Need running advice!
February 2, 2008 1:43 PM   Subscribe

Need running advice!

I am in my late 20s and, as I've said in a previous post, I have a hard time with breathing when I run for 10-15 minutes.

Basically, I would like for people who know something about running amateurs to tell me what I should reasonably expect to be able to accomplish.

Now, the thing that I feel good about doing now is running for a 2 or 3 minute stretch, 5 max and then switching to walking. Then rinse and repeat. A bit of running and then a walking break.

This is because I have the intution that my breath won't last me for a 10-15 minute run. I went for just such a run today. I decided to pick a starting point and run around a small sized lake to return to that same starting point. I think that breathing became really hard after 10 minutes, and though I almost made it back to my starting point, I was completely out of breath and absolutely had to stop. (The omelet that I've had had for breakfast before might not have helped, but this is how my 10-15 min runs go whatever I eat.)

Now, I certainly don't have asthma, but does anyone know why breathing gets so difficult for me when I run? Is there something that I can do to condition my lungs for longer endurance? My feet, legs, and body do not get tired. I could walk for hours after stopping my run.
posted by gregb1007 to Health & Fitness (24 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I've found that it's partly psychological. I'm betting that if you push through the initial winded feeling, you'll find that you can longer than you think.
posted by mpls2 at 1:48 PM on February 2, 2008

have you tried using the couch-to-5k plan to build up your resistance? i've found it to be the perfect solution for me - i worked my way through it, and am now up to running 10k in 50 mins or less.
posted by ascullion at 1:52 PM on February 2, 2008

Well there certainly exists a thing called Exercise Induced Asthma. You might want to bring that up with your doctor the next time you have an appointment. The other advice would be to work gradually up to running. You say that you could walk for hours, but what kind of endurance would you have if you really walked at a fast clip? If you can get access to a treadmill that makes things easy because the machine will keep you running at a consistent pace and over time you can increase that pace and see how your body reacts. I've found that when I am just running on the street, I do a bad job of keeping pace and run too quickly and thus peter out too soon.
posted by mmascolino at 1:53 PM on February 2, 2008

I've recently started running. If you slow down just a bit from your normal pace, you will be able to run longer without running out of breath, and over time you will be able to run faster and longer without running out of breath.
posted by Sonic_Molson at 1:54 PM on February 2, 2008

i had a similar problem trying to run for longer than 30 minutes, just kept running out of breath. the advice i got from people who run regularly was to just *slow it down* and try to run at the slowest pace possible, for the longest duration possible. that's the way to start getting the cardio benefits.

so i slowed things down from 9 min. miles to more like 11-12 min. miles, and voila, turns out i can run for an hour.

i think psychologically we "short distancers" get used to really running and then shut down at 10 minutes. the heart-healthy approach requires much longer durations, so we just can't run at that crazy pace the whole time (although i've heard it's good to bump up the speed for your last minute or two).
posted by garfy3 at 1:54 PM on February 2, 2008

Lungs take time to build strength just like a muscle-- this might sound a little on the extreme side/folk remedy-ish, but my former track coach once recommended that I practice every night breathing through a straw.

Otherwise just continue with a run-walk routine. It will take time, but eventually your lungs will get strong enough.

You could also look into getting checked for exercise-induced asthma, I happen to have it and my inhaler has helped my breathing a lot.
posted by pumpkin11 at 2:09 PM on February 2, 2008

Now, the thing that I feel good about doing now is running for a 2 or 3 minute stretch, 5 max and then switching to walking. Then rinse and repeat. A bit of running and then a walking break.

Honestly, I'd keep doing this. Up by one minute every week or at whatever interval you feel comfortable with. It will be slow, but it will probably work. I worked up to running pretty fast (10 min mile) and pretty long (over a mile without stopping), at least for an asthmatic with tight calves, using this technique.

Also, you might have exercise-induced asthma and not know it. Check with your doctor.
posted by melissam at 2:18 PM on February 2, 2008

Now, I certainly don't have asthma

Are you sure? I didn't figure out about my exercise-induced, cold-induced asthma until I was 25.
posted by gramcracker at 2:25 PM on February 2, 2008

As a beginner there is really no need to run until you are "out of breath." Pace yourself, have fun, and clock milage. After some time running at moderate or even slow speeds you can enter into a program designed to increase the efficiency of your circulatory system. It would be a good idea then to get a heart rate monitor in order to measure progress. Some ways to chart progress is Max VO2, and Maximum Heart Rate, two terms that a good old google search would help you learn about. Read runners world, your local library may have old copies stashed away. But just to touch on it, you would calculate your Max Heart Rate and then for SHORT periods of time run at percentages of that max.

Goals will come slow at times and quickly at others, so expect that! MOst importantly, HAVE FUN!!

Also...Look up the word Fartlek!
posted by sneakyalien at 2:26 PM on February 2, 2008

The differential question here is how the rest of your body feels. We know you get out of breath, the question is, why? The way your body feels may hold the key.

First, it's possible that what's going on is exercise-induced asthma, or even some other problem with your heart, and if the problem persists you probably want to get checked out by a doctor.

The other possibility is that you are essentially sprinting, even if you don't feel like you're running that fast. If this is the case, then you probably have burning legs and a general feeling of excessive effort which exceeds simply being out of breath. Being out of breath is a symptom, not a cause. I wrote a long comment in answer to another question about this, and I won't reproduce it all, but the basic idea is that there is a level of effort (heartrate) above which your body cannot maintain adequate oxygen in the muscles. In trained runners that level of effort is as close to their maximum level of effort as they can make it. This is essentially what training is, raising that level of effort. Sometimes in new runners it's so low that what appears to be moderate running speed is actually bumping above this level of effort, and the body reacts as if it were sprinting. The rx is to lower the level of effort to just below that heart-wrenching level, and keep at it. Run/walking is one way to do that, but only if the speed during running is only slightly above the level that would cause the problem if sustaned long-term. You may be running too fast on your run portions. (And you may also have a medical problem for which you should get checked out.)
posted by OmieWise at 2:35 PM on February 2, 2008

Try running with someone else. This will have two effects -- (i) you won't be as vulnerable to the psychological effects that lead to feeling like you're out of breath, at least in my experience, and (ii) you will be able to have a conversation, and therefore test the very common advice that if you are too out of breath to talk, you are running too fast. If you are running with someone faster than you, you do need to make sure you don't let them push you too much, though.
posted by advil at 2:38 PM on February 2, 2008

First, yes, your breathing certainly improves with practice. For me, my breathing is *always* what limits me when I do cardio. It's not my legs or anything muscle-related; it's being able to get enough oxygen. The more you run, the better your body gets at using the oxygen you breathe.

Second, run slower. I mean, you might have to slow down to a 12 minute mile (er, I don't know how fast you run now, and this is all very relative, so I don't want to offend *anyone*!). I've been running for a number of years and a friend sat me down to talk about running, as he was just getting back into it (around age 40) after not running since high school. He was having a horrible time, unable to run a mile, etc. He asked me how fast I run, and I said my typical training run was 9-10 min/mile, that short races were faster, but for a marathon I'd be slower. He kind of looked at me wide-eyed, and said that in high school he was running 7 minute miles, so that's what he was trying to run now. I had to gently tell him that he was an idiot for trying to run 7 minute miles after 20 years of not running, and with at least 20 more pounds under his belt. ;) I myself can't even run a single 7 minute mile. Anyway, if he simply slowed it down to 10-12 min/mile, he'd be fine.

My point is that this might be what you have to do. Slow it down. When I started running I had to stop at a mile. Now I can run a marathon. It's just about training.

I can't actually run a marathon right *now*. But I did one a couple years ago so I know it's within my limits.
posted by iguanapolitico at 2:48 PM on February 2, 2008

Response by poster: In response to omiewise:

One of the attractions of running is psychological.

The feeling of flying with my feet is absolutely amazing. Running slowly feels much like walking fast........ It certainly feels like exercise, but the psychological satisfaction, i.e, the feeling of exhilaration would be absent

That said, I am not sure how much I sprint. When I first started running, I would go at the absolute max... I believe that I still sprint somewhat, but less so. Moderate sprinting perhaps.... I am tempted to say that my running is faster than my fast-paced walking, but these things are so hard to measure. I would have to really think more about it to figure out whether it's true or not.
posted by gregb1007 at 2:54 PM on February 2, 2008

Let me chime in to say that yeah, (unless you do turn out to have exercise-induced asthma, or some other condition) you are going to have to slow it down. I know how you feel about the psychology of running - I love to sprint as well. But if you really want to build up endurance, slow slow slow.

I was kind of a beginning runner a year ago, started on the couch-5K plan and after I got that (being able to run 30 minutes - 3 miles) 3 times a week, I ran what I wanted for a few months and then used a "one hour runner" program to build up to running 10km, 6.2 miles in around 52-55 minutes. Now, when I'm not trying to build up my endurance, I run at about 8.5-9 minute miles. But when I'm trying to build it up, I run on a treadmill, and make myself run 10-10.5 minute miles. That way I get the psychology of telling myself it's a temporary measure, and still the positive feedback of increasing endurance. Once I'm up to my desired mileage/time, I keep at that for a couple of weeks, and then crank up the speed, slowly. Then I leave the treadmill and run where I like, at the speed I like.

I also do one day a week of intervals - slow jogging and sprints, for the exhilaration feeling.

that's what worked for me, anyway.
posted by gaspode at 3:02 PM on February 2, 2008

Sprinting is for later. You need to work on building a cardiovascular and structural base before trying to go fast.

Try to go as slow as you can while still jogging. I guarantee that you'll be able to last a half hour or more. I also guarantee that the workout will tire out your legs, arms and back, while gradually building cardiovascular endurance.

If you need that "psychological satisfaction," schedule ten minutes at the end of your workout for going fast.
posted by letitrain at 3:16 PM on February 2, 2008

Well, greg, I don't know what to tell you. I know the feeling your talking about, as well as a lot of other psychological feelings associated with running, and they're important to me. Putting in the training to get fit is the best investment in that flying feeling I think you can make. While I don't sprint all out very much, I can easily put in a 10 mile tempo run (tempo runs are almost the definition of the feeling you're talking about--speedy running at a level fast enough to feel fast and hard, but sustainable enough not to feel like a gut-wrenching effort) every week, and still do sprints on another day and a long run on another day that brings the psychological satisfaction of distance covered and serious work done. You just may not be there yet, which is understandable, as you're a fairly new runner. If you want to get there, you may have to change your approach for the interim.
posted by OmieWise at 3:19 PM on February 2, 2008

Yeah... I'm with OmniWise, for what it's worth... and he pointed me towards the UltraMarathon Mailing list awhile ago, so I owe him a bit of a running debt. Slow down, take your time... and enjoy it.

'Course, it all depends on what you're trying to do, running-wise. If you wanna go for distance, you've just gotta take it easy on yourself, particularly as you get started on any given run. Speed, endurance... that'll all improve after doing slow and steady distance runs every week, extending it out periodically over time.

It might sound kinda silly, but distance running takes patience -- it's all about the slow and steady burn of energy over vast areas of terrain.

It'll get easier the more you run and the more you get a sense of what your body is capable of... and, really, if you stick with it, you'll be amazed. The key is to get the fundamentals in place as you get started: a comfortable pace, proper form, proper nutrition, etc... then from there, you'll continue speeding up for years and years.

By the way... don't neglect to take water with you when you run!
posted by ph00dz at 4:42 PM on February 2, 2008

I've improved my breathing abilities during running by carefully training myself to breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth. Previously. I'd been trying to get all breathe in and out through my mouth.
posted by rglass at 7:12 PM on February 2, 2008

I'd venture to say the best author when it comes to any kind of running is Jeff Galloway - I'd check out some things he's written.

I'd also suggest a subscription to "Runner's World." When I first started running I was horrible (in fact, almost exactly like you). I was in good shape, but it was a different kind of shape. What subscribing to "Runner's World" did was help me,
1) dress for success (when I was wearing the right gear, I felt like I was a bona fide runner!),
2) learn other great work outs and diets that helped my cardio muscles immensely (you'd be surprised how much a great diet can help you build your cardio capabilities - and don't be scared by the word "diet" in this case, because runners need to eat plenty of great food, but just different kinds and at different times, so it won't feel like you're "dieting."),
3) taught be many, many 10 - 25 minute running workouts that were so simple and easy, and still help me progress. "Running" isn't just about hitting the pavement and running for a certain amount of time or distance. It's about improving cardiovascularly, achieving goals, enjoying nature, and enjoying your body. It's definitely about many other thing for other people, too - but "Runner's World" helped me appreciate all the different things "running" had to offer.
posted by Detuned Radio at 7:40 PM on February 2, 2008

Listen to music. I find that if I can't hear myself breathing, I don't know how out of breath I am.
posted by bluenausea at 9:21 PM on February 2, 2008

Now, the thing that I feel good about doing now is running for a 2 or 3 minute stretch, 5 max and then switching to walking. Then rinse and repeat. A bit of running and then a walking break.

Depending on what your goals are, this might be fine. A friend who is pretty interested in running told me that the run/walk scenario gives as many physical benefits as constant running. As long as you keep a fast walking pace during your walk intervals, you will keep your heartrate up and continue to get cardio benefits. (If you're looking to run a marathon, though, this won't cut it.)

I have the same problem as you (I can easily go an hour on the elliptical, but 5 minutes of regular running/jogging has me wheezing and gasping), and I pursued the run/walk approach until my lungs strengthened up. 2/3 run, 1/3 walk on a stretch of street, when I started out I could only get six laps before I thought I was dying. Kept it up, and got up to 10 in about 6 weeks, then screwed up my ankle (in an unrelated activity) and had to stop for a while.

And listen to Detuned Radio--some good suggestions there. Jeff Galloway's written some good stuff.
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 11:49 PM on February 2, 2008

Long-ago successful high-school XC and track runner here, and currently out of shape.

You are probably running at too fast a pace. Run at a pace where you can actually converse. If you find yourself out of breath, slow down a bit.

Exercise-induced asthma is possible, but less likely than the above. Everyone runs too fast when they start out, even experienced runners who are coming back from time off. Listen to your body - it's telling you to slow down.

If you can't stand running slowly, you can try fartleks or just plod along until you are able to run faster without breathing too hard.
posted by zippy at 12:14 AM on February 3, 2008

Omiewise pretty much covers what your problem is barring a medical condition such as EI asthma or the like.

Your clarification in the responses pretty much asks us how to allow you to run at what might be your current all-out 3k-5k race pace for longer than 10 minutes at a time. Do you see why this is sort of a no-win question for experienced runners and coaches to try and answer? If you like the feeling of covering ground swiftly, then the solution is to create a training program that allows you to slowly increase your strength and cardiovascular fitness to the point where your very easy conversational running pace is swift enough to feel more like flying than plodding. You can do this by working three different types of runs into your weekly program:

1. Your current 10 minute run at an effort you wish you could extend for longer (we'll call this a tempo run, ideally you will extend this to 15-20 minutes as you get fitter)

2. One or two weekly runs that feel like useless plods to you (training is hard for lots of reasons, an overlooked one for some people is that it forces them to swallow their pride some days and put in some long, slow runs that they hope their neighbors don't see)

3. Some strides, sprints, hill repeats, or other fast intervals to build leg strength, increase form efficiency, and increase VO2 max. These should be 1-4 minutes long with an equal jogged or walked rest in between. We'll call this "speed work".

I am NOT a fan of Galloway's writing. He peppers his advice with a lot of junk science and tends to give training advice that is geared more toward making newcomers to running feel great about their accomplishments (and they should!) than helping them improve their speed and running capacity. Phttt. Terrible stuff, and if you want to email me I'll be more specific.

If you are interested in running faster and increasing your speed and endurance, I would suggest looking at everything Pete Pfitzinger has written on the subject. (Full discloser, I am pretty good friends with a few of the people who write alongside him, but he's still the one exercise physiologist who is consistently able to explain in layman's terms complex training concepts.)

Some articles are here:
Pfitzinger Lab

My friends who coach division one track&field and cross country used to subscribe to Owen Anderson's Peak Performance/ Running Research newsletters. I haven't see one since I retired from racing in 2001, but they are probably still a reliable resource. The web page is here:
Running Research

If you have any other specific questions, you can mefimail me. I never ran in college and I also had no idea what I was doing when I started out as a recreational runner. I was lucky enough to be befriended by a group of Irish Olympians in my town, and over the course of many years and with much guidance from a few of them, most notably my eventual coach, I improved from a 3/day a week jogger to a nationally competitive marathoner and Olympic Trials qualifier. There was nothing magical about it, and it took lots of hard work, the hardest of which was *not* the gut-busting workouts and weekly 22 mile runs, but simple impulse control- listening to people who knew more about this sport than I did when they told me to it slow down and rein it in.
posted by stagewhisper at 11:08 AM on February 3, 2008

Don't do this.
posted by stagewhisper at 11:20 AM on February 3, 2008

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