Ever gotten a stitch while running? I have. Ever gotten a side stitch on both sides while I running? Check. Ever gotten a stomach cramp that knots up so tightly you feel like John Hurt on the table in Alien who has a baby alien burst out of his chest. Only there’s no table. You’re running and there is no rest to be had. This has happened to me twice in my running lifetime. The first time it happened was my last long run before the Dublin Marathon last year. I was going good-oh up until about mile 16 and was just about to finish the first big section of my route before turning onto the latter half of the course when I got the most unbelievably excruciatingly painful stomach cramp. I’m not a great runner,ever! But no matter what, I will not stop during a run. I have to finish. I can be going slower than every walker out there but on a psychological level, I would feel completely deflated if I had to quit or walk part of any run. I know that this is all wrong and if you’re not feeling well or whatever, you should probably stop and admit defeat. But I truly loathe quitting and even my time for such a run is crap, I nonetheless always feel better when I’m sitting at home reflecting on the run later in the day that I managed to see it through.
It happened again today. For the first three miles, I could feel a mild stitch developing on my right side and I tried to just breathe it out and forget about it. Grand. Around about mile 5, I picked up a slightly smaller, but sharper side stitch on my left side. Again, not disabling, not a showstopper. Just keep breathing deeply through it and relax it out. (Does that actually work or did I just make that up?) Roll on to mile 10 and OH. MY. GOD. The biggest mo-fo, rip-roaring cramp along the right side of my front stomach muscles (don’t know if this is even anatomically possible but that’s what it felt like…). Not like the others that I had experienced earlier in the run, which were milder and seemed to grow more gradually. This was sudden and very painful. I slowed down, did the breathing thing, tried to relax, etc but with every footfall, it seemed to get rapidly worse. I had to stop for a couple of seconds, which as I mentioned before, I never do. I started up again as soon but had to shuffle home the last mile. I must have looked a picture – crumpled up and contorted, with an angry scowl on my face, shuffling along the side of the road, with one hand frantically massaging my side. Oh dear. Not my finest moment. It could have been worse- had this happened earlier in the run, it may indeed have been a showstopper, so I’m not bothered really.
My worry is that I don’t know how or what caused this stitch or the one before that, way back in September. My dinner the night before was eaten around the same time and was the exact same as it has been for the last few weeks the night before my long run. Homemade tomato spaghetti with spinach and sea bass for tea and then fruit, yogurt and muesli for supper. Low electrolytes? Weather? Invisible little demons at play? I have no idea. Trouble is that now I have the fear. Fear of the stitch. Or FOTS, if you will. I don’t mind injuries, niggles or any issue generally so long as I know the cause and the treatment. These are the things we can deal with – we learn from them and know how to (a) prevent them in future or (b) how to combat them if and when they occur. Maybe it’s the lawyer in me, but I have a need to know what, if any, problems might occur when embarking on any venture and how to prevent/ deal with them when they do. You avoid trouble, drama and the possibility of disaster. What’s not to like about that? Sounds boring and sometimes it is but as far as running is concerned, I want to enjoy my runs and not end up doubled over in the middle of it, bewildered by my body and frustrated because I can feel that my legs have so much more to give. What I need is harmony. A nice singsong between my legs and my other muscles. That would be nice. Melodious, even.