I’ve had one severe bout with cramps since starting biking, and it was no fun. Since then, I’ve always made sure I’ve had enough to eat and drink before starting a ride, and even though I’m still bad at drinking as often as I should when I’m in saddle, I do make an effort to drain one water bottle each hour.
But Sunday, I was on a morning ride with my friend David. On our return leg, he was sluggish. We made an extra stop at a convenience store so he could buy a bottle of electrolyte drink, and down most of it while we rested in the shade. We still had about 10 miles to get home, and at five, he told me to go on ahead, and not let his slow pace keep me back. I told him it was no problem, and I’d stick with him. But with two miles to go, the road widened and smoothed out. I speeded up, figuring he’d catch me at our usual Starbucks end-of-ride yakfest.
I got to Starbucks, ordered a large iced tea, and found a seat in a cool, shady spot to wait for David. I waited, and waited. I wondered if he’d just decided to go straight to his house and skip our drink. The “A” riders in our club, who’d been on a different route, started to pull in. I waited some more.
Then, David pulled up. He looked miserable. He said he’d had thigh cramps so bad just a mile away, they “brought him to his knees.” He sat down and stared straight ahead for awhile, then went inside to order a drink.
I’ve seen the cramps get David on previous rides, but nothing like this. Usually, we’ll stop and rest while he pops a few electrolyte tablets. The curious thing is, the cramps tend to hit him at the 35-mile mark. If we’re only going 20 or 30 miles, he’ll be fine. But stretch that to 35, and he’s toast.
“I’m having a tough one, Ray,” he said, as he felt another twinge in his thigh. But he had to get home, so he pulled himself up out of his chair, and got on the bike. Since he lives only a mile away, I figured he’d be fine.
Later on, I found that was not the case. He emailed me that he’d cramped up again on a long grade leading up to his street. He walked the bike for awhile, then got on and coasted the rest of the way home. The ride, he said, left him “shattered — absolutely the worst I ever had.”
David is not a newbie. He’s been riding for more than 15 years, and has several centuries under his belt. He’s been my riding mentor since I got into this sport. For breakfast, he had a peanut butter and banana sandwich, among other things.
David keeps some kind of electrolyte tablets in his seatbag — “etabs,” he calls them — and I’ve seen that companies like Hammer Nutrition carry electrolyte capsules. Other high sodium and potassium items like pickle juice and bananas are supposed to be effective at combating cramps. Have you had any experiences with cramping? If so, any recommendations for dealing with ones as serious as David’s?