10 minutes into my run I feel like my lungs are burning and I’m going suffocate. It feels like when I try to hold my breathe for as long as I can underwater. I’m dying to stick my head above water and take a giant gulp of life-giving air. Nothing is actually preventing me from opening my mouth to get more air, but I continue to fight the urge to breathe through my mouth. My body instinctually responds to the oxygen limit I’m putting on it and slows my pace down until I don’t feel like I’m suffocating anymore.
If you do a quick Google search about running and breathing you’ll find a lot of great articles about how to breathe efficiently (belly breathing) and how to keep a rhythmic breathing pace. You may even find articles about using both your nose and your mouth for breathing, but there is a lot less about the benefits of only nose breathing.
Maintaining Aerobic Pace
One of the more difficult aspects of running is maintaining a proper aerobic pace. My body naturally wants to go faster than it should and no amount of looking at my heart rate monitor or pace seems to help me stay at the proper pace.
For awhile I’d bring my Bernese Mountain Dog Sage on my slower runs and she’d do a great job at being a pace dog. She didn’t really like to run very fast, so I was forced to go slower. This worked for a time, until my mileage increased and her desire to keep up with me waned.
One day I was practicing my breathing while running and accidentally stumbled upon the fact that nose breathing was self-limiting my pace. I realized that breathing through my nose forced my body to keep a pace consistent with my oxygen intake. The pace that I could maintain by nose breathing was well within the aerobic state that I wanted to be in.
Controlling Heart Rate
Once I started using nose breathing to control my pace, I noticed that my heart rate naturally remained in a lower zone. Obviously, if I’m unable to expend as much effort while nose-breathing, my heart rate is also going to drop. But, proper breathing also helps regulate heart rate regardless of breathing through the nose or mouth.
Measuring Oxygen Efficiency
A theory that I haven’t been able to fully test yet, but seems to make sense, is that I should be able to see an increase in oxygen efficiency. If my body’s aerobic efficiency increases as I get in better shape I ought to be able to run faster, while also maintaining the same oxygen intake trough my nose.
Call me crazy, but I love running in the middle of the day, in the middle of summer. One of the big issues with running in the heat is staying cool and hydrated. Normally, when I’m running in the heat of the day I find that mouth breathing alone leaves my mouth and throat feeling parched.
On really hot days I try to breathe through my nose as much as possible. It not only helps me maintain a slower pace (so I don’t overheat), it keeps me from feeling parched.
Eating On The Run
The longer the distances you run, the greater the importance of learning to eat and run. Being able to properly breathe through your nose frees up your mouth to chew food. While it is possible to eat and breathe through your mouth at the same time, past experience has taught me that breathing through my mouth while eating is the perfect recipe for inhaling food down the wrong tube.
I’m sure there are plenty other great reasons to breathe through your nose while you run and I’d suggest you give it a shot the next time you go running! Let me know how it goes!