Do you sometimes get a stitch when you’re running? It happens to many runners: just as you get into a good rhythm, those needles start piercing your side.
Some of the online articles I’ve seen, such as this Runner’s World piece, speculate that stitches are caused by eating before you run, where the undigested food is the source of your internal problems, perhaps where your stomach puts pressure on your diaphragm.
I’m not so sure about that explanation, though. Any time I’ve gone running on a full stomach, the result has been queasiness and, one time, bringing up my dinner all over the pavement. (And yes, I continued running afterwards.) Besides, isn’t the pain in your side rather than in your stomach?
I heard a more plausible explanation many years ago – perhaps it was told to us by our first-year science teacher, who was a runner and was said to have trained with Irish Olympian and indoor world champion Frank O’Mara. (Sometimes when I daydream of an alternate life where I became a teenage runner and U.S. athletics scholarship student, I wonder how things would have turned out had I been interested in running at the same time I knew that teacher.)
Here’s the gist of it: a stitch in your side is caused when your body is having trouble getting oxygen to the extremities of your lungs (the alveoli, if I recall the words of our subsequent biology teacher).
And here’s what I do to relieve a stitch while running: after slowing down a little, I exhale as hard and as fully as I can, as if I were blowing out a candle some distance away.
Then just allow yourself to inhale naturally, filling up the vacuum you created in your lungs. This is the most effective way to breathe as deeply as possible – and it is also a technique for relieving stress and panic, which comes in useful if a mid-race stitch makes you panic.
I find that around three or four such candle-blowing breaths are enough to ease my stitches quickly, without losing much running time or rhythm.
Try it and see how it works for you. And if you have your own stitch theory or technique, leave a comment below!