Many runners, and many athletes of all genres of sport for that matter, spend a lot of time thinking about the proper tools for the sport. As runners, we put a lot of time into thinking about the right shoes (minimalist, support, laces, heel drop), the right clothes (wicking, SPF, cooling, warming, style), eye protection, hats/visors, technology (watches, GPS, apps)…the options are quite endless at this point, and the industry is making money hand-over-fist. However, perhaps the most critical tool in our running arsenal is one that we can’t shop around for, and are left with no choice but to make due- our lungs. Whether we like it or not, the pace and distance we are able to tackle is ultimately controlled by our breathing.
As someone who has suffered from asthma (full blown, not just exercise-induced) pretty much his whole life, breathing has always been front and center in my mind. Nothing reminds you of just how important oxygen really is to your existence like being pumped full of adrenaline as you suck on a nebulizer in a hospital bed. In many ways, my current passion for running is quite a new and novel experience. As a child, my asthma was much more severe, and the thought of even running once around the track at school was daunting and unbearable. I’ll never forget the gym teacher in 5th grade who was convinced that asthma was all in your head, and forced me to run the mile, despite a doctor’s note. Luckily, modern medicine has come a long way, and I am now on a daily inhaler which controls my asthma pretty well, and allows me to breathe much easier (pun intended).None-the-less, I don’t take my breathing for granted.
Additionally, running without music (which I always do) provides me with a lot of time to think about any of a number of things, not the least of which is my breathing. I find that I pay attention to my breathing much more when I’m running. Many researchers will say that breathing in a 2:2 ratio (taking 2 steps while you breath in, 2 steps while you breath out), which ultimately equates to syncing your breathing with your running cadence. Although this isn’t necessarily a natural pattern, I’ve found that once you focus, it’s not too terribly difficult to adjust. It has the added bonus of making you a more efficient runner as well, in terms of utilizing your lung capacity to maintain endurance. Learning to breathe deeper can have positive effects as well.
In terms of nose-breathing vs. mouth-breathing, you really need to test this for yourself. Some people will tell you that breathing through your mouth will offer less resistance, while others indicate that breathing through your nose is preferable because it warms the air before it hits your lungs (great for cold weather running), and increases CO2 saturation in the blood, which can produce a calming effect.
Ultimately you need to decide for yourself, hopefully through trail and error, what works best for you. Remember that how you breathe during running will not necessarily be the same as your pattern during other forms of exercise. As someone who enjoys yoga as a means of core strengthening and flexibility, I can certainly attest to this fact.
I may always have my emergency inhaler handy, but as long as I remember to just breathe, I’ll continue to move forward!