claire bartholic chicago marathon

Breathe.  Just breathe.

It seems like we shouldn’t have to think about breathing.  After all, our bodies are designed to breathe involuntarily without a conscious thought from us.

Yet while running, being able to focus and control your breath can be a powerful tool.

And if you think about it, controlling your breathing is a powerful tool in the rest of your life as well.

Think of the last time you were in a stressful situation.  Maybe your puppy decided to devour your new running shoes or your toddler drew her latest masterpiece on the living room wall in permanent marker.  Taking a deep slow breath won’t get you a new pair of shoes or magically erase your wall, but it instantly helps diffuse the internal stress signals going off in your body and helps you remain calm.  The better you get at remaining calm during stress, the better you can manage the situation.

The same is true while running.

(And to be completely honest, I need a lot more practice at this.  Both in life as well as running!)

One of the most popular episodes of the Runners Connect Run to the Top Extra Kick Podcast that I’ve done was Episode 23, focused on breathing.  During that episode, I explained some breathing patterns and techniques that you can use while you run at different intensities that help you gauge effort level.  Memorizing your own breathing patterns at different speeds will help you become better at pacing yourself, which is key to racing well.

I will get more into the specifics of breathing techniques in future posts, but I have found that if I focus on my breath, the rest of my body tends to follow along.

It works in two paradoxical ways: it’s both a distraction and yet precise focus at the same time.

Finding a way to distract yourself from the discomfort of racing or running hard is essential to running your best.  If I am focusing on just this one aspect of running, I can forget about my legs.  I can forget about how much further I have to go.  I can forget about how hard it is and how much I want to stop.  All I have to do is think “in, in, ouuut, in, in, ouuut, in, in, ouuut,” and let the rest of my thoughts melt away.

Focusing on my breathing is something that I have absolute control over.  I can’t control the weather, the conditions, the competition, or countless other factors.  But I can control my breath.

The concept of focusing on your breath is simple. But like many simple things in life (world peace comes to mind), it’s not always easy.

Anyone who has gone to a yoga class or tried meditation knows that focusing on just your breath is hard!  Your mind is a scatterbrained chatterbox that needs to fill every space with thought.  You’ll try to concentrate on your breathing and before you know it, you are wondering if you remembered to pay the water bill or what’s in the fridge for lunch.

I wish I could sit here and say that I’m great at meditation and staying present, but I’m not.  I need to continually work on it.

So does everybody else.

That’s the reason yoga or meditation is called “practice.”  Focused breathing is a skill that takes consistent practice to be most effective.

But the great thing is that you don’t have to be a zen master to use it or benefit from it.  Every time you take a moment to focus on your breathing during your run, you are improving the quality of your run and working to manage negative thoughts.

With practice, those moments become more and more frequent and begin to last longer and longer.  The negative thoughts begin to lose their grip on your mind in times of stress.  When they resurface (and they will), you can bring your focus back to the breath and let all other thoughts slip away.

I believe that the mind-breath connection is so important that I am making it a major part of my training.  I am working on more techniques and tools that I plan to share with you in the coming months that you can use to improve your training as well.

We breathe every minute of  every day.  Harnessing the power of that simple, involuntary action can be one of the most effective tools we have to improve our running.

And our lives.



About Claire

Coach Claire has helped hundreds of runners chase their dreams and conquer big goals. Her coaching philosophy combines science-based training, plant-based nutrition, and mindset techniques to unlock every runner's true potential. She's an ASFA certified running coach, sports nutrition specialist, a 2:58 marathoner, mom, and borderline obsessive plant lover.

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  • Totally agreed. I am fighting with my hypertension and guided breathing is one of my preffered tools (after drinking beet juice :).

  • I use some of the breathing exercises taught by Dr. Andrew Weil. It’s amazing how well it works in easing anxiety, calming a racing heart, etc.

  • The one I use most often is the 4-7-8 breath:

    He has several different exercises for different purposes, but this one is my “go to”. BTW, I’ve been following a lot of Dr. Weil’s advice for 20 years! I like his philosophy of evidence-based holistic approaches to health care for most issues, particularly lifestyle diseases that are reaching epidemic levels now.


    • Yes! I remember hearing about this a long time ago, but had completely forgotten. Very interesting.

  • oh boy… I have tried counting my breath while running and just can’t stand it! I am aware of effort based on my breath and will consciously try to “relax” my breathing while doing tough intervals, but to count it as it correlates with my steps, I just get irritated. Something about the process makes running feel like “work” to me rather than calming me, if that makes sense. I know some folks really swear by chi running which is focused on breath, but I think I’ll have to pass on this technique! Glad it works well for you and others!

    • Great comment, Laurie! I don’t actually use numbers or “count” my breaths. And I don’t try to time them to my steps (also tried that and also found it too stressful!). Sometimes I will use a word or mantra along with my breath, but usually, it’s no words thought at all. Just breathing in a rhythm.

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