Hi, my name is Katie and I'm a professional side stitch runner. Every runner I know has at some point experienced this terrible, awful, no good, "Please just go away!" side ache pain. For me, personally, it has gotten to the point where I have finally thrown up my hands and said, "We are going to figure this out if it's the last thing we do. (add in a little ,"damnit" at the end of that and it really drives home my point :) .)
What exactly is a side stitch, and what is the cause of this monster?
The sharp side stitch pain develops under the rib-cage of either side of the stomach. For me, it's always guaranteed to be on the right side, and sometimes it's coupled with a cramp along my collar-bone shoulder area. Although it doesn't help, I usually end up intensely grabbing my side with my hand to try and make it go away. I have been known to grab my side a lot. During last weekend's
side-stitch marathon 1/2 marathon, I held my side so tight, it ended up bleeding during the race. OKAY THAT'S NOT NORMAL. See the picture below for the spot after it healed a couple days later.
Most agree the side stitch is caused by one of the following:
- "Shallow breathing", causing a lack of blood flow to the diaphragm
- Weak core muscles
- Foods high in glucose (sugar) too soon before running
I'm going to break down each bullet point and provide a solution for you! Hooray!
For me, shallow breathing is the biggest cause of my side stich. I am self-admittedly a high-strung person. My mind runs about a million miles a minute, and I have a very hard time sitting still without feeling like I need to be doing something. It's a flaw, I know! But I know that things like meditating, yoga, and just taking a moment to relax every now and then is good. I notice if I'm nervous, I have the tendency to do a style of "chest breathing" rather than "stomach breathing". This is called shallow breathing, and greatly affects the blood flow to your diaphragm, which can cause a side stitch when you run. So, to all my fellow ladies who like to get sh*t done, let's try to relax a little, and take some deep breaths! It will do wonders!
Practical application for shallow breathing
Before a race, try doing this quick yoga video to help calm your mind and get your breath in order! It has done wonders for me. I also remind myself that running is fun, I shouldn't feel pressure. Remember I do this sport because I love it! This quote sums it up:
"Make your race your playground, not your proving ground." -Lauren Fleshman
When you get a side stitch during a race, try to take some deep breaths, relax your shoulders, and think about how much fun you're having, not about false expectations or pressure you may feel. Smile!
There are a million core exercises you can do, so just pick one.
Don't get bogged down by all the options of core or ab exercises. Just pick one, and when you're tired of that one, move onto another one! A simple core routine lasting 10-15 minutes twice a week will do wonders for preventing a side stitch. Here is my Pinterest strength training board where you'll find lots of options! The importance here is just consistency.
Are you drinking enough water?
We all know it's important to drink enough water, especially as a runner. The worst feeling is knowing you are fit and ready to PR, and you have a bad race because of dehydration. Make sure you are plenty hydrated!
Are you eating the wrong thing before you run?
Many people complain about having a side stitch after eating something high in sugar. Fruit drinks, Gus, citrus fruits, etc. This has been a huge game changer for me. I have come to realize I just have a really hard time eating something high in sugar before I run. Even a banana or honey doesn't work for me. Something moderately high in carbs and fat works great. Another excuse to eat peanut butter? Don't mind if I doooo.
If you do these things, I assure you your side stitch occurrences will decrease.