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Posted: December 3, 2011  : Add to Mixx! Subscribe to stories like this Share

Leah Larocque's Column
Leah Larocque is a graduate of Queen's University (2011) in Kingston, Ontario where she ran track and cross-country. She was Ottawa's "Road Racer Of The Year" in 2010. She has a personal best time of 17:32.9 which she set while winning the Ottawa Race Weekend 5K in 2011.
In 2010 she was the first local finisher in Emilie's Run leading the OAC Racing Team to a first place in the team competition.
Leah is currently an Intern with Premium Client Services for the Ottawa Senators Hockey Club. She is continuing to run and will be writing a regular column for the Runner's Web.(Column Index)

Athletics: Adrenaline!





Whew! what a past twenty-four hours. I feel like I just raced a marathon- TWICE! It's funny how I can be calm cool and collected one moment, and the BOOM, my heart rate goes up and I start sweating.

Okay, don't worry- nothing bad happened to me. So you can keep reading.

First of all, I seem to have really bad luck with the police. I have had my license for a while, but some people can go their whole lives without getting even one speeding ticket. I however, have had a few "incidents," including the muffler falling off the car while driving on the highway, leaving the lights on, losing control on black ice, getting bumped in the back at a red light, and yes, a speeding ticket. And those are just a few. So, needless to say, every time I see a police car my heart rate goes up and I feel like I am taking a really taxing aerobics class.

Yesterday, I was driving home from work, and I was at a red light. Then it turned green, and I started to drive. All of a sudden, I see flashing lights and sirens coming behind me, and I can see the police car racing towards me. My head starts to spin and I go over and over in my head what I could have done wrong. Thankfully, he went past me and I arrive home safe. I hadn't done anything wrong.

Earlier that day, I had an interview. I don't want to jinx it by providing the details, but let's just say that this hasn't been my first interview in the past couple of weeks. My current contract is coming to end shortly and trying to get a job is harder than it looks! I have done lots of interviews before for jobs, other positions, or at school, but every time, I get the same nerves that I get while I prepare for a race, and when all is said and done- I am tired just like I had raced!

I get like that before races. During my training I have done lots of race simulations. Or, during the summer months, I do quite a bit of loops at a park in Ottawa's east end. When we are told to do race pace, I try to do some math in my head. Five kilometers is roughly three miles, so if I am running an 18 minute race, shouldn't each loop be around six minutes? Yet, it's hard to get to that split all the time, and it doesn't quite feel like a race. Once in a track race, someone got spiked right in front of me and she tripped. We were in a pretty tight pack and there wasn't much room to move. Somehow, in a Cirque du Soleil fashion, my body dashed and manipulated its way around the other girls in order to stay upright. After the race, I remembered the incident and thought to myself- how did I do that? There is no way I could have repeated that movement.

The missing element in practices and the one that is present in overdrive in races and in the interviews, and in my case, with the police, is adrenaline. And all athletes know and experience it quite often.

Adrenaline is a hormone produced by the adrenal gland. When your body produces adrenaline, your heart-rate is stimulated, your blood vessels contract, air passages dilate, and there are other minor effects on your body. Adrenaline is naturally produced in high-stress or physically exhilarating situations. "Fight or flight" is a term often used to characterize the circumstances under which adrenaline is released into the body. It is an early evolutionary adaptation to allow better coping with unsafe and startling situations. Its effects, such as dilated air passages, for example, allow the body to get more oxygen into the lungs which will increase physical performance for short bursts of time.

According to LiveStrong.com, the flood of adrenal surge can be considered a beneficial thing for lots of athletes. The boost of energy sent to the muscles boosts the capacity to respond. The central nervous system is stimulated and creates a heightened alertness. The body begins to sweat more, attempting to cool the muscles down and the pupils dilate in order for your eyes to take in more of the environment.

I read that adrenaline has a huge effect on the heart. Upon feeling the increase in adrenaline, the heart immediately boosts the rate and strength of its beating and will increase blood pressure, which, consecutively, increases respiratory exchange, making more oxygen available for the working muscles. And, the more oxygen available, the better the performance!

A lot of studies indicate the positive effects that adrenaline can have on the body. Regrettably, if the athlete isn't able to control this hormonal flow, it could also have negative affects the athlete's health. Since adrenaline is a stress hormone and really a form of a survival technique, if the body has to release adrenaline too frequently, the result is a suppressed immune system and a predisposition toward a resistance of infections.

So, as athletes, we need to find the happy medium of controlling the adrenaline and use it to our advantage. Also, not all sports involve a quick release of adrenalin. In fact, in some long-distance endurance sports it is better to control the outbursts of energy that adrenaline causes so that they can pace themselves and conserve the energy for later in the race. You can also get addicted to adrenaline. I have heard of a show on TV about adrenaline junkies who constantly search for ways to get that fix of adrenaline into their systems. Like all addictions, tolerance levels can increase and they crave more and more extreme ways to get that high. What are also dangerous are the withdrawal factors that can consist of exhaustion, irritability and restlessness.

With that said, I definitely have had my fair share of adrenaline release this week. Having our work so close to a police station doesn't help either. I hear all these stories about guys getting "pumped up" for their big game. I use to laugh a little to myself and thought they looked a bit silly. But after reading the good that adrenaline can do, maybe it wasn't so silly. But yet, nothing can compare to that haunting feeling of nerves and anxiety before a race or before an interview. The secret is being able to channel it for good.


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