Smutty Fitness: ab stitches and training zones

March 1, 2012 16:40:25 Posted at March 1, 2012 16:40:25
Hayley Posted by Hayley

Hi Hayley,
I am currently training for my first-ever half marathon (yay!).  I am 27 years old and I started exercising regularly (5-6 times per week) about 8 months ago.  I have had periods of being active in my life before, but have struggled with disordered eating for most of my adult life - it has made for a difficult relationship with the gym! Training for the half marathon represents a new stage for myself, where I'm trying to focus on exercise for health, fitness, and self care, as opposed to weight loss goals.  I'm 9 weeks into my running training program (I'm using John Stanton's book, "Running") and have hit a bit of a road block - abdominal stitches!  I have done some research and attempted to look at the usual suspects: hydration, eating before I run, even breathing techniques (belly breathing, exhaling on left foot strike).  Nothing seems to be working.  At this point, I get a stitch (always the right side) about 20-25 mins into my run, every run.  I can usually manage them with breathing, but as my distances get longer I'm finding the stitches more painful and less easy to manage.  To give you an idea of my training program - I run 3-4 days a week and then cross train (usually cycling) 1-2 days a week.  I also try to have an active rest day (yoga) 1 day a week.  Can you think of any other factors that may be contributing to my stitches?  Any preventative measures you can think of would be greatly
Thanks for your insight!


Congratulations on attempting your first half marathon: that is fantastic! I did a lot of my earlier races following John Stanton's running program so you'll do great! And, I understand where you are coming from in regards to your disordered eating; I dealt with that myself for a very long time, especially through university. I used exercise as a way to burn off calories that I did not think I should have consumed, sometimes working out 2 or 3 times in a day - one for "training" for whatever event I was training for and the other two as "weight management". It is just in the past couple of years since becoming a focused athlete that I have gained control over my disordered eating and focusing on fueling my body, rather than trying to stay skinny. There actually is a great article in last month's Runners World on disordered eating; if you get a chance you should give it a read.

As for your cramps, the only thing I can think of is that you may be going out too hard and too fast in your long training runs, which need to be run SLOW. To see noticeable improvements in your aerobic speed and power it takes about 3 years of long and slow aerobic training. You might need to run your long runs at a slower pace and to ensure that you are in your aerobic zone when you begin, start with a longer warm up. Begin your long run with a brisk walk, then do a few jogging intervals intermixed with some active stretching and range of motion exercises (leg swings, high knees, butt kicks). When I started to build my aerobic endurance while training for my first Ironman I would have to run extremely slow to keep my heart rate down and I would walk all of the hills. I have since progressed from running my first half marathon at a 2 hour and 8 minute pace (10 years ago) to now completing my half marathons in just over 90 minutes. It is very important that you keep your heart rate on your long runs below your balance point (the heart rate where your body is  clearing lactic acid at the same rate as it is producing it) as that is when your body is aerobic and you can only improve your aerobic fitness when you are training aerobically. Every time your heart rate elevates over your aerobic heart rate you tap into your anaerobic energy systems and unfortunately these systems are only able to support your body’s energy needs for short periods of time. Each time you have to tap into these stores the less of a “reserve” you will be left with and eventually this energy system will be depleted and you will experience fatigue and muscle cramping.

I recommend you look into getting your VO2 Max tested (or your lactate threshold) as this will give you an accurate heart rate that you should be running at, to ensure that you are training in the right zone. There are a lot of companies that will test this, Peak Center for Human Performance ( being one of them. If you live outside of Vancouver check with your local university as their Kinesiology program may do testing or know of where you can get tested or you can ask your local running shop as they may have a contact and these tests usually cost between $150-$250. They are worth every penny though, as the improvements you will gain from knowing your training zones are priceless.

Use your other runs and your cross training workouts to get your heart rate up higher as this will contribute to the improvements in your lactate threshold as well as give you that feeling of pushing yourself to your max, which by the sounds of your email I am guessing that you love to push yourself hard. BUT, as hard as it might seem, you MUST slow down for your longer runs.

Good luck and keep training!

Attached - Selma Blair working out yesterday.

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