Breathe and Focus

In his book Mind Gym: An Athlete's Guide to Inner Excellence, Gary Mack says that he gives little red stickers to his athletes that read "Breathe and Focus." In high-pressure situations, many athletes choke up, thinking of their past mistakes and worrying about getting it right in the future. Mack says that the stickers, which they place at the end of their bat, on their helmet, or somewhere where they can see it, remind them that, "Whenever they feel themselves growing anxious, breathe in energy. Breathe out negativity. Breathe in relaxation. Breathe out stress."

If you do yoga, that will sound familiar. The idea is when you're in an comfortable situation (or posture), stay in the present through your breathing so that you're not stressing about the past or future and use your breathing to focus on the task at hand. As Mack explains, "Oxygen is energy--it's juice. Oxygen helps relax muscles and clear the mind."

I use a breathing technique during running that enables me to focus and be present while also helping to reduce the risk of injuries. It's a technique from Budd Coates I first mentioned a few months ago from a Runner's World article in which you match your breathing with your footsteps so that you land on a different foot when you exhale. It's an odd/even pattern. When I'm running at a comfortable pace, I breathe in for three steps and exhale for two steps. It is harder to do when I'm running at a faster pace and switch to breathing in for two steps and exhaling for one. The 3:2 breathing calms me, and it also helps me know my pace. When I feel myself going a little faster than I should, I re-focus on my breathing, and the 3:2 breathing calms me down and helps me get back in control of my form.

While I use this technique during every run, it really helped me on Saturday to get the feel for my goal race pace. I found that even running at the fast end of my goal pace range, I could still do my 3:2 breathing. This is important because I've learned I can sustain a pace in which I'm breathing on a 3:2 count for long distances, which means I'm pretty confident I'll be able to run my goal race pace on race day. Time will tell as I get into longer distances, but I'm pretty optimistic.

And as for the injury-prevention piece of it, since I started using this breathing technique I haven't had any injuries, not even minor aches and pains, except for a mild case of plantar fasciitis I got this past summer, which I believe was the result of doing speedwork and hills without using the breathing technique. (I'm also happy to say that my plantar is completely gone. Completely! Though I think I owe that to lots of calf stretching and foam rolling.)

There's a whole book based on that breathing article that I'd like to get. Breathing has helped me so much in my running!

Anyone else have a similar experience?

Labels: ,