Avoiding the side crampie

I’m now officially training for a triathlon. This is the Pasadena Sprint Triathlon, supposedly good for beginners and pre-beginners like me who’ve never even seen a triathlon from the sidelines. As preparation (and honestly, because it is fun), I’ve been doing some morning runs (well, jogs) around the neighborhood. I have a 2.1-mile loop that’s absolutely gorgeous just as the sun is coming up; it heads up into the residential foothills of the San Gabriels, where the houses are reclusive, sprawling, and well-spaced (and oh-so-pricey). I walk on some of the steeper uphill parts. The downhill run, however, is pure joy, feeling the strength of my body and the delight in motion. It is pure joy, that is, except that I’ve started getting a side stitch about halfway through. It’s irritating to have my legs saying “more more faster faster” and my abdomen saying “STOP NOW NO MORE OUCH PAIN DRAT!”

Wikipedia also has something to say about this. It actually has an article about the side stitch and its many alternative terms. Apparently, there is a common theory that the side cramp (a stabbing pain under the lower edge of the ribcage) is caused by internal organs pushing down on the diaphragm, but this is unlikely since the sport it most often manifests in is swimming. The side ache may actually be caused by contraction of the liver or spleen, restricting blood flow, or an irritated peritoneum. The side sticker usually manifests on the right side (fascinating! It’s happened on my right side both times), although wikipedia marks this claim as “[citation needed].”

Advice for avoiding the side crampie (my favorite term) includes both drinking lots of water and avoiding food and drink 2-3 hours before exercising, strengthening the diaphragm and core muscles, warming up and gradually increasing exercise pace, etc. There might be something to the last one, as I’ve never gotten exercise related transient abdominal pain (ETAP) during Jazzercise, which is carefully scheduled to ramp the exertion level gradually up and then back down.

Wikipedia also provides tips for dealing with a side stitch after it happens. One is to jam your fingers up under the ribcage to press on the painful spot. Interestingly, that’s exactly what I did reflexively when it happened. This made it feel better as long as I was pressing but didn’t do any good after I let go. Apparently the main way to stop the pain is to slow or stop your exercise and wait for it to subside. No good! This tip seemed particularly interesting: “While running, exhale when your foot strikes on the opposite side that the side stitch is located. For example, a side stitch on the right, exhale hard when your left foot strikes the ground.” I’ll have to try that one. If nothing else, the effort of focusing might distract me from the pain.

Ultimately, gradually getting in better shape should help avoid any recurrences of the side stitch. Clearly, more practice is called for! Otherwise my triathlon debut on March 19 may be a bit of a fizzle. :)

1 Comment

  1. Katie said,

    February 10, 2011 at 6:57 pm

    Good luck, Kiri! I hope you enjoy it. It sounds great!

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