Being slow is not usually what runners want to be, but the virtues of training with slow runs is well documented. The only issue is that running slow and easy on the runs that you are supposed to take slow is possibly one of the harder parts of running.
Like most runners, I struggle with going slow. I have tried many different techniques to keep myself slow, but no matter how hard I try, I still seem to run too fast. I’ve tried stopping, walking, shorter strides, sheer willpower, but nothing works. I end up resuming my previous pace or sometimes going even faster.
I accidentally stumbled upon a trick that I’ve been using on and off for the past couple months that seems to be the only thing to keep me running slow. Breathing through my nose. While this technique sounds easy–who doesn’t know how to breathe through their nose?–it’s actually pretty difficult. I wanted to explain how I do it, and hopefully someone out there will benefit from it.
From a very basic perspective, your body needs oxygen to keep your muscles working efficiently. When you start exercising, your muscles demand more oxygen to keep being able to do what you are asking of them. The greater energy demands on the muscles, the greater the oxygen requirements. If you go fast enough, your body will switch to using stored energy sources. Limiting your oxygen intake will set an artificial barrier for your muscles and your body will compensate by going slower.
So let’s get started!
Start Easy and Small
There’s no need to set yourself up for failure (unless you eat failure for breakfast), so you’ll definitely want to start easy, slow and small.
Run on flat ground
The less extra energy you have to expend the better. Hills will demand more energy than the flatlands and you’ll quickly find yourself wanting more oxygen. Over time and practice you’ll be able to venture out into more hilly our mountainous terrain. With practice your efficiency will improve, and you’ll be able to tell how much strain is too much to maintain.
Once my legs start moving at a particular speed, it’s insanely difficult to get them to go slower. Since your goal is to go slow, make sure to start yourself slow. Breathing through your nose will help you keep that slower pace, but if you start too fast, you won’t last long. Remember, it’s way easier to increase speed than it is to slow yourself down.
Limit the distance
My furthest distance so far with only breathing through my nose is 9 miles, but I’ve also been practicing for a while. While I hope you eventually do longer distances, it’s much more reasonable to start with something small, like 1 or 2 miles, and build up from there.
While the technique is not very complicated, this doesn’t mean it’s easy. You are training yourself to breathe through your nose when your body is screaming for you to take a big giant gulp of air with your mouth. This feels very unnatural. It’s similar to a scuba diver learning how to control their breathing for the first time underwater. The good news for you is that you aren’t underwater and opening your mouth for air has no life-threatening consequences.
Big and Deep
The most important technique is to take big, deep, belly breaths using only your nose. If you aren’t belly breathing, you will utterly fail. You simply can’t get enough oxygen to even sustain slow running. If you don’t know what belly breathing is or stink at it I’d recommend you find some good articles on how to improve your technique. Once you’ve gotten the hang of belly breathing, it’s time to move on!
Find Your Rhythm
It’s important to find your rhythm. A consistent rhythm helps you relax and keep from having to think so hard about breathing. But don’t be too rigid about your rhythm. Sometimes you have to switch it up to get a bit more oxygen flowing. When I’m in the groove I find that I inhale on two steps, hold for two, exhale on two and inhale on two. If I’m going up a hill I’ll switch to inhale on two and immediately exhale on two.
At some point you will hit a wall where breathing through your nose feels uncomfortable and unnatural. You will have a very strong desir to breathe through your mouth, resist this urge. This is the point at which your body is telling you that you are using up more oxygen than you are breathing in and that it wants more. Relax your body, and let your body compensate itself by slowing down. It can also be helpful To take an extra big belly breathe through your nose and then let it out, to help calm yourself, and your brain, down.
Cheating Is OK
Remember you are learning to do something that is unnatural. It’s ok to breathe through your mouth if you are feeling too uncomfortable. You don’t want to be miserable. Ultimately, the goal is to try improve as a runner and relax on those slow days, breathing is one of many great ways to do that!