Sundered Peak

through the mind of kyle tolle

The Importance Of Breath While Running

I’m no runner.

I remember in high school, when my friend Alli convinced me to go on a run. She wouldn’t even tell me how far we were going. For some reason, I agreed. As we went along, I’d ask how much longer we had. She’d never give a definite answer. When we got back to my house, I collapsed on the lawn and sucked in air. For some reason, even now, I’m not entirely sure how far we ran. Probably only a mile. My memory is awful.

That and gym class were my only real experiences with running before college. In the fitness center at Ohio State, I’d run on treadmills, and occasionally on the track. My last year at OSU, I’d run part of the way to and from the fitness center. It wasn’t even that far, but I remember getting stitches in my sides pretty much every time. I was not a fan. When that happened, I’d walk instead.

Then, on one of these occasions, I was running with my roommate David Carter. He gave me a tip on breathing that changed everything. He told me to breathe on each step of the run. To begin, breathe in over the course of four steps. And then breathe out for four steps. 4 in, 4 out. Repeat.

Going forward, I’ll refer to the breaths taken as #/#. In/Out. First is number of in breaths, followed by the number of out breaths. So the breathing I described above is 4/4. Just a helpful shorthand.

When I start a run, I’ll start with 4/4, and then change the breaths to suit my needs as I go. I’ll eventually back it down to 4/3, then 3/3, then 3/2, and finally 2/2.

I have no real clue how I was breathing prior to this. Probably just huffing air in an inefficient way. If you want to know how to get cramps while running, I could probably teach you that too.

After moving to Colorado, I’ve run with a bit more regularity and distance, and this breathing technique has been a big help. I’m still no professional, but it’ll get me through the occasional 5K.

Throughout my runs, I’ll always breathe in at least as much as I breathe out. Helps make sure I’m getting enough oxygen… or something. Let’s be honest, I’m no running scientist.

Trying to do an entire inhale or exhale in one step isn’t effective. If I’m doing that, it’s probably some sprint for a short distance when playing Ultimate Frisbee. While running, I’d never keep a pace where a breathing 2/1 or 1/1 was necessary. I’d likely still get stitches.

This regular breathing also comes in handy when setting a pace for hiking, but I’ll save more on that for another post.

Would love to hear your thoughts on this. How do you breathe when you run?