Friday, May 31, 2013

Running Like a Swimmer

For the last couple of months, I've been struggling with swimming. The problem is simple: breath. I swim too fast, get to the wall, and need to stop to breath and recover. It's like I'm running 400s. With swimming, there is no "take it easy, slow down, chill out pace". No equivalent of jogging between the 400s. I can't continue in freestyle and gasp for air on an as-needed basis.

A few weeks before the triathlon, it occurred to me to try to control my breathing while running. I imagined that if I inhaled over 1-2 strides and exhaled over 3-4, it might mimic exhaling in the water while taking three strokes, inhaling over one.

Oddly enough, Running on Air appeared in Runner's World at about the same time. The idea proposed in the article is that runners will be more efficient, less injury-prone, and maybe even more mindful, if they control their breathing following very specific rules.

I played with rhythmic breathing, but it felt awkward. Forced. Downright hard.

Then I read another article which said to "Run like a swimmer." I immediately thought, "I can't even swim like a swimmer. How can I run like one?" And that's when it hit me. That's the problem. Photo: Barefoot running!

For the past year, I have been building my fitness around running. But running forgives a lazy  breathing that swimming will not allow. If you get winded while running, you can simply fall into a pattern of pant, pant, pant, and push on.

Interestingly, yoga will also not tolerate this lazy breath. I will never forget when my dear friend and yogi, Senta, said "Yoga is not about stretching. It is about breath."

Breathing is the challenge and the brilliance and the heart of yoga. And swimming. And I'm coming to believe it should be at the heart of running as well.

If I train with more controlled, mindful breath will I fuel my run, my heart and skeletal muscles, more efficiently? Will I build speed? Or better yet, endurance?
On my last run - a hilly, humid 3 miles - I practiced rhythmic breathing for the final 1/2 mile.  Okay. I'll admit it was a gradual downhill. Nonetheless, this portion of the run was wonderful. I didn't achieve a true runner's high, but my focus was so narrow - inhale, e-x-h-a-l-e, inhale, e-x-h-a-l-e - that everything else was secondary. I moved almost instantly into my right brain, leaving logic and analysis behind. My feet were extensions of my diaphragm and lungs, blurring against the hot pavement.

I don't know if this was a one-time thing, but I plan to continue this method as I train for my second triathlon. My hope is that rhythmic breathing will build my fitness for the swim in a way that running alone has not.

What do you think? Do you run like a swimmer? Or swim like a runner?

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