There was one day last year when I thought I must be crazy. I was on my morning run and in a lot of pain. I had a stitch on both sides, blisters on both heels and my thigh muscles were on fire (or at least they felt like they were).
What am I doing? Is it supposed to be this hard? I’m not a runner, and I should give up this crazy idea right here, and now, my mind tried to convince me. And I almost did. Luckily, I’m a stubborn Samogitian (if you’re not aware, Samogitia is an area in a northern part of Lithuania that is known for producing incredibly stubborn character traits). So, I got to work and here’s what I discovered – I had NO CLUE what I was doing when I started to run.
With a little bit of education, I was able to treat all my running problems and turn it into a much more pleasant experience.
I thought it’s a fact of life that if you start running, sooner or later you’ll get blisters. It turns out – it doesn’t have to be that way. Here’s how to avoid and treat them:
• Start wearing your running shoes a few weeks before your first run, especially if they are new. Wear them every day for at least a couple of hours to “break them in”, allow the shoe to adjust to the shape of your foot.
• Get some good quality double-layer running socks. I couldn’t believe what a difference these socks made to the comfort of my feet when running. I haven’t experienced a single blister since I started wearing them! I got mine from Amazon, have a look if you’re interested – Running socks.
• Once you develop blisters, it takes time for them to heal. Luckily – you don’t have to stop running. I sure didn’t want to give up on making progress just because of a nasty blister, so I tried the blister plasters. It worked like magic! They’re not cheap, but each plaster stays on your foot for multiple days and speeds up the healing too! You can carry some with you on your run and use it as soon as you feel the blister developing to prevent further damage. I only tried the Compeed brand, but seeing the results I won’t risk buying anything else – Compeed Blister Plasters.
2. Sore muscles
If you ever had an intensive exercise with no preparation or time to build up your strength, you know how intense muscle pain can be afterwards. I completely ignored that fact when I started running. I thought to myself – it’s just a 20-minute run, I’m not sprinting or racing, there’s no need to worry that I’m over-doing it. After about a week of daily running, I could barely walk. Climbing up the stairs was agony. Even when I was in bed, I could feel my muscles throbbing.
You can expect some level of discomfort when you start a new exercise; it’s just the way it is. The problems start when you push through the pain until it gets too much. In my case, I had to stop running for almost a week to allow my muscles to recover.
Please learn from my mistake – don’t start running (or any other exercise) full-on every day. Start slow, short distances, every other day and increase your level of activity each week.
Allow your body to be your guide – notice how you feel while running (if you feel like you’re dying – you’re going too hard), see how you feel afterwards. It’s ok to feel a little stiffness and discomfort in your muscles, but not intense pain.
If you do end up hurting yourself in the beginning – take a little time off running, maybe a few days and go back to it slowly afterwards. Allowing your muscles to rest and heal is the primary medicine in this case. There are a few other things you can do to speed up the healing:
• Put an ice pack on your sore muscles right after the exercise or take an ice bath up to the waist.
• Make sure to stay well hydrated, preferably drink some electrolytes.
• Treat yourself to a massage, or massage your muscles yourself
• Take a warm bath with Epsom salts. This one is by far my favourite – it soothes the muscles and relaxes your whole body. I use Dr Salts, a very high-quality salt that comes in a convenient resealable bag – Dr Salts Epsom Salt.
3. Side stitch
This one is by far the most annoying and hardest to treat. What is a side stitch? It’s a sharp pain in your abdomen right under your ribs when you’re running. The most plausible explanation I found so far is to do with your diaphragm – a big muscle that separates your heart and lungs from digestive organs. The diaphragm is also a muscle that helps you breathe. Running (or other jarring activity, like horse riding) puts stress on the diaphragm and causes it to cramp. It is more common in the beginning, but even experienced runners aren’t safe from getting the side stitch from time to time. There is no magic pill on how to prevent and treat the stitch, but there are a few things worth trying.
How to prevent a side stitch:
• Breathing is everything. When you start running, it’s easy to take short, shallow breaths in the beginning, before you pick up the pace. Big mistake. You have to consciously start taking deep, relaxed, rhythmic breaths through your mouth right from the first moment you foot strikes the ground, even if you’re not going fast at all. Your breathing should stay deep and rhythmic throughout the run.
• Running on an empty stomach or at least 2-3 hours after a light meal is best, as it helps to relieve some of the pressure on the diaphragm.
• Take time for a warm-up before your run (abdominal stretches are recommended for preventing a side stitch) and start your run very slowly and gently, gradually increasing the pace.
• If you’re doing other types of exercise – focus on strengthening your core muscles. They will provide more support for your internal organs and relieve pressure on your diaphragm.
• Maintain good posture and keep your back straight when running. If you’re leaning forward – it is harder to take breaths that are deep enough to prevent a stitch.
How to treat a side stitch:
• Pressing your fingers right into the pain relieves it completely. You can stop your run and apply pressure until the stitch goes away and then start over. I have also completed my run with my fingers pressing the stitch, but after a while, it becomes less effective.
• Slow down to a walk and take deep “belly breaths”.
• If you continue running with the stitch – change your breathing pattern. If the stitch is on the right side – aim to exhale when with your left foot strikes the ground, if it is on the left – exhale with the right foot.
• Stop running, stretch your arms up as high as you can while taking deep breaths and then bend to the opposite side from the stitch. Repeat if necessary.
• Stop running, bend over and touch your toes (I haven’t tried this one yet, let me know if it works for you).
As for me, I often continue running stitch or no stitch. I know there’s nothing dangerous about it, so it doesn’t worry me. And since my run usually lasts around 20 minutes, I don’t feel like wasting time trying to deal with the stitch. But that’s just me.
If your side stitch doesn’t go away after you stop running or if the pain spreads to the surrounding area or your shoulder – seek medical attention, it could be a sign of a serious health condition.
Good luck and good health!