|BREATHING... GOING THE DISTANCE
More than one way to inhale and exhale…
LA Times Staff Writer
Some marathoners rely on a breathing pattern, one that corresponds to
their footsteps, to give them an edge during competition. Others use
yoga-inspired exercises or a hypnotic inhalation and exhalation.
Whatever the breathing technique, someone somewhere swears by it.
Although there's no consensus on the best approach, both coaches and
veteran marathoners say breathing the right way can help runners avoid
cramps or prevent them from getting winded early in the race.
Athletes are always trying to get into "the zone -- that peak state
where everything clicks," says Bill Lockton, a 54-year-old Santa Monica
ultra-marathoner. He, for one, breathes deeply through his nose, instead
of his mouth.
Initially, it was difficult, he says, because he felt as if he were
suffocating. Gradually, however, as the practice became more natural, he
felt energized and his performance improved. "This did that for me --
and changed running from a chore into a breathing meditation," he says.
Ian Jackson, a Dallas-based fitness consultant and inventor of a
technique called BreathPlay, prefers a specific pattern to his
exhalations. Most people fall into a 2-2 breathing pattern, in which
they inhale while stepping left foot, right foot, then exhale while
stepping left foot, right foot. But Jackson says that when the same foot
hits the pavement each time upon exhaling, it puts extra stress on that
side and strains the ankles, knees and hips. Altering your stride, by
inhaling for three steps and exhaling for three steps, he says, "will
automatically balance each side of the body and prevent one-sided
Veteran marathoner Sharlene Wills relies on a yoga trick to help her
breathe. "I put my thumb and third finger together to make a circle,"
says the West Los Angeles woman. "Somehow, that relaxes my body, and I
can take deeper breaths."
On race day, concentrating on breathing can help runners get into a
comfortable rhythm and avoid an adrenaline-fueled start, which can
trigger hyperventilation and the dreaded "runner's stitch," some coaches
say. And during the race, make sure your breathing doesn't become too
shallow, they add.
"It's easy to get sucked up in the enthusiasm of the race, and run the
fastest mile you've ever run in your life and pay for it later," says
Conrad Earnest, a research director at the Cooper Institute in Dallas.
"Controlling your breathing can help you relax and not expend extra
Pat Connelly, the official training coach for the Los Angeles Marathon,
recommends that runners do the following every half-mile: "Open up the
lungs by taking 2 to 3 deep breaths -- really force air into the lungs,
and spread out the rib cage. At the same time, drop down the arms and
really shake them out."