The Runner's side Stitch
Runners often experience a side stitch while running. The pain usually occurs just under the ribs. The common problem may be related to food allergies, particularly to milk, or to gas or to eating just prior to running. Other causes can be running a longer distance or running at a higher intensity than usual. The diaphragm is usually the source of the problem. The diaphragm is a muscle that separates the chest cavity from the abdomen. It moves up and down as the runner inhales and exhales. It is subject to a cramp or stitch when it moves more and faster during exercise.
The liver has a larger right lobe, which may be why the diaphragm moves more on the right and that generally the stitch pain is on the right side of the abdomen just under the ribcage.
How do you alleviate this problem? Run longer and slower. Take frequent walk breaks. Breathe more fully and try the yoga-style belly breathing. Keep your breathing relaxed and rhythmic. Try counting in to six and out to four while pursing your lips to make you exhale more forcefully. Swimmer-style breathing keeps you more relaxed and rhythmic in your breathing and running.
Do some abdominal crunches—while improving your running form and posture, they may just reduce the risk of the dreaded side stitch.
During tempo sessions you are running at a steady pace, just hovering over your lactate threshold. If you are wearing a monitor, it would show that at this stage you are at about 85% of your maximum heart rate. It is the point at which speaking would be difficult but for a few grunted words. Do not be discouraged by these runs. Take a one-minute walk break every 10 minutes to get your breathing under control. These sessions increase your lactate tolerance, which means your capacity to exercise with high levels of lactate in your blood. These sessions also improve your ability to run faster with the same energy. Tempo training also uses carbohydrates for energy rather than fat; it burns more calories because of the higher intensity. These are fun sessions. You improve your ability to run under stress and build confidence and running economy. These tempo runs are an essential part of your running program. They are high quality and require rest sessions for recovery. Try them with a buddy or in a group environment for some added fun.
Walk breaks provide a great platform for the runner to expand the distance of the long run. The rest breaks every 10 minutes minimize the risk of injury, and they allow an increase of about 10% per week to the long run, which results in improved endurance capabilities of the runner.
Sports medicine professionals all encourage stretching. Stretching yields supple muscles with improved range of motion. A fast, brisk walk break provides a gentle and specific stretch to the leg muscles, from the hip flexors through the hamstrings, quadriceps and down into the calves and assorted muscles of the ankle and foot. The combination of stress and rest is the foundation of any good training program. The rest provides recovery and a rebuilding phase of improvement. Brisk walk breaks provide active rest. The runner who attempts to run continuously slows down near the end of the long run. The walker/runner, on the other hand, is able to maintain the pace throughout the long run distance. Approaching our anaerobic threshold, 85% of our maximum heart rate, our body starts producing lactic acid. Lactic acid production leaves us feeling heavy-legged with a queasy stomach. Lactic acid buildup is dissipated with run/walk combinations. In addition, walking breaks the long run distance into a series of achievable goals. It keeps things fun and provides an opportunity to drink water and consume a sports gel.
Walking breaks work! They are mandatory on long runs and optional on short runs.