Stamina, Huffing and Puffing

stam·i·na [stam-uh-nuh] - noun 1. endurance 2. staying power

Source: Dictionary.com Unabridged

In other context, having stamina would mean having the endurance to see things through. In the context of running, it mean the same. To be able to complete a certain distance say a 4km run. The body must have certain physical abilities to be able to do that. It is these physical abilities that often confused the beginner runner. I hope this post will help to shed some light on the matter.

Stamina is not equal to the amount of air you have in your lungs.

If we could remember how it felt when we first started running. You will remember how breathless you were. Your lungs are burning and your body is screaming out for air.

Another runner ran pass you with no deep breathing. He could be happily talking to his running partner as he jogged past. At this point, it is easy to assume that in order to run properly, you must have large lungs to contain enough air to last the entire run.

Hence, the assumption,
stamina = amount of air in the lungs. And marathoners have massive lungs.

Of course, those with a little medical knowledge will know that it is not possible for the lungs to contain all the air that you need for the run. The beginner got confused and finally attribute veteran and good runners as being super beings. The beginner runner then start to think, I can never be like them. I am not a super being. Running is for super beings.

What exactly caused you to huff and puff?

It is all about carbohydrates and fats. It is the energy source that is the devil. The body mainly has two types of fuel, carbohydrates and fats. Carbohydrates are stored in your liver and muscles and is most easily accessed. Fats well, they are everywhere. It is carbohydrates that the body will use first when you embark on an unfamiliar activity that requires lots of energy.

For example, you are walking to the bus stop, and the bus that you intend to take approaches the bus stop. You started to sprint towards the bus stop. You will know how much you huff and puff as got up the bus. This is carbohydrate burning.

Carbohydrates (also known as Glycogen)

The downside of carbohydrates burning is that it requires lots of oxygen to turn it into energy. This explains the huffing and puffing.
The second limitation of using carbohydrates is that a body can have only limited amount of carbohydrates. On average, a person will have less than 800g of carbohydrates in your body. It will last seasoned runners on a normal running pace up to maximum 2 hours. However on a max sprint pace, it will last less than 20 seconds.

Fats

Fats, the alternative source of fuel, is mainly used when doing activities that you are very familiar with. For example, sitting, walking or simple office work. The problem with fats is that it requires a complex process to be transformed into energy. Hence, it is not the most accessible form of fuel.

Supply though is plentiful. For example, if one weighs 70kg and have a body fat percentage of 15%. That is 10.5 kg worth of fats. 1 kg of fats will give you about 6600 calories. You burn about 70 calories for every km ran... Do I need to say more?

Why do seasoned runners not huff and puff, while I am panting like a dog?

It is all about adaptation. When you first started running, the body is unfamiliar with the activity and it will use carbohydrates to fuel the run as it is most accessible. You will need more oxygen when you run. Hence, it will make you pant. When your paltry 800g of carbohydrate is used up. You have to stop running. Period.

How do I not pant?

The body is constantly burning a mixture of carbohydrates and fats. The key is adaptation. Once the body has been exposed to constant running. The body will naturally adapt and start to burn more fats and less carbohydrates. The more you run, the less you will pant. But do note that it will take a long time for the adaptation to happen. So do be patient.

What is stamina then?

Stamina is not equal to having massive lungs. It just mean that the body is well adapted to running. Hence, everyone can have running stamina. It just takes time.

Final word to Beginners?

Continue running. It will get better.

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