Dealing with Severe Leg Cramps on the Bike

cramps, muscle spasms, muscle pain while riding, electrolyte, carbohydrate, proper hydration, muscle cramps while riding bike
No, not Krampus. CRAMPS.
Some days, I'm surprisingly ok with failure. My thought process usually follows, "I tried something, it didn't work, I learned from it and moved on." Then, other things, I'm not ok with. Not completing a ride, for example, usually gets me royally pissed off.

It's been almost 2 months since I last tried to ride to Mountain Top and back, and I've been patiently awaiting my second attempt. Since then, we've had snowstorm after snowstorm, with temperatures dipping below 0 for several days straight -- not the kind of weather I'd like to be in for a 36 mile round trip. But now, things are getting better. The sun is staying out longer, we're days away from pushing the clocks ahead and the temperatures are slowly rising into the 40s and 50s. We're not quite there, yet, but it's close. Close enough that, on Tuesday, I saw my second chance at a successful round-trip ride to Mountain Top.

Apparently, I'm woefully out of shape. I went for a nice 12 miler on Saturday, and even with snow pelting my face and a wickedly cold head wind that chilled me to the bone, I felt good enough that an extended ride didn't sound too crazy. And, judging how I felt when I got to the NEPA Geeks office in Mountain Top, I was right. 18 miles? No problem! The ride back, however, was like a ride into Hell. My body was simply not ready for a 36 mile round trip, and dealing with severe leg cramps on the bike was the price I had to pay.

I guess I needed a stern reminder about hydration, electrolyte and carbohydrate replenishment, because I still haven't learned my lesson from the last time this happened.

Let's look at what I think I did wrong:
  • Didn't eat before the ride.
  • Didn't eat during the ride.
  • Didn't rehydrate.
And I might as well add "Didn't train enough beforehand," to the list. Jumping from 12 miles to 36 kicked me square in the ass and dumped me on the curb to sit and think about it for a while, almost literally.

As my calves cramped up and involuntarily convulsed, I did my best to sit on a guardrail and keep them at heart-level. (For some reason, I thought keeping them elevated would help, and it did.) Then my quadriceps joined in the chorus of pain. Less than a few miles from home, my right hamstring pulled taut and sent me into the dirt. At least I was only walking at this point, so I didn't hurt myself more than I already had. It was a bad, bad scene.

As prime riding season approaches, it's definitely worth taking some time to acknowledge the fact that I need to ease back into this sport, do plenty of stretching before I ride and make sure I have plenty of water and food during the ride. I've also read from a few sources that eating Tums with calcium can help ward off cramping. Not sure about that one, but if it happens again, it might be worth a shot. Keep your eyes peeled for Krampus, and here's to hoping that it never happens again!


Dean Rowntree said...

Man I feel your pain! I had cramps in my legs only once before from cycling and it was absolutely awful! If it ever happens again I will try and keep them elevated. I did exactly as you did in where you think you went wrong. You can read my blog entry here:

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