Let’s be honest here, we’ve all done it. Standing at the starting line, you anxiously await the sound of the gun, rehearsing your race strategy and continually telling yourself to go out easy… Then the gun fires and you are off like the Terminator chasing after Jonathan Connor. A glance down at your GPS and it appears as though this current mile pace is about a minute faster than you plan to sustain for another 13, 26, or even more miles to come. Sure it feels fine right now, do you really plan on holding this pace for the next couple hours though? Not likely. Let’s take a closer look at what’s happening inside your body and how a fast start will most likely hinder performance later on in the race.
It all starts with a little thing called ATP (Adenosine triphosphate), an energy-bearing molecule found in all living cells that can be released as heat or used in the cell as a power source to drive various types of chemical and mechanical activities. In this case, it’s powering our body to run the race. The faster you are moving and harder you are working, the more energy you’re going to spend anaerobically, and that comes with a cost. The cost is how much glycogen is being used. Running at or near your anaerobic threshold will consume glucose at a much faster rate than running aerobically. Just to compare the difference; it takes 2 molecules of glucose to produce 2 ATP at this rate, whereas running at a sustainable pace (aerobically), 2 molecules of glucose can produce approximately 32 ATP. That’s 16 times more energy efficient when running at a steady or controlled pace!
So what just happened? That blistering start to the race has cost you dearly. Well, how about I simply slow down and regain my strength? Not going to happen. You have now used up a majority of your limited supply of glycogen (stored energy) by running at or near anaerobic threshold, and it takes days to replenish these stores. What does it mean when we literally run out of glycogen? It’s called “hitting the wall.” How can this be prevented? Simple; go out easy.
Boone A Ebel
Certified Fitness Trainer
Specialist in Performance Nutrition
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