I was running merrily along with my after work group, inhaling the fresh autumn air, taking in the sights when I suddenly got a griping pain in my side. It was the dreaded runner’s cramp, also called a stitch. The pain is sudden, sharp and annoying. Annoying because I was jogging along feeling great, at one with nature and this jarring pain made me have to slow down my pace and made my run uncomfortable. I could have stopped and walked, but I didn’t want to; we were almost at the end of the route so I persevered and carried on through the irritating pain. The group I run with is so supportive, and I know they would have stopped and walked with me, but the finish was so close I could see it. That much closer to 5K! How could I let an inconvenient pain-in-the side stop me?
Why do some experience a side stitch? For me, it is when I eat at irregular times, eat too much or not enough during the day. If I know that I am running, it is all about strategic eating. Without giving TMI, these kinds of irregular eating patterns make me a “gassy lassy.” The gas build up leads to cramping when running. Okay, maybe that was TMI, albeit, necessary TMI.
If you suffer from side cramps when running, are new to running, or re-training the body after a long hiatus from running like myself, here are a few tidbits that I remember to this day from my former brother-in-law Steve. Steve and I used to run a lot together when I was in high school and wanted to join the track team. He was an avid runner and participated in many marathons, led a Running Room group, helped my sister (his ex-wife) to lose a whopping 25 pounds after they had their first baby and he was in great shape. Hence the reason I valued his experienced opinions and suggestions and want to share them.
1. Practice mindful/strategic eating before running. Avoid a big meal or heavy foods that are hard to digest at least two hours before your run. Foods like broccoli can also cause gas, which lead to cramps. Eat a light meal if you have a run scheduled.
2. Control your breathing. Erratic breath can lead to cramping. Slow and controlled breaths can alleviate side cramps. If you do experience a cramp and it is unbearable during your route, stop and walk for a bit. While walking, gently squeeze the side the stitch is on. While squeezing, take deep, measured breaths that come from the diaphragm. Once the cramp has stopped, start into your run with a light jog and speed up gradually.
3. Have a good stretch and warm up to prepare the body ready for the run. Stretch and walk before beginning to run, gradually picking up the pace.
4. Try to avoid hunching over (typical T-Rex posture) when running. Run with the body erect. A nice open chest allows for good breathing. Good, controlled breathing can help to avoid cramping all together.
Since I have started running all over again, these are tips that I have to remember to make my run pleasant and productive. I knew I shouldn’t have had that fresh broccoli with humus a half an hour for before my run! Live and learn….all over again.
May your trails be happy and stitch free.
It is always advisable to consult a certified personal trainer if unsure about any type of physical activity. These are tips that have aided me in my running technique and may not be suitable for all runners. Always proceed with caution if feeling pain or discomfort during any form of exercise, stop activity and consult your doctor.