No matter if it's a training run or your first 5k you always try your best to be fully prepared for your runs. You plan in areas you might walk or jog, you swear by carb-loading (even if that's a bottle of wine or a few beers the night before) and indulge in an easily digestible meal or a coffee right before the event. You have everything you might need come rain or shine and your trainers are perfectly laced. Nothing could go wrong, right?
….and then it strikes, the side stitch.
Did I start too fast, did I breath wrong, was my meal too heavy? Such thoughts creep in and ruin your mental preparation and the pulling pain in your side slows you down. So what can you do, firstly to prevent it from happening, and secondly if it does?
What causes a stitch?
The diaphragm has a crucial role in breathing, moving up and down when we breathe to bring air down into the lungs and expel it. As we run our internal organs tend to get moved around and this can create tension that causes cramping.
This can be made worse by:
- improper breathing
- starting off too quickly without a decent warm up
- a full stomach
- bad running technique
Tips for preventing a side stitch:
- Eat a lightweight meal, low in fiber and fat, a few hours before you intend to run to give it a chance to digest
- Stick to plain water for pre-hydration, avoiding sugary, carbonated drinks
- Warming up prepares the muscles for activity and promotes optimal breathing
- Take it steady and slowly increase your pace. A stitch is a sign you've gone too hard too quickly
- Core training as part of your pre-run preparation will help strengthen the muscles affected by stitches. A good core keeps your internal organs actively supported so you are less prone to cramps
- Get those obliques working with daily abs training to strengthen your abdominal muscles
- Control your breathing with efficient breathing patterns that are in sync with your movements
Getting rid of a stitch if it strikes:
Slow your pace and exhale as the foot on the opposite side of the stitch strikes the ground. When you exhale, you use the muscles of your diaphragm, when this happens in unison with your foot striking the ground, the impact force travels up your body and through your core and exacerbates the muscles in spasm. When you change the side of the landing forces to the opposite side of the stitch, the tension causing the cramp can release.
Hopefully, these hints and tips will help you overcome any future stitches so you can get on with improving your runs and cracking that PB.