when running or solicited advice on breathing from your running partners.
It’s important for beginners to understand how they should approach the
sport from the very basics.
Some people advocate breathing in through the mouth and out through the
nose using slow breathing rhythms, and all sorts of similar nonsense. Nothing
is as frustrating as the spread of misinformation, especially when it pertains
to training topics. Therefore, let RunnersConnect help set the record straight.
Breathe through your nose or your mouth?
You should always breathe in and out primarily through your mouth. If your
nose wants to join the party and help get air in and out, that’s great.
However, when you’re running, feeding your muscles the oxygen they need
is of paramount importance, and breathing through the mouth is the most
effective way to inhale and exhale oxygen.
Your exact breathing rhythm will depend on how hard or easy you are
running and/or the intended intensity of your workout. Breathing rhythms
refer to the number of steps you take with each foot while breathing in and
out. For example, a 2:2 rhythm would mean you take two steps (one with
your right foot and one with the left) while breathing in and two steps (again,
one with your right foot and one with your left) while breathing out.
Typically, you’ll find that a 3:3 rhythm (three steps – one with your left, one
with your right, one with your left – while breathing in and three more – one
with your right, one with your left, one with your right – while breathing out)
works best for warm-ups and most easy-paced days. This allows plenty of
oxygen to be inhaled through the lungs, processed and then exhaled with
Don’t try to force yourself into a 3:3 breathing rhythm on an easy day if it
isn’t feeling comfortable. Remember, the purpose of an easy day is to keep
your effort comfortable and to help the body recover. If a 2:2 rhythm is more
comfortable, go with it.
Breathing slower than a 3:3 rhythm is not advisable because you’re not
giving your body enough time to clear carbon dioxide. The average runner
takes about 180 steps per minute (some a little less, others a little more),
which means you take 90 steps with each foot in a one-minute span. A 3:3
rhythm enables you to take about 30 breaths per minute, ample time to
process carbon dioxide while still getting in the oxygen you need.
performed at a 2:2 ratio (two steps – one with your left, one with your right –
while breathing in, two steps – one with your left, one with your right – while
breathing out). A 2:2 breathing rhythm enables you take about 45 breaths
per minute, which is perfect for steady state, tempo runs and marathon-pace
Hard workouts and races
At the end of races or the end of a particularly hard interval session, 2:2 breathing might not cut it. In this case, you can switch to a 1:2 (one step breathing in, two steps breathing out) or 2:1 (two steps breathing in and one step breathing out) breathing rhythm. This will increase your oxygen uptake to 60 breaths per minute.
You may not need to pay much attention to breathing rhythms at the end of races. Some runners prefer to run all out, focus on competing and let their breathing take care of itself. However, remembering breathing rhythms can be helpful to those runners who become anxious as the final meters approach.
While breathing rhythms can help you identify and monitor the intensity of your run, you can also use them to monitor and control other aspects of your training and racing.
Paying close attention to your breathing rhythm can help you monitor and “feel” your pace, especially on tempo runs or tempo intervals. Once you lock onto your correct goal pace for the work
Defined simply, VO2max is the maximum amount of oxygen your body can
utilize during exercise. Your VO2max is the single best measure of running
fitness. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how much you like lung busting interval workouts), VO2max is not a big component of marathon training, but it is still useful, and it is important to include some VO2max
workouts and speed work in your training plan.
Training at VO2max increases the amount of oxygen your body can use.
Obviously, the more oxygen you can use, the faster you can run – that’s a
simple one. In addition, VO2max running can increase the efficiency of your
running and improve your form. Since these workouts are faster, they force you to run more efficiently and with better form so you’re able to hit the prescribed training paces.
which improves economy (how much energy it takes to run at a certain
speed). When muscles become stronger, fewer muscle cells need to contract
to hit a particular pace; thus, the energy expenditure is lower, which can
improve your fuel burning efficiency during a marathon.
In layman’s terms, the production of lactic acid (the waste product of energy
utilization) will remain relatively constant while running at an aerobic pace.
At this aerobic pace, your body recycles lactic acid back into an energy source
and efficiently expels the waste products. As you continue to run faster, the
production of lactic acid will slowly increase. At some point (usually a specific
pace per mile known as your lactate threshold), the production of lactic acid
will soar and your body will no longer be able to convert it back into energy
and expel the waste products. The lactic acid then floods into your muscles
and causes that heavy, tired and burning feeling. Ultimately, lactic acid is one
of the largest contributors to why you slow down as the race goes on.
In short, your threshold is defined as the fastest pace you can run without
generating more lactic acid than your body can utilize and reconvert back
into energy. This pace usually corresponds to a 10-mile or half-marathon race
pace. Therefore, a tempo run or threshold run is basically a workout that is
designed to have you running at just below or at your threshold pace.
But why is this important? By running just under your lactate threshold you
can begin to decrease (or improve, depending on how you look at it) the
pace at which you begin to produce too much lactic acid. For example, at the
beginning of a training plan, your threshold might be 10 minutes per mile,
which would mean you could run a half-marathon at this pace. As you do
more tempo runs, your body gets stronger, adapts to the increased
production of lactic acid and decreases this threshold pace to 9:30 per mile.
Now, since your threshold is lower, you are able to run faster with less effort,
which for the marathon means you can burn fuel more efficiently – saving it
for the crucial last 10k.
At the heart of all marathon training is the aerobic and anaerobic process. No
matter your goals or ability level, the scientific fact is that, to run, your body
needs to break down sugar and convert it to glycogen so it can be used as
energy or fuel. When the body has an adequate supply of oxygen for this
process, we call it aerobic respiration. When there is not enough oxygen, like
when you are running hard at the end of a 5k, this is called anaerobic
Aerobic running or respiration occurs when your body has sufficient oxygen –
like when you run easy miles with you friends. You breathe in, the body
efficiently uses all the oxygen it needs to power the muscles, and you exhale.
The waste products of aerobic respiration are carbon dioxide and water.
These by products are easily expelled through the simple act of breathing.
This is why your breath is carbon dioxide-rich and moist. Basically, when you
are “running aerobically,” your muscles have enough oxygen to produce all
the energy they need to perform.
Anaerobic respiration happens when there is NOT sufficient oxygen present.
In this instance, the muscles do not have enough oxygen to create the energy
you are demanding from them (like in an all-out sprint at the finish). When
this happens, the muscles begin to break down sugar, but instead of
producing CO2 and water, your muscles produce lactic acid (that burning
feeling in your muscles at the end of a race). Unfortunately, lactic acid is
harder to remove than water and CO2. Thus, lactic acid accumulates in your
system, causing extreme fatigue.
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The importance of understanding these definitions is clear. If you begin to
run too hard in the middle of a workout or at the start of a race, your body
goes into an anaerobic state, producing lactic acid. If you “go anaerobic”
early in a race, you will feel fatigued sooner and become increasingly tired as
the race progresses. Basically, the accumulation of lactic acid pools in your
muscles and you have to slow down dramatically to get back to an aerobic
state. If you go anaerobic too early, your chance at a personal record is out
the window before the race is halfway over.
More importantly, in the marathon, running aerobically burns significantly
less energy – and a greater percentage of fat compared with carbohydrates –
than running an aerobically or below your aerobic threshold. Therefore, it is
critical for the marathon that you learn to run aerobically and train your body
to run faster while remaining above your aerobic threshold. To accomplish
this, you want to perform tempo or threshold runs.