaken particularly harsh rides. The product I have found in the last couple years that has been a breakthrough for me is Hyland’s Leg Cramps with Quinine. Sounds funny I know, but this product really works …….. for me. These things are easy to take, just disolve them under your tongue.  I am not saying they will work for you but if you are stuck in the blind ally of leg cramp pain and are looking for the secret side door, this might be worth a try.

A disclaimer here:
Hyland's is paying me hundreds of thousands of dollars to put this promo up on my nearly world famous blog. But wait, there’s more! They are also fronting all costs for a week long vacation trip to Winnemucca in February! Still, I would use this product even if they were not providing all this fabulous bling.

Just kidding but I want you to understand: This may not work for you, don’t blame me if it does not, or if it causes all your hair to fall out, or any other problems. I’m just telling you what works for me. No science here, just a little personal experience.


  1. On a permanent from Mazama To Monroe in the hot summer of 08(last day of C1200). I crammped so bad at the Granite Falls Control that I passed out. Poor Don Boothby looked so worried when I came too I bet he was worried he might have to perform mouth to mouth resucitation. I managed to successfully finish the permanent but I would have taken the dreaded Castor Oil if that would have made it go away

  2. I've ridden my bike tons and last year started with the cramping episodes. After a session of cramps that would NOT stop I googled cramps and cycling and found lots of tips for Calcium and Tums, so I got some Tums and they seemed to help. I appreciate your link to the other product and will procure some as a preventative measure before I attempt another big ride.