Tag Archives: hydration

Wise Running: The Truth About Cramps

I will tell you two truths about cramping up front and then explain them:

  1. Nobody fully understands all of the reasons for exercise induced cramps.
  2. Since we don’t fully understand the causes, we also don’t know of an ultimate solution.

Electrolytes and Cramping

Most people think of electrolytes as the key to avoid cramping.  If you avoid running low on sodium, potassium, and other electrolytes, then you can avoid cramping, right?  Maybe not.

Research trying to establish a correlation between muscle cramps and low levels of electrolytes in the blood of athletes have shown no significant relationship between these two variables.  This makes it highly unlikely that electrolytes are the culprit for the average runner.  Does this mean that I do not believe in the electrolyte tablets that I am taking?  No.  First, these studies are correlational.  The big limitation of correlational research is that it can’t prove that one variable is the cause, or not the cause, of the changes in another variable.  Hence, we need other kinds of more carefully crafted research before we can negate the possibility that my electrolyte tablets are helping me.stretching

On the other hand, I do believe that it is possible that only some of us need the electrolyte supplements.  I have two things that make my electrolytes lower than they should be:  genetics and eating habits.  Genetically, I have ADHD.  As an ADHD person I am aware that I use up electrolytes faster than the non-ADHD population.  Making matters worse, I have never eaten as many vegetables as I was supposed to consume.  I believe these are the best sources of electrolytes.  I think there is a good chance that if I ate more veggies, my need for the supplements would fade.

Beyond Electrolytes

While electrolyte supplements may or may not help, there are are several other theories about why muscle cramping might occur.  Insufficient fuel on a long run (>13 miles) can mean that your muscles simply cannot work properly.  In addition to proper fueling, cramps can be caused by overdoing it.  If your effort in a race is significantly more than you have done in training, your muscles may not be able to handle it.  Finally, short muscles may contribute to your cramping.  Working one side of your legs much harder than the other side for a long time may cause your muscles to become shorter and tighter.  The imbalance between the sides can cause cramping.

My Recommendations

The fact that there may be many causes for muscle cramping means that you should use a balanced approach.

  • Electrolyte Supplements  – I have not given up on my supplements, but the research definitely calls into question whether the average runner needs them.  When I do use them, I use them primarily as a preventative measure.  In doing that, however, I try to use as little as possible.  Experience is the best teacher.  I started with none and then gradually added some when I had issues during or after the workout.  Over time, I began to understand how much I need.  Electrolyte supplements are not cheap; don’t use them if they don’t help you!
  • Salt Tablets or Packets –  Studies have found that if your are experiencing cramps, one way to halt them is consume table salt.  They found that it the effect it has is to stimulate the brain to stop the leg cramping.  It does not stop because of the sodium, just the salty taste is enough.  Salt, therefore is not a preventative measure.  It is used after the cramps occur.
  • Stay within Your Limitations – Operate at the level of intensity for which you have trained.  Going beyond that can push your muscles too far.  They will rebel!
  • Stretch regularly AFTER exercise – Static stretches before exercise can hurt your performance.  Stick with dynamic stretching and warming up before exercise.  Static and dynamic stretches throughout the day after the workout, however, can lengthen and relax the muscles.  That can reduce or eliminate cramping altogether.
  • Hydration – The current recommendation of experts tend to be to drink to thirst.  This literally means let your body tell you how much to drink and when.  Others still recommend 4- to 6 ounces every 20 minutes.  Just as with the electrolyte supplements, you will have to figure out what is best for you.  Pay attention to how your body responds and learn what it needs for optimal performance.

Electrolyte supplement may or may not be helpful, so make sure you try the other recommendations too!  If you do stretch, stop and relax.  I don’t care if you are in a race.  Until you relax, your cramping is unlikely to subside.  When the muscles calm down, gently stretch and move them.  If you must continue after that, do so gently and paying great attention.  It is better to have a slow race time than to have an injury that will slow you down for months.

Train smart, eat well, and enjoy the run!

wise running logo 7_25_12



Hydration for Running

wise running logo 7_25_12



Your body is mostly water.  It only makes sense that a hydrated body functions better.  If you want health and performance, you will keep your body topped off with liquids as you go.  So, on a hot day, you might drink as much as a cup of water or watered down sports drink every 15 minutes. If you put it in as fast as you sweat it out, your body will thank you by staying healthy and performing as best as it can.  On the water hydration coupleother hand, it is possible to drink too much.  Current recommendations are to drink to thirst. If you are thirsty, drink.  If you are not thirsty, don’t. Any way you handle it, make sure you have access to plenty of water and/or sports drink while you run.

You should still be careful after the run! Most of us continue sweating long after the last step of the run.  Hence, it is important to keep your tank topped off!  There are now quite a few choices for sports drinks to recover after the workout.  The top choice remains the same as it has always been… good old water!

Electrolyte Supplements

Water is not all that leaves as we sweat!  We also lose minerals that play a critical role in our bodies.  They are called electrolytes.  Without these minerals and enough water, the muscles begin to cramp.  Muscle cramps are painful and cause damage.  Even if you do not reach the point of cramping, failing to replace the electrolytes means poor performance and frustration.

For some, simply drinking a sports drink provides enough electrolytes.  Other need more than the amount offered through sports drinks.  Electrolyte supplements come in powders, tablets, pills, & capsules.

Even though I require much more electrolytes than the average runner, I use the strategy of taking as little as possible.  You discover this by starting with the minimum suggested dose on the supplement label.  How do you know if it is enough?  Personally, I know that I have not taken enough Endurolyte Capsules if my leg muscles are twitching as I am relaxing after the run.  If so, I will take another capsule or two until it subsides.  Over time, you begin to learn what is right for you.

Regardless of which drinks and supplements you use, it is your job to make sure you get enough.  Your body is depending on you and so is your running performance.

Train smart, eat well, and enjoy the run!




Whether to Eat Before or After Running (or other exercise)


Is it better to eat before or after exercising?
How soon after eating is it okay to run?

P. Mark’s Answer:

You can eat before or after.  It depends on what your eating and how long it takes to digest.  Typically, your body takes about 3 hours to fully digest a large meal.  A small meal can be digested in as little as 2 hours.

The consequence of this: if you eat a meal of any size, you should wait at least 2 hours before challenging your body.  If the exercise is extremely light and easy for your body, it might be just fine.  Anything beyond that requires serious resources from your body.

Problem 1:  Your body fluids can’t be in two places at once.  Extra blood gets routed to the area of your gastrointestinal system so that it can absorb and deliver the incoming nutrition.  Digestion also diverts some of the water in your system to that process.  These combine to yield a significantly lower flow of blood to your muscles.  If you go fast enough that your body prioritizes the exercise over digestion, then you have other problems.  You could feel some cramping in your GI system.

Problem 2:  Heavy jostling leads to poor digestion.   It is too difficult for the nutrition to be absorbed effectively when it is swishing around.  Hence, you are getting less from your food.  This also requires that diversion of fluids to remain in effect longer.

Possible Results:  Poor Performance, cramps, &/or indigestion.  At the very least, it slows you down a little and you may have wasted some valuable nutrition.

What you CAN eat before a run or other exercise:  A small amount of simple carbohydrates can be eaten (or drank) within one hour of exercise.  That is what energy gels are designed to do: provide a blend of simple sugars and slightly more complex sugars to be used immediately by the body.

Remember This!

If you have been eating relatively healthy and in sufficient quantity,
your body has a supply of energy waiting to be used!

Glycogen is a complex sugar that is stored in your muscles and liver.  This is the fuel that marathoners have in mind when “carb-loading” the week before the marathon.  They are topping off that supply to have as much energy as possible available on race day.  If you are eating well on a regular basis, you have a supply of energy.  How much?  A person weighing 150 lbs can carry anywhere from 800 to 2000 calories.  The more healthy carbs you eat, the more glycogen you are able to store.

Hydration is just as critical, if not more so.  A body without a full supply of water will not operate well.  The tougher your workout, the more water you will need.  Work on hydration on an ongoing basis throughout the day, starting with 16 ounces of water when you wake up!

My Personal Habit:

When I am training for a marathon, I will not eat 2-3 hours before one of my key workouts for the week.  I do, however, consume calories immediately before as well as throughout my run!  Specifically, I consume the fuel that I will consume during the marathon.  Since you absolutely must consume calories during a marathon, this method of consuming calories during my workout prepares my body to run fast while processing small amounts of easy-to-digest fuel.

When I am not in marathon training, I am more likely to just follow the 2 hour rule.  Since nearly all of my runs are shorter than 10 miles, I know my body stores enough glycogen to fuel any run – because I am eating right.  :)

AFTER any challenging run, I fuel up with high quality carbs and some protein as soon as I can.  This is the ideal time to replenish the glycogen supply and start healing those muscles.

Eat well & enjoy the run!


The Gift of Running,by P. Mark Taylor, is now available in both paperback & e-book

Paperback Version – Amazon.com $9.00

Ebook Version – Kindle Store $2.99

Ebook Version for Nook $2.99


How I Improved from 5:35 to 3:27 in the Marathon in 18 months

“You have to forget your last marathon before you try another. Your mind can’t know what’s coming.”   – Frank Shorter

Even though Frank was a world-class marathoner, I respectfully disagree.  I do remember my last marathon.  I remember all three of them.  If I didn’t remember, then I would not have learned from them.  If I had not learned from them, then I would not have returned for a second or third.  The name of my blog is Wise Running.  That is not a claim that everything I do is wise.  In fact, it is the opposite.  I am gradually becoming wise through the school of hard knocks.  The more mistakes I make while running, the wiser & faster I become

I am now in training for my fourth marathon.  I have my training plan and I am sticking to it as much as I can.  It is, to say the very least, vastly different from the training for my first marathon.  Looking back, I no longer consider that training.  What I did before my first marathon was haphazard and probably a little dangerous.

  • I was only running a few days a week, because my knees were always sore after a run.
  • I didn’t have a plan, I was just making it up as I went.
  • I only ran one 17 miler and one 20 mile run, everything else was 13 miles or less.
  • I took a total of three drinks of water during training runs in the entire “training” program.
  • There was only 1 run where I tried to consume any calories

Yes, that’s right.  I didn’t feel comfortable drinking while running, so I took a grand total of 3 drinks during the entire “training” program.  If you know anything about running long distances, you can probably guess what kind of experience I had in my first marathon.  Not good.

In April of 2010, I glided through the first half of the Knoxville Marathon in just over 2 hours and felt strong.  By mile mile 16, I knew I didn’t feel right.  By mile 18, I started cramping a little.  By mile marker 19, every muscle in my body was taking turns cramping.  I walked the last 7.2 miles.  It began to rain hard.  By the time I crossed the first bridge over the river, it was raining sideways because of the huge cross-breeze.  I was wet, cold, shivering, and generally miserable.  Thank God for nice people!  A volunteer under the bridge in the 20th mile gave me poncho.  It kept me warm enough to stave off the medics and gradually walk to the finish.  It was a humbling experience watching all of the pacers pass me one by one.  I refused to quit.  I completed my first marathon in 5 hours and 35 minutes.  I was in pain & suffering for the next week.

What did I learn from marathon number 1?  Plenty!

  • You had better have a training plan or you will suffer!
  • You had better have calories, electrolytes, and drinks or you will suffer!
  • I am not a quitter. :)

That is the beginning of the story.  What happened in the next 18 months? 

The first thing that I always do after a bad run is to plan my return.  You can’t let a course beat you.  The second thing I did was to start reading.  I had half-heartedly looked at training plans before, but now I was seriously shopping for one.  I read up on hydration, energy gels, shoes, & everything else I could find.

I did not start the marathon training right away.   In fact, I started where I should have started the first time.  I began to train for shorter distances first.  A couple of months later, I ran the Expo 5K in 21:55, a 7:03 mile pace & almost a full minute faster than my previous 5K time.  Next I set my sites on improving my half-marathon time.  I had managed to survive a 1:59:27 at the Oak Ridge half the previous year.  I began to build a mileage base running 4 days a week fairly consistently, which was not easy because my knees were still ailing.  In October of 2010, I ran the Secret City Half Marathon in 1:48:59.

The things I was doing differently than before:

  • I gradually built up my weekly mileage.
  • I did a speed workout at the track about once a week, running 400m or 800m repeats.
  • On my runs over 10 miles, I was experimenting with sports drinks and energy gels.

One more critical thing happened in late December of 2010.  I purchased a pair of Vibram Fivefingers KSOs.  These are extreme minimalist shoes.  They are not for everyone, so don’t take this as a suggestion.  The KSOs were important for me because they have no cushioning.  The lack of cushioning caused me to alter my running form to a much better and safer form.  The result was happy knees!  When I run in Vibrams or other shoes with no cushioning, my knees do not get any more sore than any other part of my body.  What a blessing!

Training for the 2011 Knoxville Marathon

Despite my best intentions of implementing the full Hal Higdon marathon training schedule, I found myself starting late.  I did, however, accomplish most of his Advanced 1 training schedule.  I started on the Advanced 1 rather than intermediate plans because of the mileage base that I had built.  I found that I could adjust this particular schedule just a bit and it pushed me just a little harder.  Just right.

The things I was doing differently than before:

  • I was following an expert’s marathon training plan that challenged me just enough.
  • I focused my track work on 800 meter repeats exclusively, running every 800 at 3:30.
  • I was taking electrolyte capsules to supplement the sports drinks & energy gels.
  • I ran three 20 mile runs in preparation for the marathon.

1 Year After My First Marathon

I returned to the scene of the crime a year later.  I was not going to allow a course to defeat me and get away with it.  I was here for revenge.  I had specialized training, energy gel, a fuel belt with my own Gatorade, electrolyte tablets, and cool shoes.  Yes, folks, I was back to kick some butt!

Did it all go as planned?  Of course not.  I had rumblings in my tummy before I had reached mile marker 5.  Thankfully, the Knoxville Track Club and the race director know what runners need.  There were plenty of porta-potties along the route.  I made prolonged visits to these facilities no less than four times.  That was glitch number one.  Glitch number two came when I dropped the electrolyte capsules somewhere in the first 6 miles.  Thankfully, I had taken several before the start so I wasn’t completely out of luck.

Despite these issues, I still finished the first half of the marathon at around 1:48.  The first part of the course has more hills than the second half, so I knew that I could cruise to a decent time even if I got tired and crampy.  This time the second half of the marathon did go much better.  I took the time to drink more, but kept a respectable pace.  I felt my body running low on fuel, but I had energy gel.  I felt sort of a pre-cramp feeling, so I chose to slow down my pace and try to relax my muscles.  I did gradually slow down more than I wanted to, but I managed to complete the course in 3:55:59 – about an hour and 40 minutes faster than in 2010.

I still felt as if I had been run over by a truck and my feet had a lot of blisters, but I had taken that course to school!  It had beaten me in 2010 and I beat it in 2011.

The Next 6 Months

It only took a couple of days to recuperate from the extreme soreness.  In that time, I was already beginning to plan my next race.  I knew that I would return to run the Knoxville Marathon in 2012, but I wanted to run a marathon before that.  I eventually found the 7 Bridges Marathon scheduled for mid-October of 2011.  It was just a short drive south to Chattanooga and the course looked to be flatter than Knoxville.  I did not wait for the 18 week marathon training schedule to kick in.  After resting and some gentle, short runs for the first two weeks, I began the process of cranking up my mileage and speed work.

  • IMPORTANT:  At this time, I learned that the most important way to handle running in extreme heat is to be running long runs as the heat increases from spring to summer.

In other words, in addition to precautions of extra water and electrolytes, you also have to gradually get your body used to running in increasingly hot temperatures.  If you begin to increase your mileage a lot when it is already hot, you may suffer a heat stroke!!!

Thankfully, that did fit my plan.  The official training plan that I used to prepare for the 7 Bridges Marathon was Hal Higdon’s Advanced 2 plan.  It represented another increase in mileage and intensity.  By this time, I had shifted to running in Vibram Fivefingers Bikila LS shoes.  I ran six days a week and felt pretty good.

I followed Higdon’s advice and used my marathon training to get some faster times in shorter races.  I ran the 2011 Expo 10K in May in 43:09 [6:56 mile pace] and the Fireball 5K in July in 20:41 [6:39 pace].

The things I was doing differently than before:

  • I ran 6 days per week & rested every Friday regardless of how good I felt.
  • I was following a new marathon training plan that challenged me just enough.
  • I was now doing my 800 meter repeats at 3:00, 30 seconds faster than before
  • I continued testing out new sports drinks & energy gels.
  • I ran more 20 mile runs in preparation for the marathon and even went 22.5 once.

18 Months After the First Marathon

I was beginning to fantasize about qualifying for Boston.  At my age, it would have taken a time of 3:25.  That would have been 30 minutes and 59 seconds faster than my marathon just 6 months prior.  At this level, it is not considered realistic or even smart to try to improve that much in such a short time.  On the other hand, I knew that I was getting faster and smarter.  I thought I had an outside chance if everything came together just right and the wind was at my back the whole way.

Rather than expect a miracle, however, I decided to say that 3:25 was my fantasy goal but that I would be happy to finish anywhere in the 3:30s. After all, 3:35 would be a big improvement over 3:55.  For the pace of my training, this seemed reasonable.

At the start line, I was nervous!  I couldn’t decide between my two strategy choices.  Should I run at an 8 minute pace and then speed up on the back half to see what I could do?  Should I start out a little faster than “Boston pace” and hope to get close to that mark?  When the starting gun went off, I was thinking plan B.  I had to take a shot at Boston.  If I failed, I would still finish with a good time.

That is exactly what happened.  I finished the first half at a 7:24 pace that felt comfortable.  It did not feel like pushing it.  I drank and ate more than I had ever attempted in previous marathons in the effort to avoid the dehydration and nutrition issues that had slowed me down.  I was gradually slowing down throughout the second half, but with three miles to go, I could still run the last miles at a 9 minute pace and qualify for Boston.  Unfortunately, that is when I really started to slow down.  Despite my best training and my best drinking strategy, I was still dehydrated.

When I crossed bridge number 7 I had no gas left and that is when the cramps set in.  I gave up Boston and slowed down.  I was disappointed, but I knew that I had made a tremendous improvement and run the right race.  Looking back, the only change I would have made would be to drink 5-8 more cups of Powerade along the way.  It is just an educated guess, but I believe I would have finished 5 to 10 minutes faster if I had slowed down to drink.

As it was, I dragged myself across the finish line in a time of 3:27:27.  I had improved my time by a little less than half an hour.  Nice!

And From There?

As of 4/10/2013, I have managed to get marathon PR down to 3:13:41.  I was ill throughout much of 2012, so this is still good progress.   If all goes well, I would like to finish the next marathon in less than 3:00.

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” — Helen Keller


Maybe you knew all of these lessons already, but they were new to me.  If you have learned just one new idea from reading this, then I will be happy.  We runners have to stick together.  Its more fun and safe that way.

You can find me on the web:

Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/pages/Wise-Running/223617527674175

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/#!/Wise_Running  @Wise_Running

Daily Mile:  http://www.dailymile.com/people/PMarkT

“Train smart, eat well, & enjoy the run!”  — P. Mark Taylor


Check out these books by P. Mark Taylor for more advice on running:


The Gift of Running: A Book for Runners & Future Runners  Wise Running Book COVER mockup


Wise Running: Thoughts on Running and Life

Feel the Heat! Staying Healthy in Hot Weather

Summer is known for fun times with family and friends, but it has another side to it…the dog days of summer. These are the longest, hottest days of the year. For people that only work out inside, it is not much of a bother. For the runners and other patrons of the great outdoors, however, there is no escaping it for very long. With a heat index over 100 degrees, how can you get in a good workout AND stay healthy? Here are a few pointers:

Staying on Course

The right course for running on in the heat is shady. Even among shady areas, some paths are naturally cooler than others. A low-lying path next to a cool stream will be much cooler than your average route. Find a cool, shady course and it will be much easier to stay on course with your workout.

Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate!

Water and sports drinks are your friends. Staying well hydrated before, during, and after a run in the heat is absolutely critical. You should be drinking water all day. Not all liquids are good for hydration. Stay away from diuretics such as caffeine, as these can dry you out and set you up for disaster.

A hydrated body functions better. If you want health and performance, you will keep your body topped off with liquids as you go. So, on a hot day, drink about a cup of water or watered down sports drink every 15 minutes. If you put it in as fast as you sweat it out, your body will thank you by staying healthy and performing as best as it can.

You should still be careful after the run! Most of us continue sweating long after the last step of the run. Hence, it is important to keep your tank topped off! There are now quite a few choices for sports drinks to recover after the workout. The top choice remains the same as it has always been… good old water!

Ease into It

Imagine you are about to get into a really hot tub of water. Do you jump in as quickly as possible or do you ease into it slowly and get used to it. If you are smart, you choose plan B and ease into it slowly. The same idea applies to running in extreme heat. If you have been running just about every day for moths, then it is likely that you gradually acclimated to the rising temperature as summer approached. Now that it is oppressively hot, it is only a little different than what you have been doing. That is easing into it. You still have to be careful, but the heat is just not a big deal. If you have been on a treadmill every day in an air conditioned gym, however, switching to running outside can be deadly if you choose to make the switch on an oppressively hot day. Don’t even think about it!

The Alternative: Heat Stroke

What if you were not careful? What if you ran in direct sun and failed to stay hydrated while you run outside in the heat for the first time in a long time. What would that be like?

Cause:   Extreme exertion and dehydration impair your body’s ability to maintain an optimal temperature

Symptoms:  Core body temp of 104 or above, headache, nausea, vomiting, rapid pulse, disorientation

Treatment:  Emergency medical treatment is necessary for immediate ice-water immersion and IV-fluids


Play it safe!   Stay hydrated and go easy so you can stay healthy and survive to run hard on a cooler day.


Train hard, race easy, & enjoy the run!