We’ve all been there. Here’s why:
You’re running too fast.
Seriously, that’s it. Slow down, and it will be easier to breathe.
Running is hard work, and it takes time and consistency to acclimate. You’re asking your heart, lungs, and muscles to do something they’re not used to doing, and like any new skill, it won’t be easy at first. But that doesn’t mean you won’t get stronger over time, and be able to run faster without feeling like you’re going to pass out.
Use the RPE (Relative Perceived Exertion) scale to help you dial it in. On a scale of 0-10 (where 0 is resting, and 10 is an all-out effort), aim to be between a 4-6 when you’re running. You should be able to carry on a brief conversation without gasping, but not sing the National Anthem.
If you push yourself above a 6, your breathing will start to become ragged and your running form and endurance will suffer.
Muscles need blood to bring them oxygen. Your heart and lungs make that happen, but when you’re new to running, they might not be very efficient at the job. And when you’re pushing your legs to go faster than your heart and lungs can handle, the system breaks down – that’s when your heart rate goes crazy, and you’re gasping for air. Your poor body systems are trying like crazy to supply the oxygen demanded by your muscles, but they keep falling behind. When you try to run like this, you’re not getting stronger – you’re just getting frustrated.
So just slow down a little! It doesn’t mean you’re not good at running, it means you’re a beginner. Stick with it, and you’ll see results.
One of the fastest ways to get your heart and lungs in better shape is by doing run-walk intervals. Run at a 6 for a set period of time (such as 30 or 60 seconds) and then walk at a 3 for the same amount. Repeat for 30-40 minutes. This allows your lungs (and muscles) to recover before you push them again. Do this for a few weeks and you’ll be amazed at the results.
While you’re running, focus on breathing deeply – even when you’re at a 6. Fully expand your lungs on the inhale, breathing from the belly. Exhale completely as well. Shallow breathing is inefficient, so get as much out of each breath as possible. You might even try to inhale and exhale in a rhythym with your feet – inhaling for two steps, exhaling for two (or longer if you can).
Another tip: make a note of how fast you’re running right now when you’re in the 4-6 zone. Then in two months, check in again, to see if you’re running faster at the same level of exertion.
While it might feel discouraging to slow down to get your breathing under control, it will benefit you in the long run. Eventually you’ll get stronger and faster. Take it slow, stay consistent, and you’ll see results, I promise.
I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments!
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