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Alta Alpina 8-Pass Challenge: Severe Muscle Cramps Immobilize and Debilitate—Finished 7 of 8 Passes

See my pre-ride hopes and expectations, which were dashed.

All started well. I maintained a moderate pace to start and felt fine climbing Kingsbury Grade.

My legs began to feel strange while climbing Carson Pass. But I was on track for a strong performance and it was not much more than an odd curiosity.

As I finished descending from Blue Lakes (mile 99), my right leg seized up, first the hamstring, then the vastus medialis which seized up so hard it looked like a rock-hard tennis ball. I was immobilized for a time, then the left leg seized up as the right leg relented. It was painful, but to watch a number of 8-pass riders pass on by while I remained helplessly immobilized was psychologically distressing too—I could not even lift my leg over the saddle or it would precipitate a severe muscle cramp. But after a time I was able to pedal along slowly with one (1) leg, keeping the quadriceps in the other leg contracted to ward off a painful hamstring cramp.

I scarfed 7 Endurolytes as the cramps started and this slowly seemed to help. Scarfing more, the cramps relented after about 30 minutes. I stopped for a good while back at Turtle Rock Park, had more Endurolytes, some dried bananas, a Kombucha and a GU. Being optimistic about recovery I continued on up Ebbetts East (hardest climb IMO), and got a little power back. But I faded quickly and by the summit of Ebbetts I was in sad shape, hardly able to stand up, and the cramps were sporadically hitting me again. My stomach was very unhappy, and I had no appetite.

Still, I forced down some Tums, then ascended Ebbetts to Hermit Valley. Resting a little, I then ascended Ebbetts West. I was now very weak; my stomach would hardly tolerate water, let alone nutrition. But I forced down more Endurolytes, 2 more Tums and half a can of Mountain Dew and then descended (slowly) Ebbetts.

Stopping at the base of Monitor West rest stop, I forced down a little fluid,, then struggled up Monitor West, very miserable and having extremely low power. I tried drinking water and got some down, but I felt like I would vomit even with plain water. Finally I reached the summit and called it a day.

What is/was disturbing is that I almost never get cramps (years go by with no issues), and these cramps were the most severe and painful I have ever experienced.

  • I had taken about 30 Endurolytes, 4 Tums, the bananas at lunch and M0untain Dew. This ultimately seemed to stave off the cramps, but my stomach was intolerant of food or drink and I had massive power loss.
  • I had 2.5 days and 3 (short) nights of acclimatization. I was urinating heavily (diuresis) those nights as is typical when I go to altitude (I was staying hydrated, but this fluid loss was not from over-drinking). That behavior is a well-known and scientifically documented aspect of hypoxia (low oxygen at high altitude) and corresponds with excretion of sodium (Na). My speculation is that my body was dumping electrolytes (perhaps mainly sodium) in excessive measure. In previous years, I had allowed 7 days to adjust. Perhaps 3 days is a transition state that is anti-optimal for pre-race?

So now I feel apprehensive about it happening again, because I have no idea what to do differently other than allow 7 days at altitude prior as has worked for me in the past.

Course map for Alta Alpina 8-Pass Challenge
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