Back in December when I chatted with a friend about the idea of #TrainJames he sprung a product on me. It’s well known I suffer from cramp, in fact, those I ran the Dirty Weekend with still call me Mr Cramps, so when he suggested I try Xendurance supplements to help solve the problem I was extremely excited. A race with no cramps gives me one less thing for me to moan about, which is great news for everyone. A few days later I received four small packets of tablets. I know it may sound trivial but the smaller ‘Travel Packs’ really helped when it came to the organisation, I left one in my race bag and another by the kettle, which helped to remind me to take them.
The tablets claimed to be able to:
- Reduce lactic acid by 15%
- Reduce muscle soreness
- Improve aerobic threshold
Xendurance supplements are accepted by governing bodies and sports watchdogs and are used by elite endurance athletes all over the world, which helped to reassure me. I immediately started to scout the packet for the source of this witch-craft that leads to such bold claims: rabbit foot, toenail of Albon (Jon Albon), clippings our great cult leader’s beard? None! No magic ingredients. Just a calculated blend of natural muscle based chemicals tailored in dose to your activity level! I chose to take the lowest dose (2 in the morning, 2 in the evening and up it before races). What I found changed my thinking…
I gulped down the first dose of tablets within two hours of finishing my first marathon; a hellish 5:40hrs of trudging my sorry legs up and down the beautiful region of Lulworth. Then I waited… I’d imagined that maybe my legs would glow and twitch their way back to full health. Sadly though, in the absence of any extraneous mental health conditions, or naughty tablets, your legs don’t glow.
Later in the day I headed out for a short run and spent the evening in my office (the bath) with regular foam rolling breaks. Waking up for work the next day I had already planned my “Hi, it’s James, I can’t come in, I’ve done something stupid again” speech, but I bounded out of bed! That doesn’t happen after a 5k, let alone what turned out to be nearly 30 miles! I composed myself, pulled on my calf sleeves and went about my business, knowing that two days after leg day is actually the worst part.
With a chilled day, six tablets, one bath and a lot of foam rolling later, I went to bed, ready to face the music the next morning, but again I woke up as fresh as a daisy. I know the tablets take 72 hours to have an effect in most people, but I was convinced they were already working for me.
The same happened every day for the next week, I woke up with no pain. I even racked up my first ever half marathon, on road, with a good pace after a long day, and with no cramps! (I’m still convinced it’s black magic).
At that point #TrainJames really took off. I started day one with a mile of burpees. Trudging to the local field I was ready for the cramp, embracing the suck, but I sailed through. This was becoming normal, I really was feeling great. With the help of a sports massage, I had never felt so loose and fresh!
A few more stupid challenges later and we entered Judgement Day’s team event. Carrying a heavy load up and down a military vehicle training area was always going to be taxing. Unfortunately, a cruel old mistress returned to haunt me, not cramp but shin splints. A week of rest followed and I headed to MSB with much anticipation. I flew around both races on tricky under-foot conditions to record my fastest 5k and fastest 10k, both back to back and cramp free.
You may have noticed a pattern by now, so I’ll speed it up. I had a cracking 10.5k road race with no cramp. I set a new 10k PB of 38:30 at an annual trail run and felt great throughout!
Aerobically I haven’t seen too much of a difference since taking Xendurance but every other aspect has been massively positive. The loss of cramp and looser tone of my legs has sped up recovery and allowed me to train mid-week.
My ‘stash’, as it has affectionately become known as, was short-lived sadly. 180 tablets, 40 days and 6 great races later, I ran out on Monday the 5th January. I had always planned to continue the tables, they are designed to be ‘used every day; all year long’ and with such great personal results I placed my second order.
The order arrived two days later but I decided to tackle that weekend’s Ram Run without them. By no means is this a scientific experiment, but I felt for the results to be valid I should at least try a weekend without the supplementation to see if anything would change.
On Saturday I enjoyed flying around the course, taking 1st place with only some minor stiffness after the race. I returned the next day with great friend Alex Money and we both set off at race pace. Alex is incredible and pushed me through the first 16k and the legs held up, but I encounter problems soon after.
The first sign was that I was starting to involuntarily contract in my gastrocnemius muscles, which came as we accelerated across the flat tarmac. Although it’s a common area of cramp for me, I rarely cramp on the tarmac due to the lack of energy expelled compared to in the mud. This involuntary contraction soon turned more serious and serious cramp set in.
I took some time to stretch my calves out and gave them some aggressive massage and continued on with a change in my gait, however, the problem was spreading. Within the next 2k I had cramp within my Lattisimus Dorsi and, as a result, failed to climb a straight rope, for the first time in my OCR life. My hamstrings became fragile in thick mud with slight movements sending them both into catastrophic cramps and, by stretching them out, I subjected myself to quadriceps cramp.
I had to send my running partner on and got the attention of a marshal with electrolyte based energy gels. After a lot of very painful stretching, I got back into a slow jog. I found myself being overtaken by fun runners, competitors and boot camps.
In the end, cramps cost me what could have been a joint first and the long-term effects of it are still causing me pain now, with knots, muscle stiffness and extreme soreness where they occurred, preventing me from putting in the miles I’d like to on the run up to Tough Guy.
It’s my opinion that the contents of the tablets had been stored within the muscle fibres and were depleted on Saturday. They were then exhausted on Sunday and cramp set in.
These tablets have helped me a great deal and I would recommend them to anyone looking to perform better, but my real recommendation goes out to those who are regulars to the cruel misery of cramps. Xendurance really could help. Everyone is different of course, and these benefits may not happen to the same extent for you, but they have certainly changed my approach to running and triggered some excellent results. I look forward to moving on with them as a basic partner of my athletic life.
Now I know what you’re all screaming at your screens: “James, nerdily talk to me about the science behind it.” Okay, okay if I have to, feel free to get geeky with the next paragraph:
When you run you bind calcium to protein structures within muscle fibres that trigger a contraction. Other electrolytes such as magnesium contribute to energy synthesis and the production of lactic acid, while potassium and sodium regulate hydration levels and help in the conduction of neural impulses. Xendurance cunningly has a blend of these minerals in modified forms that allow them to be easily absorbed and utilized. Along with a few other electrolytes thrown in for good measure, together they help in lowering the production of lactic acid, maintain hydration balance and ensure the cells produce energy for longer periods more efficiently, thus preventing fatigue and cramp. That’s your basic science, not quotable, references available on request.
I suppose I should conclude this by saying stay away, you won’t like them. They’re all mine!