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Side Stitch

Updated: Nov 1, 2023

I remember running cross country in HS with this awful cross country coach. He and I butted heads intensely, and I never really felt understood. During pre-season “two-a-days,” I would always struggle getting back into shape; I would get these excruciating side stitches that were so painful I would double over. My coach always told me to run through it and I can’t tell if it was my early development of “fuck you” to authority or if it was really about the pain, but two blocks into my warm-ups, I would always start walking. If he really understood this pain I was feeling, he most certainly wouldn’t tell me to run through it. He was a misogynist and I hated him.

I went running on Saturday morning -- out of shape -- and I told myself that I would run 6 laps around the track. Slow and steady is what I tell myself. My son is running with a dear friend, an elite runner, and after a lap, they start into a sprint workout. They make it one lap and my kiddo is spent. Across the track, I see my friend continue to jog and my son keeled over, maybe puking? I’m really struck in this moment. My mama danger spidey sense isn’t up, I know he’s ok, and I wonder what he’s going to do. After about 30 seconds, he starts up with a jog again. He continues, at his own pace for the remainder of the work out. He makes it 8 laps in my 6.

My friend catches up to me and jogs with me for a bit.

“He’s really out of shape, isn’t he?”

“Yes, well, maybe.”

“I’m glad he kept running and didn’t stop.”

“Is it nausea or a side stitch?”

“Nausea, I think.”

“Regardless, it’s important for him to learn to test his body. If it’s nausea, how can he do just a bit more? If it’s a side stitch, how can he learn to lean in or shift the weight to see how it changes? We need to work our body and push it just a little past what we think it can do. It is about building a habit to teach your body that it can, in fact, do just a little bit more. Then it will know it can do just a little bit more.”

I spent the day thinking about this philosophy, wishing my cross country coach had spoken to me that way. Maybe even if he would have, I wouldn’t have been ready to hear it.

But now I have the lived experience of knowing the difference between being sore, slightly ill, out of shape, and really injured. Knowing when to push a little bit more to strengthen the body, to build the habit of my body knowing it can do just a little bit more, is an important skill. To know when there is a real injury, to rest and recuperate, is an important skill. To be able to discern the difference is an important skill.

As a metaphor, when are other moments that I need to lean into a side stitch, shift weight to see what changes, to build the habit of knowing that I can do just a little bit more? How have I built the habit of metaphorically giving into the side stitch to walk instead of exploring other ways?

What is the balance of discipline and honoring what my body is telling me? How do I stay in relation to what the body is saying and push for what might be possible, in the service of habit-building towards a better world?

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