The city in spring and other smells

So I tried this new breathing technique on one of my longer runs the other day.

I picked up this particular tip on nomeatathlete.com. In essence, the post touts the benefits of closed-mouth breathing. This, as I discovered, should not be confused with nose-breathing. As it turns out, nose-breathing while running in the cold, in a polluted-ass city, hurts. It makes your sinuses burn. It also makes your nose hairs pick up mucous at an alarming rate, probably because they’re trying to keep a zillion little pollutants out of your lungs, but I digress. I stuck it out for a little over half of the run, but after the turnaround, when the wind picked up and clouds shrouded the sun, and I had resorted to continual snot-rockets in order to keep up the nose breathing, I thought “bag it,” and started mouth-breathing like a normal person. Two things happened: My rate of exertion instantly increased; and my form began to erode. The burning in my sinuses actually didn’t go away at first. It slowly faded over about two days.

I learned a couple of things from this. Primarily, I learned that the breath technique I need to practice isn’t nose-breathing; it’s neutral breathing, otherwise known as deep or diaphragm breathing. It’s the process of drawing air into the lungs by means of exercising the diaphragm, which sits directly below them. Cheetahs and other felines use this technique when they run, too. Air is drawn in and out by expanding and compressing this muscle, which acts like a bellows. Squeeze it to force air out, expand it to draw air in. This is how good singers sing well. It’s how saxophone players hold enough air for all that jazz. It’s apparently what I should have been doing instead of sucking air in through my nostrils and giving myself a headache.

I also learned a no-brainer: The city in the spring smells bad. Like stale beer and a hint of fresh cat urine were poured into a glass vase half full of gasoline and left to decant in the sun, in a greenhouse, next to a feedlot. No wonder it felt like I snorted alka-seltzer laced with wasp venom. A stank that strong can only mean some nasty particles in the air.

Turns out, the gym isn’t any better. The smell is better, at first, though acrid and faintly yeasty, how most gyms tend to smell. Alas, the minor olfactory improvement is shortlived: Polly Pilates has decided that today is the day to start that treadmill routine, and gosh darn it, she was gonna do it smelling like Abercrombie & Fitch barfed on her tights, or else what’s the point, right?

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