Acute Muscle Soreness

Are you ever so sore that you find yourself wincing doing the smallest of tasks, let alone while running?

Coach Claire knows the struggle.

Listen in as she gives her tips for preventing and treating acute muscle soreness in today’s Extra Kick podcast.


Audio Transcript

Coach Claire Bartholic: Hi everybody. I’m here with another episode of the Extra Kick Podcast brought to you by Runner’s Connect. I hope you all are having a great day today.

Today’s question comes from Mark.

Mark: Why do muscles seize up or stiffen after a hard race but not during? This happened to me a couple of times after a very long and hard race. I was tired but generally did not feel like I was in bad shape right after crossing the finish line.

I rest and sit down for a little while, maybe 15 minutes or more, and then I could not even lift my legs or walk normally anymore.

I really think that if I had continued to run or jog but not sit down, I would have been able to keep going but the rest caused my legs to shut down.

Why does this seem to happen only afterward and not during the run and if this happens in the middle of an ultra, how do I restart my legs after resting?

Claire: Well, this is an interesting question Mark. There are two different types of muscle soreness. The first one is called acute muscle soreness and the second one is called delayed onset muscle soreness.

What you are experiencing is the acute muscle soreness. This is the muscle soreness you feel during or after a workout. Now, delayed onset muscle soreness, also referred to as DOMS, is the muscle soreness that you feel 24 hours or more after your workout which may last up to 72 hours.

What you are experiencing is acute muscle soreness but for you it’s only happening immediately after you stop rather than during. Acute muscle soreness can be felt in any muscle placed under high levels of stress like running a race.

The pain may occur during or immediately after exercise and it can range in severity.

This can happen to anyone, but it is much more likely to occur when a person increases the intensity of exercise which is obviously what you are doing when you’re running a race.

It was originally thought that nearly all cases of acute muscle soreness were caused by small tears in the muscle. There is however, a different theory as to why this pain develops.

Muscles containing high levels of hydrogen can increase the amount of acid in the surrounding area of the body and this can result in soreness. Which theory is correct? It hasn’t been proven so honestly, we don’t know.

Acute muscle soreness differs from a delayed onset muscle soreness. DOMS, as the name suggests, causes a delayed reaction to the small tears in the muscles.

Rather than during or immediately after the activity, this results in discomfort and stiffness and soreness a day or two after exercise starting somewhere around 12-24 hours after the event.

This is not what we are talking about here. Why are you only experiencing muscle soreness after and not during the race?

At some point Mark, if you run long enough or hard enough, you will experience muscle pain during a race.

You are pushing your muscles harder, faster, or longer than they are used to and that will eventually cause some muscle pain during the run.

The fact that you have, so far, been able to avoid muscle pain while running the race, could be due to several factors and some of them have to do with your brain.

The first reason you may not be feeling muscle pain during the race is because you are well trained for the distance and the speed you are running. Your muscles are adapted and are prepared for the effort, so you don’t feel the soreness while you’re running.

The next reason is the effect of adrenaline.

Races are exciting challenges which causes the body to secrete adrenaline which can mask feelings of pain and discomfort.

Once the race ends and you sit and rest, your adrenaline levels plummet and then you feel the soreness.

The last reason could have something to do with the central governor theory popularized by Tim Noakes.

If you have run the race many times in the past, your brain may have decided that it’s safe for you to continue to complete the distance and it won’t force you to stop.

Once you do complete the distance however and stop, your brain does not want you going any further and it could be using muscle pain to prevent you.

How do you deal with this feeling during an ultra?

Well clearly you are not going to run the entire distance of your ultra whether it’s 50K, 50 miles, or 100 miles during training or at least you shouldn’t.

How do you prepare for this?

There’s a phrase in the running world called to “beware the chair” If used happens to your heart rate slows, the blood flow to your muscles slow and that stiffness you are talking about, begins to creep in.

Many runners feel that it is much harder to sit and then try to get up again than to just stop, walk, around, and eat while on the trail.

Famously, this year’s western states winner Kat Bradley walked through aid stations to her victory instead of sitting down. “Every time I stopped, I felt like I was going to faint,” Bradley said. “So, I stopped stopping.”

But let’s be real here; not all of us are talented enough to win Western states especially without taking a break and resting a few minutes.

One idea that you might want to try, is practicing sitting during training. On your long runs especially, the back to back long runs, try sitting down for a few minutes at the midway point or near the end.

Maybe try resting a couple of times during those runs and see how you feel.

What you practiced is what you race so if you can get your body used to the experience, it will not feel as foreign on race day.

One thing you can count on, in an ultra, is that it will be unpredictable. They are tests of your determination to keep going no matter what the day gives you.

It’s hard to imagine getting through one without some type of muscle soreness during the race at some point.

My best advice is to train smart with good recovery and expect that you will feel sore during, immediately after, and days after the race.

I hope that helps mark. And that’s it for today’s episode. If you are interested in sending us your question, please head on over to runnersconnect.net/daily.

If you want to find out why this episode is ad free today, head over to runnersconnect.net/pledge. Have a great run today.

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