How to prevent or treat leg cramps during a run?

What do you do when you get leg cramps during a run? That’s why I wrote this post.

I started running on the 3rd September of 2017 & I ran my first ever 5k that day. Here’s an article on how I prepared for that run – How to prepare for your first ever 5k in 21 days. Since it was my first run, the only goal I had in front of me was to finish that run, even if that meant walking for a bit & collect the first ever finisher medal. Talking about finisher medals, I learned that it does not matter if you do not win the marathon in your first ever race, duh! But you still get a runners’ high by collecting the medal towards the other side of the finish line.

I completed the first run in about 42 minutes and a few seconds over. Probably since the timing was pretty relaxed, the legs did not really cramp while on the run. There were occasional cramps in the stomach which will be normal when you run for the first time, but nothing else.

From that week, I have been trying to do a 5k at least every Sunday and the goal still remains to complete a 5k with least amount of stopping on the way. So then, I did my third practice run on the 17th September in Pune. Those who know Pune, the run started from the Cafe Coffee Day near Chandani Chowk and progressed all the way down to Ram Nagar where I completed 2.5 kilometers and then we came back up.

The first 2.5 kilometers on this route are pretty much downhill, A steady slope and flat ground is what will accompany you on the first half of this 5k. So then, when you make a turnaround and begin to do the second half of this track, there’s a steady incline which works your legs and your heart as well.

I completed this practice run in 32 minutes and 53 seconds ( That’s a 10-minute improvement over my first run).

The ⛅ Sunday morning started with the alarm buzzing at 5:30 am. I was almost in half-minds to call @yayatizende and call the run off, but then the thought that he might have planned to run already made me get off my ass and wear the running shoes. We decided to run in the city today than on the hills. The route was from the cafe coffee day outlet at bavdhan in Pune towards Ramnagar for 2.5 k and then back. The run happened well. I started with a timing of something over 7 minutes per kilometer in the first week of September and three practice runs later am at 6:35 per kilometer. That's a decent personal progress. The last kilometer took 9 minutes though and it co-incided with an elevation. That's a check. Need to practice more often more on the hills. I was happy though, that the stamina lasted for about 3.5 kilometers straight before I really needed to push hard mentally. At the end of the run, the leg cramped too. Well, I ain't complaining. Good pain is nothing but pleasure, ain't it ? A couple of things from the weekday workouts helped today – I rested the legs on Saturday, watched my diet on all days and consumed a scoop of @optimumnutrition whey everyday after the workout. Onward to the next week now. Let's do this ! . . . . . #runnersofinstagram #run #5k #runningmen #fitnessaddict #fitnessgoals #eatclean #wheyprotein #whey #punerunning #sundayvibes #sundayfunday #SundayRunning #instagood #instalife #fitness #HillRun #ARAI #puneinstagrammers #runnershigh

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I must mention here that on this run, we did not stop for a water break at all & retrospectively since this was just my third practice run, I should have sipped some water along the way. Nevertheless, I completed the practice 5k and reached the endpoint. The cramps started in the calves of both the legs gradually in about 15 minutes post the practice. While the pain was definitely negligible then, a day after the run I had bad sore calves. Then it hit me, that we did not do any stretching whatsoever post the run.

So, to quickly summarize, This is what probably went wrong that day –

  1. I did not do any kind of pre-workout warmup nor did I stretch my muscles after the run.
  2. I did not take any water break at half 5k which I should have since this was just my third practice run
  3. There was no ORS solution in the water bottle, which meant I drained salts and water on the run

I tried to find out why the cramps occur & it turns out there is no consistent reason why the muscles just give away either during the race or after it. However, in my case, It did seem like DOMS – Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness. In DOMS, the muscles do not pain during the event but they start to become sore later on. For me, the DOMS set in on Monday and it remained until Thursday.

While DOMS can be painful, it looks like DOMS is a good thing. In lay man’s terms, It means that you worked your muscle hard and now it’s sore!

So what should you do when you have those sore muscles after an athletic activity?

Here are a few things that worked for me –

  1. Soak your feet in warm water – I rested my muscles in warm water for about 20-25 minutes and twice a day daily from that day. The pain did subside for some time doing this.
  2. Get a pain relieving Massage – A lot of sportsmen take a massage after a hard game to help the muscles stretch and avoid cramping. You can hit the nearest spa and ask them to use pain relieving natural oils to massage your body.
  3. Hydrate yourself with an ORS solution – The simplest ORS for your body will be a mixture of salt and sugar in a liter of water. I generally add about 2 tablespoons each of salt and sugar to a liter of water and sip that whole bottle up.
  4. Keep up your regular exercise routine – While it may sound counterproductive, it is important that you load your muscles with at least 30-40 percent of the activity that triggered the DOMS. In layman terms again, the muscles should keep on working to adjust to increasing loads. That’s when they will grow.
  5. Get enough rest ( Sleep Well) – Make sure you get your 6-8 hours of sleep especially during a DOMS. It might help keep the body warm and help it recover.

I am leaving you with a nice infographic from Gold’s Gym here that talks about DOMS and what to do about it:

Have you got sore muscles after exercise? What did you do about it? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

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