I started the New Year out with a bang. During the latter stages of our all-day drive from Kentucky, where I had spent Christmas vacation, I decided around 7:30 PM that I was going to run in the January 1 edition of the Hudson Mohawk Road Runners Club’s Winter Series Race. I hadn’t really given the possibility of racing on New Year’s Day much thought earlier in the week, because I didn’t know how the driving would proceed and whether I would even be home to do it. I had a choice of the “Hangover” Half Marathon or a 3.5 miler. I decided to do the half, start out slowly, and treat it as a tempo run. This would also be a good opportunity to test out whether mustard might be a good way to avoid leg cramps. I hadn’t done any tapering for the race, and I had run 11 miles in the cold on Sunday. I also stayed up to watch the ball fall – luckily the race started at noon. I was able to get up late and have a leisurely morning. I drank some water when I first got up, several cups of coffee, ate half of a chocolate chip muffin, a banana, and a piece of cinnamon raisin bread with some Nuttela. I also, of course, had a spoon of yellow mustard. It was 28 degrees Fahrenheit when I left the house. The hallway in the SUNY-Athletic building where we registered was packed – this is a popular way to start the New Year. By the time I had signed up and gone to the bathroom, I didn’t have a lot of time for a warm-up. I wasn’t too worried, since I planned to start out around eight minute pace and warm-up for the first six miles. I almost, however, didn’t even get to the starting line, because my left calf cramped almost with the first step of my warm-up. Not a good sign. I decided to give it a try. I didn’t have enough time to take one of my mustard packets, but I put two in my pocket and managed to have a handful of gummy bears as I was heading off to the starting line.
I was about six deep on the line and started out slowly. My legs were feeling good. It felt colder than 28 and I was glad that I was wearing my spiffy new CW-X compression tights that my wife had given me for Christmas. I looked at my Garmin and realized that I was running too quickly. I got caught up in a pack of runners from the Kinderhook Running Club, looked down at my watch and realized that we were doing some racing at 6:20 minute-per-mile pace. It was cold and windy – typical winter series weather on the SUNY-Albany campus. The course, itself, has some very gradual up and downhills and is fairly easy, aside from the wind, which, as the race proceeded, started to get a bit ridiculous. I took water at every opportunity. I went through 10K in 45:40 and was feeling good. At 9 miles, however, my left calf started cramping. I consumed one of my mustard packets and watched some of the people I was running with leave me behind. For the rest of the race, I tried to run in a very measured fashion and consumed an additional mustard packet at around 11 miles. During the last mile, I managed to catch up and pass some people who had gone by me earlier, but I had pretty much shifted to survival mode and was extremely glad to finish in 1:40:36. I was happy to crack the top 100 with an 83rd place finish. It was good to get in out of the cold. Once I stopped, my legs didn’t feel all that bad and I wasn’t totally exhausted. I had several pieces of pizza (I love the HMRRC) walked around for a bit and then headed home. It was a very motivational way to start the New Year.
Did the mustard work? It sure didn’t offer the immediate relief for cramping that I was after. It may, however, have delayed my cramping. The last time I experienced leg cramping in a race was 4 miles into a 10K. It is, of course, also possible that my compression tights helped. This is one of my problems, I often change several things, and so I am unsure what actually worked. I haven’t yet given up on the mustard cure (If anything, it is fun to see people freak out when you suck down a packet on the run, or when you have a spoonful for breakfast.), but I suspect that my calf problems might necessitate some strengthening exercises – oh, snap!