Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Welcome to Stitchville! Population: Me.

And probably many other people too.

Have I ever told you that Neil hates the word "stitch"? Stitch, stitch, stitch. You know, that crampy pain you get in your side when you're running? The one that starts out as a minor twinge, but grows into a debilitating stab wound that just won't go away. You know the one. Whenever I return from a run and quip that my workout was ruined by a stitch, he cringes. Maybe it's the relation to needles and body-sewing. Who knows.

Unfortunately for Neil, he's had to hear it a lot lately. Because while I've been running at the Towpath, around Euclid, to Johnny Mango and at North Chagrin, my main locale has been Stitchville. And I'm not digging it!

Stitches, also known as side cramps, side stickers or, more officially, exercise-related transient abdominal pain (ETAP), are still a slight mystery to the sports medicine world. General knowledge says that it's caused by the organs, such as the liver or stomach, pulling down on the diaphragm. There's just no certain prevention or cure. And it doesn't help when you run on a semi-full stomach like I often find myself doing after work.

Yesterday was case in point. I've been pretty wishy-washy about my "speed" work this training plan (it's not that I don't want speed; it's that I'm a little gun-shy after last year's injury and want to build up to it slowly), but thought I would give semi-speed a try.

On the agenda: 3 sets of (1 x 1200m at 10K pace/ 90-second recovery jog/ 1 x 400m at 5K pace/ 3:00 recovery jog).

Here's how it went down... I ate multi-grain pilaf with milk right when I came home (it's made by Kashi, has a satisfying texture and can be made sweet or savory for anytime deliciousness) and gave myself an hour food recovery. I'm finding, however, that with piecey or grainy foods like pilaf, rice and chili, I need more time to digest. Ah, hindsight.

Following stretches and 10:00 warm-up, I headed into my first 1200m with 7:00 target (~9:20/mile pace) to start. My legs were moving well, my arms didn't go too goofy and my intensity level felt just right — breathing, heart rate, stress all felt worked but not too hard.

So, you can imagine my surprised when I hit 1200m at 5:38 (7:30/mile). Have you ever known someone with such a poor sense of pace? Geez!

But, again, I felt just peachy and focused on taking it down. Ninety seconds of recovery jog and I was headed it my first 400m when, well, my stomach started being a little unhappy. I could feel granules of multigrain pilaf angrily popping. Instead of taking the 400m at 2:00, I ran it around 2:20 to calm the beast.

Then came the stitch.

I'm running down my street at the speed of nothing, clutching my side and cursing the food, the gods of stitch-infliction and poor, innocent Kashi food producers. I tried all the stitch-tricks I knew: deepening my breathing, exhaling on my opposite-foot extension, pushing up my organs, yanking at my side. Nothing. It's as if the thing had been stitched to my side. Argh!!!!

All out of tricks, I slowed down and walked for 5:00 (how's that for speed work, eh?) to make the thing go away. Even walking it took 2-3 minutes to clear.

I tossed around the idea of throwing in the towel and heading home (that's a distinct disadvantage to my neighborhood, I run past my front door at least once every 1-2 miles!), but I'm still washing off the guilt from last week's slothy start. Yet with my stomach still threatening to boycott my body — last thing I need is a repeat of the solid-food boycott of January 2008 — speed work was out of the question.

Instead of running the sets, I covered a little over 3 plain miles around 8:30/mile, fighting off the occasional stitch and picking up the pace to 8:00/mile for small stretches. So, same mileage, similar pace... just not the same workout. Boo.

What can I do to prevent stitches? Well, according to the bible, a good way to stop stitches is to strengthen my core. "Strong abs," says Tips on Running from Runner's World, "can keep your organs more firmly in place so that they don't tug so hard on your diaphragm." Good to know. I can also:
  • limit eating to 2-3 hours before running;
  • take more time to stretch before running, paying special attention to side stretches and lengthening my spine;
  • use lower-lung breathing from the start of my run, diverting air into the lower lungs for what's commonly known as belly breathing; and
  • warm up more gradually and build up to speeds like 7:30/mile in my 1200s!
At least I covered my mileage at a decent pace and was driven to do research (again) on stitches... and given the opportunity to use the word stitch 16 times in one post just for Neil. Stitch, stitch! Make that 18.

Much of what I read said not to worry much about stitches (19) because they "go away" after a "couple miles." That's easier to write than do! But I'd really like to get back to not having to worry about them at all.

Perhaps I need to strengthen my core — see what happens when you let your commute preempt your cross-training? — or get back to yoga or stop eating so soon before running or picking up pace so fast.

Whatever I do, it should help come race day and training days and the day when Neil won't have to listen to me talk about stitches 20 times in one post. Maybe that's why he gets such a beef about my regiment... but some things, like stitches (21) remain mysteries.


triguyjt said...

..crazy you should write about stitches...because..
I was checking out Trimarni's blog...
she's a sub 5 hour half ironman who coaches and always has some good advice..
anyway, check her site out.
her post on 4-22 (Interval tuesday) talked about stitches and how you gotta exhale her post and see if any of that helps... I have been lucky to avoid stitches...
good luck

Dana said...

Ok..You're just evil to actually COUNT the number of times you said the stitch in your

I used to get them when I was forces to run in high school for P.E. many moons ago but thank goodness I haven't gotten one now(knocking my desk). I do core work everyday so hopefully that's keeping them at bay. I also eat Kashi(1/2c of the Go Lean cereal w/ some nuts & cranberries) before I run.

It looks like you learned something from this so hopefully you'll start doing some core work again.