Marathon Matt: How to Breathe When Running

by Matt Forsman a.k.a Marathon Matt, SportMe Run Trainer

“Marathon Matt” Forsman

According to exercise data, 60 million Americans ran, jogged, or went trail running in 2017. The same statistics project that in 2019 nearly 3.3 million American households will take part in running a marathon event in the country.

If you rank yourself among those 60 million, there’s science behind the training that allows you to run for longer and better. At SportMe, we are dedicated to providing you with the tools and skills to maximize the benefits you get from running – and we know that in order to do this, you need to maintain good form. Part of that form is your breathwork.

The Science Behind Running for Longer

Oz Pearlman, credit: NJ Marathon

The speed and effectiveness of your run depend on your breathing methods.

Everyone around the world is still reeling from watching Eliud Kipchoge run a 26.2-mile marathon in under two hours. While few people can reach his impressive distance and speed even with rigorous training, there is a lot to learn from his breathing techniques.

You see, Kenyan marathon and long-distance runners have a training camp in the Rift Valley region of the country known as “Iten, home of the champions”.

The camp is 2400 meters above sea level, where oxygen levels are extremely low. Kenyan athletes have learned to run with low oxygen levels in order to work on their breathing rhythm. As a result, they hardly run out of breath when they compete in international races in sea level regions because of their superior deep breathing technique.

Breathing is one of the keys to great running.

How to Breathe When Running


We might not run in Iten, but there are still ways you can improve your breathing as you run.

Don’t take shallow breaths

Shallow breathing is the main culprit when it comes to runners having difficulty with running, especially beginners. Shallow breathing does not deliver enough oxygen to your lungs. As a result, oxygen is distributed poorly and inefficiently to your muscles.

Less oxygen culminates in buildup of lactic acid, which makes muscles sore and painful. This type of breathing also results in the dreaded side stitch.

So instead, train yourself to take deep breaths so that your lungs are at full capacity at all times. This allows you to retain enough to distribute to your muscles as you run. With enough oxygen, your muscles produce ATP, an organic chemical responsible for muscle contractions without pain.

Use Mouth Breathing


Unsplash/Quino Ali

Breathing through the mouth is best when running because it allows you to take in a lot more air than the nose. The important thing to remember when running is that you need copious amounts of oxygen. Remember, anything that prevents you from belly deep inhalation will hamper your overall success.

Proponents for nose breathing during running argue that breathing through the nose allows you to filter the air, ultimately warming the air as it passes through the nostrils. This is true.

However, as you run, you place your body under stress. While in this state, it needs the maximum intake of oxygen possible to mitigate the stressful symptoms of running. Breathing through the nose won’t deliver as much oxygen, and your biggest concern while running should be whether your lungs are filled to capacity (and not the warmth of your breath).

Here’s an experiment: 

Increase the intensity of your run and try to breathe through your nose for a while. Give it five minutes of nose-breathing at a fast tempo. Are you getting tired faster? Can you hear pounding in your ears?
That’s your body telling you to breathe through your mouth and give it enough oxygen before it shuts down.

Three Incremental Breathing Steps

Start easy



Start easy, and ramp up – nothing causes a lack of oxygen quicker than moving faster than your body can adapt.

If you are a complete newbie, then stay with this pace for a few weeks before increasing the intensity. For seasoned runners, use this time as the warm-up portion of your routine before continuing with more intensity. This basic running hack is crucial for any runner because it sets the tempo for rhythmic breathing.

Shoot for three steps while inhaling and three steps while exhaling.

Increase tempo

This is the second phase of your run and it’s a bit faster in tempo. The intensity is medium, so your body now requires more focus and a better breathing rhythm. You can’t hold on to the 3:3 steps formula, so gradually switch to the 2:2 step – inhale for every two steps you take and exhale for the next two steps.

This formula helps you attain a steady pace as you bring your running in tandem with your breathing. Some people prefer to skip the easy start section above, and jump straight into this pace of running.

If that sounds like you, it’s recommended that you first walk using this breathing formula to warm up before running.

If you feel the intensity you’ve started with is too much, slow it down to the above easy start tempo to give your body a chance to recover.

Set a marathon pace


credit: Allstate Hot Chocolate Run

The marathon pace is the most high intensity, requiring you to put all your strength into this last section. The breathing formula is 1:1, meaning you inhale and exhale with each step. Keep your breathing steady with this breathing count both uphill and downhill so that your diaphragm can work as it’s supposed to.

Done right? Now you’re flying.

It’s dangerous to start running at this pace without using either one of the above formulas to warm up. Even seasoned runners can’t go from zero to 100. It increases your risk of injury and puts immense strain on your muscles and joints.



Most of the world’s impressive long-distance runners have one thing in common. They train in high altitude areas to train their breathing and push their bodies. You have two choices here, go to Iten and become a ten in running (pun intended), or follow these breathing tips for running.

Use SportMe to improve your training as you follow these important tips for breathing.

This entry previously appeared on, reprinted with permission.


Avatar for Jerry Milani
Jerry Milani

Jerry Milani is a freelance writer and public relations executive living in Bloomfield, N.J. He has worked in P.R. for more than 25 years in college and conference sports media relations, two agencies and for the International Fight League, a team-based mixed martial arts league, and now is the PR manager for Wizard World, which runs pop culture and celebrity conventions across North America. Milani is also the play-by-play announcer for Caldwell University football and basketball broadcasts. He is a proud graduate of Fordham University and when not attending a Yankees, Rams or Cougars game can be reached at jerry (at) jerrymilani (dot) com.