Breathing on the Run

We know breathing is important because we feel awful when it is ragged and shallow and we feel better when we are running easily enough that we hardly notice it at all.

The faster we run, the quicker we will reach a point where we will have to concentrate on our breathing in order to continue at that pace.  That is because the additional strain of the pace over time has caused our muscles to demand more oxygen on a quicker schedule.  All of sudden, you need more air and breathing begins to require your attention.

Usually when you get at the point where you must concentrate on your breathing, recalling long complicated lists of multi-step tasks is not something to which you are looking forward.   As such, we offer the following simple tips to remember when the going gets tough.


Straighten up

When we are tired, our running posture can often fall apart – our shoulders hunched over or bunched up to our earlobes, much more tense than is desirable.  When you need to get more air and right away, remind yourself to draw your shoulders away from your ears, but straighten up nice and tall.  This allows for your lungs to have the maximum room to pack in more air, and may be able to help ease symptoms of a side stitch by stretching out the afflicted area.


Breathe deeply

Often, whether it is the pure physical strain of the task at hand or the stress created by that strain, we tend to pant and take shallow breaths at the time we need to bring in the most air.  In the moment, it seems like the quickest way to gather as much oxygen as possible.  In reality, it is much more efficient to take a slower, deeper breath.  Imagine you are filling your stomach/ diaphragm first, from your bellybutton up to the tops of your lungs, rather than take a shallow breath.  Panting is like splashing some water over the mouth of your water bottle.  Some of what you want gets in, but the effort yields much less than the desired result.  A deeper breath is like sticking your water bottle directly under the faucet stream.  Fill up those lungs so they can do what they do best – get air to your screaming muscles!


Begin a slow and rhythmic breathing pattern

Breathing deeply almost certainly means you are slowing your inhaling and exhaling rhythm without necessarily focusing on doing so.  However, concentrating on your breathing rhythm can do two things:  distract your mind from the stressful running task you are continuing to pursue, and ensure you are taking in enough on each inhale.  When you are running or walking at relative ease, your breathing pattern may be 2-2 or 3-3, that is, it takes two footfalls (one landing of either foot) to inhale and two footfalls to exhale, etc.  However, when you are tired and air is at a premium, try to spend a bit more time on each inhale than you do on each exhale, for what might end up as a 3-2 rhythm or a 4-3 rhythm.  The most important thing you can do is to fill your lungs with each inhale, and it is harder to do that quite as quickly and as forcibly as you can exhale.  Take your time, try to relax yourself generally by the almost meditative counting of your breathing rhythm, and / or let a favorite song guide your brain through the pattern.  All of a sudden, you’ll be at the next mile marker or water station.

Everyone is a bit different, and all of us, from novice to experienced runners, need to practice techniques in low stress situations before taking them to the streets in the big race.   Listen to your breathing on easy runs to find out what your natural patterns are.  Try to maintain a tall posture and open your chest when the running is easy before forcing yourself to find that position when the running is tough.  Test out a 3-2 pattern or a 4-3 pattern on your next interval or tough workout and see what feels right.  With practice and the confidence of a few counteraction measures in your pocket for the next tough racing patch, hopefully the finish line will find its way to your feet just that much more quickly.


Begin a slow and rhythmic breathing pattern

Breathing deeply almost certainly means you are slowing your inhaling and exhaling rhythm without necessarily focusing on doing so.  However, concentrating on your breathing rhythm can do two things:  distract your mind from the stressful running task you are continuing to pursue, and ensure you are taking in enough on each inhale.  When you are running or walking at relative ease, your breathing pattern may be 2-2 or 3-3, that is, it takes two footfalls (one landing of either foot) to inhale and two footfalls to exhale, etc.  However, when you are tired and air is at a premium, try to spend a bit more time on each inhale than you do on each exhale, for what might end up as a 3-2 rhythm or a 4-3 rhythm.  The most important thing you can do is to fill your lungs with each inhale, and it is harder to do that quite as quickly and as forcibly as you can exhale.  Take your time, try to relax yourself generally by the almost meditative counting of your breathing rhythm, and / or let a favorite song guide your brain through the pattern.  All of a sudden, you’ll be at the next mile marker or water station.

Everyone is a bit different, and all of us, from novice to experienced runners, need to practice techniques in low stress situations before taking them to the streets in the big race.   Listen to your breathing on easy runs to find out what your natural patterns are.  Try to maintain a tall posture and open your chest when the running is easy before forcing yourself to find that position when the running is tough.  Test out a 3-2 pattern or a 4-3 pattern on your next interval or tough workout and see what feels right.  With practice and the confidence of a few counteraction measures in your pocket for the next tough racing patch, hopefully the finish line will find its way to your feet just that much more quickly.

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