I had to change my schedule today and instead of running before work in the morning I'm having to run this week during my lunch break. Normally, that's fine. Earlier in the year I was happy to run at lunch, it gave me a break from staring at a computer all day, I got to be outside for a while, and it really gave me a boost for the rest of the day. However, this week we've had a heat surge in the San Francisco Bay area and I found myself running in 92 degree heat. And holy hell I thought I was going to die while running.
Running on Air
Last year when I was starting to ramp up training for the marathon I was trying to read up on everything that could possibly help me get through the long months ahead. I came across Budd Coates' book, "Running on Air: The Revolutionary Way to Run Better by Breathing Smarter". The premise of the book discusses using our breath to help get us through our long runs. I was interested in the book because it felt similar to the teachings I had learned in practicing yoga, that yoga is not only about strength and flexibility, but its also about breathing.
In The Ultimate Yogi series, Travis Elliot says, "If you can control your breath, then you can control your mind. And if you can control your mind, then you can literally become the master of your own destiny. You can manifest whatever reality you choose for yourself."
So when I started reading Running on Air I was immediately interested in how I could use my breath to help me get through tough points on the run.
Cramping happens in extreme heat - I had eaten well the night before and the morning of my run. I made sure I had hydrated, but nonetheless, a few miles in I started getting a wicked side stitch. There are side stitches we can run through that go away after a few minutes, and then there are side stitches that just get worse as we continue on. Mine was the latter. My side just kept tightening and tightening until I had to stop and try to stretch it out. I thought I had gotten rid of it and starting running again, but the stitch immediatley came back and started to twist my side in a super painful way. Then, I remembered how to breathe. I started counting my steps, 3 steps - breathe in, 2 steps - breath out, 3 in, 2 out, 3 in, 2 out. About a quarter mile later my stitch was completely gone, but I didn't stop my breathing, 3 in, 2 out, over and over again.
Some say interval breathing doesn't work, all I can say is that it works for me. I learned this technique about a year ago and it took me a little over a month to really master it. Its awkward if you've never concentrated on your breathing while you run, its almost like learning to run all over again, but it was worth it. I find myself usually breathing in a 3:2 pattern now on almost all my runs, and when I get to a difficult point - whether its climbing up a hill, racing to the end, or controlling a cramp - I focus in on my breath and I almost always get through what was hurting or challenging.
For more information check out Budd Coates' book, or click here to read a great article about it on Runner's World.