Florida Summertime Running By Susan S. Paul, TSF Training Program Director

Training in Florida’s summer heat and humidity is a challenge and tests even the most dedicated runner. One of the biggest problems many runners face when training through the summer is muscle cramping. Hot weather and muscle cramps seem to go hand in hand.

The original theory on muscle cramping, developed in the 1930’s, cited dehydration as the primary cause. While dehydration is still commonly thought to be the number one cause of muscle cramping, recent research raises much doubt about this assumption

Results of recent studies found no evidence that dehydration or electrolyte imbalance played a role in muscle cramping. Instead, these studies found age, high body mass index, lack of stretching, and a family history of cramping as the primary culprits. Factors like age and family history are beyond our control; but, according to these studies, we can minimize the risk of cramping by losing those extra pounds, stretching daily and adding strength training to our routine.

One of the newest theories on muscle cramping proposes that cramping is a result of muscle fatigue. Muscle fatigue causes a breakdown in communication between the Central Nervous System and the Muscular System, and this miscommunication results in cramping.

Studies have also shown that muscles crossing two joints are more prone to cramping than muscles that cross only one joint due to the increased workload on the muscle. The gastrocnemius, one of the calf muscles, crosses both the knee and ankle joint. It assists knee flexion and ankle extension, and happens to be the most commonly reported muscle that cramps during activity.

So what’s a runner to do? Summer has arrived and it’s time to train for the Fall Marathons and Half-Marathons! Here are some tips to help you survive summertime training in Florida.

Muscle Cramping Prevention Tips

Train Properly
Follow the three basic training principles of Frequency, Intensity, and Duration. For proper duration, build mileage slowly by following the 10 percent a week rule. Proper intensity means varying the pace of your training runs appropriately. For long runs, stay comfortable; for shorter runs, pick up the pace. Running every other day is adequate frequency for most running goals. Cross-training two days a week, in addition to running 3 or 4 days a week, provides a well-rounded training plan. Allow at least one day a week off for adequate rest and recovery.

Specificity of Training
Train for the distance and the specific conditions of your race. Research the course, road surfaces, elevation and altitude changes, weather, start time, etc. Simulate these conditions as best you can during training.

Stretch Daily
Stretching improves circulation which provides muscles with oxygen and much needed nutrients facilitating recovery. Stretch only after exercise when muscles and connective tissue are warm and pliable.

Strength Train
Muscle weakness leads to muscle imbalances, injuries, and inefficient movement patterns. Inefficiency means that some muscles are working harder than others and are; therefore, more likely to fatigue and cramp. Strengthen weak areas and stretch tight areas to improve your running form.

Eat a balanced diet of protein, complex carbohydrates, and some fats. Small meals eaten throughout the day help stabilize blood sugar levels and control appetite. Eating before, during, and after your runs is important for performance as well as recovery.

Drink water daily and during your runs.

When drinking lots of water, runners risk flushing out electrolytes and may need to add them back in to their diet in supplement form. Many sports drinks contain electrolytes or take them in capsule form.

Orthotics can help correct biomechanical deficiencies and therefore improve running efficiency. Improved running efficiency may lead to a reduction or even elimination of muscle cramping.

What To Do If You Cramp
• Stop running and apply direct pressure to the affected muscle with your hand, finger, or thumb. Hold for 10 seconds, then release.
Repeat as needed.
• Gently stretch the affected area, if possible. Move slowly because movement can cause the opposing muscle to cramp.
• Once the cramp subsides, begin moving with a slow walk and gradually increase the pace.
• Ice the affected area when you complete your run.
• Take an Ice Bath after your runs.
• Regular massage treatments help prevent cramping.

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