It seems like everyone and their mom is training for a marathon these days. I witnessed friend after friend say "no" to that second mimosa or ice their knees in preparation for an upcoming 10k. While I envied their discipline, hitting the pavement day after day does have an impact. We know that running is a goldmine for improving one's cardiovascular health. But when we strap on our sneakers and head to the gym or the park for a jog, what is actually happening to our bodies?
Running isn’t always as glamorous as a pair of hot pink spandex tights may make it seem. Frequent runners can suffer from everything from black toenails to chafing to something called “dead butt syndrome.” The way running affects you does have to do with what kind of shape you’re in and the body you were genetically given. However, there is basic body chemistry that everyone from Usain Bolt to even a lowly mortal such as myself can expect to experience when we jog a couple laps. Generally, when I go to the gym, it’s to slog away on the elliptical while watching a few episodes of whatever Real Housewives iteration is playing on Bravo, and the only marathon I think about involves Netflix. But today, I'm lacing up my neon running shoes and strapping on my sweatbands to find out exactly what happens to your body when you go on a run.
You Feel A Burst Of Power
In the first minute of your run, you feel a surge of energy. Beginning your jog around the park loop, your feet rhythmically hitting the pavement, you feel like a total badass — as if you could run forever. Your mind is thinking, "Hey! I might be pretty good at this!" That burst of power is your body converting one molecule into another in order to release a net gain of energy. Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) turns to adenosine Diphosphate (ADP), if you want to get all technical about it. It fuels your workout and makes you feel like you're in a Red Bull commercial.
You Feel The Burn
In your second minute, your muscles start to cook up and release a healthy dose of lactic acid. This produces the burn everyone refers to when they speak of "feeling the burn." It also tells your brain that you are under physical stress, which for me signals the "Oh god, I'm actually exercising! Whyyyyyy??" moment. Your muscles are working hard so to make the fuel you need to keep going, and they are doing so through a process is called anaerobic respiration, a byproduct of which is lactic acid.
You Breathe Heavily
Over the next couple of minutes, your heart rate increases faster than if you were trying to ask Liam Hemsworth out to dinner. Blood is moving to your muscles, and there is a call for more oxygen. All this darn breathing can cause side stitches. But what are those pains, which make you clutch your side and shake your fist angrily up at the sky? Heavy breathing stretches the ligaments that attach the diaphragm to the liver on the right side. This brings on that familiar pain, and might make you slow down. Boo. The surge in airflow can also cause a runny nose, known as exercise-induced rhinitis. So be sure to grab those tissues before heading out!
You Get A Healthy Flush
Now that you are into the run and still feelin' good, you are starting to burn energy. But all this hard work has made your body temperature rise. What's your body going to do to chill you out? Why, send blood flow to your skin, of course, resulting in a healthy flush. It's that same glow that Mr. Darcy fell in love with Elizabeth for in Pride and Prejudice. However, accompanying the flush will also be a fair amount of sweat, which I don't think Austen mentioned.
Your Butt, Legs, And Core Kick In
Running doesn't only put pressure on your joints, but your lower body as well. The powerful muscles that Nicki Minaj constantly raps rhapsodically about are working hard to keep you balanced and control your stride. So if you feel any burning or pain, it's time to slow down. There is an actual thing called "Dead Butt Syndrome," otherwise known as gluteus medius tendinosis. This inflammation of tendons in the derrière makes running a literal pain in the butt, so don't push it too hard when you first start.
Afterwards, You Feel Awesome
After you've completed your run, and breathing returns to normal, your brain floods you with mood-regulating and -elevating neurotransmitters (endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, oh my!), and it's free of charge, y'all! Right after a run, you will feel alert yet calm. Ride that happy unicorn for as long as you can, because sadly, it won't stop you from being sore the next day.