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How to prevent a Running Stitch

Whilst it causes no long-term physiological harm, the intense pain of a running stitch can stop even the most resilient runner in their tracks. It is surely one of the biggest frustrations when racing at high intensity and can wreak havoc with your pacing on race day. Learning how to prevent a running stitch can help you reach your goals and enjoy your racing.

Running stitch
A hard track session forced me to think about the causes of running stitch, and how to prevent it from happening.

First, it is important to know your enemy. What is a running stitch and what are the probable causes?

A running stitch is an intense and sharp pain that is felt during exercise, usually just below the rib margin, but sometimes in the shoulder tips. It seems to be caused by the vertical jolting motion of hard running. Traditionally the explanations for running stitch centred on the fact that the group of ligaments that support the stomach, liver and spleen are all attached to the diaphragm (Sinclair 1951, Abrahams 1961, Rost 1986), and vertical jolting of these organs causes a strain on the diaphragm, which goes into spasm, causing pain. The fact that stitch also exists in swimmers suggests that there may be more than one mechanism causing the pain (Morton and Callister 2000), perhaps by some other irritation or inflammatory response of the diaphragm and abdominal lining. Stitches tend to be more prevalent when running downhill after a tough effort or uphill, which may be attributed to parts of the large intestine suddenly contacting the diaphragm. Recent research has also found that a great many runners settle into a regular respiratory cycle while running. Usually breathing subconsciously on the same leg in a regular stride-breath ratio. Repeatedly training like this may cause a further imbalance in our core muscles, which may contribute to pain on the under trained side.

It is far better to try and prevent a running stitch from occurring than try to recover from it mid-race. Based upon the probable causes above, the following should be incorporated into your race day routine and training to help prevent running stitch:

  • No eating or drinking 2-4 hours before running. This should help reduce mass inside the stomach and therefore reduce the jolting motion of the organs attached to the diaphragm. Repeated racing and training will help you to know your ideal time before a run that you can still eat and drink without developing running stitch.
  • Incorporate core exercises into your training routine to help strengthen the diaphragm and supporting muscles.
  • Try to practice breathing with your diaphragm or belly, rather than your chest. This is also known as “yoga” or “belly” breathing and can help prevent a stitch from occurring in the first place by maintaining control over your diaphragm and breathing deeper, to ensure the diaphragm is stretched.
  • Always try to warm up properly before your training runs and particularly fast races. Warming up slowly to your race pace will reduce the shock to your body once the gun goes off and help stop you from starting too hard.

If you’re mid race and suffering, then there are a couple of things which can be done to break the stitch:

  • Try exhaling fully to stretch the diaphragm and break its spasm. Avoid taking short breaths. Just like other muscular cramps, lengthening the muscle can break the cramp.
  • Try to change your breathing pattern. If your stitch is caused by the intestines or organs impacting the diaphragm, then changing your breathing so that you exhale on the side opposite the pain may help to reduce this internal impact by moving the diaphragm away from the problem area. Through practise out on the road, I have always found this to be the most effective method to reduce or eliminate a running stitch that has developed. Whether this is physiological, or a psychological effect caused by concentrating on breathing rather than the pain, I may never know, but for me it works!

Running stitches are likely to affect us all as we progress as runners. Trying to understand their potential causes and understanding our own bodies better through training are the best ways to prevent them from spoiling our race days and know how to deal with them when they do occur.

Learn more about belly/diaphragmatic/yoga breathing on Runners World.

Keep learning! Check out our recent blog on Mental Fatigue, or visit our Shop to prepare for your next race.

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Can mental fatigue affect your running performance?

All runners understand the importance of rest and how physical fatigue can negatively impact us on race day. But how important is mental fatigue in preventing us from reaching a PB? Recent research into running psychology would suggest it can be quite significant.

One recent study (MacMahon, Schucker, Hagermann and Strauss) compared 3km running times of experienced runners under both mentally fatiguing and non-fatiguing (control) conditions. In the fatiguing condition, runners had to complete a mental task before running the 3km. On average, they found that run times were over 10 seconds slower in the mentally fatiguing condition than in the control condition. These results also came despite no changes in actual heart rate or blood lactate levels of the runners between each running condition. The authors concluded that the mental task led to mental fatigue, which increased perceptions of exertion (irrespective of the internal states of the runners) leading to slower performances.

Based on this evidence, sports psychologists suggest athletes should avoid mentally draining activities before big events. This should reduce the impacts of mental fatigue on race day performances. It might be best to ditch the crossword with your pre-race coffee!

Mental fatigue affects running performance

Another study (McCarron and Co) found that increasing mental demands mid-run led to poorer self-pacing and race performance. Self-pacing requires a substantial amount of brain attention and focus. When extra mental tasks were added on top of this, runners became mentally fatigued and developed ‘brain drain’ leading to poorer pacing performances. While you’re running, don’t overload yourself with mental tasks or thoughts about work, go out and actually ‘clear your head’ for better self-pacing.

If diet can alter the effects of physical fatigue, can it be used to improve mental fatigue?

It is actually very hard to conclusively link dietary supplements or practices to a reduction in mental fatigue. Some of the strongest evidence points towards branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) more commonly associated with the weight-lifting world. BCAA’s are alleged to reduce mental fatigue in the following way:

  • Running has been shown to cause a biochemical cascade of events thought to increase levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin.
  • Increases in serotonin are speculated to cause fatigue due to serotonin’s involvement in sleep regulation.
  • Some studies have suggested that BCAAs may be helpful in reducing ‘excessive’ serotonin levels induced by exercise, reducing perceptions of exertion.

BCAA'sHowever, BCAA supplements may increase race-day performance in slower runners only. Non-elite marathon runners supplied with a BCAA drink ran, on average, 5-6 minutes quicker than their non-BCAA drinking counterparts. BCAA drinks appeared to offer no advantage to elite marathon runners. It is suggested that this is because better-trained runners are generally more resistant to feelings of muscular and mental fatigue. This is consistent with further recent studies finding no effect of BCAA supplementation in experienced marathon runners.

Ultimately, mental fatigue can negatively affect race-day performance because it exaggerates our perceived work effort, so we think we are working harder than normal. To prevent mental fatigue it appears we should avoid mentally-demanding tasks both before and during races. Additionally, for less-experienced runners, BCAA supplementation could help reduce feelings of fatigue, if taken as part of a balanced diet which meets the dietary needs of a runner.

There are many different mental techniques that runners use to pace their way through a race. For some, self-pacing through mentally calculating the time they should cross each mile marker really works. For those of us who are less mathematically gifted, Pacebands could form part of an important routine for reducing mental fatigue on race day. Anything which enhances preparation, promotes relaxation and reduces stress could help us to prevent mental fatigue from limiting our performance.

Visit our Online Store to prepare for your next race.

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Running Technique Analysis goes 3D with StrideUK

2017 saw a severe dip in my running motivation. Determined to get back on the trails and leave no stone unturned in my quest to prevent injury and improve performance, I visited StrideUK in Hove for a 3D running technique analysis.  

A basic video gait analysis at a running shop in the UK tends to focus on your foot strike to assign a particular style of running shoe. I’ve been down this route many times in the past, and would still advise friends to get one done rather than guessing on a pair of shoes, but the process never gave me enough opportunity to actually learn about my running. I wanted to better understand my running style to improve efficiency, and help me to understand and prevent possible sources of imbalance and injury. The human body is a complex and interconnected machine and it makes total sense in my mind to look at the whole body, in three dimensions, to gather the necessary data for analysis.

Step up StrideUK and Director Mitchell Phillips, one of the earliest adopters of 3D running technique analysis in the UK, and with almost 10 years’ experience in gait analysis. We start by discussing my running goals, injury history and a basic explanation of the technology, before moving to the treadmill. Starting with a “steady” long run pace we enter my height and weight and start measuring. Within a few minutes the software has created a fully segmented model of my form, with a huge range of measurements displayed for analysis and improvement.

3D Running Technique Analysis

Of immediate interest are the Joint Loading and Economy metrics. It was clear to see that at my easy run pace my joint loading (and risk of potential injury) was low, but the energy required for me to run at this pace was very high: meaning my efficiency was low.

We increase pace on the treadmill to my preferred 10K Race Pace, and start recording to measure how my gait has changed. My efficiency at speed is slightly better, but my joint loading in certain key areas is much higher. Mitchell is a postural rehabilitation specialist and it is clear he has a deep understanding of human biomechanics. Analysing the data, we begin to make a few tweaks to my running style, increasing my speed slightly, and reducing my foot contact time by raising my knees and increasing my cadence. Repeating the measuring process, we are able to track my progress displayed in the charts and graphs, which show a marked improvement in my efficiency. 

Joint loading Running Technique Analysis

We talk about incorporating high knee drills and hill running into my training to help normalise these changes in technique, and improve efficiency across the board.

 

We also move over to the mats to address some areas of inflexibility we have picked up on which are likely to cause injury and problems if I am training at this level. These are all areas highlighted by studying the changes in my joint loading as we ramp up to race pace. We run through a set of stretches, with Mitchell filming them on my phone so that I can check my form and refresh my memory in the future.

Is it worth it?

In short, yes. Be prepared to pay for experience and expertise. Prices start at £129 for a basic running technique analysis and rise to £325 if you need more in depth attention. As with many things in life, if you’re willing to learn and put in to an experience, you will take far more out of it. I left StrideUK with a greater understanding of my running, a set of drills to incorporate into my training to improve efficiency, an idea of my postural shortfalls, and a plan to put in place which should help me reduce the risks of injury as I get back out on the trails. A full report on my running technique analysis is emailed to me in the week after my session. In reality, you’re getting far more than a couple of hours of somebody’s time, and if it helps to prevent an injury in the future, it could be saving me a huge amount of money long term. All runners are different, and there are few rules which can truly apply to us all, so the personalised service and depth of help on offer makes this a truly useful experience. If you are chasing some extra performance, then the benefits of understanding specifically how your own body works is invaluable, especially if you are willing to put the data and advice to good use, and make physiological improvements. Knowledge is power. For me personally, it also gave me a psychological boost, to know I was preparing to the best of my abilities, leaving no stone unturned. Confidence is important in any sport, and anything you can do to bring it back or bolster it is worthwhile in my opinion.

Visit www.strideuk.com for more information, or check out their Facebook Page. For the record, I was a paying customer and these are my sincere observations on a service I found helpful!

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Getting Back My Running Motivation!

Time for an Autumn update from the team here at Pacebands.co.uk. It’s fair to say that I lost my “running mojo” in a big way this year. Work commitments and a niggling injury left me feeling demotivated and unfit. After about a thousand sighs, and plenty of complaining, I finally decided to put a plan into place to set things right. I’m going to find my running motivation again, and here’s how I plan to do it:

Step 1: Enter a race, buy some new shoes. Sometimes you need a new piece of kit and a race booked up and paid for in the diary to make you feel like now is the time for action. All procrastination must end. My road running shoes were looking awful so I went out and bought some Brooks Adrenaline GTS17 shoes, and entered the Fitstuff G3 Series 10K on 3rd February 2018. If you need a challenge and want to run with me, just send an email to ben@pacebands.co.uk and anyone who joins me on the day is welcome to a free Paceband.

Step 2: Check out the blogs. Being injured and unfit can make you feel isolated, but as runners we are all be part of a huge club. Reminding yourself of shared experiences and being a part of other runners lives can give a welcome boost to spirits and checking out some blogs is a great way to feel a part of things again. Running motivation can be infectious, here are a couple of my favourite blogs:

www.the5krunner.com : If shiny new tech and kit is your thing.

www.thephdrunner.com : For a down to earth look at racing and training, and some epic rants/raves!

Step 3: Get fixed! My injury has probably been the biggest knock to my confidence and running motivation. More than that, it has scared me off a return to running competitively. It’s time to put in place a well thought out plan to improve my current injury problems, and make sure that I have done everything necessary to stop them from recurring. To that end I went ahead and booked myself in for a 3D gait analysis with Stride UK in Hove. The level of technical service they provide is second to none, and they have a full team of specialists on hand to help with the road to recovery. I will have a specific blog post on my experiences with them, but in the meantime, check out:

3D Gait Analysis to help get back my running motivation

 

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Step 4: You’ve got to start somewhere! I need to get running, and I really want to do it with other people. I’m going to get myself down to the local Parkrun, and enter some smaller 5K events to use as training for my 10K. With this in mind, I’ve reduced the cost of our 5K Pacebands to £0.99p, which should make them a little more accessible for those running 5K’s regularly.

5K Pacebands for Parkrun glory to rekindle running motivation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, there you have it, my 4 stage plan to get back my running mojo. Stay with us into the winter on Facebook and here on the Blog: I will try my best to keep you updated and aware of anything which really helps me. If you want to stay in touch, please also follow us on Twitter:

 

 

@pacebandsuk

 

 

Good luck and happy running to everyone!

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Pacing Tools: Heart Rate Monitors

I started Pacebands.co.uk because I wanted to help runners avoid the age-old problem of missing goals due to poor pacing. A Paceband and a sports watch, combined with the knowledge you have of your own body built up through hours of running are all you really need when starting out. However, as your running progresses you may find yourself getting a little more technical with your training, and want to start analysing data from your runs. If there is one piece of technology to reach out for, it has to be the heart rate monitor.

I was never a fan of carrying anything unnecessary on runs; water bottle, phones, chunky MP3 players all stayed at home, but since I was already wearing a sports watch to time my runs, a heart rate monitor was a natural progression.

Until this point I had been pacing myself on “feel” alone, but making the jump to a heart rate monitor enables the runner to measure pace, or in fact, effort, with much greater precision and with an easy to understand numeric output. Running at a consistent heart rate enables you to pace your race effort much more accurately. As you start to climb a hill you’ll see your heart rate rise, and can slow your pace accordingly to make sure that your overall effort remains consistent. Conversely, as you drop downhill and gravity lends a helping hand your heart rate will drop, showing you that you can squeeze a little more pace out of the legs to run an even effort.

Of course, it is not as simple as blindly following the numbers on a watch: you might be running an event with very long uphill sections, where you’ll need to push a little harder than your “average effort” so that you don’t fall too far behind on your Paceband later in the race. Or you might start to realise that as your race progresses and you start to tire, your running form and economy will suffer, and your heart rate will naturally increase a little. Using a heart rate monitor in training and racing can help you to get more in sync with your “engine”, and understand exactly what is going on in your body. The more you run with a heart rate monitor the more you’ll associate certain heart rates with certain efforts and paces, putting you more in tune with your body, and pacing yourself much more effectively.

Apart from pacing, I noticed other bonuses to using a heart rate monitor:

·        If you’ve gone out for a training run or race in a foul mood, or you’re just having a off day, it can cause pacing on “feel” alone to be inaccurate. Having a clear readout of your effort will let you know how hard you are really pushing.

·        Once you are in tune with your resting heart rate, you’ll be able to tell whether you’ve recovered from the tough 10 or 20 miler you did at the weekend, or should take another day or two to recover and avoid over training.

There are plenty of books on heart rate training and running available online. If you want to get technical then books like “Total Heart Rate Training” by Joe Friel, or “Lore of Running” by Tim Noakes are personal favourites, but can be too in-depth for beginners. You will also be well served by a lot of books from the late 90’s and early 00’s, when heart rate training really boomed: don’t be put off by the retro covers.

When it comes to choosing a Heart rate monitor, I would strongly advise staying away from devices such as the Fitbit which have been proven to sometimes give inaccurate data. My favourite brand has always been Polar: one of the pioneers of heart rate technology, who have consistently produced well thought out watches which most importantly give accurate, reliable, real time data. If you’re on a tight budget, then you might want to look at some of their simpler, earlier models, like the Polar FT1, which is easy to use, and available for as little as £30 online.

If you want to better understand your pacing, and take your training up a notch, give a heart rate monitor a try: it really can make you a better runner.

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Competition Time!

Time for a Christmas 2016 competition! Win a 2017 race entry including pace bands to help you reach your goal.

win-2017-entry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To enter, “Like” our Facebook Page, and “Share” the competition post.

Free entry valid on any 5K, 10K, Half Marathon or Multisport event in 2017 with a maximum £25 contribution to race entry fee. Includes your choice of pace bands to help you reach your goal time.

Competition closes 5th January and the winner will be announced shortly afterwards. Good Luck!

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The Importance of Pacing

Aside from insufficient fitness, poor pacing has got to be the main reason people don’t reach their goals when it comes to racing.

Most experienced runners will be able to tell you that accurate and even pacing of your races is crucial to reaching the finishing line on target. The majority will have learnt the hard way, and have a horror story to offer as evidence of how poor pacing negatively impacted their race strategy, and I am no different:

“I can remember chasing my first sub 40 minute 10k on a fast and flat course at Dorney lake. I was full of confidence, and ran out very hard, setting 38-minute pace for the first 5km of the race. Looking at my watch during this first 5km I was acutely aware that I was likely running a little above my abilities, but pushed on, motivated by the thought of smashing my target time to pieces, and returning home victorious. Following a brief period of doubt, I settled into a miserable final 4km, overheating and burnt out, my pace slipped further and further and I eventually stumbled over the line in well over 41 minutes. Not a bad time by anyone’s standards, but I was certainly capable of more, and felt pretty under the weather for my exertions! Had I stuck to a sensible pacing strategy, I have no doubt I would have broken the 40-minute barrier a lot sooner.”

Aside from this anecdotal evidence, are there any cold hard facts which illustrate the importance of pacing? If I’m looking for a proper scientific opinion on anything running, I always consult Lore of Running, by Tim Noakes. It is 930 pages of pure running geekery, but provides evidence based factual answers to almost any question you may have on running training, racing, and injury prevention.

Noakes, Tim. Lore of Running. 4th Ed. Oxford University Press. 2003.

The ultimate reference guide for runners? Or do you have a better one? #runningaddict #running #pacebandsuk

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Noakes states that “any time you gain in the first half of any race is paid for in double in the second half.” Noakes 2003 p581, but that there is no scientific consensus on which pacing strategy produces the optimum result at the top end of human performance; BUT if we are looking for success in our running it is sensible to emulate the strategies of those who are already incredibly successful: to this end we can examine the 1km split times of Haile Gebrselassie in three 10km world record runs in 1995, 1997 and 1998. In each of these runs, his 1km pace does not deviate by any more than +/- 3 seconds per kilometre in the first 9km of the race, and in every instance, he could run the final kilometre at the fastest pace of all. Noakes 2003 p732.

If you are convinced that even pacing is crucial to success, then you need to decide on which pace you are capable of running your chosen distance. This pace needs to be a speed at which you are physically capable of running at, and not just a hopeful figure that you will attempt to stick to. Assuming you have trained up to your goal distance, it may be possible to predict your potential finish time and therefore pace by looking at your best times over shorter race distances you have completed in the past. Various past studies (Davies and Thompson, Daniels and Gilbert, Tom Osler, Gardner and Purdy: data tables shown in Noakes 2003 p68-79) have looked at measuring an athletes VO2 max (maximum volume of oxygen they are able to use) and previous race performances, to create tables which indicate potential for performance in longer distances. If you are at the top end of performance, it may be useful to try and relate your own previous performances to these charts to calculate your pace, but ultimately, for the majority of runners your potential pace must be calculated the hard way on the basis of previous performances and personal experience over the same distance.

It will always be possible to make a poor judgement on which pace you should run a race, but by choosing a realistic pace determined by previous experiences, and sticking to that pace during a race, you maximise your chances of reaching the target time you have set for yourself.

Pacebands.co.uk is my solution for sticking to that even pacing strategy. At the vast majority of events in the UK there is nothing on offer to help runners maintain even pace. If you have trained long and hard for an event then you should be able to purchase something economical and fit-for-purpose to help prepare yourself. Pace bands are bright and easy to read, and durable enough to survive a race in any weather conditions. They should form a key part of mental and physical preparation for a race.

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Hello world!

How did we get here? The story is simple: I went to watch my girlfriend and her two sisters run the Ealing Half-Marathon some time ago and couldn’t believe nothing was on offer to help the runners pace their race. In this case, it was their first Half-Marathon, and they were all nervous before the start about pacing their race and reaching the targets they had set for themselves. With months of preparation behind them it seemed crazy they couldn’t make a tiny bit of extra preparation before race day and invest in a simple pacing tool which would have at the least taken away one worry as they prepared to run their furthest distance yet.

I started Raceband Ltd, the parent of Pacebands.co.uk to provide a convenient and economical solution to the problem. It has been a huge learning curve but I’m proud of what has been achieved in a short space of time and hope that I can help you prepare yourselves better for the events that mean so much to you, and help you achieve the goals you set.

These days I run far less frequently than I’d like, but as a reasonably quick and obsessively prepared runner in the past, I know the value of accurate pacing during racing. The solution doesn’t need to be high-tech: a simple, durable Paceband and a basic running watch are all you need.

As a Startup business I know there will always be ways to improve our product or the way we work with our customers. If you have any suggestions or would like to work with us on a special project, please get in touch with me directly by emailing ben@pacebands.co.uk . We have big plans for the future, so if you’re a fan of what we’re doing, please take a moment to share our website or social media with your friends: spread the word!