Running Outside

Does ‘The Second Wind’ Actually Exist?

When going  for a long run, or just doing some form of exercise, people like to get pumped up when they feel like they hit another gear or got “a second win.”  I hate to burst your bubble, but there is no such thing as a second wind.  Instead, what your body is actually doing is changing energy systems, and thus slowing down. It’s tricky, but the exercise actually feels easier because it became, well, easier! I know, it sounds like a total bummer, but relax. You can make things better through training.

Energy systems refer to where the body is going to get its energy from (carbohydrates, fats, etc) and how fast that energy can be produced.  You have three energy systems – to give you an idea, one system helps you jump as high as you can while another kicks in when you go for a long walk (1).  The greater the intensity the exercise, the faster the energy system can run out because it can only supply energy at such a fast rate for so long.  Think of slamming your foot down on the gas pedal in your car and see how long you can keep a full tank of gas.

Your body is the same way. You feel like you got your second wind, but you actually slowed down the process because your body switched over to a slower energy system. Yes, sometimes your body likes to play tricks with you. It’s deceiving because we can now handle the exercise, but instead of our body getting a huge burst of energy, it actually just made things easier for us. If you’re a novice endurance athlete, it can be hard to tell, but a seasoned pro can detect slight changes in their pace and when things just feel “off.” Unfortunately, misinformed coaches have been telling athletes for ages that they hit a second wind during a race, and the general public has picked up on it. Many years ago, I use to perform a group exercise class in which we knocked out a long run each workout. I had one client, who was gassing out early on in the run, inform me much later that he just “hit his second wind” and wanted to crank up the intensity. At the end of the workout, I had to inform the poor guy that his pace was 5 minutes slower than the last workout.

You can turn the tables on your body through training. By training at certain intensities, you force your body to handle acids and other waste products of exercise so your body doesn’t have to slow down and give you a “second wind” (2). This makes the case for intervals, sprints, hills, and strongman work.  Attempting higher intensity  work through intervals can condition your body to handle more demanding exercise so the next time you can go for that long run, your body won’t play any tricks on you.

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