Beat that runner’s stitch
Whether they strike in training or in races, stitches can be a real nuisance. We look at possible causes, and how to defeat them
One of the big problems with stitches is that no-one really knows exactly what causes them, so finding a bulletproof ‘cure’ is hard.
Perhaps the most plausible theory is that a stitch is brought on by a restriction of blood flow to the diaphragm and surrounding muscles (because blood is shifted to the limbs during intense exercise), which causes them to cramp. But this has never been conclusively proven.
Stitches that only happen in races, rather than training, mean it’s probably safe to assume that it’s something different about the race situation that’s the cause. It could be the intensity of the high effort or going from a low, bent-over position on the bike to a vertical position on the run, or a combination of the two.
The way to deal with it is to make sure you’re doing plenty of high-intensity bike/run brick training to mimic the position and intensity you’ll experience on the bike, and the pace you will go at on the run. This will allow your body to adapt to the demands of racing more effectively. Doing multiple bike/run changeovers in one workout, each of around quarter race distance, is a good way to do this and maximise the training effects from a single session.
Another tactic you could try is to enter plenty of low-key, early-season races and use them as training. But you’ll also be able to see if your body is adapting to the bike position and effort required ahead of your more important races later in the year.
Neither of these solutions are guaranteed to work quickly but they should be effective over time if you stick with them. If a stitch does strike in a race, holding your arms above your head, lightly tensing your stomach muscles and/or slowing your pace can help.
(Image: Jonny Gawler)
Have you found an effective cure for stitches? Let us know in the comments below!