Learning to Breathe.

There is an inherent lunacy to running.  It’s something that you just go out and do, and then you can spend years correcting all the mistakes in the way you do it.  I think it’s just because it’s something that we just know how to do, or we think we do anyway, so we don’t think about how to do it, we just do it, and figure out the details later.

Which is okay if we are able to power through it without major injuries.  But I wonder how many times we give up because it’s more difficult than it has to be.  And then we make it more complicated than ever by adding all these devices and gimmicks.  Not that these are bad, to be honest I’m not sure how well I’d have stuck with running without all the cool stuff I could do with my cell phone.  But sometimes I wonder if we don’t create such a fog with all the different stuff out there that we forget the basics.

I can remember learning to run distances of sorts as a kid.  In all reality it started with walking to school, especially getting a late start walking to school and being afraid of being late.  So I’d take off running, and I’d run until I was totally winded, which might have been a block maybe?  This was not going to do if I was going to have to run all the way to school on the all too frequent days I was late.  (Of course you would think I would get it in my head to just leave on time, wouldn’t you?  That would have been too easy)

I don’t remember where I heard of this in school, whether it was a social studies class, or whether it was just something that was part of a book we had to read for English, I have no idea.  I do have to say it’s a small miracle that I remember anything of it, but I remembered reading of some native american tribe where one of their ways of training their kids to run was that they had to take a drink of water, hold it in their mouth and run for some distance, and spit the water out at the other end.  If they didn’t have the water, they had to go back and do it again.  The whole idea was that this built up their lung capacity as it taught them to run without gasping for air.

I could not tell you with any degree of confidence whether this was really true, or something from fiction, or even if it was a wise practice at all.  All I know was, this was the beginning of what I would call my first real ‘training.’  I kept that in mind as I worked on my running.  I’d start running even when I wasn’t late.  I’d run with my mouth closed as if I were holding a mouthful of water and run as far as I could run, finally starting to gasp when I couldn’t hold my mouth closed any longer.  At first that would frustrate me that I couldn’t run as far as I wanted.  But then I started noticing something.  Maybe one day I could only run a block like that.  As time went on I found I could run a little further, and a little further.  I started planning on that, setting goals for just a bit further each time.  Without knowing it I was doing a Couch to 5K kind of routine, where I’d run a block, catch my breath, run another.  Soon, I could run all the way to school and not really feel winded.  And then I was running further, and enjoying it!

When I started the C25K thing a couple years back I thought back to the incremental increases I was doing back then and that was what sold me on the program.  And I could do the increments, but never really thought about the breathing.  It just seemed like, figure it out as you go.

A little while back I read about rhythmic breathing and was a bit intrigued by it.  It’s a process where you inhale over 3 steps, exhale over 2.  Someone had mentioned it as they found out about it when researching why they were always getting hurt on the same side of their body.  It turns out we’re most vulnerable when running while exhaling, and if we’re landing on the same foot every time we exhale for thousands of steps, that can make a difference.  So this caught my attention when thinking about injury prevention, and I’ve tried the pattern before.  I did find it difficult to really maintain the pattern though.

Anyway, the other day I checked out the Kindle edition of Bud Coates’ book Running on Air.  So far it’s been an interesting read…  you know I never thought I’d be starting to pick up running books.  How scary is that?  But it started to make sense about breathing not just for injury prevention, but also for just paying attention to what your body is telling you while running and regulating yourself.

This morning I thought okay, I’m just going to focus on doing this 3/2 breathing combination.  No heart rate monitor, no GPS spitting out my pace and distance, no music to throw me off, just run with that breathing rhythm.  And oh yeah, focus on breathing from the belly, not from the chest (you take in more air that way).

Bud Coates’s book Running on Air about rhythmic breathing

Let me tell you, it’s not easy.  What was surprising though is that I was sometimes as likely to get out of breath while running slower.  When my cadence is slow and I’m following that rhythm, I’m not breathing in enough times to really work.  It’s pretty amazing how well I was able to regulate my pace just by paying attention to how easily I could keep that breathing pattern.

Unfortunately I have no idea what kind of pace I ran.  I really don’t.  But you know?  I’m okay with that.  I felt good afterwards.  I’ll have to do that again I’m thinking.


About Ron Walter

I'm just a guy who was so out of shape he couldn't run to get out of the rain. I'm taking my life back. It's not always perfect, not always successful. The victories though are greater than the defeats. I plan to keep it that way.
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2 Responses to Learning to Breathe.

  1. jenisalive says:

    Great post! Nice to read about someone who’s further along than I am. I’ll have to keep an eye on the 3 step/2 step thing since I’m already prone to injury.

  2. Thank you! I really appreciate that. I think about that injury thing a lot, especially when I’ve got enough extra pounds hanging around and I always heard about how hard it can be on your joints. So I really focus on my form and really try not to think about speed (though it’s hard not to when people are walking past me while I’m running), because if my form is right, that’s the best way to avoid a lot of the injuries out there. Congratulations on getting started!

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