Summer Newsletter: Taking Pride in our Club

It seems at least once every month, our team manager or one of our board members is contacted by serious runners coming to the Pacific NW who want to connect with CNW.  Some have seen us in our iconic orange singlets at regional or national competitions and been impressed by the competitiveness and camaraderie of our athletes.  Or they’ve heard good things from colleagues about the athletes in orange, or sometimes they simply look online and decide CNW is the club for them.  While I’m proud our Club caters to and supports all levels of athletes in the running/track & field community, I am also very proud that our Club has a reputation at the regional and national level for being competitive and supportive of its elite athletes.  This reputation has been built over the last 45 years, and it’s good to know it’s still strong.  It reflects the amazing accomplishments of our elite athletes and the high quality of our open and masters teams, and it comes back to help the entire Club.  Brooks provides a great example.  They are a key sponsor of the Club, providing support not only for our elite athletes, but also for the All-Comers Meets, our annual meeting, and more.  Super Jock n Jill has also been a long time Club supporter.  While both of these businesses care about our broader mission to support running and track & field, the competitiveness of the Club is an important consideration in determining the level and long-standing nature of their support.  In this regard, the entire Club benefits from the efforts of our elite athletes.  I don’t know about you, but our elite athletes are an important part of what makes me proud to be a member of CNW.

Rick Albright, CNW President



Supporting our Club

We’re entering into a very busy time of year!  We have started the 49th year of the All-Comers Track & Field Series, which runs every Wednesday evening through August 16.  The series has long been a signature CNW event, and provides everyone, from nationally elite competitors to young children, the opportunity to participate and to grow their love for the sport.

In addition, we are bringing back a new and hopefully better Firecracker 5000 Footrace this coming Fourth of July.  In addition to being held on the 4th (instead of the traditional July 3rd), this year’s race will move from Seattle Center to scenic Magnuson Park.

Both Firecracker and the All-Comers are important events for the Club, and help support the broader running and Track & Field communities in the Pacific Northwest.  Both are currently open for registration, and now is the time for Club members to sign up and take advantage of your member discounts!  In addition, you can help the Club out by sharing information about these events with your families and friends and encouraging them to join you as you come out, get fit, and have some fun.  The more participation we have for these events, the more the Club and its members benefit.  I hope to see out there this summer!

Go Orange!


New Membership Options

Club Northwest is now offering new membership options! In addition to our 1-year memberships we are no offering 2-year memberships at all levels (individual, student, military, and family). Save yourself the hassle of renewing every year by selecting the 2-year option when you renew.

Additionally discounted RaceCenter Magazine subscriptions ($6 for 1-year or $9 for 2-years) are available when you renew your membership. RaceCenter covers running and triathlon in the Pacific Northwest providing a comprehensive event calendar and region-specific content geared towards both novice and veteran athletes. RaceCenter is the magazine of choice for endurance sports athletes for the entire Northwest. All Club Northwest Members can sign up for the free RaceCenter e-newsletter by visiting


Nutrition Advice from Heidi Strickler

Cramping Holding You Back?

Thanks to decades of marketing, most athletes believe that cramping is due to dehydration or lack of electrolytes. However, dehydration is very rarely the cause. Research shows that cramping can and does happen in hot and cold temperatures, with no changes in hydration status or body water loss, and no changes in blood electrolyte levels. So then what is the cause?

Why We Cramp

Most cramps are caused by fatigue, or muscle overloading. A cramp is a muscular response to a neurological stimulation. When the nerves that are supposed to inhibit muscle contraction get tired, the chemical and electrolytic synapses over-fire to try and get the nerve to respond. The result: an overstimulated muscle (what we know as a cramp).

But why do I only cramp in races and not training?

“Race Fatigue”

Few athletes train their full race distance at all-out race intensity. Even those that do cannot mimic the stress on race day, or other various uncontrollable factors.

The combination of intense training, plus the race itself, causes significant inflammation and muscle damage. As we go further into the race, the big muscle fibers we have been relying on get tired, so we have to recruit the smaller muscle fibers. This is that point when power output decreases (the “dead-leg” feeling). These small fibers are typically not trained as hard as our large fibers, so we have to increase our effort just to maintain the same pace. The consequence is three-fold:

(a)   We produce more lactate and our body becomes more acidic

(b)   We use more glycogen stores

(c)    We fatigue quickly and start compensating with improper mechanics and muscles.

Example: The glutes are one of our most powerful muscles as runners, so they power the majority of our race. Once they fatigue, other muscles, such as the weaker calf muscle or adductor, pick up the slack. This is why most runners cramp in their calves, adductors, feet, and shins; rarely do cramps happen in the quads or gluten.

How to Fix It

Formwork and Posture  know your weaknesses when it comes to race fatigue, and incorporate drills throughout training that focus on those target areas.

Implement “accumulated fatigue” – structure your training so that long runs and speed work are being done slightly fatigued from the previous workout.  This helps develop muscular endurance without having to train your full race distance. You can also mimic the accumulated fatigue of a race by preceding a marathon-pace tempo with strength training or hill running, either by doing double-days or split sessions. You can also do a lactate clearance tempo, where you run the first 2-4 miles at up-tempo, then match that same distance at race pace.

How Nutrition is Related

I don’t want you to walk away from this article thinking that nutrition and hydration have no link to cramping, because they do play a role is cramp prevention. However, they do not have any effect on treating a cramp once it happens, at least acutely. Why? If I experience a cramp at mile 20 of a marathon or mile 60 of a 100k, and I eat a banana or a potato or drink some pickle juice, it will take at least 15-30 minutes for that food to hit my bloodstream and stomach. If your cramp goes away after eating a banana – it’s placebo. But as far as I’m concerned, if it works, even if it is in your head, then why stop?

Daily meal and snack patterns, as well as food habits before/during/after training, can either make you more or less prone to cramp when your body is over-exerting itself. Poor nutrition increases inflammation and oxidation in the body, whether that is over or under-consuming calories, eating a diet high in processed and refined foods, having an irregular eating schedule, or not properly fueling before and after workouts. We want the foods we eat to help reduce and treat the inflammation caused by training and daily stressors, not add to it. An anti-inflammatory diet includes vegetables, fruits, omega-3 fats, legumes, cultured/fermented foods, lean proteins, and low-gluten whole grains. It is also adequate in calories and balanced in timing, and low in refined flours, sugars, oils and proteins.

Proper Electrolyte Balance is Important

Hydration and electrolyte balance are another crucial component of cramp prevention. I like to use the following analogy with my athletes: Picture a piece of beef jerky. Now picture what would happen if you tried to bend or stretch it. Not a pretty ending for the jerky, and it’s not a pretty ending for your muscles either – beef jerky is simply dehydrated muscle. So hydration = important.

What about electrolytes?

Another great scenario: I worked with a marathoner who had cramped at mile 20 in all but one of his 13 marathons. He came to me frustrated, and was planning one more marathon to try to qualify for Boston before he gave up. His nutrition wasn’t great, but I’ve definitely heard worse. His problem was hydration … his daily water intake averaged between 8-24 ounces, including what he as drinking during training. He would then aim for 100 ounces of water daily leading up to his marathon, peed clear and assumed he was hydrated. Several problems with this:

(a)   He was chronically dehydrated, which increases the muscle tearing in training I mentioned earlier. He was also unable to recover after training, because a dehydrated muscle is not going to properly absorb nutrients.

(b)   He forced too much water into his digestive tract the week before the race. When cells are not used to absorbing that kind of volume, everything simply goes unabsorbed and get peed out. Which made his pee clear, and made his assume he was hydrated.

(c)    He did not include any electrolytes. This is the biggest mistake I see with athletes when it comes to hydration. Even for those individuals who drink adequate water on a daily basis, the cells in our digestive tract cannot efficiently absorb 100% of the water we drink because it is too diluted. If you find yourself peeing all of the time, this is why.

So what does proper hydration look like?

Water: Multiply your body weights (lbs.) x 0.5-0.6. This is how many fluid ounces of water you should be drinking on a daily basis, without exercise. For every hour of physical activity, add 16-24 ounces of additional fluids. Hydrating fluids include water, electrolyte dinks, and unsweetened herbal teas.

Electrolytes: Drink water with meals. Between meals, add electrolytes to your water. You want a full spectrum electrolyte that includes more than just sodium and potassium, which is what is found in many “salt sticks” and other electrolyte products. Look for something with sodium, potassium, magnesium, manganese, chloride, and calcium. By adding concentration to your water, your intestines can fully absorb the fluid you are taking in, thus you are more fully hydrated, maintain better electrolyte balance, and pee a lot less J

What Actually Works and Why

Mustard, pickle juice, bananas, potatoes, sports drinks, potassium cheek patches, Hot Shot® … all foods and products that have been believed and marketed to help cramping.

And although they may not work why most athletes think they do, many of these products are successful in reducing cramp occurrence, duration and intensity. So if it’s not dehydration, and it’s not low blood electrolyte levels, then why are products like Hot Shot® and Pickle Juice effective?

My discussion of muscle fatigue above shed light on the role of nervous system in cramping. Products like pickle juice work because of their effect on our nerves, not our metabolic state. So whether it is pickle juice, mustard, Hot Shot®, or a spoonful of horseradish or sriracha, the products work because the strong taste disrupts the neural malfunction that is causing the cramp, by targeting the nerve receptors in the mouth, throat and stomach called the “transient receptor potential channels.”

So if you are prone to cramping, I want you to take a few items away from this article:

(1)   Focus your training on your weaknesses. Maybe this means that you get a gait/running analysis done at a local physical therapy clinic. Strengthen those muscles that are prone to cramp in an exercise-specific manner. Incorporate accumulated fatigue into your training.

(2)   Eat real, unprocessed foods as much as possible. This means foods that still resemble their natural state. For foods that come in packages – read the ingredient list – if you can’t pronounce it or find it in your kitchen, it doesn’t belong in your body. Eat foods rich in anti-oxidants (vitamins A, C, E) and anti-inflammatories. Eat enough, not too little, not too much. Watch your salt and added sugar intake.

(3)   Hydrate properly with water as well as a full-spectrum electrolyte. Avoid carbonated and sugar-sweetened or artificially-sweetened beverages as much as possible.

(4)   Experiment, during training, with mustard, pickle juice, cayenne, or other sharp flavors. There is no need to buy into expensive products … I know we’ve all got to-go packets of mustard and red pepper flakes lying around.

Oh, and my marathon client prone to cramping? He didn’t change a single thing about his 

training regimen. He upped his water and electrolyte intake, cleaned up his daily nutrition, and implemented proper carbohydrate loading the week prior to his marathon. He not only finished without a cramp, but PR’ed and qualified for Boston.

For further questions, email Heidi Strickler, RDN, at