Running The Bath
Susie’s post on the emotional breath made me want to share a bit more about my running journey, some training tips and some ways different types of breaths have helped me be a better long-distance runner.
I am a late starter to the sport and had only dreamed from the sidelines of being able to run at all before completing the Bath Half Marathon in 2015. I have now completed 27 half marathons, completing up to 5 races every year and all of the training miles. Being an older runner with no previous running experience has meant a steep learning curve to stay consistently injury-free. This is my approach.
What works are lots of training miles, a couple of spring halves to keep the mileage up through the winter, a bit of a dip for summer and then a steady build-up for the autumn races. I do lots of long-distance and hill walking, which helps with strength and endurance. This year has been a bit different, I missed the spring marathons and got behind with training while on a road trip around Ireland. In the last couple of weeks, I have been on a self-made boot camp of long runs, stepping the mileage up by one and a half miles each time every three days. Fortunately, I had got enough miles in my legs, pre-road trip, to help avoid injury while getting back on track, though it has been tough. This was a worry because studies have shown that 9 in 10 sports injuries happen when training exceeds a 10% rise in intensity or distance. My running training includes longish post-run warm-downs and minimal pre-run stretching. Warm downs include a steady walk after completing distance runs (around a mile). This helps to remove some of the lactic acids in my muscles, and adding another mile to already tired legs helps prepare the body for the longer or faster, more demanding next run. When I am home, I will then spend some time on my reformer, stretching and releasing tight muscles to help re-align and restore posture. If there is no reformer, I will do similar stretches using what's available. I also believe that consistently working on posture and teaching Pilates helps to keep everything moving well (especially on post-race Mondays).
Breathing and running
It is obvious that good breathing is necessary to complete any exercise. What really helps me be a better runner are some positive, complimentary breathing techniques. Susie's blog post on breath summarises the science and history of these techniques. My thoughts are really about how certain ways of breathing help me fulfil my dreams of finishing the next half marathon. Running is not a trauma as such, but nevertheless, it can be quite traumatic if you are feeling under the weather, have pressures like fundraising or even inclement weather (hot sunny weather does not suit me at all). Softening my inhale calms my system and thereby reduces the symptoms of stress (or excitement). This really helps me stay in the moment and allows me to focus on the simplicity of the next step and my balance between left and right. The Pranayama breath translates from Sanskrit as “vital life force control breath,” and I use this in two different ways. To keep myself from tightening up too much, I try to release tension with my breath. I will encourage my shoulders to rise softly on the inhale and, as I exhale, release that tension. This slows everything down a bit and encourages the automatic relaxation of the upper torso and jaw with the last bit of the exhale. It's a bit like being a jellyfish, all easy, calm and relaxed. My other technique is perfect if I am struggling on a steep incline or am seemingly at the end of my endurance (a likely occurrence if I set off too fast). I try to deepen my breathing and centre myself with a rhythm driven by my stride, inhaling for four steps and exhaling for four more (like using the Pilates 100 to calm, renew and refresh). There is also good science behind this pattern, as a slow breath for four steps will inevitably increase cadence and enhance running efficiency. Also, increasing the volume of breath will likely improve blood oxygen levels and help reduce symptoms of fatigue.
When it all comes together
Running is always a joy, and I never regret a run. Sometimes, all or part of a run will be a very special experience, and I often get into an almost meditative state. This is my happy place, and I am so grateful that I am able to do this. My running journey would never have started without Pilates helping me be mobile and pain-free. As always, a huge thanks to all my teachers and, by extension, Joe Pilates.