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Trail Tips

Ask the Coach: Avoid that Breathless Feeling

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For the first mile or so of my runs, I feel tired and out of breath, and my heart rate is high. Then, I feel like I could run forever. Is this normal?

—Stephen Manning, Janesville, IA

Yes, as a matter of fact it is, unless you are just jogging super slowly. Your body isn’t so good at determining its need for oxygen, especially when at the start of exercise you ask for a lot all at once. To meet the sudden demand, your system pumps up your breathing and heart rate to help catch up with the need. That immediately moves you into an anaerobic or that “out-of-breath” state.

“The energy for muscle contraction is initially regenerated from anaerobic sources since there is a big difference between standing still and running,” says Jason Karp, Ph.D., exercise physiologist, owner of RunCoachJason.com, and cross-country coach at San Diego State University.

When you reach that “run-forever” feeling, the system has settled into a steady aerobic state. It is best not to overload the system by starting too fast. A steep hill out of the gate isn’t your friend so take it easy. Also, at races, warm up well, making sure your heart rate is slightly elevated toward the end of the warm up. Finish your warm up as close to your start time as possible. Don’t go out too fast (OK, old news). Try not to get too hyped up at a starting line; take deep breaths there and in the first few minutes to calm yourself.