Altitude Sickness

Total Muscle Lock

Editor’s note: Brady Crain is a former full time stage hand, musician, engineer, stand-up comic, and musician, who grew up in Randolph, Vt. He is now a Realtor® with Killington Pico Realty. Earlier this summer he decided to enter a 60-kilometer running race in the Chic Chocs mountains of Quebec. This weekend he will attempt the Spartan Ultra. His prior experience consists of running a 5K once in 1999.

It was quite a week here in Killington! I started the week with a 25+ mile run, Sherburne Pass to Pico Peak to Killington Peak, to Pico Peak, to Sherburne Pass, refill the water bladder, take some nutrition (with a little cocoa powder in it), back up to Pico Peak, out toward Killington Peak for a few miles, and back down. I ran for a loooooong time, with 6,000 vertical feet up and down. When I came down, if I had been possessed of more water, I would have kept going. I drank through a full gallon and a half during that run, and the temperatures were at or above 90 degrees. I drank liquid nutrition, and two electrolyte tablets. I was not pounding out record paced miles, I am happy to say that I did not once turn an ankle, and I did not once trip, either!

After about seven miles, I settled into a gorgeous low impact stride, very light on my feet, but not bounding. Highly efficient, comfortable, very much my pace.  The run was hard, but it was very rewarding.

When I came down, I felt pretty good, but my muscles were a little twitchy, so I went swimming, drank lots of water, and started to make some dinner (including rest periods, I ran for about eight hours, so I passed breakfast and lunch).

I have a history of cramping, and that cramping is nearly always caused by eating sugar, especially at night or after strenuous exercise, and this is worsened by caffeine or theobromide, the stimulant in chocolate. This is relevant because of what I ate later that night.

I am generally not one to eat corn, but my CSA brings it in about twice a year and I love eating it with a good butter substitute, so I figured I would do a little glycogen replacement (I normally eat fats, protein, and low glycemic vegetables, as I tend to keep myself in a fat burning metabolism).  What did not occur to me when I ate the corn, was that it was white sweet corn, and not starchier yellow corn.

After eating my corn and some other food, I noticed that my legs were getting a bit twitchy while I was watching a movie, so I got up to get some water, and I experienced something I have experienced only two other times in my life: total muscle lock from lower back to toes — all muscle groups.

The first time this happened was when I was a swim racer in high school, my legs locked up after a push off, and my teammates dragged me out of the pool and stood me up against a wall until my legs calmed enough that my ankles would bend. I went into the locker room, threw up, drank some water, got back in the pool, and set my lifetime best for a timed 1000-yard swim. It happened after I had had a bunch of soda with dinner.

The second time it happened, it was a classic “middle of the night” cramp set, legs again, and I had to drag myself, literally, whimpering, to the sink to drink glass after glass of water. After about 10 minutes, the cramps subsided. I had eaten a bunch of candy at a movie, and had a caffeinated root beer (caffeine basically hits the accelerator on cramps for me).

This time, I had some of the most comprehensive muscle exhaustion of my life, combined with mild dehydration, and a whallop of sugar from the corn.

My legs locked up so hard that I could neither stand all the way up, nor sit down. I could not move any part of my legs at all. I eventually knocked myself over onto the floor (I had to actually fall), and laid there literally screaming in pain, begging no one in particular for it to stop.

After this went on for an interminably long period of time and I started to lose my voice, I texted a friend to come bring me some water on the floor. She came over, brought me some pillows (I was stuck on my side, couldn’t roll), water, my mustard, and my jar of pickles (both of those things are supposed to help with cramps), and I proceeded to drink a quart or two more of water, a quart of pickle juice, eat the associated pickles, and eat/drink at least half of a container of spicy mustard.

The real joy of it was that any time I would reach for something or try to change my position, my upper back, neck, or arms would cramp too.  But unlike with my legs, those would go away as soon as I stopped engaging effort. My friend, against my wishes, thought it would be a good idea to try to move my legs to work he cramps out (this works when one part is cramping, but not the whole thing), and she wound up sliding me around on the floor like a 2×4. My legs did not budge.

You might think “Brady has a gift for hyperbole, he is trying to be funny, it cant have been that bad.”

You would be wrong. It was that bad.

This cramping episode was without a doubt the worst pain/discomfort I have ever experienced, and that includes breaking all the bones in the right side of my face, and kidney stones.  When I broke all the bones on the right side of my face (water skiing of all things…ask me how), it hurt so bad that losing consciousness was not an option. When I had kidney stones, I didn’t know what was wrong, and I thought I was going to die.  For the first half hour I was on the floor with those cramps, I wished I was dead. In fact, I was afraid that I wouldn’t die.

After my friend arrived and I started drinking water, it took about a half hour for me to get a five minute respite from the worst of the cramping. I thought I was recovered, and started to move my legs only to have them seize up again, so I engaged in another half hour or so of therapeutic screaming until the cramps just stopped, almost as suddenly as hey started.

I sprang up like a jack in the box, because when you have just released a set of cramps, you have to move quickly, keeping muscles under slow strain will lock them again.

I drank glass after glass of water until midnight, and was up peeing every 5 minutes until 2 a.m.  I did not exercise the next day for fear of soreness etc., but I needn’t have worried.  There was, incredibly, no consequence to this cramping episode other than that for two days, I was drained of all emotions but anger, and so for the next 24 hours I staggered around, hollow hearted and blank faced.

Two days afterward, I climbed Superstar twice in a 40-pound vest. I tried to save myself some slips and falls by taking the service road down, but I took the wrong one, and since I was headed to needles eye, cut across the trails back to Superstar base. It was amazing, I walked down those trails in seven foot tall heather. I have never seen plants that high. If my 4’11” ex-wife had done this hike alone, she wouldn’t have been seen again until the first frost laid the vegetation down.  Seriously, you would have had to track her by the faint rustling of the plant tops three feet above her head, like bugs bunny tunneling along after his left turn in Albuquerque. Except that its my ex-wife, so it would be more like Isaac Chroner from “Children of he Corn” (“He wants you too Malachai!”).

In any case, it was a very unique experience, I have never waked through vegetation taller than myself as an adult. Also, I scared the crap out of some guys working on the snowmaking system when I burst out of the weeds, and then disappeared right back into them. But two times up and down Superstar in a 40-pound vest two days after a 25+ mile, 6,000-foot vertical run and a major cramping episode, and all with no repercussions!

The next day I put on a seven mile walk, and the day after that I burned out a four mile 1,800-foot vertical run with some solid down climb miles. Though I took one hearty spill on this run, I think I have solved the basic problems of tripping and or turning ankles: if I step on the highest point in reach of my foot (like a rock or a root) I do not twist or catch toes. If I step on the low ground, I turn ankles and trip. It will be nice to see if I truly did figured this out. Time will tell.

I have since taken a couple of rest days, one because my neck was really sore from my fall on my short run, and the other, because I had to fly to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to film the pilot for a new game show (I am the host)! If it gets picked up, I will fly out a couple of days a month to film episodes, I will keep you all posted!

Needless to say, with 25+ miles under my belt and all of the requisite pullups, pushups, burpees, etc., I feel like I am starting to be ready for this thing. In fact, by the time you read this thing, I might have finished my next masochistic endeavor — the Spartan Ultra!

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