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Running Calf Cramps / Leg Cramps

The most common running injury that we runners will all suffer or have all suffered is calf cramps / leg cramps.

  • Why do we get calf cramps ?

  • What to do when we have them ?

  • How can we prevent them ?

  • Well, I am here to answer your questions. So read about them in this section of !

    I remember very well. It was my first half marathon. I hadn’t trained enough for it, but wanted to run it anyway. I know, not smart. But hey, I was young... well younger than today... :)

    My longest run in training had been 10 miles. Enough to finish a half marathon. At least, if you take it easy and your goal is to finish it. But if you decide to race it then you are in for trouble.

    Not far after the 10 miles mark the tank was empty. I felt the calf cramps coming up. Only by slowing down enough I could prevent them from hitting me until after the finish. I really felt that I could not speed up with even a notch or I would be in severe trouble.

    I felt like I died ten times in those last few miles. It seemed to last forever. In my attempt to finish within goal time I needed to accelerate the last few hundred meters. I did that, finished within my goal, but hey, my calfs were finished for the rest of the weekend...

    Painful experience. A few days after the race I did some research on leg cramps. My notes from then are the basis of this article.

    So why did I get those calf cramps?
    There is no clear cause for leg cramps. Surprising answer? But yes, the running experts are still uncertain. Eventhough a number of factors possibly causing calf cramps have been identified.

    The most important plausible factors are :

  • Too much exercise / exertion

  • Dehydration

  • Poor nutrition

  • Too much exercise / Exertion

    When your legs are tired and you stretch your calf muscles the leg cramps can suddenly hit you. It's the muscle's way of telling you : "Buddy, I had enough for today. Sure, maybe tomorrow, certainly the day after, but NO MORE today !"


    Even though the link between dehydration and calf cramps are not clear it is argued that it is a reason for calf cramps.
    If it is, it could be a reason why many runners experience leg cramps during the night. During the night we dehydrate quite a bit.

    Poor nutrition

    Running Calf Cramps
    Important building stones in a runner’s diet are sodium, potassium and magnesium. When they are lacking a runner is said to be prone to calf cramps. This could be the other reason that we experience calf cramps during the night because we don't refuel while sleeping.

    So exertion, dehydration or poor nutrition are all linked to calf cramps. Striking that there is no clear-cut answer for a phenomenon so common.

    Back to my personal example :
    What was the reason for my leg cramps ?
    Exertion was a huge contributor without doubt. I went out too fast and was, in hindsight, ill prepared.
    But an important factor for me getting calf cramps could have also been dehydration. The race did not have water stands every 5 kilometres as promised. At the 10 K and 15 K mark they were handing out a sports drink. Which I had not trained with and could not drink at that point in time. So after the 5 K mark I was without water while racing like a madman... :) Yeah, good strategy Dominique !

    What to do when you get calf cramps while running ?

    Running Calf Cramps
    Definitely slow down if you feel them coming. You might be lucky enough to be able to prevent them. But if you get one of those sharp, sudden leg cramps, you will have to stop. Well, I don’t have to tell you that. I am quite certain you will stop immediately.

    You can try to get the calf cramps out of your body by massaging your calf and by stretching it :
    keep your heel on the ground, pull your toes up and try to reach your toes with your hands. Doing this makes your calf muscles stretch.

    How to prevent leg cramps ?

    Well… as I said the experts are not even completely certain on what causes calf cramps while running. So it is hard to give some solid advice.

    Look at your diet, your fluid intake and your exercise pattern critically.

    Make sure you check out the running training section for running tips and advice to get you into peak condition for your next race and the runner's diet section to work out what you need to eat and drink.

    Establish if you are doing everything according to the book. If so and the leg cramps are persistent and keep on coming back regularly, go see a doctor.

    Interested in more running advice ? Subscribe to my newsletter or to my blog.

    Go from Running Calf Cramps / Leg Cramps Page to Running Injuries Page

    Go from Running Calf Cramps / Leg Cramps Page to Best Running Tips Homepage

    Running Injuries
    Running Injury Prevention
    Foot Injuries: Foot Pain | Black Toenail | Stress Fractures | Posterior Tibial Tendonitis |
    Heel Injuries: Heel Pain | Achilles Tendinitis | Heel Spur / Plantar Fasciitis |
    Knee Injuries: Knee Pain | Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITB) |
    Leg Injuries: Leg / Calf Cramps | Shin Splints | Hamstring Injury | Hip Pain
    Upper Body Injuries: Nipple Chafing | Side Stitch | Back Pain | Chest Pain

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