Hey everyone. I have been training for a 5k for about a month now. I have been using the couch to 5k plan. Today was my 20 minutes run. Once I hit the 10 minute mark I had awful pains in my sides and on my abs. I was able to finish the run. What are these from and what do I do to not get them? Thanks.
From your post it is not clear whether you are a new runner, but I will assume that you are, or that you are at least new to training specifically for competition, which requires some kind of training schedule similar to the one you are on (C25k).
Most people who run pretty much run by feel, that is they don't hold themselves to a particular schedule for a particular purpose. Even many who occasionally compete, like myself, aren't running on a fixed schedule, but as time allows. When runners decide to take on a running project, such as a 5k or a Marathon, there is a tendency for the runners' dedication to take them out of their comfort zone. Sometimes the urgency to stick to a plan allows the resulting aches and pains to take them by surprise. Don't worry too much, in most cases, it's all good.
One of the differences between running and walking, or other sports that do not involve constant movement, is the constant breathing that it requires. Most running programs take runners beyond the normal belly/diaphragm breathing to chest breathing, which enlists the help of many muscles along the abdomen, ribs, and back. Chances are very good that these muscles were not prepared for prolonged aerobic activity, and are now experiencing "growing pains," but there are things to consider inside the abdomen itself.
A lot of this pain in runners can be avoided easily, and there is an easy way to recover from it when it occurs. First thing to learn is when to exhale while running. If you exhale when your Left foot hits the ground, it will give your breathing muscles and movement of your vital organs more room to work in concert with one another. Get used to this rhythm.
Most side stitches occur in runners who exhale on the Right foot. If you do get a stitch in the upper abs, check for traffic from the rear, pull over to the side to let other runners past, and stop, reaching under the Right rib cage with your fingers, pressing and holding to quiet the diaphragm and position the liver, while slowly breathing out through pursed lips (liver tip courtesy Dr. Gabe Mirkin).
In addition, your abs are actually important synergists in the flexion of your hips, which is something that becomes important when you move from a walk to a trot or a run. Bringing those legs forward requires the abs to brace the spine. Along with the movement of each leg in the opposite direction from the other, considerable stiffening and movement of the torso is required to keep your stride under control. These "core" muscles, while often highlighted by strength sports such as gymnastics and wrestling, are extremely important for delivering a smooth running form. Normally, the smoother and less sloppy the form of a runner, the less it is prone to injury. Give your body some credit for trying to spare your legs any future trauma!
Meanwhile, I am sure you are anxious to stick with your program. You will be happy to know that running is an excellent way to train your core muscle group, and the pains you now feel will eventually be replaced by strength. If you have watched any of the MLB pitchers on the mound this October, you might be surprised to know that for many of them, running is an important part of their training, because it delivers a stiffer, smoother core that helps them sling those 90mph fast balls with winning precision. Imagine how their sides would ache if they never trained those important core muscles!
While it may have been a good idea to do some exercise ball or trampoline work to ready your core for the rigors of a regular running schedule, I am sure your body will catch up with your ambitions in time. Though it is not too late to start some cross-training to increase your core fitness, you might want to avoid piling on too many exercise regimens at once, in favor of allowing your body some additional time to adapt.
Meanwhile, make sure you are getting enough (but not too much) water, and the electrolytes (essential minerals) that should go with it. Avoid eating right before your runs, as this will contribute to abdominal pain when blood flow is shunted away from digestion to the legs. Give yourself a couple hours for gastric emptying to occur. Practice breathing deeply and holding a chest full of air to wake up your breathing muscles. Practice prolonged exhalation as well. Different muscles are involved in moving the chest in and out, and both are required during running, and seldom used to this extent at any other time.
Practice gently rotating your trunk at the waist to engage many of these same muscles. If you do not have a relevant back injury, try slow, prolonged leaning from side to side to strengthen them on the return trip. Consider taking a Tai Chi class, which is good at promoting this type of gentle core fitness without the wear and tear.
In sports, we are used to seeing aches and pains begin to blossom within three weeks of a new training regimen. Often, the full benefits are not seen for three months. Your times may vary, but since it usually takes a year and a half or so to get close to your full potential, you can expect other muscles involved in the different components of your running form to complain in turn. It comes with the territory, but I can tell you that after going through most of these pains myself over the years, the results are worth it.
If you cut back on your training or delay your program, it will always be there waiting for your return. Perhaps you can schedule a different 5k for a later time. This will give you a chance to differentiate between a running-related pain, and some other problem that requires the attention of your physician. Good luck with your training, and realize that an occasional rest does not mean you are a quitter. You'll be back... Don't give up!
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