Time Trial and Race – How to avoid Stitch Posted on November 2, 2018

By Rameshon

Picture 1 – Getting a stitch is a thing of the past for me.

A race or time trial is like a test, and it is important, and it an opportunity to improve. Moreover, it is good to run and see progress in one’s personal best time, and to improve upon it. For me, during my childhood days, till now, time trial forms as an important component and it is a preparation before one chooses a race to run to perform very well. It must be well planned.

Before a major competition, usually I do 6 time trials, or one might call it tempo runs, a near race pace of 90%. Also, sometimes, I will do workouts of 95% of maximum effort for six weeks before an important race. In Loughborough, the training is similar. During off season, we do tempo runs and near season it is workouts. Races are also experienced every three weeks once or once a month in the midst of time trials and races.

My intention of writing this essay, in order to not to confuse anyone, is geared to inform one to avoid experience a stitch, in the future, whether it is during a workout, time trial or tempo runs.

Very recently, a parent told me that her child ate lunch and in less than 2 hours the athlete experienced stitch during the race. So, here I will explain in short what a stitch is.

A stitch is a pin poking type of sensation which comes at the lower stomach region, usually at the lower right hand side or the lower left hand side, and the pain can be so painful such that it affects performance. If one practices deep breathing technique, like those done in Tai chi or Yoga (pranayama), one will not face a stitch problem. This is from my own experience, as I was used to doing pranayama (prana means life force, yama means control)  and Sudarshan Kriya taught by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar from The Art of Living.

For those who do not specifically practice, breathing technique, the first line of defence is to slow down, a bit. If the pain persist, one should slow down even more till the stitch disappears. At the same time, one should see that if the stitch is on the left hand side, one should breathe out when the right foot strikes the ground, during a run

Once, when I was an active soldier in the army, I was selected to go for SAFSA versus Malaysian Armed Forces and Brunei Armed Forces race in Perak. I was running in 10,000m race and I got stitch at the 6th round to the 25rounds. Immediately, I slowed down, and the stitch did not go away, however, I tried.  I slowed down even more and then the stitch vanished, and I did 36min 31sec in that track race, doing my personal best at that time. I was around 20 years of age at that time, and I was very happy of the time.

As a coach, in Inter – school competitions, I used to advice those under my charges to breath out when the right foot strikes the ground, if the stitch is on the left hand side of the stomach area. If the stitch is one the left hand side, they will have to breathe out when the right foot strikes the ground. None had the problem with stitch and it mattered to me as getting stitch for a runner can cost our championships. Altogether, I had 14 team championships title in National Schools.

How to avoid stitch

Picture 2 – For this year, Tan Mariviv, first in POSB Run and CSC Run for Women Open category, 18 to 29, has not complain about stitch during a run

Having said that, I will now say in summary on my experience on how to avoid stitch during the run, as I have heard a coach, unaware, told an athlete to drink water just before the run etc, It happened to my relation. There is high chance getting a stitch. A mistake can be costly and it retards progress of a runner.

When one is not prepared in a race, usually, they tend to get a stitch. A physically conditioned or prepared person usually does not get stitch. Another reason for getting stitch is when someone drink water before a run. If it is a sip, it is ok. If one drinks a glass of water an hour before the race, it is alright. Nearer to a race, it is wise to keep the stomach empty an hour for water. For food, if it is breakfast, an hour and a half is enough to consume food and it can be digested fast, as the body will be craving for food, and the quantity is usually small for breakfast. Before a race, in the morning, a sandwich, and a milo, and a cup of water will be enough. One must not overload the stomach, just before a race, as food will not be digested to give one the energy that one requires.

Picture 3- Milk takes about 5 hours to digest, so carbohydrate food are preferred before a race, as it take about 3 hour to digest. 

As for lunch, a 3 hour empty stomach prior to a run will help one to avoid stitch. One should avoid milky product as it takes 5 hours to digest and give energy. From experience, I have done my runs consuming fruits before training, an hour, and actually nothing happens. However, I used to get stomach pain if I eat fruits an hour before the race. In a running book, I was told to avoid taking predominantly fruits just before a race. Hence, I was able to run without any problem in a time trial or a race.

Picture 4 – Fruits take an hour to digest and to give energy, but it will lead to stomach ache during the run as they are acidic properties, and affect a race

Moreover, as for stitch, it is wise not to run in an erratical manner, to run fast-slow-fast, as a stitch can be experienced, most probably. If one runs in a steady manner, there is low tendency to get a stitch.

For me, by and large, it is better to prevent a stitch rather than handing or managing a stitch, as one’s time will be slowed down with the impending pain coming from the stomach. If one wants to run faster, to catch up someone, in a race, the pain from stitch can keep increasing and it can be unbearable, and it may lead one to stop running totally, in fact.

Edited by Tan Mariviv!