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26 Second Wind




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This article is from the Running FAQ, by Ozzie Gontang with numerous contributions by others.

26 Second Wind

(Newsweek July 27, '92)

If an Olympian experiences a second wind, it's probably a sign that he
isn't in a great shape. Scientists are divided over whether a second wind
is purely psychological - the athlete "willing" himself forward. But if it
has a physical basis too, the sudden feeling of "I can do it!" right after
"I want to die" probably reflects a change in metabolism. The body gets
energy by breaking down glucose, which is stored in muscles. This reaction
releases lactic acid, which the body must burn in order to prevent a
lactic-acid buildup that causes cramps. Burning lactic acid requires
oxygen. If the body does not breathe in enough oxygen; the runner
experiences oxygen debt: the heart beats more quickly; the lungs gasp; the
legs slow. The second wind, says physicist Peter Brancazio of Brooklyn
College, may come when the body finally balances the amount of oxygen
coming in with that needed to burn the lactic acid. (When burned, lactic
acid is transformed into sweat and carbon dioxide.) Why doesn't everybody
get a second wind? Couch potatoes don't push themselves past oxygen debt;
true Olympians have enough lung capacity and cardiovascular fitness to
avoid oxygen debt in the first place.

 

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