Friday, May 23, 2014

Breathing and Running: What California Chrome and I Already Know

Wearing a strip while in Beijing, 2008 Summer Olympics
California Chrome and I have three things in common. One, we are both originally from California. Two, we both run a lot. Three, we both rely on nasal strips to reach our finish lines.

And that's all the comparisons, because California Chrome is a lot faster.

I am serious about the nasal strips and about the importance of breathing in running. If you look closely at my raceday pics, you can see that I brought a familiar companion along for my milestone 100th race last Saturday at the Brooklyn Half: my usual clear, small-medium Breathe Right Strip. The first thing I do before any run is wash my nose area thoroughly with a rag and soap to make sure there is no facial oil, and then I apply the strip on the bridge of my nose.

California Chrome wearing a nasal strip
The first time I did this was in early 2007 for a run around Central Park, and I realized that I shaved about 30 percent of my time spent on the 10K loop. The big difference I noticed was not when I put the strip ON, but when I took it OFF; I gasped for air when I removed it toward the end of my run. The increased oxygen made all the difference in the world for me. There have to be many others who could benefit as well. I am amused by the conclusion by the New York State Racing Association that said "Equine nasal strips do not enhance equine performance..." California Chrome's handlers know the real story. They definitely help.

On the most humid days, the strip will eventually peel, but by scrubbing the area beforehand you minimize the chance of slippage later. It has been a solid gear item for me through 100 races.

Breathing is of vital importance in running, and you perhaps have seen considerable focus on the science of breathing lately within running journals. Competitor and Men's Health Mag each have articles the past month quoting Budd Coates, longtime running coach, four-time Olympic Trials qualifier, and author of Running on Air, a training manual on breathing and running. And you can read and watch for yourself as Coates gives advice such as this at Runners World in an adaptation of his Rodale book:
Let's start with a 5-count or 3:2 pattern of rhythmic breathing, which will apply to most of your running. Inhale for three steps and exhale for two. Practice first on the floor:
1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
2. Place your hand on your belly and make sure that you are belly breathing.
3. Breathe through your nose and your mouth.
4. Inhale to the count of 3 and exhale to the count of 2. You might count it this way: "in-2-3," "out-2," "in-2-3," "out-2," and so forth.
5. Concentrate on a continuous breath as you inhale over the 3 counts and a continuous breath as you exhale.
6. Once you become comfortable with the inhale/exhale pattern, add foot taps to mimic walking steps.
When you feel confident that you have the 3:2 pattern down, take it for a walk. Inhale for three steps, exhale for two, inhale for three steps, exhale for two. Finally, of course, try out your rhythmic breathing on a run—inhaling for three footstrikes and exhaling for two. A few key points: Inhale and exhale smoothly and continuously through both your nose and mouth at the same time. If it seems difficult to inhale over the full three strides, either inhale more gradually or pick up your pace. And lastly, do not listen to music while learning to breathe rhythmically. The beats of the music will confuse the heck out of you.
Wearing nasal strip for 2014 Brooklyn Half
I am trying to master that 3:2 breathing pattern, and I did pretty poorly during the second half of the Brooklyn Half. But I am going to work harder at it. In addition to being surrounded by this attention to breathing lately, I recently had an unreal experience in a New York City taxi that was driven by a yogi from India. He was playing sitar music as I got into his taxi, and I told him that I enjoyed it and to feel free to turn it back up. That led into a long conversation about breathing. He told me that breathing is the secret to my running, and that breathing is the secret to life in general.

We take our breathing for granted 99.9 percent of our lives. The miracle is happening as you read this and your lungs expand with each inhale and then settle with each exhale. Take a very deep cleansing breath in through your nose right now and close your eyes, your back straight wherever you are. Then slowly exhale. Feel how amazing your body is. Now imagine you are focusing the same way when you are running.

I suggest you read those articles above and give thought to how you breathe. I can do a better job at it and I believe it will lower my times further. For me, the Breathe-Right Strip always has been an example of giving myself a better chance of maximizing my flow of oxygen into my lungs and through my bloodstream. I am glad to see that California Chrome will be allowed to wear his nasal strip at Belmont for a Triple Crown bid, and I know that the bottom line is getting as much air in and out as possible. Said Coates:

"You want as much in and out as you can, as easily as possible."

How do YOU breathe while you run?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think I am at four to inhale and four to exhale. I made an effort today to get some sort of rhythm going with my breathing/footstrikes and I felt better for it. I know my breathing is off the 3/2 and am going to work on it.

I have only been running for about 18 months, but part of that time I had to take off due to a tear and work but am back at it. Hopefully I will be able run a half by March!