Hitting the wall or just bad judgement?

by Bogdan
(Iasi, Romania)

Cramps and the marathon :

"Hi Marius,

About 3 weeks ago I have ran my first marathon, in Madrid, aiming for 3:30, but having to accept 'defeat' and finish in 3:43, after getting terrible cramps starting with km 28.
The madrid marathon is a hilly one, it starts and ends with 5/7km hills and the rest is simply going up and down.
Based on that, my thinking was that I would not really be able to follow a negative split strategy and I was thinking I should just run conservatively uphill and try to go faster downhill.
It was going simply great, I was quite content of how things were going, I passed 21.1 in 1:42, I was convinced I was going to finish under 3:30.
Given how great I was feeling I was anxious for the last hill of 7km, my thinking being that my hard hill training will pay off and I will pass a lot of runners.
At km 28, on the beginning of a tiny hill, I have experienced my first muscle cramp ever and it just took me completely by surprise.
Not having had one before, I had no idea what was the right way to deal with that. I stopped for 2 seconds, massaged the muscle and started slowly until the pain faded. 3 kilometers later another cramp, same leg, but this time it was the lower muscle.
From that point on it just became a survival run, as the cramps started on the left leg as well.
The last 10 km were quite terrible, I had to run agonizingly slow and i felt my muscles getting ready to cramp with every step, or sudden move.
I just wanted to go faster and every time I did that, my muscles were stopping me.

I have tried to figure out the reasons for my body's failure and I would like to know your opinion.
I know the obvious explanation would be the wall explanation, me running too fast the first half and then my energy being depleted.
However I think I have hydrated properly (though mostly water) and I have eaten 4 energy gels, during the race.
Another possible explanation in my head (though not something documented) is that I have somehow hurt my muscles while uncontrollably running downhill.
Instead of 'controlling' the pace, I was just letting my legs run, because my heart was not feeling any effort.
I already know I will get my 3:30 on the hilly Madrid marathon but, until next year, maybe you can tell me what you think that went wrong with this one.


Answer: Hi Bodgan, I will have to answer this a bit general, so that others can relate as well.

In your case, it does seem that the fast downhills may have caused small muscle injuries and/or cramps - I have seen this in some cases.

What you want to do next time is two things :

1) Read the article on running cramps that I've written here and do what I talk about in there :
Running Cramps

2) TRAIN for the uphills and downhills if you choose a similar marathon like this next time. You now know that your legs needs this in order to avoid cramps - and with a little bit of getting used to beforehand you should be ok.

My experience is that cramps can come without really "hitting the wall" and it seems that way in your case. So just keep at it until next time and you should be ok.

I wish you all the best,


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