Hurts to Breath

Diaphragm cramp or side stitches, call it what you like it’s unpleasant. There are only theories as to why you get side stitches when you are running (or doing other sports activities). The most widely held belief is a muscle spasm of the diaphragm and/or its supporting ligaments.

Your diaphragm muscle assists you with breathing while you are running and because your need for oxygen increases when you’re running, your diaphragm works harder. The thought is that it gets tired and/or the surrounding tissues get tired and then the muscle spasms.

The second theory is improper breathing (oh yeah, you can breathe the wrong way). This theory ends the same as the above, a fatigued diaphragm and surrounding muscles which leads to spasms. The difference is breathing too shallow. Shallow breathing means your muscles don’t get enough oxygen and then get tired easier.

So what’s the proper way to breath when you are running? Deep with your belly not shallow into your chest. Breathing deep into your belly opens blood vessels found deep in your lungs and fills your blood with more oxygen. Most people breath with their chest, only filling two thirds of their lungs. To tell if you are belly breathing, lay on your back and lay your hand on your stomach. If your hand rises and falls you’re belly breathing. Most of us have to make a conscious effort to belly breath.

The third theory is we don’t time our breathing with our foot falls properly. When you are running try inhaling for three steps (right, left, right) and then exhale for two steps (left, right). This five-step rhythm will alternate your exhale from your right foot plant to your left. You have to think about it for a while when you’re first learning to do it, but it will reduce your side stitches. Practice it for a few minutes every mile and pretty soon it will become automatic. If you are climbing a hill or doing speed work, change it to a 2:1 ration for inhalation and exhalation.

The fourth theory is poor running posture, aka running with your shoulders rounded and your upper body bent forward. One belief is that hunching over like that compromises nerves in the abdominal area and then they become irritated and trigger the pain you feel and call side stitches. The other belief is that the hunching puts more weight on your diaphragm which causes it to spasm and get tired.

The final theory is dehydration. I’m not going to go into this one. We all know it’s critical to hydrate before, during and after our runs. We know we have to take in electrolytes if we’re running for more than about 60-90 minutes (depending on pace and temperature outside: faster and hotter=more electrolytes).

Bottom line: breath deep with your belly, use rhythmic breathing, pay attention to your posture, and hydrate.

Too much of a good thing?

Is there a point where the number of miles you run begins to hurt your performance? Some say yes. The goal is to reach race day healthy and uninjured. There is a point for every runner where you have reached your potential and adding miles only places you at risk for injury.

How many miles you run depends on a lot of things (This should be the standard answer to any running question) and everyone is different (ditto). Amount of sleep, life schedule, how long you’ve been training, and injury disposition are just a few.

Here are some basic rules to keep in mind as you increase your miles:

  1. You need to run higher miles for longer races. This seems to make sense since your body needs to be accustomed to running the distance you are going to be racing.
  2. If you want to finish strong and hit higher performance goals, you need to run more miles. If you just want to finish a race, then your miles can stay lower.
  3. Quality over quantity. If you are doing quality runs (speed work, long runs, hill climbs, and the like), you should reduce your miles because of the added stress the more quality runs put on it.
  4. Another point on quality. If you want to hit a particular pace during a race, you need to train at that pace.
  5. 10% golden rule. Increase your miles slowly to allow your body to adapt to the stress of the added miles. Experts agree that increasing by 10% a week is safe and effective.
  6. Re-read the bold sentence in paragraph one (I’ll put it here just in case you don’t want to scroll up. The goal is to reach race day healthy and uninjured).

Here are some general guidelines:

5K: Beginner 10-20 miles a week; mortal 20-25 miles per week; Elite 70-80 miles per week.

10k: Beginner 15-25 miles a week; mortal 25-30 miles per week; Elite 80-100 miles per week.

Half Marathon: Beginner 20-30 miles per week; mortal 30-40 miles per week; Elite 100-110 miles per week.

Marathon: Beginner 30-40 miles per week; mortal 30-50 miles per week; Elite 100-140 miles per week.

Ultramarathon: Beginner 55-65 miles per week; mortal 60-75 miles per week; Elite 120-150 miles per week.

Now that we have an idea about how many miles, we need to know how frequently. Most coaches and trainers recommend running four days a week and taking one complete rest day every week or one every two weeks. Elite runners are running twice a day on run days to get their miles in. They run a high quality run in the morning and then easier miles in the evening.

Most marathon and under plans schedule a run three days during the week and then a long run on the weekend. This format lets you do a quality run in the middle of two easy runs during the week. Then it gives you a day off before your long weekend run and a day off after your long run to recover. You can choose to add in strength training or some type of cross training on one or two of your non run days which can help you become a more balanced runner.too much of a good thing

Involve the Family


Family and Friends want to be a part of your life and join in the experiences that you love as much as they can. They want to share your joy and success. There are many ways that they can join in and support you in your running. Races are always in need of volunteers.

Operating an aid station for a race gives you a real appreciation for the accomplishment of running. You watch runners struggle and keep going. Most runners are very courteous and grateful to volunteers. Races would not happen without the volunteer support.

Many races give their volunteers race swag such as t-shirts, coupons, and samples of sponsor’s products, similar to what the runners get. Most importantly volunteering allows them to see you, their runner, out there on the course, which can be difficult for trail running courses. Volunteering may also motivate them to give running a try or not.

Family can be at the starting line to see you off, meet you along the course to cheer and hold up signs, and then chant your name as you cross the finish line. This is easier to do on a longer course where there isn’t the chance of missing you coming into the finish because they don’t get back in time. If it is a short course, which loops around itself it can be done as well.

Many race websites post the course and the best places for family and friends to see their runners. Crowding into an aid station is not a good place to be. Some runners stop at aid stations to get their water, Gatorade, or gels. Many runners slow down as they pass through the aid stations. Family and friends will only add to the congestion. It is better for them to be at another place on the course, particularly for races with a large number of participants.

Runners are packed together for the first few miles of a marathon or half marathon, which makes catching their runner’s eye or giving a high five more difficult. After the halfway point, runners spread out and seeing a familiar face is all the encouragement a runner needs to keep going to the end.

As a runner knowing that I have someone at the finish line cheering for me, encourages me the whole race. I want to come across that finish line looking and feeling strong. When I am at a down point or want to walk, knowing that I have people waiting for me gives me just one more reason to keep going.

As soon as the finish line is in sight, runners are looking for their personal fans, pulling their shoulders back, and picking up their pace as much as they can. You know that once you cross the finish line your loved ones will help you get a chair, ice, water, a banana or just take off your shoes.

Does a Marathon ever get easy?

marathon starting

First time marathoners ask me this question all the time. In fact, experienced marathoners have been known to say, “A marathon is probably nothing to you.”

Saturday I had the pleasure of watching a few of my friends run in their first marathon. They were nervous and excited to bursting. I was amazed when each of them crossed the finish line not only because they had accomplished what they set out to do, but because it started snowing right before the start and then it rained for the entire marathon. In fact, it rained for the next fifteen hours.

I understand where the question, “Does the Marathon ever get easy?” comes from. Most people think if you run ultramarathons of fifty to one hundred miles, twenty-six miles should be a breeze, right? Not necessarily.

Yes, I use marathons as a supported long run. Yes, my training consists of running thirty miles on Saturday and twenty miles on Sunday. Yes, I run four marathons back to back for fun, all through the night, and don’t stop to rest.

So, does a marathon ever get easy?  It’s all in the way you run it.

If I run a marathon at my easy long run pace, I’m not sore the next day and I can run another marathon if I want and sometimes I do. If I put all my effort into the marathon, I’m probably going to take a rest day or two. I may even be a little sore depending on the course.

The marathon is as hard as you want to make it, even for ultramarathon runners and elite runners. Whenever you push your body to its limit, it’s hard regardless of what your training plan is and regardless of how many times you have done it before.

One thing that your body does get better at is recovering after the marathon. Even when you put out your full effort, your recovery time (time until you are out running again) gets shorter and shorter. It may take a first time marathoner seven to ten days to recover, but it will take a more experienced marathoner two or three days.

Don’t cheat yourself on Miles


Does it matter if I run 3 miles instead of 3.1 miles? Only if you’re running a 5k. All right, so if one tenth of a mile doesn’t make a difference does a quarter mile? How about a half? I suppose it depends upon how far you are running and why you have stopped.

If you are supposed to run a mile and a half, then yes a quarter mile matters. If you are supposed to run twenty miles, stopping at 19.75 probably isn’t a big deal. If you are cutting a half mile off a run, you ought to have a good reason. The “I didn’t map the distance properly,” or “I don’t have a Garmin,” are not going to work.

Some runners will run back and forth in parking lots or up and down their street to get that last little bit to hit their mile goal. If it’s under a quarter mile, I don’t worry about it. I will do at least another mile during the day walking the dogs, and I’m sure I will walk at least a quarter mile around my house. You don’t need to be a mile Nazi.

If you are cutting quarters or halves off of every run, that’s a problem. If you are calling home for a ride at mile five of a ten mile run, you may need to re-evaluate your goals or get a running partner who won’t let you quit. “I just wasn’t feeling it,” doesn’t work with me because if you don’t get out there you’re never going to “feel it.”

Injury is totally different. If you develop a sharp pain at mile five of a ten mile run, that doesn’t recede quickly, you should probably phone a friend to pick you up or limp back along the shortest route possible. If you fall and it’s more than a scrape, I understand cutting it short. If you’re vomiting, sure go home and go to bed, but if you feel better after emptying your stomach, keep going.

If you are training for a marathon and consistently cut your runs short, you are cheating only yourself, unless you are convincing your training partner to do the same. Then you are both screwed.

There is value in struggling through hard miles. There is value in pushing yourself past the farthest distance you have ever run. Those achievements will lend you their strength during your future hard runs. And there will be hard runs to come especially if you want to improve.

Here’s the thing with running, No one can run your miles for you. No one can do the hard work but you. Running keeps us honest, because if you don’t run the miles, it shows.

Running doesn’t tolerate cheaters or liars. If you don’t run the miles, your day of reckoning will come. And you will beg for mercy.


Formless Running

Salt Lake Marathon Salt Flats 100 2014 018

Running form, what’s the big deal? I can put one foot in front of the other just fine, thank you very much. I’ve been doing it a long time now.

Maybe you are one of the few people who were born with perfect running form, or maybe you are happy with the low miles you run and can’t imagine running more than ten miles a week. If this is you, then read some of my archives.

If you want to improve your running efficiency and decrease the probability of injuries keep reading.

Most of us grew up wearing thick-soled shoes, which have stunted our potential when it comes to developing a solid graceful running form. There are those that heel strike, hunch their shoulders, and cross over their midline with their arms as they run and these things cause problems as you continue on your running journey and increase miles.

But fear not, there are some simple things you can do that don’t take a lot of time which will help you develop that solid graceful running form that will take you to the finish line.

Let’s start with the easiest. First, while you are running imagine a string pulling you from the center of your chest toward the moon or sun if you prefer. This will keep you tall with your shoulders back a bit, and cause you to land on your mid-foot to forefoot rather than on your heel.

The next thing is to watch the amount of cross over that happens with your arms. Your arms should be at a 90-degree angle at the elbow with loose hands and relaxed shoulders. Your wrist should come back to your hip/waist on the back swing, and your elbow should come past your rib cage on the front swing. Your arms should swing back and forth in a straight line, do not cross the midline. If you are crossing over, you throw your hips off which trickles down to your, ITBand, knees, and ankles.

Hip and core strength are essential elements in staying injury free and having good form while running. Your hips are a part of your core, but I talk about them separately so you don’t leave them out. I have core/ab and hip strength workouts on my pages. Recent research on some of the most common running injuries, shin splints, ITBand syndrome, and runner’s knee, are showing that weak hips are a major contributing factor. If you think about it, it makes sense. As we run, we move our arms and legs opposite of each other and cause a twisting in the hips/core muscles. If the core is not stable it recruits other muscles to do its job, or it just tweaks muscles in ways they are not meant to be tweaked.

The other recommendation I give for developing good form is to work on proprioception. Proprioception is your minds awareness of where the body is in space.  There are two easy quick exercises, which will increase your proprioception. First, is balancing on one leg. Once you can do it for one minute without much difficulty, close your eyes. You can then change the surface to a pillow and then a balance board.  The other one is writing the ABC’s in the air with one foot while standing on the other. Again, once you are good at a flat hard surface change to a pillow and then a balance board.

A solid form is critical to finishing strong and preventing injuries, if your form is flimsy and weak, your body is forced to rely on smaller and weaker muscles at the end of a race causing them to get injured and causing you to be less efficient. Efficient running translates into maintaining energy throughout the race.

What makes a runner?


I’m not a runner, I just jog a little here and there.

I run sometimes, but I’m not a runner.

I’m too slow to be a runner.

I don’t go far enough to be considered a runner.

I’m not a runner, I only run a few days a week.

I run, but I’m not a runner.

Being a runner is a state of mind, not running a certain pace or distance. If you put one foot in front of another, faster than you walk, on a regular basis, when you are not being chased, are not chasing, or late for something, you are a runner.


Pace doesn’t have much to do with running. I’ve seen runners who do a 18 minute mile and I’ve seen runners who do a 5 minute mile. It’s not the pace that makes them a runner. It’s their mind.

Distance doesn’t have much to do with running either. I’ve seen runners who do 400 meters and I’ve seen runners who do 100 miles. It’s not the distance that makes them a runner. It’s their mind.

Diet definitely does not make a runner.

Any runner, is doing more than the person sitting on the couch. About 10% of the United States population considers themselves runners. It is difficult to measure because people define “being a runner” in different ways.

Once you say you’re a runner, other people expect you to run. They invite you to do events, to run with them, or ask about your races and, god forbid, your times! It’s hard at first, I get it, when you first start running with others it’s intimidating. It can be intimidating for experienced runners when they run with others who they know are faster than them.

You don’t have to run with other people, if you choose to, you will meet accepting and supportive people. They want to help, share their experiences, and information. It’s best to pick another runner who is a little faster than you to challenge yourself.

You don’t have to participate in events to be a runner. But events can be fun. You don’t have to win or set any goal other than to finish. The goal of finish is the best goal to start with. Who cares what your times are, you’re not competing with anyone, but yourself, which makes you a winner every time.

Why call yourself a runner? Because once you do, you are more likely to keep doing it. You’re committed. And that’s when the benefits become a reality.

Embrace the label. Say it aloud. I am a runner. Announce it to the world, I AM A RUNNER!