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How to Breathe While Running a Half Marathon

Amanda Wendorff

There are many ways to improve your running speeds: training, equipment choice, proper nutrition, etc. But did you know that learning how to breathe while running a half marathon can also majorly affect your performance? Although breathing seems very simple, proper breathing techniques can help you run farther and faster.

This article will discuss the following topics:

  • How to breathe while running a half marathon
  • The difference between nasal breathing and mouth breathing, and which to use in a half marathon
  • How diaphragmatic breathing, or belly breathing, helps runners, and how to practice diaphragmatic breathing
  • The rhythmic breathing technique and how to time your breathing with your run strides
  • How to use breathing to avoid side stitches
  • Tips and techniques for breathing when you have asthma

How to Breathe While Running a Half Marathon

With so many things to think about while running a half marathon race, it may seem like breathing, an automatic action, would be low on the list of concerns. Not so!

A half marathon race is an aerobic endurance event, meaning your muscles depend heavily on oxygen to run at speed. Learning proper breathing techniques will help you maximize your oxygen intake. More oxygen means faster running! In fact, studies show that focusing on breathing methods can result in improved running paces.

We'll discuss a few breathing techniques for running in this article. For all of them, it's best to practice in training. Then, during the race, do whatever feels natural to you.

MOTTIV training app user David McIlmoyl breathes through his mouth while doing a tough race on a very hot day.

Should You Breath Through Your Nose or Mouth While Running?

In a half marathon race, the goal is to get as much oxygen into the body as possible so the muscles can contract quickly and move your body forward. The best way to do this is to breathe in through your nose and your mouth.

Although nasal breathing, or breathing through your nose only, is an effective training technique for easy running, it doesn't allow the body to take in enough oxygen for a more intense effort like a half marathon. Similarly, if you only breathe through your mouth, it could result in feelings of hyperventilation.

A mouth-nose combination for inhaling and exhaling works best to create a calm, steady breath. It gives your body all the oxygen it needs to race and also efficiently expels carbon dioxide. In the early miles of the half marathon, when you are still running easier, use more nose breathing. As the pace increases, increase the breathing through your mouth, which will let you breathe faster and deeper.

Does Diaphragmatic Breathing Help Runners?

Diaphragmatic breathing, also known as belly breathing or deep abdominal breathing, is a very effective way to breathe while running.

Diaphragmatic breathing involves a few movements in the body that happen so quickly that they are almost unnoticeable:

  • First, your diaphragm, the muscle at the bottom of your rib cage, engages.
  • Then, your entire rib cage, or thoracic cavity, expands.
  • Finally, your lungs expand fully to fill the rib cage.

Expanding the rib cage and lungs allows the body to take in the maximum amount of oxygen in each breath. This is very useful for runners. When running fast, you need all the oxygen you can get!

Additionally, belly breathing has been shown to calm the nervous system, which is why it is so popular in yoga classes and similar activities. It's normal to feel excitement and even anxiety during a half marathon race, and diaphragmatic breathing is a good technique to calm yourself, lower your heart rate, and improve your focus.

You can practice belly breathing outside of running through some simple breathing exercises. To try it, follow these steps:

  • Lay on the floor on your back.
  • Place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest.
  • Practice breathing slowly, and with every breath in, or inhalation, try to expand your belly more than your chest.
  • As you exhale, feel your belly going down.
  • Keep repeating the breaths, focusing on the belly's movement, the breathing rhythm, and how you feel.

Once you master belly breathing at home, try incorporating it into your running training. You may find it will improve your running performance and let you run faster.

If you find yourself struggling to breathe or have shortness of breath at any time during your race, take a moment to assess if you are shallow breathing from your chest. If so, pay a bit more attention to breathing from the belly and engaging the muscles that support breathing, such as the diaphragm. This will help you to control your breathing a bit more and improve your efficiency.

What Is The Rhythmic Breathing Method?

Another useful way to breathe while running is the rhythmic breathing method, or timing your breaths with a certain number of counts.

Many runners use rhythmic or cadence breathing to time their breathing with their running strides. For example, some will use a 2:2 breathing pattern, which means inhaling for two foot strikes and exhaling for two foot strikes. Others prefer an odd-numbered pattern, like 3:1 (inhale for three strides, exhale for one).

Should You Time Your Breathing With Your Strides in a Half Marathon?

Rhythmic breathing, or cadence breathing, is a great technique for your 10k race. Rhythmic breathing has been shown to have several benefits for runners, including:

  • Improved running economy
  • Reduced feelings of breathlessness
  • Ease in keeping a consistent pace
  • Cognitive benefits, as the rhythmic counting makes it easier to achieve a flow state

Many runners have reported feeling better when using rhythmic breathing patterns at high intensities. This is likely largely because cadence breathing emphasizes exhalation. When you feel short of breath, it's often due to a build-up of carbon dioxide rather than a lack of oxygen. Focused exhalation will reduce that carbon dioxide.

Experiment with different breathing patterns as you try out rhythmic breathing in training. You should find that your breathing pattern differs at different paces, with more frequent exhalations when you're going hard. For a half marathon race, a 2:1 pattern (breathing in for two strides, breathing out for one stride) is a good place to start.

How Breathing Can Affect Side Stitches

Many runners have experienced the dreaded side stitch (a stabbing pain in the abdominal area while you're running.) Unfortunately, there's no definitive answer to why runners get side stitches or why some people seem more prone to experiencing them. There is evidence, however, that breathing techniques can play a role.

Take a few deep belly breaths next time you feel a side stitch coming on. Also, try switching to an odd-numbered cadence breathing pattern so that you are exhaling during foot strikes on opposite sides. For example, instead of a 1:1 breathing pattern that would have you exhaling every time your left foot hits the ground, try 2:1 so that your exhalation "side" will change.

Tips for Breathing if You Have Asthma

If you've been diagnosed with asthma, you must pay even more attention to efficient breathing to run comfortably.

As a priority, speak with a doctor who can prescribe medications or other individualized plans to keep you breathing well.

After that, keep these tips in mind:

  • Make sure you warm up slowly, especially before hard efforts like a half marathon race. It may also be a good idea to start your race nice and slow, allowing your body to build into the effort.
  • Focus on controlled breathing, using the diaphragmatic and rhythmic breathing patterns discussed above.
  • Make sure you're inhaling through your nose.
  • Be mindful of environmental triggers like grasses and smoke.
  • Many asthmatics struggle to breathe more when running in cold weather. If you're racing during the winter or on a particularly cold day, consider wearing a scarf or buff to keep the air you are inhaling a bit warmer.

Having asthma doesn't need to stop you from racing a half marathon. Many runners, including some of the world's best, can successfully race half marathons with asthma. You just need to pay close attention to your body and work with your doctor to find the best strategies for controlling your asthma so that you can continue to run.


There's a lot to think about when running, and beginners are often surprised to learn that they need to focus on something as basic as breathing. Proper breathing using different techniques can improve your running and make fast races like the half marathon feel better.

In this article, we've touched on the following topics:

  • How proper breathing technique is important for moving oxygen to your muscles
  • The need to breathe in and out through both your nose and mouth during a half marathon
  • The benefits of diaphragmatic, or belly breathing, for runners
  • Rhythmic breathing, or cadence breathing, and how it helps runners
  • The connection between breathing and side stitches
  • Breathing tips for asthmatics

Next time you head out for a run, really pay attention to how you are breathing. Is your instinct to use chest breathing, or do you breathe from your belly? Do you naturally use a rhythmic breathing pattern, or is your breath count more random? Play around with a few techniques, find the best breathing approach for you, and you may find that your running times get faster and faster!

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Amanda Wendorff

| Author

Amanda Wendorff is a professional triathlete, focusing on the 70.3 and 140.6 Ironman distances. In the last several years she’s competed in multiple gravel bike races. Top Achievements: Top 3 Ironman Ireland and Ironman 70.3 Coquimbo, Multiple time top-5 finisher, 3rd Overall at Moran 166 Gravel Race in Michigan, Age group podium at Gravel Worlds, Big Sugar, and Ned Gravel in first year of gravel racing.

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