When I first started running, I got side stitches all the time. Invariably, I would end up with horrible pain under my ribcage before I hit the one-mile mark.
With time and patience, however, I started getting stitches less and less. Nowadays the only time I have this issue is if I eat too soon before running.
But in the past week or so, I have been getting stitches on every run. Even my easy, short runs have been painful. With each run, my panic grew: if I couldn’t run a slow 4mi comfortably, how would I ever run 26.2?
For days, I tried to pinpoint what the problem was. I kept track of what I was eating, made sure I was hydrated, ran slower…nothing made a difference.
On my easy run today, I made it to mile two before my side started to ache. Now, on a typical run, I listen to music. Today, it was raining really hard, so I left my electronics at home. In the end, it was running without headphones that led me to the root of the problem.
As I ran, I realized that my breathing sounded really weird (something I can’t generally hear over my music). And then it dawned on me – I was breathing through my mouth! This might not sound like a big deal, and for some people mouth breathing works, but for me it is really uncomfortable.
This past week, however, I have been fighting a cold and thus unable to breathe through my stuffy nose. My breathing has been strained and shallow, which is apparently a common cause of side stitches. I didn’t even realize I was breathing through my mouth, because it was the only way I could get air in!
As soon as I realized this, I knew it was the problem. Luckily I was much less stuffy today. I immediately focused on breathing like I normally do while running: slow and steady through my nose. Within about 3 minutes, the pain was gone and I was fine for the rest of the run.
It’s amazing how such a small change can make such a big difference!