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Abdominal Cramping during the run
CREATED: 07/26/10 by urbanlumberjack REPLIES: 7
urbanlumberjack's ravatar urbanlumberjack    JOINED: 3/25/09    POSTS: 143
Abdominal Cramping during the run
POSTED: 7/26/10 10:57 AM

I have a tendency to cramp up (left lower ribcage every time) on the run leg of races, and it can really kill my race. Not only is the run my strongest event, but there is nothing fun about finishing a race in pain. I've concentrated on drinking more (at the patriots sprint this past weekend I put down two full bottles of water with nuun during the bike) and it actually might be making it worse. Could I be over-hydrating? Does anyone have any experience with this?

AndyJB444's ravatar AndyJB444    JOINED: 2/28/09    POSTS: 401
RE: Abdominal Cramping during the run
POSTED: 7/26/10 11:22 AM

I continue to battle this, a few key things I have found that tend to set it off:

-Drinking too much too late on the bike
-Out of control/shallow breathing

Once it hits in a race I would recommend really focusing on your breathing - and get into a rhythm of deep breaths to try and relax the diaphragm and cramping muscles. I like to focus on exhaling every other left foot strike, as an example.

flora    JOINED: 2/28/09    POSTS: 35
RE: Abdominal Cramping during the run
POSTED: 7/26/10 12:00 PM

I had the same problem. You're less likely to cramp or side-stitch if your stomach is empty. It sounds like you could be overhydrating. You may want to hydrate less with water/nuun and more with a sports drink, or hydrate in smaller amounts but more frequently. Try both and see which works for you.

Also, focus on your breathing as Andy described above. In particular, I found it helps tremendously if you exhale when the foot on the same side of your cramp strikes the ground - for instance if your cramp is on the right side, exhale each time the right foot strikes the ground. This helps stretch out the diaphragm which can relieve the cramp.

merlinkim's ravatar merlinkim    JOINED: 2/28/09    POSTS: 285
RE: Abdominal Cramping during the run
POSTED: 7/26/10 2:27 PM

I would say that excessive fluid intake is the problem. The sprint is 650m swim + 13.5 mile bike + 3mi/5k run. To go through an example, assume 2:30/100m swim, 18 mph bike. That would mean 16:30 swim, 45:00 bike. You've been exercising for an hour by the time you get to T2, and have taken in two bottles of fluid in that time.

Your stomach can't absorb any fluid that quickly during a moderate workout, let alone a full-gas sprint, and you haven't been exercising long enough to lose that amount of fluid via sweat/respiration, so it's just sloshing around. Your body can have blood go to the legs to help you run, or it have blood go to the stomach to absorb the water. Asking it to do both = cramps in the stomach or slow legs, or both. Think of it this way: If you ran the Cherry Blossom or Army 10-Miler @ 10min/mile, would you drink two bottles before the 1/2 way point?

In the summer heat, properly hydrating is important, but it's just as important to understand how much is too much and how much is not enough.

urbanlumberjack's ravatar urbanlumberjack    JOINED: 3/25/09    POSTS: 143
RE: Abdominal Cramping during the run
POSTED: 7/26/10 2:37 PM

Thanks all, this helps a lot. I sweat a lot, and I got pretty nervous after a really hard workout in the heat where I cramped up badly, not to mention constant warnings from pretty much everywhere to hydrate. It seems I've actually been making the problem worse. I'll experiment with moderating my liquid intake during some long bricks (deep creek!) and see what happens.

JessO's ravatar JessO    JOINED: 6/16/09    POSTS: 66
RE: Abdominal Cramping during the run
POSTED: 7/26/10 5:24 PM

many of the experts out there believe side-stitches are mainly a result of breathing issues—like others suggested—though, it’s certainly possible that fluid intake is playing a role. The stitch is typically caused by a spasm in your diaphragm. when you breathe in, your diaphragm actually contracts, and then it relaxes on the exhale. If you’re only breathing through the chest (shallow breathing), the diaphragm contracts in a shortened position & is never fully lengthened....causing the stitch.

The best prevention is to breath out fully and regularly while you run—and make sure you haven’t slipped into the common habit of shallow/chest breathing on a regular basis. When you do get a stitch, like any muscle, it helps to stretch it. By exhaling deeply & pretty forcefully a few times (suggested above), it may help break the spasm.

My personal feeling is that it’s exacerbated in tris because it’s harder to take a full, deep, “belly breath” that incorporates your diaphragm when you’re folded in the aerodynamic position on the bike. You’re forced to breath with the chest more than you ordinary would—causing problems on the run.

Hope that helps!

urbanlumberjack's ravatar urbanlumberjack    JOINED: 3/25/09    POSTS: 143
RE: Abdominal Cramping during the run
POSTED: 7/26/10 5:33 PM

thanks! that makes sense too, this never happens when I'm just running (even in Hillary's grueling track workouts).

trigator    JOINED: 5/14/10    POSTS: 21
RE: Abdominal Cramping during the run
POSTED: 7/27/10 5:40 PM

I would agree with the breathing aspect of cramping. I have taken care of many people that have come into the ER that were hyperventilating and were cramping from head to toe. When your muscles are deprived of that O2 they start to cramp up and the only way you are going to help with that is control your breathing OR you can just wait till you pass out which will also stop them. Also you may want to start trying salt tablets as well, if you are drinking a lot of fluids you can have dilutional hyponatremia which can drop your sodium levels. That is what i am trying since i always cramp up during the run.

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