Less than a mile into the Midnight Madness 10K last weekend, I started getting a side cramp. Or a side stitch, or a side ache, or whatever you want to call it. I had heard a number of explanations for why these happen: you’re running too hard, your stomach is too full, you’re dehydrated, you aren’t exhaling fully enough. I had been drinking quite a bit of water prior to the race, so I thought maybe it was too much fluid, and I skipped most of the water stops. Wrong approach. I got dehydrated. And the cramp did not go away, it just got MUCH worse. By the end it felt like someone had buried an ax in my ribs.
After experiencing another side cramp on a run a few days ago, I did a bit more research. My friend Braxton had explained that it was a spasm of the diaphragm, probably from irregular breathing. I couldn’t think of what I was doing wrong while breathing – I’ve been doing it for over 30 years and thought I was pretty good at it.
But one website pointed out that you should be “belly breathing” while running. Your stomach should move in and out with your breath (if you’ve ever been in a yoga class this should sound familiar). When I thought about it a bit more, I realized that I had recently been trying to straighten my posture while running, and was tightening my stomach and not breathing deeply enough.
So on this morning’s 7-mile run, I made a conscious effort to belly breathe. Problem solved, no side cramp!