Muscle cramping can be devastating during a workout or even worse during competition.

There are many thoughts on whether the cramping is due to physiological or metabolic causes. From a physiological standpoint, muscle cramping may be the result of an inadequate training effort for a longer distance event. One must evaluate the need for longer runs, and depending on the distance of the competitive event (especially the marathon distance), longer training runs will help. The distance runner will have to try two or three long runs each month to gain the experience of 20-plus mile events.

In many cases the muscle cramps can be caused by a metabolic deficit, usually dehydration. This will cause muscle tightness, electrolyte depletion (such as potassium or magnesium), or a combination of the three. If you experience a cramp, stop and stretch the muscle and drink a sports drink.

If you exercise more than two or three hours, there is a risk of creating low sodium levels which will cause muscle cramping and more dangerous metabolic imbalances.

If you're salt depleted, it's a good idea to use more salt leading up to the training or endurance event. If salt depletion seems to be the problem, try eating pretzels or some salty snack every hour during the event.

Getting a massage may be of value before your endurance event. It increases blood flow to the tissues. The massage should be a light rub-down. Be very careful of post-race massage; a deep tissue massage too soon after racing can tear already sore muscles.

Dr. Robert F. Weiss, a sports podiatrist, was a member of the Medical Advisory Committee of the 1984 and 1988 Olympic Marathon Trials. Weiss is a veteran of 35 Marathon & has a practice in Darien; affiliated with Stamford Hospital and member of Stamford Health Medical Group-Foot & Ankle. For info visit his Web site at www.stamford, and find a Physician-Dr. Robert F. Weiss.