The harder you run, the harder you breathe, as your body desperately tries to bring in as much oxygen as it needs to supply you with energy. But challenging runs and high altitudes can deprive you of that oxygen. Oxygen is critical to running performance -- and there are ways to improve your body's ability to process it. A lack of oxygen while running could ultimately be very dangerous if you ignore the warning signs.
The Importance of Oxygen
Oxygen is delivered to your muscles to create the energy you use to run. When oxygen arrives in the required amounts to your muscles, pyruvic acid is converted to energy during what is called the Krebs cycle. In this complex process, 90 percent of your energy is created, and the cycle works only as long as your muscles get all the oxygen they need. If you aren't getting enough, you're left with backup energy from other processes that isn't meant to last very long. For short sprints, you can rely on backup energy, but for longer runs, oxygen is key.
Running at higher altitudes can greatly affect how much oxygen you are able to get into your body. Oxygen deprivation, known as hypoxia, can cause all sorts of problems. Forget about your muscles not getting enough oxygen, hypoxia can result in your brain being deprived. This is a dangerous situation, and if pushed far enough, can cause serious issues or even death. If you're planning on high-elevation running, start easy with long, slow strides, and stop at the first sign of hypoxia.
Signs of Hypoxia
One of the first parts of your body to be affected by hypoxia is your eyes. If you're experiencing blurred vision or impaired night vision, you may have oxygen deprivation. Dizziness, confusion and fatigue are signs of hypoxia. A headache is a clear sign that your brain isn't getting enough oxygen. Take a break and raise your arms, or put your hands on your hips to take some of the weight off your diaphragm so you can breathe freely.
How to Improve Your VO2 Max
The maximum amount of oxygen you're able to bring in and process is known as your VO2 max. If you improve your VO2 max -- your ability to get oxygen into your body -- you'll be able to handle more challenging runs without losing as much oxygen. While heredity affects your VO2 max, it can be improved by consistent aerobic conditioning. Interval training is one method that has been found to improve one's VO2 max. Once a week, throw a hard run into your routine for between two and eight minutes, and your VO2 max may improve.
Meredith Berg received her B.F.A. in directing from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts. Now living in Los Angeles, she works as a film and television writer, comic-book editor and director of plays and films. In addition, she loves tackling paleo recipes, workout routines and DIY projects.