Several years back I went through a bout of cramping when I ran – we’re not talking about side stitches here (though I’ll get to those in a minute) – I mean leg cramps. I’d experience them when I ran and every once in a blue moon at night. I talked to a couple of my friends in the running club and they suggested I start eating bananas on a fairly regular basis… It’s one of those tips that you really don’t know the veracity of, but sounds good enough. Rather than consult the Google Oracle about the suggestion I just went ahead and started eating a banana a day (or thereabouts, sometimes two) and sure enough the cramping went away. Two years ago I was watching a Tiger’s game on a particularly hot weekend and a Fox Sports reporter asked Max Scherzer, pregame, how he would handle the heat. He specifically remarked about eating a few bananas and his drinking more fluids (code for H2O and Gatorade). That was enough for me. It is a little known fact, but pro athletes rarely research proper diets on their own, and if they do they bounce everything off of the trainer – that’s the job of the trainer to make sure the athletes “work right” (my wife’s cousin was the trainer for a professional team for quite a few years, so I got the inside scoop on that from him). Pro trainers make a very decent living keeping their athletes healthy so if Scherzer was out there talking about bananas, the info came from a good source.
There are those who have their doubts about bananas, but they get quite a bit of support too from what I found. I can tell you from personal experience, the first thing I ask when preparing to do road battle: “Where are the bananas?”.
Side stitches are next on my little nastiness list. I’ve never gotten one on a bike, so I’m assuming that it’s the jostling motion inherent in running that is the leading cause. Many suggest that the culprit is breathing too shallowly as you’re trying for your PR on that 5k (in fact, I can still remember my worst side stitch ever – first year of running, 3 months in, going for a PR on a 5k – it sucked – I finished with my left fingers curled underneath my ribcage to lessen the pain, but I got my PR). In addition, I’ve read that too much rhythm can lead to them as well (if you’re cadence matches your breathing over long distances). This makes sense, to an extent, but that’s how I always run – and have for years, and I rarely suffer from stitches, maybe one a year.
I have a different theory on side stitches and have developed a way to avoid them that is darn near fool-proof. It’s not pretty though. Reading a post on side stitches and the relief thereof, I stumbled upon this: “Stop running and stretch your arms straight up over your head, and then bend over at your waist. This not only stretches out the affected area, it also helps to expel more air that may be trapped below the diaphragm“. [Ed. Emphasis is mine].
She’s on the right path – she’s got the right idea, if she put it to ether poorly. To get to the point, I find that trapped air is what causes my side stitches. When I’m out burning up the tarmac, if I notice a buildup (and by now I know when it’s happening because I pay attention), I burp. Letting go of a little flatulence never hurt either – but we’ve heard horror stories about that and one can never be too careful, but it’s more about the burping. The unfortunate part is that we’re not talking about nice little feminine belches here. We’re talking about full on, start from your big toe burps. They’re going to be loud – best to let loose in a non-residential stretch of the run. This can be used strategically of course, if you’re competing. Make sure and eat a lot of garlic and onions the night before a race – if you get the chance, pull a little bit of a lead and let ‘er rip. The distracting odoriferous emanation should give you distinct advantage as your competition will no doubt be temporarily blinded due to the wrinkling of the nose – if done right, you’ll also get a few swats at the dead air, and that’s the perfect time to hit the gas – err, so to speak.
Believe it or not, and all kidding aside, I’ve actually tested this out when it was just a mere hypothesis of mine (it’s now a theory, if on limited testing). If I felt I had a burp stuck, I’d work it out. No side stitch. The next time, I wouldn’t and I’d get a side stitch. I tried this over two months just to make sure I wasn’t crazy, but I’m telling you it worked every time. The few side stitches I do get, it’s the stealth gas that creeps up on me.
If you’re prone to side stitches, try it, you might like it.