It’s no secret that I live with anxiety. Currently, things are mostly under check and I feel pretty darn relaxed, calm, and, well, happy. This is not to say I don’t have mild panic attacks on the regular or that I still sometimes get side-swiped by some idle anxiety-car on any random day. But yes, mostly under check.
When I do end up with a mild or not-so-mild attack, I practice 4-7-8 breathing. It’s touted as an anxiety and stress reducer/reliever as well as a “fall asleep in seconds” method, though the latter of which does not work for me. The basic premise is that you breathe in for four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds, and breathe out for eight seconds, keeping the counts even. The “second” does not need to be a “real” second. You just need to keep the count regular and even.
And so, when I’m in an Arm Flail moment because I’ve misplaced my (enter thing I’ve misplaced here), I can bring myself back out of the panic cloud by following this breathing technique. It’s helped me tremendously with stressful parenting situations as well. I find that I don’t react quite so much and can think about my word choice more carefully before opening my mouth. Less panic and feeling better about my parenting? Bonus!
During a training run this week, I wondered to myself, “I wonder if you can use 4-7-8 breathing while training for a marathon.” So I tried a few different things over the course of two shorter runs and my long run of the week. I found out that you can use 4-7-8 breathing while running, but it helps most in various recovery scenarios.
Here’s 4 ways to use 4-7-8 breathing while running.
1. When you finish your run/race. Most runners tend to speed up and give it their all at the end of a race or a run. Not wanting to “leave anything in the tank,” the idea is to leave it all out there on the course. You may push harder and run faster than you have the entire race or harder than your average training pace. And so when you finish, you may feel winded for the first time during your entire run.
So, breathe in for four, hold it for seven, and breathe out for eight. I did this after each of the three runs I practiced this technice with, running hard into my finish, and I felt as if I caught my breath sooner than the normal panting and pacing, the whole gulping for air thing so many of us do after crossing the finish line. I caught my breath and could drink water without choking on it. Not choking is good.
2. Up a hill. You’re already slowing a bit during your uphill. You’re kind of frustrated with the slow down, with the hill itself. You wish your elevated effort translated into a faster run, but you’re moving slower. You may start shallow breathing on hills. I do. Oops.
So in the middle of a particularly long, rather annoying hill on a new route, I switched my breathing into the 4-7-8 technique, and counted two “seconds” for each step so as not to hold my breath too long and pass out on a hill in the middle of nowhere. I made it up that hill. I repeated the 4-7-8 breathing three times in one section and twice as I got near the top of the hill. Then I did a fist pump and kept on running.
3. If you need to walk. Walking breaks happen, and they’re actually beneficial for many reasons. My long run came on an 83 degree day. I didn’t run early, and I decided to run a brand new, very hilly route. While I conquered a few big hills with no problem or with the breathing technique that day, I also allowed myself to walk a little. Listening to your body during training is so important and can help you avoid injury.
While I walked, I used 4-7-8 breathing to get myself calmed down and cooled off a little. It was a very hot day and I was on the line between overheating and not a number of times. When I used this technique while walking, I got my heartbeat to stop pounding in my ear which is my own personal first sign of overheating. I really felt awesome for being able to get myself out of that scary situation.
If you’re running a difficult training run or like to walk through water stations during a race, this is a great time to use this breathing technique.
4. Yes, while running. You can use 4-7-8 breathing while running just any old pace and course, too—but maybe not for the whole race. We’ve all read a billion articles how 3-2 breathing is better or 4-3 or whatever the newest article claims is best. We all know what works for us when it comes to breathing… until we forget and we tense up. I feel it first in my shoulder; I start holding my upper body really tight and I get a pain in my shoulder. And then I think, “Oops, I messed up my breathing somewhere.”
It’s then that I switched to 4-7-8 breathing for a few cycles and adjusted my posture accordingly. The pain subsided and I continued running. Again, I matched it double time with footfalls, but you’ll figure out what works for you. It helped me avoid slowing down to get the pain to go away or to find my breath again. I felt really powerful and in charge of my body when I realized I could do this on my own.
And so, did I have a great training week?
Great maybe isn’t the best word for it, I suppose. I didn’t finish the week feeling like I did last week. I finished my long run thinking, “Wow. And I have to run a billion and a half more miles training for the Columbus Marathon. And then I actually have to run it. Bummer.” I didn’t feel like I couldn’t do it. I just felt the big “oh wow” moment.
I have a lot of miles left to cover. The temperatures are no longer cooperating with those of us who prefer cooler running temps. It’s hot out, very humid, and the sun is relentless. I’m simply doing the best I can right now. I didn’t want to run my long run, but I did—slower than my marathon pace because I knew the weather called for a slower, more methodical approach. My body called for it. Understanding and respecting my own limitations makes me a stronger runner.
And so I enter the seventh week of training breathing slow, deep breaths, ready for it as much as I can possibly be.