ST Run At The Hub 2015

Cramps, stitches are part of an athlete's challenges

The second of a six-part ST Run special with Dr Mok Ying Ren, a former SEA Games triathlon champion, who highlights two common ailments that plague runners

Participants passing the Singapore Flyer during the Straits Time (ST) Run At The Hub 2014.
Participants passing the Singapore Flyer during the Straits Time (ST) Run At The Hub 2014.ST PHOTO: WANG HUI FEN

Cramps may not sound like a big deal, but studies have shown that they affect one in two runners. I too have suffered from cramps numerous times while running.

The exact cause of muscle cramps is unclear, but it is often attributed to dehydration, or the lack of certain electrolytes such as sodium.

I would also add premature fatigue of muscles to the list. This happens when we overestimate our body's threshold and push excessively hard during training or competition.

That is why cramps often occur at the point of maximum intensity or during extreme fatigue in the latter stages of a marathon.

Researchers found that triathletes suffer from cramps when they push themselves at a higher intensity than their bodies are used to.



    This will be a more challenging fartlek session using a pyramid training system.

    After a 10-15 minute jog, run a fartlek of 3min - 2min - 1min - 2min - 3min - 2min - 1min, each with the same recovery period. This means running hard for three minutes, easy for three, then hard for two and easy for two minutes. Continue until you complete the session as above.

    For each interval, try to start slow and run faster towards the end. Wrap this up with a cool-down run for 10 minutes


    Having completed 6km at race pace last week, go for 8km this time. It is important to evaluate how you felt during last week's run. Do you think you can complete the race at that pace? If not, discuss with the pacers and consider slowing down for today's run.

    You can join running group Running Department, who run on Wednesdays at 7pm at UOB Plaza.


    This is an optional run for those who are fitter or keen to train more. Do a 30-minute run at an easy effort. You may replace this with an easy 30-minute swim or cycle. This active recovery will help your body get ready for Saturday's long run.


    The weekly long run is the bread and butter of your training programme.

    This week you will cover 14km. Remember to maintain an easy effort throughout the run.

    You can do this with ST Run's official pacers, Team FatBird, who are conducting a 12km training run at Punggol Promenade (Tebing Lane) at 7am. This is open to all 18.45km participants.

  • Training effort description

    Easy/long run: You should be able to hold a conversation comfortably during the run.

    Moderate (race pace) run: You should be able to speak in phrases but not in full sentences.

    Hard (fast) run: During these intervals, you should only be able to speak in sporadic words.

If you often suffer from cramps, the best bet would be to start the race more conservatively and slowly build up your pace, in order to avoid over-taxing your muscles.

Stitches are another common ailment affecting runners, with a sharp pain that strikes just below the ribs. I have not been spared from this problem either.

As with cramps, it is still unclear what exactly causes a stitch. Some suggest that it may be due to a spasm of the diaphragm, while others say it is due to the stress on the structures that keep our intestines and organs in place when we run.

A study by the University of Newcastle in Australia found that 60 per cent of 965 athletes surveyed thought stitches were caused by eating or drinking just before exercise - in particular, consuming fruits, juices, dairy products and food high in fat and sugar.

Other factors include exercising in cold conditions and a lack of warm-up.

In any case, despite the inconclusive evidence on cause and prevention, I recommend the following preventive measures.

First, make sure there is sufficient time between your pre-run snack and training. Personally, I have a snack bar 45 minutes before a training run.

  • Time running out to sign up for the ST Run

  • Runners have little more than a week left to sign up for the Sept 27 The Straits Times Run at the Hub. Registration will close on Aug 31.

    Every runner across the three categories (5km, 10km and 18.45km) will receive a specially designed medal, which features the distinctive domed roof of the National Stadium - the end point of the run.

    Each participant is entitled to a limited-edition New Balance NB Dry running vest. Those who complete the new 18.45km race will get an additional NB Dry 18.45km tee.

    Panasonic, the run's main sponsor, will be offering a wide range of electronic items, from TV sets to cameras, to the top winners.

    Each participant will also receive a Chan Brothers Travel discount voucher worth $170, a 10-day pass to True Fitness gyms worth $110, a Casio G-Factory discount voucher worth $30, as well as a 30 per cent discount voucher for Compressport merchandise.

    Sign up for the run at

Second, warm up. This can be a brisk walk, or an easy jog for 5-10 minutes.

Finally, regulate your breathing. Breathe once every 3-4 steps during an easy run, and once every 1-2 steps during a fast run.

If the stitch still strikes, do not panic. Try this remedy which works for me occasionally: Exhale when the foot on the opposite side of the stitch hits the ground. For instance, if your stitch is on the left side, breathe out when your right foot hits the ground.

If the pain still persists, stop running and rest until it subsides. As the saying goes, to rest is to walk further.

  • Have any questions for Mok? E-mail them to with the subject "Run with Mok" and he will try to answer as many as he can in his weekly column
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 22, 2015, with the headline 'Cramps, stitches are part of an athlete's challenges'. Print Edition | Subscribe