An almost in shape father and his eight year old, bob-cut blonde, hipster glasses donning daughter were jogging along the Back Bay this weekend when the girl’s face flinched, winced, and tears waterfalled over her lashes. “Pain!” she said (okay, she did not say that, but that was the gist of it). Her father, in a more accurate paraphrase, said, “Don’t worry honey! Everyone gets them, and I promise, they go away!”
And it is true. If you are going to run, you are, at some unfortunate point, going to get a cramp. Probably in your side. Okay, I tried to soften that for you. It will definitely be in your side. A feeling akin to someone grabbing your intestines with a pair of pliers, squeezing them, and twisting them. But be glad! A cramp means you’re a runner. Yahtzee!
Of course, you are not beholden to be cramped forever. There are means of reducing the likelihood of a cramp, and even eliminating a cramp once it attempts to conquer your workout. So buck up and read on. Unless of course, you are one who is immune to the cramp. But if that were true, I would question the very essence of your humanity (and if you’re a cheetah who can read, that is just about the craziest thing I’ve heard since Thursday).
If you are new to running cramps, try this technique first:
So, close your eyes and imagine yourself to be running your third favorite trail or terrain (don’t want to taint your first or second). You are gliding along comfortably, when, out of nowhere, you get attacked by a cramp. What to do? First, slow to a walk. The bouncing up and down can be exceptionally uncomfortable for a cramp, and only enhance the pain. Next, take your akimbo arms, straighten them out, raise them like you’re struck with the need to perform the wave, and leave them in the air. Then, bend those elbows again so your arms are crossed over that noggin. All the while, you should continue to keep walking. This is especially important. Unless the pain is so severe that you cannot move (in which case you have a much larger issue than a running cramp), keep a forward, backward, or sideways motion.
Another technique, which I have yet to attempt, regards posture. According to fictionweek.com’s (don’t let the name fool you–these guys aren’t dummies)article, The Dreaded Side Stitch:**
“…your posture and running style can be related to side aches. For example, if you tend to lean forward slightly while running, it could be putting too much pressure on your stomach muscles. This means you may be more likely to get a side ache when running up a long hill (requiring more of a forward lean). Therefore, to get rid of a side ache, try leaning forward even more for a few steps and then leaning backward for a few steps. If this helps, then remember to add this forward and backward leaning to your running every once in a while. It may also help to lean to the left and right once in a while. The idea is to break up your repetitive running habits that could be contributing to the problem.”
A little sway goes a long way.
My favored technique for swatting away those annoying cramps regards regulating breath while continuing to run (a slightly more advanced cramp-reduction style; newbies, do this at a walk until you get the hang of how the cramp is panning out). I inhale forcefully, and push my stomach, then chest, out as far as possible. It sounds counterproductive, but trust me on this one. I then exhale just as forcefully, emptying my chest , then stomach as much as possible. Repeat until the cramp has dissapated.
Typically, with regulated and forceful breathing, a cramp will leave within a minute or two, and you haven’t really lost any time. The Dreaded Side Stitch explains it this way:
“Some runners have reported relief from side stitches by focusing on somewhat forceful exhaling while running hard. They purse their lips and force the air out for several breaths, a if blowing out candles on a birthday cake…Watch for any breathing method that, after a while, seems to relieve the pain. Some also suggest pushing in at the painful area at the same time you are trying the pursed lip breathing technique.”
Those cramp attacks can be pesky, though. Be ware that even once you’ve eliminated the nettlesome cramp, it may return during your run. Sometimes, you can feel like you’re playing cat and mouse with a cramp attack as it catches you, you get away, and it seeks you out again. But it makes your run just that much more interesting, so run on!
* I solemly swear that I will never start a blog post with an incredibly obvious statement: Hate it when you get cramps while running? You aren’t the only one. Sorry, RunThePlanet, but seriously? As if there maybe are people out there who really, truly enjoy the cramps? http://www.runtheplanet.com/trainingracing/injury/cramps.asp