By the time you reach the run leg of a triathlon, your breathing may be as ragged as your style, but both will benefit if you can find a regular rhythm. "When you're running smoothly, your breathing should be smooth," says Laura Denham-Jones, a yoga teacher who specializes in classes for runners (www. yogaforrunners.co.uk). When you're concentrating on relaxed breathing, you'll become more aware of your body. Concentrate on taking deep, rhythmic, controlled breaths and imagine the tension leaving your body with each exhalation. "We often perform better when there's no pressure," says Denham-Jones.
Start every run - in both training and racing - with a goal in mind that you can control. This might be something like keeping your heart rate at a certain level, or chatting to a friend to ensure you don't become out of breath. "By setting a manageable goal for every run or race, you'll feel confident rather than worrying about how you'll perform or what others are doing," explains Dr Victor Thompson, a sports psychologist and triathlete.
Starting a run in a positive mood will enhance your performance, according to a study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. "Feeling confident and positive before a race will help to prevent a release of adrenalin, the main stress hormone, into your system," says Thompson. "Adrenalin causes unhelpful tension, wasted energy, and a greater chance that you'll worry." Next time you run out of transition, imagine how you'll achieve your goal, feel confident and recognize the positive aspects of your challenge.
If you're stressed when you start a run, especially if you're cramming training into a busy schedule, you're unlikely to relax or enjoy the session. "If you approach every run with the thought 'I must...' or 'I have to...' you'll create stress that will leave you tired, tense and less able to train the following day," says Thompson. Instead, say to yourself, "I'd like to run tonight" and if you can't, you won't experience the same tension because you're putting less pressure on yourself. The following day you will be in a better frame of mind to run.
A complete revamp of your running style could take years, but there are subtle adjustments you can make to create a more fluid, relaxed running style. Chi running is one technique that advocates smooth, relaxed and efficient running as the only way to become faster. Danny Dreyer, the author of Chi Running: A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury-Free Running, claims the oxygen in your blood will enter your muscles more easily when they are loose and relaxed. When you're not racing, start a run slowly, imagining the tension being transferred to the ground with every step. Maintaining good posture - with your head held high and chest and your shoulders open - should ensure fluid movement.
Flex for success
Regular stretching increases the range of movements that your joints can perform, as well as creating strong, flexible muscles. "Many runners try yoga because they have tight hamstrings and can't touch their toes," says Denham-Jones. "But there are benefits beyond flexible hamstrings: opening and stretching the chest, back and shoulders will release the tension you hold in these areas and allow you to relax and breathe more easily."
Next time you’re feeling nervous at the start of a triathlon, try this clever breathing technique to calm your nerves: inhale for three counts, then hold your breath for three counts, then exhale for three counts and pause before breathing in again. This will help you to let go of tension, expectation and anxiety. “We’re at our most focused and calm at the end of each exhalation, which is a moment most of us don’t even notice,” says Denham-Jones.