Every now and then, I am sure this has happened to you, people ask me what I think while running, often with a hint of mockery or superiority that running is so boring to them and they don’t understand why anyone would spend time just running. When I share that with them, they are quick to dismiss my thoughts, and going for a run probably would never cross their mind again. I suppose it is not just running but they would have similar attitudes toward any aerobic or cardio exercise.
While I cannot think why they cannot think what they would think when running, I think about quite a lot of different things. I think about job, future, food, family, cats, running form, next race, next trip, weather, etc. Often, before my run, I give myself a task to come up with ideas for work or what to do on a upcoming weekend. Different task each time. But one thing I always keep in mind while running is my breathing. To be precise, I make sure I alternate my landing foot when exhaling.
It totally makes sense to focus on this and make sure this happens. Last fall, I read an article on Runner’s World online, titled “Running On Air: Breathing Technique“. Concept is simple: Alternate your landing foot when exhaling, so that you load-balance the stress you incur from running. The hypothesis is that “the greatest impact stress of running occurs when one’s footstrike coincides with the beginning of an exhalation. This means that if you begin to exhale every time your left foot hits the ground, the left side of your body will continually suffer the greatest running stress.” Though I cannot say for sure, I suspect I was consistently landing on my left foot every time I exhaled. Even now, when I am not paying attention and go out of rhythm, I find myself landing on my left foot every time I exhale. In the past, I had problems with my left hip flexor, left psoas and left groin. I self-diagnosed and even wrote a post Iliopsoas Tendonitis. These problems might have resulted from landing on my left foot every time I exhaled. Fortunately, these problems have mostly gone away. Taking some breaks from running helped. But being smarter about training, strengthening and conditioning has helped more. Since I am ramping up my training for Boston, I make sure I alternate my landing foot as I exhale. This should help me avoid injuries, but this should also help me work the entire body equally and become a stronger runner.
Update on February 20, 2015:
As I get better at this breathing technique, I notice there are a couple of other benefits. The first is foot strike. As I focus on the breathing, it became more intuitive to pay attention to my foot strike. I am a mild heel striker, meaning I tend to land on my heel when I get tired or not paying enough attention to my foot strike. It is not a drastic change, but my new pair of running shoes shows less wear on the heel. Secondly, my glutes fire when I am running. Since I hurt my back, I try to strengthen my glutes and try to use them when I run. But it has not been consistent, because it is difficult to fire up glutes each time I land while maintaining this breathing technique. Instead, when I alternate foot strike at exhalation, I am relaxed and better able to focus on firing up my glues. In fact, a series of breathing, the footstrike and firing the glutes happens very naturally and rhythmically, and I feel I am a more efficient runner. I am not sure if this influences my running form or gait, but I would not be surprised if it did for the better.