Just Breathe

Controlling your breathing is an important part of running, since deep breaths get more oxygen in your bloodstream and muscles, giving you more energy and endurance. While I rarely think about my breathing when I run, I do intentionally focus on it when my breath is shallow, when I experience fatigue, or when I feel a stitch.

Our diaphragm is a muscle that we need to train and use for deeper, more controlled breaths from the belly rather than shallower breaths from our chest. Deeper breaths send oxygen into the bottom of the lungs, increasing the amount of oxygen we can consume and our VO2 max. You can test this by seeing your belly rise and fall when you take deep breaths and your belly remain mostly still when you take shallow breaths. You should also inhale and exhale from your mouth to maximize oxygen intake (or both your mouth and nose). Using just your nose will result in shallower breaths.

The technique of rhythmic breathing coordinates your foot strike with inhalation and exhalation in an odd/even pattern, so you land alternately on your right and left foot at the beginning of every exhalation, when your diaphragm relaxes and you have less stability in the core. This is done to balance the impact stress of running on both sides of your body. Always exhaling on the same foot is similar to carrying a backpack on only one shoulder. In short, instead of an even inhale on 2 breaths and exhale on 2 breaths, try inhaling for 3 breaths ("in-2-3") and exhaling for 2 ("out-2"). Try this while resting, then walking, then running.

Some research also suggests that intentionally holding your breath - for example, during short sprints, can simulate altitude training and allow your body to adapt to lower levels of oxygen. As a result, your muscles become more efficient at extracting oxygen from the bloodstream. If you want to experience this challenge, do 2 sets of 8 sprints of about 5 seconds holding your breath, every 30 seconds. It will be mentally challenging, and you should certainly avoid this if you have any heart, lung, or high blood pressure condition.

Finally, a tip when you do have a side stitch while running: when inhaling, tighten your abs on the side where you feel the stitch for a couple of seconds and then exhale and relax your abs. This will feel like holding your breath then letting go. Repeat this 5-10 times to make your stitch disappear and get your breath back under control!

The Benefits of Cross-Training

Cross-Training can benefit your running, especially in the base and build periods of a training plan. You'll find in the peak and taper phases, you'll have less time and energy to cross-train, but it can still help keep you strong and fit.

It includes anything from swimming (my favorite) and biking to rowing, stairmaster (my 2nd favorite), elliptical and more. We cross-train to improve our total body strength and flexibility. Running causes some muscle imbalances that you may or may not be aware of and cross-training helps correct these and prevent injury.

Incorporate cross-training to keep your exercise routine fresh. Swimming is a full-body workout with zero-impact, improving your cardio-respiratory system by imitating that oxygen-deprived state. Biking is a perfect complement by strengthening quads to reduce the risk of knee pain, one of the most common injuries. Maybe even sign up for a triathlon! And bonus if it includes an escape swim from Alcatraz in San Francisco!


Embrace the Hills

Running Tip #19. Focus on maintaining effort, not pace, when climbing hills. Keep the stride short, torso tall, high knee drive, arms straight forward & back. Look out in front, not down.

And remember, what goes up must come down. Focus on letting go, opening your stride slightly, catching your breath. Learn to love hills - use them as opportunities to prove yourself and gain a competitive advantage.



Running Tip #6. Avoid boredom in one sport (e.g. running) by cross-training (e.g. cycling, swimming, strength training). Cross-training improves total body strength and flexibility. At easy/moderate intensity, it can also prevent injury by correcting muscle imbalances caused by running or other activities that you're not aware of.

Cycling is complementary to running by strengthening quads to reduce the risk of knee pain, the most common running injury. But my favorite cross-training activity is swimming, a full-body workout with zero-impact. Swimming builds the cardiorespiratory system by forcing your body into an oxygen-deprived state. To quote Drake, "Michael Phelps with the swim moves!"


Cycling Tip from a Pro

I got a chance to connect with Heather Jackson, former Princeton varsity hockey player turned professional triathlete and Ironman. Only in her 4th full season, she has been on several Ironman podiums including wins at the inaugural Princeton 70.3 and on the hilly Wildflower 70.3 course. Heather was recently featured on the cover of Lava Magazine.

Heather's advice: go ice skating and get into the weight room.  In particular, "lots of high reps and low weights for exercises like squats." And by "high" she means 100 reps until failure to really mimic pedaling on the bike.

Chrissie Wellington

Chrissie Wellington is quite possibly the greatest triathlete to have graced the sport: holder of all Ironman world and championship records, undefeated in 13/13 Ironman-distance races, and 4-time Kona winner, with the first being less than a year after turning pro in 2007.  She never thought of becoming a professional triathlete, and instead focused on succeeding academically and pursuing international development as a career.  

After her first marathon at the age of 25 and her first triathlon a couple of years later, Chrissie trained "obsessively and compulsively" to reach where she is today.  Chrissie's determination, inspiring smile and remarkable class remind us why we love the sport.  

Some of Chrissie's advice:

"On my race wristband, and on all my water bottles, I write some simple words. One is 'smile' and the other 'never give up'.  I always say that Ironman is 50% physical and 50% mental.  To plunder the words of Mohammed Ali, 'the will must be stronger than the skill."