Learning How to Breathe

Hi, my name is Katie and I’m a professional side-stitch cramper.  Every runner I know has at some point experienced this terrible, awful, no good “Please just go away!” pain. For me, personally, it has gotten to the point where I have finally thrown up my hands and said, “We are going to figure this out if it’s the last thing we do. (add in a little ,”damnit” at the end of that and it really drives home my point 🙂 .)

Let’s first go over what exactly is a side-stitch, and what the general consensus is for the cause of this monster:

  • The sharp cramp/pain develops under the rib-cage of either side of the stomach. For me, it’s always guaranteed to be on the right side. Although it doesn’t help, I usually end up intensely grabbing my side with my hand to try and make it go away. I have been known to grab my side a lot. During last weekend’s side-stitch marathon 1/2 marathon, I held my side so tight, it ended up bleeding during the race. OKAY THAT’S NOT NORMAL. See the picture below for the spot after it healed a couple days later.


Most agree the side stitch is caused by one of the following scenarios:

  • Shallow breathing, causing a lack of blood flow to the diaphragm. 
  • Weak core muscles.
  • Dehydration, or the opposite–too much water

I italicized the first bullet point because that is what my post is about today. When I first began my research on the awful side cramp and it’s predecessors, I began really paying attention to my core exercises, or lack thereof at the time, and making sure I am plenty hydrated. After about 8 months, I can honestly say I have those two under control. Strong core and plenty of water? Check. Still side cramp issues? Check check check.


Core exercise routine. 2x per week.

Instead of giving up or saying, “I’m just going to have the side stitch forever and ever,” I refuse to accept it and I’m doing my research. This is what I have found thus far.

I started my research with an article based on the popular book by Budd Coates, entitled, “Running on Air.”  This article BLEW MY MIND. The author and expert behind this theory is Budd, who at the time, was sick of being plagued by injuries (understandable), and set on a mission to find out why.  What he came up with was a common breathing pattern mistake most runners make. Hang with me. I’ll explain.



Most runners follow an even breathing pattern, meaning they inhale for the same amount of cadences (foot steps) as they exhale. For example, most runners take a breath in, while taking two steps, and then they breathe out, while taking two steps. What is wrong with this? Well, this causes you to exhale while planting the same foot. (For me, it’s always the right side).  Annndddd, what’s wrong with this? Well, when one exhales, physiologically, they relax their core and body in general for a second, which also happens to be putting the greatest amount of stress on the side you are planting with. Are you with me? Exhaling=relaxed body=greater amount of weight placed on the foot doing the step.

I found this SO interesting, because ironically, every one of my injuries (whether minor or season ending) have been on my right side, the same side on which I continuously exhale, and the same side I continue to get this terrible side cramp! MIND BLOWN.

Budd says this can all be avoided by changing our breathing patterns from a 2:2 to a 3:2. This means instead of inhaling for two steps and exhaling for two, essentially one would inhale for three steps, and exhale for two. This switches up the foot you land on each exhale, subsequently creating an equilibrium of stressors. Obviously, this takes a lot of practice. If you are like me, I never think about “How to breathe,” while running. Who does? It’s not that hard, you just breathe, right!? Well, changing from a natural 2:2 pattern to a 3:2 is not as easy as it might seem. In fact, when I started trying this out, I did it on a treadmill, and I also began to realize how SHALLOW I breathe! MIND BLOWN. This is me below on my first treadmill run trying out the new breathing pattern. I used a 3:2 pattern while I was running easy, and then changed to a 2:1 (inhale for 2 steps, exhale for 1 step) when I sped it up to tempo/faster than tempo pace.


So, after some research and trying out this whole breathing thing, what are my thoughts??

  • I think there is definitely some merit to it.
  • Today on my 10 mile run, I started getting a cramp, and consciously focused on deep breathing and making sure I was doing the 3:2 pattern for a good 2 miles, and it went away. MAGIC?!?!
  • I am going to continue working on this, as well as deep breathing (from my belly rather than my chest), and will log how I feel after a few more weeks of practice.



Full Race Recap: Andrew Jackson 1/2 Marathon

Technically speaking, this was really only my second half-marathon to “race” . . . I ran my first half in 2009, after being in India for a few weeks (Read: not much training), I was 30 lbs heavier than I am now, and it felt awesome! You think I’m kidding. Really, I finished and literally thought, “wow! Sign me up for another one!” Maybe it was because I didn’t expect to do well, or I just let loose and didn’t care. Who knows. I loved it, and finished in 1.50, which in my eyes, was great, considering I hadn’t trained much and my goal was simply to complete it. It was a great feeling. To be honest, I was totally clueless as to what my pace even was. I didn’t wear a watch. I didn’t race it. I didn’t “compete” with myself or those around me. I just ran.

My second half was 3 years later. I was much more fit, but I had no idea how to race a half. IM A MILER FOR CRYING OUT LOUD. So, I raced the half like I would race a mile, it’s all the same, right? LOLLLLZZ. Wellll, let’s just say the last 7 miles of the race I cried the entire time, and my “goal” of running 7:30 per mile went out the window when I got the chills/cramps ALL over my body. I could barely pick my feet up, and swore off running the rest of my life. So dramatic. Wait, you mean to tell me drinking coffee instead of water the entire week leading up to the race is going to affect my performance?! Yeaaa. I really don’t wish that 1/2 marathon experience on anyone, even the girl who bullied me in 6th grade. Terrible. I ran a 1:43.


Fayetteville, AR. December 2012.  100% fake smile

My third half occurred on accident last November during the middle of a normal long run. I said to my friend Beth, “Hey! I think I am on target to get a 1/2 Marathon PR.” We cruised to a 1.39, which was a 4 minute PR for me. Unexpected, fun, but not “official.”

There you have it. Although, I only had 1 experience “racing” a 1/2 marathon under my belt, I knew I was way more capable than what my times show. So, I went for it. Let’s take a look at how all that played out in last Saturday’s Andrew Jackson 1/2 Marathon in Jackson, TN. 20140322-192514.jpgFrom my first disastrous experience racing the half, are you shocked to hear me say the race last Saturday SUCKED?  You shouldn’t be. Well, it sucked. I hurt the entire 13.1 miles.

FRIDAY, March 21. The race was in my hometown. In my opinion, this is a huge advantage. No major schedule changes. I worked on Friday, did my normal routine, yada yada.  Friday evening was marked by packet pickup, taking care of my parent’s zoo while they were out of town (5 dogs in 1 tiny house. yes, it’s NUTS. Love you, Mom and Jeff!), and driving past the town carnival. Trust me, the town carnival was not as magical as this filter makes it look. (Read: creepy old men at the ticket booth), BUT, I do love a good funnel cake. (I didn’t eat a funnel cake, promise). Moving on. 20140322-192459.jpg I laid out my racing kit for the next morning. Wasn’t sure whether I would need the arm warmers at 45 degrees, but they ARE JUST SO CUTE! (I didn’t end up wearing them. Good decision). Also, let me say something about that Nike sports bra: it is one of the best things to happen to me (exaggeration, but really). Hold’s the girls in like a glove. Great for high impact, and no chafing. If you have any sort of blessing in the form of breasts (read: larger than a B cup), go for this bra20140322-191938.jpg SATURDAY, March 22: RACE DAY!
I don’t eat before races. I realize I need some substance. But, I just can’t stomach it. I feel sloshy (you know that feeling I’m talking about–everything inside you is on a roller coaster ride), and will 100% get a cramp. Doesn’t matter if I eat 4 hours before the race. Also, my training runs start at 5:30a.m. every day, so I’m used to training on an empty stomach. I’m not opposed to pre-race meals by any means, but for now, this is what we are going with.


Got to the race at 7:00 am just in time to see the gun go off for the full marathon. I wished Beth and Audrey (my training partners) good luck, and made my way to the starting line.  My worry going into this race was that I wouldn’t be able to sustain the goal pace for the entire 13 miles. “HOW THE HECK AM I SUPPOSED TO RUN 13 MILES AT 6.52 PACE?!” My nerves were ALL over the place. I didn’t do much of a running warm up, mostly because I was about to have to run 13 miles, and was scared I wouldn’t be able to finish (DUMB. I should have warmed up at least a little bit.) I did my normal dynamic stretching warm-up, though, and before I knew it, we were off.

Miles 1-3 (Splits: 6:50, 7:06, 6:52)
WEllllll, as fate would have it, the satellites on my watch were lost exactly 5 seconds before the gun went off. HAA. Not the end of the world by any means, but, I couldn’t start the watch until close to a mile into the race.

Felt a side stitch cramp almost immediately. “GREEEATTT. This is going to be a looonggg morning.” Instead of breathing deep and trying to relax to make it go away, I lost all form of logic and just decided to embrace it. The cramp would continue the rest of the race. Besides a couple decent climbs, the first four miles are actually downhill a bit. I knew the familiarity I had with the course would help. It did.


Miles 4-6 (Splits: 6:53, 6:47, 6:56)
By mile 4, the cramp really started to get in my head, but I was in second place for the females (!). We all know that competitiveness kicks in and sometimes we do crazy things. So, I kept at it, despite feeling absolutely awful.  And then….something magical happened right as we got to aid station numero dos.  This angel by the name of Rob reached me, started to pass me, and I went with him. I held on for dear life, and uttered “I’m hurting,” to a man I had never met. His response was, “I can tell. Breathe, put your hands over your head, and let’s go catch that girl.” So that’s what we did.

We passed the first place female during mile 5. My cramp subsided a little bit. During the minor climb between mile 5 and 6, I decided it would be a good time for the gel. Heck, if my stomach cramp wasn’t going away, it’s not like a gel is going to make it worse. I sipped on the gel between mile 5 and 8…haha, I have no idea why I couldn’t just down the whole thing (it’s not like it’s very big), but I liked taking little sips every half mile or so. Weird.

Here’s Rob. Literally, he was my saving grace. We ran together from miles 4-10. He’s from Chicago, and was down in TN visiting friends. Can’t thank him enough. He went on to run a sub 1:30!

Miles 7-9 (Splits: 6:51, 6:50, 7:08 [big climb])
I knew these miles were going to be tough. It’s basically a steady 3-mile climb with no break, and I was ready. I kept my focus on the aid station that would be at mile 9, as well as seeing my fiance and his mom. Mile 9 was going to be good in the sense that I could get a mental break. Rob was still by my side, and from what I could see when I looked back, we had a pretty big lead on the second place female.

Seeing them and grabbing a sip of water felt great, and at that point, although we slowed a little coming up the hill, I felt strong (even with the omnipresent cramp still lingering). And then….it hit me. 20140324-082123.jpg

Miles 10-13 (splits: 6:53, 7:14, 7:13, 7:10)
My fear going into this race was that I would get to the last four miles (the most challenging of the race), and bonk. I’d get off track and start running 8 minute miles because I was dead. This was part of my reason for contemplating going out slower (7:15 pace), but in the end, I stuck with my game plan of running 6:50-7, and being BOLD. I don’t regret that decision at all, but I definitely paid for it in the last few miles.

They. were. tough.

We winded through some residential neighborhoods, I still had a lead on the second place girl by a lot (couldn’t see her at this point), and my cramp was all over the place. Hurt so bad. “C’mon Katie. You can do this. 3 miles. Make it up this hill,” was my mantra. Rob pushed on at the pace we sustained for the first 9, and I fell back a little. I knew at the mile 11 aid-station I would see my old teammates volunteering, so I kept that in mind and focused on making it to mile 11. It was not easy.

I got to the mile 11 aid station, and for the first time in the race, I stopped running and talked to my team and college coach for a few seconds. He said, “You look so strong!” HA. My response: ” Good Lord, I feel terrible.”  I sipped some water, and said to myself, “Just 2 more rolling hills of miles.”  Look at the elevation below of the last mile. You can see it’s the opposite of mile 1. We got the joy of the downhill in the beginning, but what goes down must come up, so the last mile was pure hell. I shuffled my feet up the hill, just wanting to get to the finish line. I didn’t even look at my watch going up the hill. It was sloooow. 20140325-095343.jpg

I came through in 1:31.23. First place female, and honestly, a little surprised. My ultimate goal this spring is 1:30, but I didn’t think I would get that close at this race. I didn’t taper, and it wasn’t the easiest of courses. It was a phenomenal test of strength (helooooo 13.1 mile stomach cramp), and I learned a lot during this race. The half-marathon is an animal I’m trying to figure out. It’s an ongoing process of trial and error, and although it seems like I’ve had a lot of error, I’m keeping at it, not backing down. Looking forward to another half here in a month in Missouri. I’ll toe the line and test my strength again. I’ll change what I believe didn’t work last weekend, and tweak it to see what works and what doesn’t. It’s a process full of changes and adaptations to trials, as is life. 20140324-082053.jpg

Spring Panzanella Salad with Leeks & Asparagus

This salad is genius. That’s all there is to it. Except, wait. WHAT IS WITH THIS WEATHER?!


You know what I really wish? I really wish the idea for this salad was something I invented myself. But, alas, I’m entering the blog world about 8 years too late. marchpanzanellas_11

This is a “panzanella” salad, which in my eyes, just means a hearty bowl with some good crusty bread. There are lots of great spring panzanella salad recipes out there. (Food and Wine 2012 anyone?!) Save yourself some time like I did and go with this one from Smitten Kitchen. Really, though. Smitten is pretty genius.marchpanzanellas_12

In fact, I recreated her recipe in hopes of changing something drastically so I could call it my own. Just didn’t happen. It’s that good. Only minor changes were needed in my humble opinion (tehe). Really, though. Make this. Pronto.
marchpanzanellas_14 marchpanzanellas_15

Spring Panzanella Salad (adapted from Smitten Kitchen in 2008)
Serves 4
For the croutons:
¼ cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 cups day-old bread, crust removed and cubed
6 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper, to taste
For the vinaigrette:
½ of a medium-sized red onion, finely chopped

2 ½ tablespoons champagne or white wine vinegar
Juice of ½ lemon
¼ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
For the salad:
3 large leeks

2 teaspoons salt
1 pound asparagus
1, 15-ounce can of white beans, rinsed and drained
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Mix the bread cubes with the garlic, olive oil and parmesan in a large bowl.  Toss to coat well.  Transfer bread to a baking sheet and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Bake stirring once or twice until croutons are crisp and lightly colored on the outside, but still soft within, about 10 to 15 minutes.  Set aside to cool.

Mix the red onion with the vinegar, lemon juice, olive oil and Dijon. Whisk well and set aside.

Cut off dark green tops of leeks and trim root ends.  Halve each leek lengthwise to within to inches of root end.  Chop leeks into 1-inch pieces and separate strands.  Rinse well under cold running water to wash away sand.  Cover leeks with water in a large rimmed skilled. Cover, and simmer leeks until tender, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Without draining the cooking water, transfer leeks to a strainer, and run cold water over to prevent overcooking.  Break off ends of asparagus; chop into 1 inch pieces, and cook in the boiling water until somewhat tender, but not wilting, about 3-5 minutes.  Strain and run cold water over asparagus.

Place leek and asparagus pieces in a large bowl with beans and cooled parmesan croutons.  Pour vinaigrette over and toss well.  Season with salt and pepper.

Spring 1/2 Marathon Training: Week 12 of 16

 “This week was a little weird. Cue the “middle of the road smiley face” above.  I was in a bit of a racing funk. You know, thoughts like these:
-“I really just don’t think I’m capable of my goal time on saturday.”
-“My motivation to race this weekend is zerooo.”
-“I feel like (insert expletive). My legs, and well, my whole body for that matter, feel like they weigh about 10,000 lbs.”


Needless to say, I let those emotional thoughts just roll on through, realizing I would need to pull it together on Saturday. I did (!), but the week in general was just blahh.

Monday: 7.5 easy miles, 8.20 pace. Hips + Core Work during lunch break
Nothing fancy on the run here. 5:30 a.m. usual route with the gang (I run with 4 friends every morning). The only thing I wrote in my training log was, “Need to get something for my stomach.” Dairy just doesn’t work well with my digestive system. It’s terrible, and the last time I had to take something for it was in September of 2013 (I try to avoid dairy as much as possible). But, it happens, folks. 


my training group (L to R: Audrey, Me, Beth, Tiff)

Tuesday: 6 miles, 8.09 pace.
Same time (5:30am), same downtown route, same friends. I think if we ever raced this route, we would slaughter the field. Except this morning, I was recovering from said medicine the day prior. Had to do a pit stop at the downtown gym 2 miles into the run, but after that, golden. 

Wednesday:  1 mile w/u, 5 miles at 6.48 pace, 1 mile c/ d. + Core
Beth’s goal time for Boston is the same pace as my goal 1/2 marathon, so our tempos work out nicely this training cycle. She planned on running the full this weekend, so we did a quick 5 miles to get our legs moving for Saturday. It took a few miles to get into it, but we finished strong, and we both agreed we felt ready for Saturday.

Thursday: complete rest. 

Friday: easy 5 miles in the a.m. with Beth

Saturday: Andrew Jackson 1/2 Marathon RACE DAY!
race re-cap coming soon, but I ran a 1.31 and a huge PR! Also grabbed first place overall female! It was a great day 🙂


Beth and I right after she crossed the finish line


Sunday: Easy post-run shakeout with Beth; 4 miles
We talked about how we felt the day before (she did the full; we both felt pretty beat during and after the race). It was a great talk-through session about life and training. Thankful for her friendship



quick re-cap: 8 MIN PR AND I WON THE 1/2 MARATHON!

IMG_3694Here is what you need to know in numbers:

4: number of 1/2 marathons I now have under my belt. (my average p.r between each is seven minutes. LOLZZ)

1: my place today (female).

8: the number of minutes I took off today from my last 1/2 in November of 2013


13: how many miles during the race I felt absolutely turrrrible.

Look, this was a small race, and my time wasn’t incredibly fast, but let’s all be honest, a win is a win, and it feels pretty dang good, especially in my hometown. I’ll do a race re-cap here soon, but for now I’ll leave you with three solid photos from today.IMG_3798

Also, please note my 84 year-old grandmother in photo above doing the flex while sporting my medal. Win photo of the day without a doubt.

Have a great saturday night! I’m off to get froyo.

Pre-Race Jitters and FIRST POST! (ever!)

Tomorrow I race the Andrew Jackson 1/2 Marathon.IMG_3268

This is a race in my hometown (actually the oldest marathon in TN!), and for years, I watched from afar thinking, “I’d really like to race that one day.” When I decided to focus on the half marathon for this spring’s training cycle, I adjusted my schedule so that this race would be the first of two.  I don’t expect to kill it tomorrow, but I do hope to PR.  I didn’t taper for this race, and it will be a great baseline indicator for my current fitness level.

I have had a sticky note stuck to my work computer for months with my 1/2 marathon goal time on it. After racing the Nashville Hot Chocolate 15k a month ago and surprising the heck out of myself with a 1.05 (7.02/mile pace), I quietly x’d through that 1.35 on the sticky note, replacing it with a 1.30. That’s scary. “Am I capable of a 1.30 this soon?” I don’t know, honestly. It’s a little ambitious, and I may not be ready for a 1.30, but I do know a 1.35 is  selling myself short. So 1.30 it is. Let’s do this.IMG_3671In the last month, I’ve put in a few solid workouts. I’ve been conservative in my training, focusing on quality miles and just 1 hard run a week + a long run.
February 28—> 7 miles at 6.42 pace

March 9—> 9 miles at 6.52 pace 

The numbers from the workouts above say I’m ready, right? Why do I doubt myself, then? 13.1 miles at 6.52 pace makes me want to run and hide in a closet. I’m scared, there’s no doubt. Fear is propelling, I realize, but I have this reoccurring scene in my head of approaching mile 9 and absolutely bonking. So, in moments like these, I tell myself the following mantras:

“Take the emotions out of it.”

“It will hurt. Accept the physical pain.”

“Be brave. Work the hills” >>>Thank you, Jessica!

Yesterday and today have been relaxed as I soak up this vitamin D we get to experience as of late! Wahoo! Great lunches at work + hydrating. I think tomorrow will be fun.