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Energy! Where did you come from? Where did you go? Where did you come from we must know?


By Janae Richardson

Article originally featured in Run Utah Magazine Summer/Fall Edition 2018.  Click HERE to download Full PDF version of the Magazine.

From 2007-2011 I had the privilege of helping the Davis High School cross country team alongside one of the best distance coaches in Utah – Corbin Talley (currently the men’s head distance coach at Weber State University).  I got to jump into a super solid program and learn from the best what it takes to lead and coach a successful team.

 

I got to ride on the coattails of the team’s success my first season as the Darts captured a state cross country title in both the men’s and women’s end of season race. Then the girls team went on to qualify for the Nike Nationals meet in Portland, Oregon that season too.

 

Of all the highlights of the season though, one individual performance especially stood out to me.  The performance of Senior Natalee Haws at the State Cross Country Meet at Sugar House Park. For those not familiar with this race course, the race loops around the beautiful park, up hills, down hills, around the pond, and ultimately finishes on the Highland High School track.

 

Going into the state meet, Shalaya Kipp of Skyline High School was the obvious favorite.  A very talented athlete and the defending state champ (this girl went on to have a phenomenal college career and participate in the 2012 London Olympics), most spectators had placed her as the expected winner.  Natalee however, was determined to give Kipp a run for her money and that she did.

 

In the words of Coach Talley as he described how the race played out, “Natalee stayed patient throughout the entire race.  She ran a lot of it with a smile on her face. When I saw her on the back side of the course (before the 2 mile mark) I yelled to stay patient – she was running right behind Shalaya and they had pulled away from the rest of the group. Natalie gave me a smile, and then she growled (weird, I know, but that is her style). I knew she was determined to finish strong.  When it came down to the last 1/2 mile she was probably 5 seconds behind last year’s state champion (Shalaya Kipp from Skyline) but Natalie somehow dug deep and found some kind of monster kick on the track to capture the first ever Davis individual state championship (for either a boy or a girl). Natalie’s time was the 14th fastest ever run on the course…She really deserved the title.”

 

Natalie finished in 18:27.8 and Shalaya finished in 18:28.2.  In the last 50 yards, Natalie ran her heart out and beat her competition by just four-tenths of a second.

 

We were all so proud of her.  After the race, I asked Natalie, “Where did you find the courage to finish like you did, at a point in the race where the pain is so intense and the body screams that second place is good enough?”, and she said, “I thought about something you mentioned to the team a few days ago and it led me to believe that I had it in me to kick.”  (Now keep in mind I cannot take credit for her win, she had been masterfully trained by Coach Talley through her high school years and this girl was talented, but nonetheless she made me feel good thinking I had at least played a small role in her success). She brought up what I had told the girls about the different energy systems of the body and that we have an energy system of the body that helps us sprint out and get position at the beginning of a race and that this same energy pathway could be tapped into at the end of a race for a finishing kick if our mind wanted it bad enough.  Of the many thoughts that I’m sure came to her in the final stretch of that race that day, this was one of them that Natalie held onto and used to push ahead.

      

 

There is some deep, complicated exercise physiology to explain how our body produces energy that propels us forward.  I could dig into my graduate school exercise physiology books and regurgitate biochemistry and metabolism to you, but this would require the highest level of running nerd focus from all of us and would take long enough to discuss that we may miss our next run (not good).  So for the sake of space and time in this article, we will try and keep it simple and applicable to what we are trying to accomplish as runners. That being said, some background information is required to make sense of how our body functions while running and how we can apply this knowledge to help us train smarter and race faster.

 

Snapshot of the Three Energy Pathways of the Body:

 

In order for our bodies to function on a daily basis, and for our muscles to have the ability to move us in a running motion,  a certain amount of energy is required. This energy comes in the form of a molecule called Adenosine Triphosphate or ATP. The body has three main pathways that this energy is produced.  The first two pathways produce energy anaerobically or without the help of oxygen. The last energy pathway is an aerobic pathway, or in other words, it requires the use of oxygen to produce the energy we need.  

 

What determines what energy pathway is used? The duration and intensity of the exercise.

 

  1. The Phosphagen System or ATP Creatine Phosphate Energy Pathway

 

As mentioned above, this energy pathway doesn’t require oxygen and is called upon when there  is a sudden high intensity energy demand such as is the case with hill sprints, an explosive jump, or the start or finish of a race.  This system relies on the availability of creatine phosphate, which is in limited supply in our body. It is the quickest form of energy production, but can only sustain our bodies for a short burst of about 3-15 seconds.  Once the creatine phosphate is used up, then the body must utilize another energy system of the body to fuel the movement.

 

  1. Glycolysis or the Lactate System

 

Like the Phosphagen System, this energy pathway of the body doesn’t require oxygen to produce energy for the body, but instead of creatine phosphate as its fuel source, the Glycolysis or Lactate System breaks down glucose (glycolysis) into two 2 pyruvate molecules to then produce ATP.  It can produce enough ATP to fuel the body for 1-3 minutes of intense activity. Hydrogen is also produced during glycolysis and if there is enough oxygen available, the aerobic energy pathway of the body can use the hydrogen and pyruvate to produce more ATP. If the aerobic system can’t keep up with the hydrogen ions being produced then the hydrogen and pyruvate combine to form lactic acid.  Lactic acid moves into the bloodstream and is cleared by the liver, but at the point that the production of lactic acid is being produced faster than the body’s ability to clear it, the body must either slow down or stop the activity being performed. This is caused because the acidity in the blood because of the lactic acid, inhibits the breakdown of fat for energy, which forces the body to rely more on carbohydrates (glucose) and glycolysis for energy.  When these glucose stores are depleted the body has no choice but to decrease performance.

  1. The Aerobic System

 

The aerobic system utilizes oxygen to break down carbs, fats, or proteins to produce ATP.  This production of energy is slower, but can sustain the body for long periods of time (we have enough glucose in our body to sustain us for about 90 minutes of running at a moderate intensity).  When the intensity is low, our body will use fat as our main energy source. As the intensity increases and oxygen availability decreases, our bodies will turn to muscle glycogen stores and blood glucose as a the main fuel source because it is easier and quicker to break down than fat is.  During prolonged activity, protein can be used as a fuel source, however it must first be broken down into amino acids and converted into glucose.

 

Keep in mind that at any given time, the aerobic system isn’t exclusive to one substrate (carbs, fats, proteins) for fuel, but the intensity of the body’s movements will determine where the majority of the fuel source comes from.  The same is true with energy metabolism. The energy systems or pathways do not work in isolation from one another, but every movement requires interaction between each of the energy systems.

 

Application: How to apply energy system knowledge to training and racing

 

Training:

  • Look at the following energy pathway distribution chart and determine the aerobic vs anaerobic requirement of the particular event you are training for.  Then match your training to this distribution. So if I’m training for a 10k, then 97% of my training should be aerobic training (comfortable distance runs making up the majority of my time, but this can also include efforts that are comfortably hard – 10K, Half Marathon, Marathon efforts – like a 3-4 mile tempo run or 4 x 5 minutes comfortably hard with 1 minute rest or 16 miles at marathon pace) and 3% of my training should be anaerobic training (true speed work – strides, hill sprints, short and fast repetitions, and even the end of VO2max intervals can put us in this anaerobic state).

 

  • When it comes to workouts, we want to make sure our desired purpose and outcome is accomplished so that our time is well spent and best preparing us for our end goal.  Remember the desired benefit of a workout is determined by the duration of the workout, the intensity (pace of the effort), and also the amount of rest we give ourselves between intervals.

 

  • If your training doesn’t involve getting ready for a particular event, but rather you just want to be overall fit, then utilize a variety of workouts that develop each energy system of the body

 

Racing:

  • Pacing is key!  If you’ve trained smart and you’ve matched your training to the demands of the event you’ve prepared for, then lock into the pace and rhythm that you know you can sustain.  Don’t get caught up in the excitement of a race and go out too fast or run scared and miss pushing your body to its full potential. It is a fine balance and it is only through practice that we will know what pace is right.  

 

  • We know we are most economical at the paces we have trained at, so stick to your prepared race plan based on your training and then, like Natalie Haws chasing down the State Title in 2007, turn on your monster kick and chase down your dreams!  

THIS ARTICLE WAS INITIALLY FOUND IN RUN UTAH MAGAZINE SUMMER 2018 – CLICK HERE TO RETURN TO MAGAZINE!

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This entry was posted on Thursday, September 13th, 2018 at 10:40 am and is filed under Coaches Corner, Exercise Physiology, Expert Answers, Run Utah Magazine, Summer/Fall 2018, Training, Utah Running. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

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