Monday, July 27, 2015

Side Stitch Fix

I know Mondays are usually dedicated to training check-ins, but I have been trying to resolve my side stitch issue and wanted to share some of the things that I have been trying. I'll try to get my training update up on Wednesday. I don't usually get side stitches during training runs, so it has been a bit hard to nail down possible fixes. The side stitch that I got during the Charlevoix race left me with abdominal pain for the next few days and any moderate efforts in the next two weeks gave me a side stitch. So hooray for pain, I guess.

Poses I'd like to avoid during my next race!
I had two long runs where I got side stitches. Since I was less focused on my time during these runs I ran until the side stitch became unbearable and then tried to figure out the best combination of walking and running that would let me transition back to full on running. I found that alternating 1 minute of walking with 1 minute of running for a couple rotations while I focused on keeping my breathing steady seemed to work. Once I could make it through a minute of running without any issues I reduced the walking breaks to 30 seconds and started extending the running portion to whatever time felt comfortable. One thing that I learned is that if I am fighting a side stitch downhill running will make it worse. I think it is the added force from landing.

I also had a close call with a side stitch during a 5 mile tempo run. I started to notice the pain creeping in about 3.5 miles into the tempo. I really, really wanted to make it through all 5 miles without stopping so instead of letting the pain get worse, I immediately started working on my breathing exercises.

I've noticed that when running my breathing tends to be a bit shallow. I don't think I am utilizing my diaphragm correctly. So I try to focus on taking a slow, steady breath in while expanding my diaphragm, then I sort of forcefully exhale. This was a tip suggested to me by Dolly. I also have been timing my breathing so that I am landing on my left foot when I begin to inhale/exhale. The combination of these two things seems to do a pretty good job at keeping the stitches at bay. During my tempo run I only saw my pace slip a tiny bit during mile 4 and I was even able to pick up the pace for the remaining mile (mile splits for that run were 7:49, 7:43, 7:45, 7:54, 7:13!!!).

Unfortunately it takes a lot of concentration since I seem to naturally want to inhale/exhale with my right foot striking the ground. I do worry that at mile 12 of a half marathon I won't have the capacity to really focus that closely on synchronizing breathing and left foot landing. I have been trying to practice these two breathing exercises during most of my runs so hopefully by the time my next race gets here it will be a little more intuitive. 

In a race I would like to think that I will utilize the second method described here for as long as I can. My goal of course would be to run as much as possible without needing to take walk breaks. But, I can't guarantee that the breathing techniques would be able to fight off a stitch, so I guess it is good to have the run/walk intervals as a back up plan.


  1. I've heard it's actually better to alternate which foot you inhale on with each breath. This has worked for me: I used the 3-2 technique (inhale 3 steps, exhale 2, so I'm always breathing in and out on the opposite foot). It takes some practice because it does not feel natural at first, but as I do it more, I've often found myself doing it automatically during harder runs. I rarely get side stitches...maybe this is why? Most of mine are usually caused by trying to run too fast too soon, which throws my breathing out of whack. Good luck!

  2. Hey Heather. Thanks for the Shout out! *waves*.

    It's sounds like you are getting a pretty good handle on your breathing. :)