SparkPeople Blogs  •  running  •  safety

Running Inconveniences Part 2

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Before I begin my blog, I noticed in the news that much of the country is experiencing unseasonably warm temperatures. I wanted to link you to another blog I wrote last summer titled, The Heat is On: Taking Precautions When Exercising Outdoors. Because many of us seemed to have skipped right over spring and quickly into summer, it is very important that you allow time for your body to acclimate to the heat, including cutting your pace and mileage for a few weeks. This includes runners, walkers, cyclists and anyone else who spends time exercising outdoors. I want to keep you all safe so that you can continue on the path to healthy living.

This is the second in a series of blogs regarding those somewhat annoying running inconveniences that don’t necessarily keep us from running, but can turn an enjoyable experience into a little less enjoyable one unless you know what to do when the problem arises.

Gastrointestinal Issues

One of the most embarrassing running inconveniences known to many seasoned runners is runner’s diarrhea or more commonly known as ‘runner’s trots.’ The symptoms can range from mild cramping, to nausea, to full-fledged diarrhea. It has been reported that as many as 20-50% of all runners will experience at least one episode of runner's trots in their running careers. Although this condition is more commonly experienced in the beginner runner, it isn’t unusual to have a seasoned runner experience this problem when training for an endurance event, such as a full marathon.

  • Low Blood Flow to the GI tract- While we don’t fully understand why some runners experience this condition while others don’t, one theory is that as blood flow is diverted from the gastrointestinal tract to the working muscles of the legs, this leads to an irritation of the intestinal lining hence leading to cramps, gas, nausea and diarrhea.
  • Movement During Running- Another theory is that the constant jarring of the gastrointestinal tract during a run can stimulate bowel function, consequently speeding up bowel activity.
  • Diet- Consuming food or drinks containing sugar alcohols or high fiber can lead to GI issues.
  • Dehydration
Preventive Measures
  • Eat no sooner than two hours before your run.
  • Avoid caffeine or other warm fluids before your runs as this can actually stimulate the bowels.
  • Make sure you stay well hydrated before, during and after your runs.
  • Be mindful of high fiber foods before a long, slow distance run or before a race.
  • Avoid drinks or foods high in sugar or sugar substitutes, especially sugar alcohols found in sugar free gum and candies.
  • If you are lactose intolerant, avoid dairy products before your run.
  • For some runners, wearing a fuel belt or constricting clothing around the waist can lead to this issue.
  • Avoid eating foods high in fat and protein too closely to your run as these nutrients take more time to digest than carbohydrates.
  • Avoid taking Ibuprofen or a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, such as Aleve, as these can lead to GI disturbances.
  • Start a running journal to help you determine if there is a pattern with the food/drinks you are consuming.

Most runners have experienced at least one side stitch in their running career; however the occurrence is more prevalent in the beginner runner. The reason--many new runners have not developed a suitable pace for running so they run too fast and too intensely.

A stitch can be quite painful and can literally stop a runner in his/her tracks. And while some runners may experience a stitch on the left side or under the shoulder blade, the majority of runners will experience this annoyance on the right side just under the ribs.

  • Side stitches are believed to be caused when the diaphragm goes into a spasm or when there is cramping or straining of the ligaments supporting the diaphragm.
  • Side stitches are usually related to our breathing. In other words the harder we breathe the greater the stress is placed on the muscles and ligaments.
  • Downhill running can lead to a greater incidence of developing a stitch as the impact to the body is much greater due to the gravitational pull.
  • Shallow, quick breathing is believed to be one of the biggest factors leading to a side stitch.
  • Side stitches may be more prevalent when running in colder temperatures as runners tend to do less deep belly breathing.
  • Runners who complain more often of side stitches tend to exhale when their right foot strikes the ground versus those who exhale when their left foot strikes. The reason is landing on the right foot while exhaling places a greater force on the liver which lies on the right side in proximity of the diaphragm.
  • Avoid eating within an hour or two of your run. When the contents in the stomach push on the diaphragm it begins to push on the other internal organs, especially the liver--the largest internal organ--causing the diaphragm to go into a spasm.
  • Breathe through pursed lips.Try forcefully exhaling through pursed lips as if you are blowing out candles on a birthday cake.
  • Bend into the stitch.Some runners find bending into the stitch and lifting the rib cage can help release the spasm.
  • Try alternating your breathing pattern. In other words, if you always exhale when landing on your right foot, try exhaling on your left foot.
  • Practice deep belly breathing when you are not running. Lie flat on your back (no pillow) and place a book on your lower abdomen, then practice breathing deeply by raising and lowering the book with each breath.
  • Mouth breathing allows for greater lung expansion and deep belly breathing which can help offset the dreaded side stitch.
  • Try stretching out the stitch.Some runners have found relief by raising their right arm and leaning toward the left and holding this stretch for 30 seconds, then repeating the stretch on the other side.
  • Stop or walk when all else fails. Slow down or stop until the pain subsides and then slowly resume running.
As you can see, many of these so-called running inconveniences will resolve over time as you develop from a beginner runner to a seasoned runner if you allow time for your body to adapt to the demands running places on your body.

Next week I will discuss shin splints and knee issues.

Have you ever suffered from runner’s diarrhea or side stitches? What measures did you take to resolve these inconveniences? Have you experienced unseasonably warm temperatures and if so, have you taken measures to allow your body time to adapt?

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All good information. About the side stitches. I use to run 5 days a week 5 miles. I did this for 4 yrs and always was in pain. Learned breathing techniques from Physical Therapists, didn't help. Tried all sorts of suggestions, didn't help. Saw a few doctors and everything they said I already tried. One doctor told me there was a small percentage of runners that the problem would never go away because of a nerve, every body's body is a liltte bit different and the nerve was pressing on my kidney causeing pain. Now I jog/walk only Report
I get very painful stitches in my left shoulder. I had to cut my run short two days ago because of it. Are there any stretching tips or running techniques to get rid of shoulder stitches? Report
Don't forget to stay hydrated (you mentioned dehydration early on), but NOT ICE COLD WATER or other drinks. That can lead to runners trots. Just faucet cold, please. Report
I have crohns disease..... Now I'm somewhat scared to run...
I "run" to the bathroom enough as it is.... Report
I have not had these particular problems, but I have terrible trouble maintaining steady breath. Report
I really don't know why I read about running and go to running pages. I've never run and I don't think I would ever run. Maybe I just like to read about it???? Report
I always get side stitches when I start running again, it is good to know what causes it! Report
Too hot to run today Report
Poop: learn to poop in bushes, run routes with lots of bathrooms, always carry TP.
Side stitch: Post partum, I've had some nasty side stitches that I can't get rid of even with the proper breathing techniques. I imagine they will lessen as my organs continue to return to normal. Report
I am also a suffer of side-stitches. Or was when I did my running last year. I think part of the problem, for me, was pacing myself. Report
Nancy, you are full of good information! Thank you for this series. I've wondered why I have to do my cardio before I eat in the morning, now I know why. I ran years ago and experienced stitches. Haven't had that recently, but now I know I can credit the fact that I've learned to do deep breathing as a regular habit. Report
Nancy, I LOVE this series. You're a font of useful information, my friend!!! Report
I live in Pensacola, Florida where it gets very hot and I'm amazed at the people I see out running during the heat of the day. I just find it silly. I've read blogs of Spark runners who during races had the "trots" and were SO upset to be sidelined in a Portapotty. I think "loading" on high carbs the night before could be the real issue, but you gave good advice. Report
Side Stitch, so that's what that's called!
Ok, good to know I'm not going to die from it. Report
I've been fortunate enough to not have runner's diarrhea, or side stitches for that matter, but during several early morning runs, I have found that running is a *good* way to get the bowels moving quickly. Thankfully a public park restroom is along the route I usually take, but most mornings I just take it as a cue to cut my run short and head home. Report
How timely...Just this morning I had to dive into the bushes. Thank goodness it was dark out and there was no traffic! My dog thought we were going on an off-trail adventure. Report
I went for a run this morning at about 9am and it was already 85 degrees in Boston, after weeks of gorgeous running weather in the 60s and 70s -- eek! I just about passed out halfway through because I think I became really dehydrated. A well-placed water fountain saved me.

I still get bad side stitches, especially running down hills -- I have been practicing the belly breathing though, which seems to help a lot! Report