athleta

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Running

A few weeks ago I started coaching workouts at Athleta on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. It’s been so much fun, and has become one of the things I look forward to the most each week. Last night, while talking to one of the runners in the group, I realized that although I’m generally a quiet person, when it comes to running I have a lot to say. In fact, I probably have a bit too much to say. I just want people to love running, and to me, part of loving it is understanding it. So in an effort to get more people to love running as much as I do (and to shut up for a little bit and stop talking people’s ears off), I thought I’d start a series with tips, workout ideas, answers to common running questions, and all sorts of other things that falls into the category of stuff-I-want-to-share-with-you-without-overwhelming-you-with-too-much-information-all-at-once. Ladies and gentlemen (or, honestly, probably just ladies and ladies…or maybe just a lady or two), I give you Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Running.

Part I: Breathing

breatheBreathing while running is hands down the thing I get questions about most often, so what better place to start? In our day-to-day lives, breathing isn’t something that we think about all that much. Air comes in, air goes out, and as long as the process continues, we get on with our lives quiet happily. That, I think, is one of the reasons why breathing is such an issue for new runners. All of a sudden, breathing isn’t this comfortable, obvious, involuntary thing. Instead, it’s hard. It’s uncomfortable. It requires thought and concentration. When you start out running, breathing basically sucks (no pun intended). But it doesn’t have to. And once you get comfortable with your breathing, it can become an incredibly powerful tool.

I’m going to break breathing down into three steps.

  1. Think about it. The first step in all of this is to make your breathing a conscious act. Spend time getting a sense of how you breathe–through your mouth? your nose? Deeply? Shallowly? Quickly? Slowly? From the lungs, or from the diaphragm, or even from your belly? These are things you want to know about your breathing, and possibly things you’ve not thought much about. How long is each one of your breaths? And are your inhale and exhale of equal length, or is one longer than the other? All these things are different for every runner, so you have to figure out what works for you. Once you get an idea of how your body naturally breathes, you’re in a better position to work with your breath while running. Find a rhythm that works for you. You can keep track of it by counting your breaths, making up a little song or mantra that helps you to keep your breathing even, or time your breath to your stride. I’m a fan of the latter, and fall very quickly and comfortably into a pattern of inhaling for two steps, and exhaling for two. Finding your own rhythm and concentrating on it until it becomes second nature may feel silly, but it will make your running life so much easier.
  2. Keep it openYou need room to breathe comfortably, and you get that room by maintaining good posture throughout your run. The shoulders should be relaxed, down, and back. The chest should be open. The spine should be straight. No slouching! At the same time, though, you don’t want to focus so hard on keeping your upper body straight that you get stiff. As my meditation teachers frequently say, you should be upright, but not uptight. If you feel yourself tensing up, take a few deep breaths. You can stay loose by breathing correctly, and you can breathe correctly by staying loose. It’s synergy.
  3. Choose the right breath for now. This one comes from Sage Rountree, who is one of my favorite yoga instructors. She uses the concept of finding the right breath all the time in her yoga teaching, and I think it fits running really well, too. Don’t force your breathing; be aware of it, but let it be determined by what’s going on in the moment. There are a ton of factors that can affect your breathing–you might be tired, wired, congested, who knows?–and paying attention to what feels best and then working with that instead of trying to force things in a direction they don’t want to go makes a huge difference in your running.

Like I said before, learning to breathe and work with your breath can be really powerful. Finding the pattern that feels right and being able to adjust it to meet whatever needs you have on any given run can change how far, how fast, and how often you’re able to run. But that’s a whole post unto itself. For now, just focus on finding your rhythm.

 

Let’s make the best of what we’ve got

Right now I’m sitting in a small seat in an over-heated and cramped bus.  It’s unpleasant, to say the least.  I have limited space in which to use my arms, even less space for my legs, and our driver told us that if we got hot, we should take our shirts off.  I seem to be catching a cold so my body temperature is already wonky (I left work early today because I felt so feverish), my face is kind of sinus achy, and I have that unpleasant nasal drip feeling in my throat.  And my internet connection keeps randomly cutting out, which I know is a silly thing to complain about, but it’s kind of becoming the straw that is breaking the camel’s back, if you know what I mean.  There’s part of me that just wants to start crying, because there’s nothing I can really do and I know I still have about three solid hours of travel ahead of me.  If I had headphones (I left my ipod and headphones plugged into my work computer), I’d watch a movie.  But that won’t be happening.  Basically, all I can do is try to make the best of the circumstances I’m in.  For now, that means gchatting with Nat and Mike, blogging, and quietly taking advantage of the fact that the dude next to me has fallen asleep and allowed me some extra elbow room.  Later, it might mean a bit of a nap.  The possibilities are limited!

Speaking of making the best of the circumstances, earlier today Zoe left a comment that touched on an issue that I’ve been wanting to write about for a while now.  Quoth she:

I agree that none of these companies are ideal in their portrayal of body type and support for women with less athletic bodies. But it feels less like hypocrisy in the companies that don’t promote themselves as being inclusive and accepting of all body types. One thing I will say for Title 9 is that they actually walk the walk, so to speak. They offer sports bras in much larger sizes (up to a 48 F I think), most athletic places only go up to an XL (whatever that is). Even though their models for such bras look to be more in the 34 B range, they are doing the most important part in providing the gear. Lack of a supportive bra that fits has prevented many women from exercising.

I think her point is really well made, and puts a finger on something that is a problem not only with fitness apparel, but with clothing in general: plus-size clothing options are limited (like the possibilities for entertainment on this here bus), and there seems to be this vicious cycle that grows out of this limited market wherein apparel manufacturers say “Well, but look at plus-sized women, they don’t want to wear attractive clothing that has a flattering fit.  If they did, they would wear it”, as though those clothes are just supposed to grow on trees or something.  When it comes to fitness apparel, I imagine the thought is a bit more like, “Well, people who wear plus-sizes obviously don’t work out or want to lead healthier lives, so why should we make the clothing for them?”  This is especially insulting (actually, wait, it’s especially insulting for about one thousand reasons I can think of off-hand.  So this, I guess, is just something I find particularly offensive and that relates to this post) given how quick people are to say, “Well, such and such person is so fat, why don’t they just try working out?!”  So, then, what is it, people?  Are we all supposed to be going to the gym and working out, or are only the thin people (who are obviously also healthy because aren’t thin and healthy the exact same thing?!) supposed to be doing that?  Based on the attitude some companies have toward offering plus-size fitness apparel, apparently it’s the latter.

We can easily extrapolate from what Zoe says about lack of a supportive bra preventing many women from working out and say that a lack of a decent pair of workout pants, or shorts, or a decent top has prevented many women from working out as well.  It’s not fair to assume based on appearance that someone is not interested in a certain product, and that’s exactly what’s going on in cases like this.  There’s really no way to tell, without extensive medical testing, whether a size 2 woman picked at random from a crowd is any healthier than a size 16 woman picked from a crowd.  So why is it that the woman who is a size 2 will have a much easier time finding something to wear to the gym than the other woman will?  Yes, I know I sound like a broken record, but this really bothers me about lululemon, and it’s not going to stop bothering me until they make some changes.

On the other hand (and you can go ahead and think I’m trying to score free stuff from these companies if you want.  I’m not, actually, but of course you’re entitled to your opinion), I think it’s important to applaud companies like Title Nine and their sister site, Shop Bounce, or Athleta, that understand that healthy women come in different shapes and sizes, and may be on the market for workout pants that come in 2XL (to find styles that come in this size from Athleta, try their Pant Finder tool) or a size 44 DD sports bra (which you can find through Title Nine or Bounce).  It makes me happy that there are some companies out there that don’t discriminate based on size, and that are willing to actually back up their claim that they encourage a healthy lifestyle by actually providing tools to achieve that lifestyle to people of a variety of body types.  If more companies were willing to do the same, I think we’d be one step further along in the fight toward breaking down the stereotypes and assumptions that get built on women’s bodies.

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