Thursday, October 22, 2009

Side Stitches

Ever since my first day running, I have struggled with side aches. In my first few weeks, I got them only seconds into my runs. They always occurred on my right side, and they would only go away when I stopped running. Frustrated by my ailment, I asked friends and experts about the cause. Some said they had to do with cramping in my diaphragm; some said they resulted from my breathing; and some said they were related to my diet and fitness level.

Months later, I still get the darned things, and I can't help but feel a little frustrated. When my breathing is good and I don't feel like I am going to pass out, when my legs feel strong and aren't begging me to walk, when my mind is in a place that wants to move forward instead of plan my next walk break, I do not want to stop running!

So, what should I do?

I went online today and found conflicting schools of thought in regard to pain (including side aches) and running. Some people advise runners to listen to their bodies, walk for a while, and then start running more. The opposing side - the "No one has ever drowned in sweat" side - seems to believe that pain is a part of progress. They "run through the pain," claiming that side aches are temporary annoyances that will go away if ignored.

When given these two options, I like the bad-ass side. I have always believed that the best things in life aren't easy to attain, and I like the idea of physical and mental toughness.

So I tried to run through my pain yesterday on Moscow Mountain. After about 1.6 miles, my right side felt like someone was trying to put a knife under my ribs. I kept running. Breathing became increasingly difficult, and I felt my body try to stoop over in an attempt to ease the pain. But I concentrated on my breathing, stood upright, and kept running.

At about 2.8 miles, my side was still killing me. One knife was replaced by two bigger ones. My only defense was my voice. I started yelling. Quietly and then louder came my chant, "One two three four, Two two three four" and so on. When I could no longer count, I yelled at my side and told it that I wasn't going to walk. I not only kept running, but I sped up along the final stretch as rain started to fall on my head and cold, bare legs. At 3.1 miles I slowed to a jog and then to a walk.

After only two minutes of walking, my side ache was completely gone.

So what does this experience prove to me? First, I think it is a myth that side aches go away if you just keep running. I ran a mile and a half with a side ache, and it never went away. Second, I am stubborn. There was nothing short of a missing leg that could have kept me from running that last mile and a half. As a result, I think I ran one of my fastest miles ever. And third, I may be a little bit crazy. What would people say if they saw a lone runner yelling a cadence as she sprinted in the rain?